June 23rd, 2020

GiS Spotlight: Junior Scientist awardees Cyrus, Hunter & Bingrui

The Genes in Space Junior Scientist Award recognizes the top 5 submissions from middle school teams. Today, we're featuring 2020 Junior Scientist Award winners Cyrus Urheim (14), Hunter Tang (14), and Bingrui Wang (14). Cyrus, Hunter, and Bingrui just completed their school years at Tri-North and Jackson Creek Middle Schools in Bloomington, Indiana. Here, the team shares what they learned as they prepared their timely proposal on viral mutation in space.

What was the focus of your experiment? Our experiment measures how the influenza A viral strain H1N1 interacts with the unique environment aboard the International Space Station. We wanted to observe whether the viral genome mutates differently in space, where there is reduced gravity and increased exposure to ionizing radiation. 

Why did you choose to participate in Genes in Space? When we first learned about the Genes in Space competition, we had just finished middle school and had taken introductory level Biology classes at the high school. These courses sparked our interest in genetics and molecular biology, and provided us with the necessary basic information to understand the basis of the contest. We really enjoyed working together to research and understand the underlying genetics, especially the PCR method, that were essential to our proposal.  

How did you choose your topic? Our proposal was heavily impacted by the recent launch [of astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS from the United States]. As more and more people travel to space, we will encounter various problems and dangers moving forward, one being the spread of diseases during spaceflight. By understanding how viruses are impacted by aspects of space, we can begin to understand the precautions and steps that are necessary for space travel to be safe. 

What did you gain by participating in Genes in Space? Genes in Space inspired all of us to work extremely hard on a project that was very important to us. Viral genetics proved to be a joy and a challenge to research, and the work that we did on our proposal has helped us as we continue to learn about the scientific world.  We also gained excellent experience on team collaboration and how to develop a scientific experiment, two skills that will definitely be helpful later on in our lives.

Do you have any advice for future Genes in Space contestants? For future GiS contestants, the best piece of advice that we can give you is to be yourself. You should choose a topic of study that intrigues you and inspires you to develop a creative well-written proposal. As you begin to write your proposal, you can use the GiS guideline resources to make sure that your proposal meets the competition criteria.  The GiS competition was a rewarding experience for our team, and we hope that future teams have as much fun as we had!