NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Ant Colony Behavior in a Microgravity Environment (NanoRacks-VCHS-Ant Colony Behavior) - 11.22.16
Red harvester ants work together to build complex tunnel networks on Earth, but microgravity can change the way tunnels form. NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Ant Colony Behavior in a Microgravity Environment (NanoRacks-VCHS-Ant Colony Behavior) studies whether ant tunnels are still structurally sound in space. It also examines how life in space affects the ants’ cooperation and other behaviors, providing new insight into their methods that may be replicated for space-based construction.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending Experiment Details
OpNom: NanoRacks Module-16 S/N 1002
Valley Christian High School , San Jose, CA, United States
George Sousa, Valley Christian High School, San Jose, CA, United States
Valley Christian High School , San Jose , CA, United States
NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States
Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
National Laboratory Education (NLE)
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration
ISS Expedition Duration
March 2014 - September 2014
- NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Ant Colony Behavior in a Microgravity Environment (NanoRacks-VCHS-Ant Colony Behavior) explores the interaction and adaptation of ants in a microgravity environment. The investigation is to observe and record the effects of microgravity on social behavior and movement.
- NanoRacks-VCHS-Ant Colony Behavior also examines the ant’s tunneling patterns in microgravity. The investigation determines the structural integrity and feasibility of tunneling in a microgravity environment.
- To create a manageable environment for the ants to reside, a gel that sustains the ants as food and water is used as a tunneling agent.
- The benefit of this research leads to advancements in tunneling or digging in space by copying the methodology used by ants.
NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Ant Colony Behavior in a Microgravity Environment (NanoRacks-VCHS-Ant Colony Behavior) studies Red Harvester ants because they are capable of surviving in harsh conditions for long periods of time. Red Harvester ants are native to regions of the world with high temperature, and are capable of surviving for long periods of time in harsh conditions. These ants can withstand low levels of oxygen as well as water, suitable for the long journey to the International Space Station (ISS). Red Harvester ants, therefore, are an optimal species to observe in a microgravity environment.
Six Red Harvester ants are contained in one of two adjoining polycarbonate plastic observation chambers containing a gel that sustains the ants with food and water and is used by the ants as a tunneling agent. This observation chamber provides the ants with food and water until the experiment is activated on the ISS. An angled mirror allows the digital color camera to photograph the ants in either one of the two observation chambers. At the first power up, the digital color camera takes a pair of photos every hour, and a set of two light-emitting diode (LED) lights activate. After four hours of experiment run time, the acetate dividing wall between the two compartments is removed by a motorized mechanism composed of a miniature motor and a pulley system. This allows the ants to move into the second compartment that also contains the gel. After waiting eight hours, another photograph is taken to determine if the ants have moved into the second observation chamber and adjusted to the microgravity environment. Using the photographs, the students are able to note the ants’ movement as well as their ability to adapt in the microgravity environment. The photographs record any changes or occurrences within the two observation chambers. Upon its return to Earth, the experiment and photographs are examined closely, as well as the behavior of the ants in microgravity.
Photographs of ant tunnels demonstrate the insects’ ability to adapt to microgravity. Comparing ants’ microgravity behaviors with their activities on the ground provides insight into how life in space affects organisms of all sizes.
Discoveries made in the course of this investigation provide new information on tunneling and digging behavior on Earth, as well as insect communication. In addition, students from grades 9 through 11 devised the experiment, choosing red harvester ants because of their hardiness and developing new skills in science, engineering and math.
Operational Requirements and Protocols
NanoRacks Module-16 is completely autonomous and only requires installation and removal. During actual operation, photographic data is sent to the investigators to track the progress of the experiment. Transmission is limited to 48 VGA photos and environmental data per day for the duration of the investigation. The payload chamber needs to be returned to the researchers so its contents can be examined.
Crew interaction with NanoRacks Module-16 is limited to transferring the NanoRacks locker insert from the launch vehicle to the ISS, installation and activation of the NanoRacks Frames into the EXPRESS Rack Locker, cleaning of the air inlet filter (as necessary) and data retrieval (as needed) during the mission.
Decadal Survey Recommendations
Information Pending^ back to top
Information Pending^ back to top
The NanoRacks-Valley Christian High School-Ant Colony Behavior in a Microgravity Environment (NanoRacks-VCHS-Ant Colony Behavior) investigation team. Image courtesy of Valley Christian High School.
+ View Larger Image