A research project by two University of Bridgeport (UB) biology students has been selected for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program and will be conducted on the International Space Station in 2018, UB announced today.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is an initiative of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) to create opportunities for student-proposed research to be conducted in a low-gravity environment aboard the International Space Station.

The research from UB, “The Effect of Microgravity on Nanoparticle-Cellular Interaction,” aims to increase our understanding of the effects of space flight on the biological processes that are essential to human health.

It was proposed by undergraduate biology majors Feissal Djoule, of West Haven, CT, and Emily Juliano, of Shelton, CT. They are advised by Dr. Isaac G. Macwan, a research associate at UB’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“Emily and Feissal have designed an imaging protocol in which nanoparticles interact with proteins in human cells and freeze them in time,” said Dr. Macwan. “The idea is that we know astronauts go through physiological changes in microgravity, such as bone demineralization, vestibular problems causing space motion sickness, cardiovascular problems, and reduction in plasma volume and red cell mass. If we can capture an image of the cellular process that’s changing in space and analyze it, we can make a comparison to what happens on earth and can further monitor the changes to eventually repair or prevent them from happening in the first place.”

The project is being funded by a grant from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, UB, and donations from the community.

Competition to the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program began in the fall 2017, when 15 teams of UB undergraduates proposed projects to a panel of internal UB judges headed by Director of Biomedical Research Development Dr. Ruba Deeb.

Deeb was tapped by Dr. Tarek Sobh, senior vice president of graduate studies and research, to lead UB’s first-ever competition for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.

Three projects from the University were chosen to be forwarded to the NCESSE, which received 1,959 student proposals from schools across the U.S.

Sixty-one were named finalists, including all three projects proposed by UB undergraduates. They will be featured on the NCESSE website in 2018. Djoule’s and Juliano’s research is among 21 proposals that will be conducted on the International Space Station.

Campus reaction to the results of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program has been “ecstatic,” said Dr. Deeb.

“This is very exciting,” said Dr. Deeb. “UB is enhancing its support of undergraduate research, so our students’ success with the SSEP program affirms that we’re heading in the right direction. Everyone is thrilled!”

One of the two finalist submissions from UB aims to study microgravity’s effect on Hfq, a host factor that allows for bacterial viruses to establish an infection in bacteria. Answers from the research may shed light on the effects of microgravity on human viruses. It was proposed by biology majors Juan Victor Cabrera, Eshawn Hoffler, and Ameya Patkar. Their adviser is biology Professor Dr. Stergios Bibis. The project is called “Microgravity’s Effect on the Virulence of Bacteriophage qB on Escherichia coli as a Possible Indicator of the Down-Regulation of Host Factor Hfq.”

The other UB project selected as a finalist is “Microgreen Growing in Microgravity versus Earth.” It was proposed by Zackary Aziz, a design major; William Figueroa, an electrical engineering major; and mechanical engineering majors Chadwick Jolly and Aaron Knight. They are advised by mechanical engineering Professor Dr. Jani Macari Pallis and Trinadh Venna, a full-stack data architect at UB. Since 2014, astronauts have been able to grow vegetables on the International Space Station as a continuous source of fresh food. The research proposed by UB will help to better understand plant growth in low gravity.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, lgeary@bridgeport.edu