March 3rd, 2017

Turning your great idea into a Genes in Space submission

So you have a great idea for a DNA experiment in space. Fantastic! But how do you go about turning that idea into a proposal to have your experiment actually conducted in space? Below we outline how and provide an actual example of a successful Genes in Space submission.

The good news is that coming up with the idea was the hard part. We invite entries that ask big questions that address one of the challenges or opportunities of space travel and deep space exploration; the bigger and more critical the question, the better.

Now that you are ready to begin writing, what information actually goes into your submission? The actual Genes in Space application questions, and tips for answering them, are below. 

1.   Describe your project in tweetable form. (140 character limit)

This question is your chance to grab our attention in one to two sentences. You have to be brief, but convey how exciting and important your experiment is for the future of human space exploration. We may tweet your project after it is submitted so make sure your description is understandable to a broad audience.


2.   Describe the scientific problem that you propose to address. What is the question you are trying to answer? What makes it significant, relevant, or interesting? (200 word limit) 

Here you will want to convince us that the scientific problem you are addressing is important and show us that you understand the science surrounding your problem. This is where a lot of the background research you did prior to writing up your submission pays off. Make sure you explain the problem clearly and tell us how the world will be different if we know the answer to your question.


3.   State your hypothesis. What are your objectives? (200 word limit) 

Based on the background research that you did about your problem, what do you think the answer might be? Again you will want to show us that you understand the problem you are proposing to address.


4.   Explain how the unique environment aboard the International Space Station is required to test your hypothesis. What conditions of the space station are essential for your research? (200 word limit) 

Sending an experiment to the ISS is A COMPLEX (AND EXPENSIVE) ENDEAVOR! This question is your chance to convince us that your experiment, to yield a meaningful answer, can be conducted only in space and is not possible to do on Earth. Make sure you read up on the ISS and its unique environment before writing your submission.

DNA experimentation aboard the ISS is pioneering work, and as such, it will be challenging to know if your experiment is feasible just as you’ve designed it. Your experimental design does not necessarily have to be ready to be conducted on the ISS; if you are selected as a finalist, Genes in Space scientists will work with you to develop your idea into a feasible experiment that astronauts can carry out. Still, we encourage you to carefully research your topic and learn all about previous experiments done in space before sitting down to write your proposal.


5.   Outline your experimental plan. How will you use PCR to test your hypothesis? Specify for example the samples you will analyze, controls that you will use, and the possible experimental outcomes. (200 word limit) 

You must now propose an experiment that addresses your question using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This question is your chance to apply the scientific method to your scientific problem and to put your knowledge of PCR to work. Be sure to explain how PCR will be used to address your problem. And remember that PCR is only the first step; another method will be necessary to analyze or visualize the DNA that was amplified during your PCR experiment. What method do you think is most appropriate? If is also very important to consider and clearly explain how you will control for all of the variables in space. Finally, be sure to tell us, based on your hypothesis, what the possible outcomes from your experiment are and what they would tell you.


6.   How did you hear about Genes in Space? (From my teacher, parent, the internet, etc) 

Easy question! It is just to help us figure out how to get the word out about the competition in the future. Thank you for helping us!


7.   Citations (optional) 

It is very important for scientists to give credit to people who helped them develop their ideas. Please cite any sources that were critical to your understanding of your scientific problem and the development of your experiment.

Once you have filled out the submission form and are happy with your answers (proof read, proof read, proof read) click ‘Apply Now.’ Congratulations! You are now one step closer to seeing your experiment conducted in space!

Now that you know the basics of entering the Genes in Space competition, check out an example of how to successfully put all of your ideas together into a great submission. This was one of the ten incredible honorable mention winning entries in the 2015 US contest from Dylan Barcelos, Kylie Cooper, Aaron Gouveia, and Nicholas DaRocha and mentor Liss O’Connell of Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River, Massachusetts. Download the proposal.

For more Genes in Space submission tips read our guest posts from team member Alia (here) and 2015 winner Anna-Sophia (here).