North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

April 2, 2014

Tarrant High School student project launched into space

By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News

TARRANT — NASA's most recent space launch had ties to a north Jefferson County school.

Nine Tarrant High School students, all juniors, were at Cape Canaveral this week to watch their school project get launched to the International Space Station.

The students have been growing protein crystals all school year in partnership with NASA and UAB.

“This is a big deal,” said Tarrant High School principal Darius McKay. “We’re allowing our students to truly perform as scientists instead of them reading about it in a textbook.”

Tarrant is one of 10 high schools across the state involved in the project.

Dr. Lawrence DeLucas, director for the Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering, got Alabama students involved in the experiment, according to a UAB News article.

The crystals are to be used in medical research to find cures for diseases; the UAB article stated that crystals grown in space are often larger and of better quality than crystals grown on Earth.

When the experiments return in six months, the students will analyze their crystals and prepare reports to be presented to a panel of UAB scientists in 2015. The top three groups will be awarded scholarship money.

Dr. Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Youth Leadership Development Program with the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts, helped recruit the schools and raised the scholarship money, according to the UAB article.

“Many of the students have decided they’re going to major in chemistry or engineering as a result of participating in this hands-on project,” McKay said. “We’re shifting how we’re educating students in Alabama.”

Tarrant was chosen to participate in the project; then McKay and other staff chose “some of the most inquisitive students in the junior class” to take part. Tarrant teachers Rosie Black James and Candace Monroe have guided the students through the experiment.

While in Florida, the students will get to play as well as work. In addition to watching the shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral, the students received astronaut training, visited Universal Studios and other attractions.