The Protein Crystals in Space Program in Florida Schools – General Overview

The purpose of this project is to expose Florida middle school and high school students to the emerging integrated science field of Structural Biology through participation in Dr. Alex McPherson’s Protein Crystal Space Experiment at The University of California Irvine (UCI). This national program is managed from Huntsville, Alabama by UCI/NASA personnel working with The Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, and personnel from the Structural Biology Lab at The University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH). By participating in this program, Florida students learn the importance of growing high quality protein crystals in the microgravity environment of space. Growing protein crystals in space is a critical element for finding cures for diseases such as HIV and cancer through the emerging field of Rational (Structured) Drug Design. One of the primary goals of this program is to stimulate interest among students to seek careers in the emerging aerospace related fields of Space Technology, Structural Biology, Macromolecular Biology, Biochemistry, X-Ray Crystallography, and Rational Drug Design. program to motivate their students as they teach their required subjects. The objective of the project is to utilize NASA’s Strategic Plan for Education and implement it into the Florida School System. Subject content includes Aerospace Technology, Space Science, Human Exploration and Development of Space, Biological and Physical Research and Earth Science.

This project is funded in Florida through grants from the Florida Space Grant Consortium (FSGC)Spaceport Florida Authority (SFA), Florida Space Research Institute (FSRI), the Area Center for Educational Enhancement (ACEE)- Crown Region, and the Urban Systemic Initiative (USI) of the Duval County School District. The Primary Investigator for the grant program is Dr Marianne Barnes, a professor in The Education Department of the University of North Florida. Robert S. Smith, a science teacher atTerry Parker High School in Jacksonville, Florida is the Program Manager and Instructor.

To date the Florida Protein Crystals in Space Program has trained between 50 and 100 teachers who have introduced the lab activity to over 1000 Florida high school and middle school students. Of this number, over 60 students and 15 teachers have been selected to participate in either a Huntsville or Kennedy Space Center (KSC) workshop to receive advanced training and certification to produce space samples for flight on the space station. Twenty one Florida students and several teachers had samples on the first flight to the space station onboard Atlantis (STS-106) in September, 2000. The second group of 42 students and 12 teachers had samples onboard Atlantis (STS-98) launched on February 7th, 2001.

Success stories from the program

The program organizers routinely utilize students who have completed the program to assist them in giving teacher workshops. Students assist in the creation of the power point presentation, assist during the formal presentation by operating the laptop computer, assist in logistics matters, and conduct the lab activity portion of the workshop. The students enjoy the opportunity and continue to increase their learning. Teachers, participating in these workshops, enjoy being ‘taught’ by students and are impressed by the students’ motivation and level of knowledge. For example; the organizers used a team of 6 people to conduct a Protein Crystals in Space workshop as part of the ‘Teacher Research Update Experience (TRUE) Institute at the University of Florida on July 22, 1999. The team was the Principal Investigator, Dr Marianne Barnes and the Program Manager, Robert S. Smith, who conducted the presentation portion of the workshop and four students (Steven N., Leticia O., Carolyn N., and Kimberly N)