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Nimitz Middle School students dream of fighting cancer. In space.

Six students from Nimitz Middle School are working on a novel treatment for cancer. In space.


“They are testing Clostridium sporogenes,” said Nimitz MS science teacher Courtney Smith. “to see if it will activate in space.” The results of this research could potentially assist in cancer treatments for astronauts if they become exposed to radiation in space.


Nimitz was one of three ECISD finalists in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). SSEP is designed as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education initiative, and gives students the opportunity to become researchers where they are able to design and propose real microgravity experiments to be conducted by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. SSEP had 38 communities participating in the competition, across three countries; U.S., Canada and Brazil. The Nimitz students’ experiment was selected to be sent into space. Upon passing the flight safety review, their experiment will be conducted by an astronaut aboard the ISS next summer.


Sydney Richardson is part of the student team. She said considering they were in this contest with high school students they did not expect to have their experiment selected. “We were just in it for fun,” she said. “Then we found out that we actually won and we were all like ‘oh my gosh, it happened’.”


Clostridium sporogenes is a bacteria that has been used to treat cancer, specifically, colon cancer and has been known to stop the growth of tumors. The 6th grade students – Maryam Akram, Sydney Richardson, Eva Brower, Aidan Gomez, Maison Leet, and Jean Machado Torres – are now working with their science teacher facilitators, Priscilla Torres and Courtney Smith, and professors from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center to conduct the experiment here and create the protocol to send to the ISS.


Maryam Akram said the group discussed several different project ideas with a desire to find a way to help the world. “So in the future they could use our project to help create and do more things than we can do today.”


“This is the third time we have had to change this experiment,” said science teacher Priscilla Torres. “So it’s a good lesson on the nature of science. You start with one thing and realize that you have to change it and you have to go back and revisit. It’s a process.


“These kids are amazing,” she added.


The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is an opportunity brought by ECISD’s Innovation Department’s program, PICK Education, which serves to bring real-world experiences into the classroom, make learning tangible and promote student ownership in their education. Funding was provided by a grant from the Texas Space Grant Consortium, Subaru of America, Inc., Chevron and Education Foundation of Odessa. A special thank you to these individuals for supporting our students in the process—from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Dr. Natalia Schlabritz-Lutsevich, Dr. Kushal Gandhi, Dr. Seheung Lee and Aneesh Bapodra. ECISD Volunteer in Public Schools, Mike Schlueter.


Pictured left to right, back row: Nimitz science teacher Courtney Smith, Sydney Richardson, Aidan Gomez, Eva Brower, and Maryam Akram. Middle: Maison Leet. Front seated: Dr. Natalia Schlabritz-Lutsevich and Dr. Kushal Gandhi. Not pictured: Jean Machado-Torres.



Nimitz students, their teachers, and Texas Tech professors pose for a picture in the classroom.