YouTube announces Space Lab winners


The regional winners of Google's SpaceLab competition, including grand prize winners Dorothy Chen, Sara Ma and Amr Mohamed. Courtesy of YouTube. (Philip Montgomery Photography)
March 22, 2012

The results are in and two teens from Troy, Mich. and one from Alexandria, Egypt will have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see their science experiments performed on the International Space Station.

In a Friday ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., YouTube and Lenovo announced that the winners of their international contest that encouraged thousands of young people to submit experiments that could be conducted in zero gravity.

After having millions of people view their experiments and vote on the finalists, Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma from the United States and Amr Mohamed from Egypt found out that they’ll get to see their experiments broadcast live from space.

Chen and Ma, high school juniors from Troy, developed their project completely on their own, they said in a conversation with The Washington Post on Wednesday. They want to explore how conditions on the international space station affect the virulence of bacteria, and if they can cultivate the growth of helpful, probiotic bacteria in space.

Mohamed, who his fellow finalists called the “Spider Man,” wants to see how zero gravity affects the habits of zebra spiders, who jump on their prey. He wants to know if those habits could adapt in space or if the spider — as he suspects — will be unable to catch its prey.

They, along with the four other teams of regional finalists, got to hitch a ride Thursday on a flight to zero gravity, run by the Arlington, Va.-based company Zero G.

Chen, Ma and Mohamed all managed to survive the trip — which let the winners experience what gravity would be like on Mars, the moon, and in open space — without getting sick, though Chen said she felt a little woozy.

The contest was the brainchild of Google’s Zahaan Bharmal. His “day job” is as the head of the company’s marketing operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa, but he introduced and developed the idea of SpaceLab on the side.

Bharmal said that the idea of the contest has gone farther than he ever imagined, and that he was very pleased with the reaction that the contest got.

He said he was particularly impressed with how many students actually proposed experiments that would work in zero gravity, and the further scientific implications that could come from their efforts.

An all-star panel of judges, including Stephen Hawking, had the final say in the contest.

In a statement, Hawking said that it has great implications for the future of science and humanity.

“Realising this goal will require an entrepreneurial spirit and a new generation of scientists and astronauts,” he said. “YouTube Space Lab is a wonderful initiative that helps inspire young minds around the world to take a greater interest in science and the future of space exploration.”

Related stories:

YouTube Space Lab to put students’ work into orbit

YouTube Space Lab finalist turns to snowflakes for cosmic answers

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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