Queen’s students given unique space research opportunity

Queen’s Reduced Gravity Experimental Design Team to travel to Ottawa after winning national competition

Queen's Reduced Gravity Experimental (QRGX) Design Team Co-Presidents Aaron Rosenstein (left) and Elisha Krauss (right).
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A desire to explore and understand space has inspired four Queen’s students to experiment with the relationship between genetics and gravity. This summer, the Queen’s Reduced Gravity Experimental Design Team will travel to test their research using cutting-edge space technology. 

The team’s summer trip to Ottawa comes as a reward for winning the second annual Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge (CAN-RGX). The competition — hosted by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS Canada) — will allow students to design and test a scientific experiment on board a parabolic aircraft. 

The successful team includes Co-Presidents Elisha Krauss and Aaron Rosenstein, both ArtSci ’18, and team members Matthew Bentley, ArtSci ’18, Izabelle Siqueira, ArtSci ’18, Brenton Kuka, ArtSci ’19, Janis Cheng, ArtSci ’20, and Stefan Sokic, CompSci ’18. The team was one of four to win CAN-RGX in December. 

The four winning teams were selected after SEDS Canada and its partners, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) deliberated on written proposals submitted by applicants.

Now, teams have the opportunity to design an experiment to be flown on board the NRC’s Falcon 20 aircraft, modified for parabolic flight in collaboration with the CSA. This provides students with a unique research opportunity that would otherwise be out of reach as part of their university education.

In an interview with The Journal, Rosenstein compared parabolic flight to “the feeling of when you go over a hump on a rollercoaster and you feel a little bit lighter.”

“The plane is designed to take that to the extreme to take you to a complete state of zero gravity. In your frame of reference, you are completely weightless and anything you take on the plane with you is also weightless,” he said.

According to Rosenstein, the desire to understand and explore space remains at the forefront of scientific research today.

“Our ability to survive in space will be tested, and it will be biologists as well as more classical fields like astrophysicists and engineers who will bring that to fruition,” he said. “The opportunity to combine genetics with space kind of just blew my mind, and I’m so excited.”

The top teams were selected based on their proposed experiment’s technical feasibility, scientific merit, project management and outreach. In Ottawa, the group of Queen’s students will spend three days conducting an experiment investigating DNA replication and repair on a parabolic flight mission. 

The flight test will simulate microgravity — the condition in which objects or individuals appear to be weightless due to greatly mitigated gravitational force.

According to Krauss, their experiment tests DNA replication. It will investigate whether there’s increased error or changes in replication activity in zero gravity as compared to normal gravity.

“On Earth, we are protected by our atmosphere from a lot of the really damaging radiation that is emitted from the sun and from our cosmos, but outside of our atmosphere in space, we don’t have that kind of shield,” Rosenstein added. “Because of that, our research is very much interested in figuring out the downsides of that.”

This idea didn’t occur to the co-presidents immediately. After hearing about the competition, Krauss and Rosenstein spent over a year brainstorming before they settled on their topic. 

“It’s been so hard to find an experiment that works perfectly and has the high impact that we were going for. We went through probably 20 to 30 ideas before we landed on this one,” Rosenstein said. “It was lots of brainstorming … so it took a while, but I think we found a winner.”

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