Archbishop Williams Students Selected as Finalists for International Space Station Science Competition

AWHS research project on DNA in Space named one of only 5 finalists out of over 300+ applicants across the country.

BRAINTREE, Massachusetts. June 12, 2015 – As the 2015 School year comes to a close, for some Archbishop Williams High School Science Department students the project is just beginning.  AWHS has a lot to be proud of as three of their top students, Jonathan Hamilton ’16 (East Bridgewater), Sarah Golden ’16 (Quincy), and Jaclyn Shuttleworth ’16 (Quincy) have been selected as finalists in the “Genes in Space” Competition.  Their project, which focuses on the effects of radiation in space on a DNA sample, aims to find possible shielding mechanisms to protect against radiation damage.  This project, which is highly advanced for high school science students, examines and tests how astronauts can survive and work aboard the International Space Station with the many radiation hazards in space that threaten them.

In the course of this research project the student researchers will have an opportunity to learn how to plan a complex scientific study using modern lab technology; how to do a statistical analysis of the DNA samples; and, how to develop the procedures that they will need to analyze the samples when they come back from Space. AWHS Principal Dr. Michael Volonnino commented, “Throughout the inception, planning and execution of this brilliant proposal, Sarah, Jonathan and Jaclyn will have taken their high school science experience to a place few full-fledged scientists, let alone high school students have gone before.  We are so proud of these students and the work the AWHS Science department does daily. ”

The research project and proposal, coordinated by AWHS Project Manager and Science Dept. Chair, Mr. Ray Whitehouse and Lead Investigator Dr. Ralph Peteranderl, will receive mentoring from Research and Development scientists from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will help each research team finalist refine their experiments and make them feasible to test aboard the International Space Station.  Commented Whitehouse on the complexity of the project, “I am having difficulty wrapping my head around what’s being done here and at such a high level with the control on planet earth and the experiment being completed in space.”  Whitehouse added, "To get to the final five out of over 300 entries is huge.  It shows the strength and creativity of our science students.”

Competitions like this one are meant to inspire and motivate the next generation of scientists, but for Sarah Golden ’16, it gives her the opportunity to build on the strong science instruction she has received thus far at AWHS, “What we are doing with this experiment is truly unbelievable. It has taught me new scientific methods as well as detailed information about DNA, working on it now as a high school student is amazing as I would not have otherwise learned many of these concepts until college. Hopefully, this project will translate into opportunities to do further genetic research in college and beyond.”

As finalists, the AWHS students will present their proposals to a group of top scientists at the ISS Research and Development Conference held in Boston this July. After the conclusion of the conference, the winning team will have their experiment performed aboard the International Space Station.  The Archbishop Williams team is confident that the quality of their work and novelty yet practicality of their proposal will give them a realistic shot at winning the national competition. Said Jaclyn Shuttleworth ’16, “Getting hands on exposure to DNA testing and the issues with it being researched in the present day, is something that is of interest to all of us. We are really excited to see where completing a project like this will take us." 

The opportunity to participate in such an advanced and select project is not only valuable for the students today, but will stand them in good stead as they look to future careers in science and medicine.  Jonathan Hamilton ’16 commented on the value of being involved with a project of this magnitude, “I find that this is an interesting project because of the future potential applications. This project could easily progress cancer research and save lives! I really enjoy this competition because of the fact that it closely parallels my future goals of becoming a doctor.”

This competition, Genes in Space, sponsored by Boeing, The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Math for America (MfA), and miniPCR seeks to foster creativity, collaboration and critical thinking among young innovators bridging the biological and physical sciences.  The Archbishop Williams students were chosen from a competitive group of 330 project proposals across the country and will find out on July 7-9th if their proposal can get this Archbishop Williams High School experiment aboard the International Space Station. 

"Genes in Space" Finalists: Sarah Golden, Jaclyn Shuttleworth and Jonathan Hamilton.

"Genes in Space" Finalists: Sarah Golden, Jaclyn Shuttleworth and Jonathan Hamilton.