Rising Lynbrook High School senior Kaylie Hausknecht was recognized as one of five finalists in the Genes in Space contest for her DNA experiment proposal fit for the International Space Station. As a finalist, she will present her research at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in San Francisco from July 23-26 with the hope of sending her experiment into space to be completed by astronauts in 2019.
This year, Hausknecht was among a record number of entrees from across the United States who participated. There were 559 submissions from approximately 1,200 students in grades 7-12, who submitted their proposals. The students were challenged to design DNA experiments that address challenges in space exploration. From these submissions, the contest selected 10 honorable mentions and five individuals or teams as finalists.
Hausknecht’s proposal focuses on engineering a photosynthetic bacteria using a recently discovered gene from tardigrades (the only known animal that can survive the vacuum of space) to allow the bacteria to survive on Mars. The idea is that these engineered photosynthetic bacteria could then begin the process of creating an atmosphere on Mars.
During the conference, she will present to a panel of space scientists and judges. As a finalist, Hausknecht has been partnered with a scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is mentoring her as she prepares for the conference. If selected as the winner of the contest on July 26, she will work with her mentor to prepare her experiment for space and be invited to see it launch to the International Space Station.
“Kaylie’s accomplishment is really amazing and exciting,” said her Advanced Placement Biology teacher Charles Vessalico. “When we received word that Kaylie was selected as a finalist it was unbelievable. I remember the excitement in Kaylie’s voice when she called me on the phone to tell me she was selected.”
Vessalico challenged his AP Biology students to partake in the competition where each student or team of students had to propose a DNA experiment that could be done using lab equipment that is on the International Space Station. To inspire their entries, Vessalico was able to obtain, through a loaner program and with the help of high school science chairperson Carol Ann Winans and Lynbrook High School Principal Joseph Rainis, the same exact equipment that is on the ISS. Students were able to do a predesigned lab with this equipment to learn about the science. With that insight, students worked in teams or independently to write proposals for their own unique experiment, leading Hausknecht to her successful entry in the contest.