international space station

TSGC Educational Outreach

Protein Crystal Growth on Board the International Space Station

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Protein Growth Experiments in Space

The Texas Space Grant Consortium trained teachers from Texas on how to participate in a protein crystal growth experiment to be grown on board the International Space Station.

What is Happening

Master Teachers attending Protein Crystal Growth kit training learn the importance of protein crystal growth research, how to conduct experiments with students on protein crystal growth, and resources for research and evaluation. Teachers attending the kit workshop will then provide opportunities to students for conducting the experiment, research, evaluation, career exploration, and essays.

Upon completion of the experiments in the classroom, teachers and students will be asked to enter the Protein Crystal Growth contest sponsored by the Texas Space Grant Consortium. Winners must attend a one-day workshop to load flight samples for launch on the space shuttle to be placed aboard the International Space Station. All teachers and students selected will be invited to attend the launch of their experiment at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in May 2003. Limited scholarships will be available to students unable to find local funding for the trip to the launch.

How it Works

The McPherson laboratory at the University of California at Irvine is designated as the principal investigative team for this activity on the International space station. This experiment will use a highly sophisticated optical system for the direct observation and recording of the crystal growth process in space. Its purpose is to help us better understand the physics of the protein crystallization process in microgravity so that we may ultimately improve the applications of that process in laboratories on earth. The Enhanced Dewar is essentially a passive container for crystallization samples held in plastic tubes and can hold up to 10,000 samples. The samples are frozen by plunging them into liquid nitrogen and maintained frozen in a common freezer until the time of mission launch. The Dewar device keeps the samples frozen up to ten days, including that period during which they are placed on board the Space Shuttle, carried into space from the Kennedy Space Center, and transferred to the ISS.

High School students and teachers from Texas will be enlisted to make protein crystallization samples for the Enhanced Dewar Program, under strict supervision and guidance by NASA approved, trained, and experienced personnel, and these samples frozen and carried into space. Dr. McPherson will utilize the samples, upon return to earth, for research. Should additional samples be available they will be returned to the students who prepared them for examination and recording of results.

Protein crystal growth is a research tool that will be very important in the next century. On Earth, gravity distorts the shape of the crystal. In space, the crystals grow larger and in a more pure form.

ground grown These two photos show the difference between crystals grown on the ground and those grown in the microgravity environment of space. microgravity space grown


Last Modified: Wed Aug 06, 2003