OCEAN CITY – Kids who hate their vegetables might want to consider becoming astronauts. It appears there’s a greater chance of getting sick eating a salad in space than there is on earth.

At least, that’s a conclusion that could be drawn from a science experiment performed by six Ocean City High School students who sent a test tube containing lettuce and E.coli bacteria to the International Space Station in January. The purpose of the experiment was to determine if the attachment rate of the bacteria was greater on earth than in space.

It wasn’t.

“More attached to the lettuce in space,” said Kaitland Wriggins, a senior who plans to attend Stockton University and go into the health science field. “It was the opposite of what we expected.”

Monday, as four of the students gathered in the auditorium to receive certificates of recognition from Congressman Frank LoBiondo in honor of their research, they discussed the surprising findings of their experiment.

Kristina Redmond, a senior who plans to study quantitative finance at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, said there were three possible outcomes to the experiment: More bacteria would grow in space, fewer bacteria would grow in space, or the same amount of bacteria would grow in space as grew on earth.

An educated guess was that fewer bacteria would grow in space because there is less gravitational pull in the stratosphere than there is on earth, the group said.

Plus, said Dan Loggi, a senior who plans to study sports entertainment and event management at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, “Other experiments we looked at indicated it would be less.”

Alison Miles, a senior who plans to study nursing at the University of Delaware, said the difference in the attachment rates on earth and in space were not drastically different, although neither she nor her classmates could recall the exact results.

The fact that a difference could be seen at all was meaningful, the group’s advisors said.

“Not having a significant result is a common thing in science,” said Dan Weaver, a science teacher at the high school.

“They were actually able to see a difference” in the amount of bacteria by using technologically advanced equipment to analyze the specimens, said Catherine Georges, also a science teacher at the high school. “It’s useful data.”

The group said they sent their results to the astronauts who performed the experiment in space because their high-flying compatriots were interested to learn the outcome.

The experiment required the astronauts to open one compartment of their test tube, releasing bacteria into the chamber containing the lettuce, and then later to open the final compartment, releasing a liquid that would halt the degradation of the lettuce by the bacteria. The students did the same with an identical test tube in the classroom, then analyzed the two test tubes to determine the results of the experiment.

LoBiondo said he was most impressed that the students designed the experiment on their own time, and that they were able to explain it to him one day in a lab at the school.

“I have no science aptitude,” he said.

He also commended the students for their persistence as their first experiment blew up with the rocket upon launch in October in Virginia, a stunning spectacle the group witnessed in person.

“We had high expectations and then the thing blew up,” LoBiondo said, adding his office was following the students’ progress. “I can’t imagine how they were feeling.”

They were pretty shell shocked then. Six months later, their overwhelming emotion, they said, is relief that it’s over.

The experiment was part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a nationwide education initiative that selects experiments designed by students for travel into space. 

First female hired in the history of The Press sports department (April 1980). I've been a news editor, food editor and reporter, and have interviewed Muhammad Ali, several Miss Americas and chefs who have cooked for presidents and royalty.

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