Two future experiments set to take flight aboard the International Space Station have some unusual creators: teenagers who won the first YouTube Space Lab video competition today, sponsored by YouTube, Lenovo and Space Adventures. Students around the globe entered two-minute videos describing their idea for tests to conduct in low-Earth orbit. Judges, including NASA, ESA and JAXA astronauts and others (such as Yours Truly), selected a grand winner from each of two age categories. "Today’s Space Lab winners are tomorrow’s explorers," said Zahaan Bharmal, YouTube Space Lab founder and Google's head of marketing operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
"We got to bring you students onto the team" virtually, William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, told the group of beaming youngsters on stage.
Amr Mohamed, of Alexandria, Egypt, won the 17- to 18-year-old category for his idea to study how zebra spiders, which jump to hunt rather than relying upon a web, would catch prey in microgravity. In the 14- to 16-year-old category, Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma of Troy, Mich., won for their plan to determine the effects of exposing bacteria to different types of nutrients to block growth. The regional finalists include student ideas for microgravity experiments exploring how a snowflake forms, how convection works and how different types of liquids interact with compounds that lower their surface tension. Among the prizes were a zero-g flight and Lenovo laptops.
While some students said they worked for two or three months on their entries, Mohamed didn’t have that luxury: He only found out about the award by accident on the day that entries were due. "The idea of sending an experiment into space is the most exciting thing I have ever heard in my life," he said. He knew he had to work hard, but he was ready: "In Egypt, there’s a lack of opportunities in science. But when the Revolution started, it gave me hope. If something impossible happens right in front of you, you get hope." Still, he added, "I had to work really hard to make that deadline."