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Marshall students' frog experiment heads into space

Marshall School seniors Allison Hall (from left), Pentti Hanlon and Anna Nordin have co-authored an experiment titled “The Detriment of Microgravity on Xenopus Laevis,” examining the effects of microgravity on developing frog embryos. Their experiment will be tested by astronauts aboard the International Space Station for about six weeks. The students are holding the tubes that will house their experiment. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)1 / 3
An African clawed frog, which is the type of frog studied in the Marshall School experiment (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 3
Marshall School senior Allison Hall holds the tube that will house their microgravity experiment with frog embryos that will be tested aboard the International Space Station. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)3 / 3

Frog embryos will be sent to the International Space Station later this year as part of an experiment created in a Marshall School physics classroom.

The magnitude of that news still is sinking in for Marshall seniors Allison Hall, Anna Nordin and Pentti Hanlon, whose experiment proposal, “The Detriment of Microgravity on Xenopus Laevis,” was accepted by the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. The acceptance means the experiment will be included on a flight to the space station, scheduled to launch in June from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“We never expected our project to go,” Nordin said.

“It was very exciting. I was just really excited for them,” said physics teacher Paul Schonfeld.

Schonfeld began the program in his class in September, when he and his students didn’t know whether one of their experiments would be selected. Now the students are hoping to travel to Florida to see the launch. The experiments will be at the space station for six weeks, returning in July for the students to analyze.

Hall, Nordin and Hanlon said they were interested in studying early development and focused on Xenopus laevis — more commonly known as the African clawed frog, native to sub-Saharan Africa — as an amphibian they could handle in the experiment, and which would produce findings applicable to humans.

They were driven by curiosity about space’s effects on reproduction if humans need to live in space at some point in the future, Nordin said. The students found a study focusing on tadpoles that found that being in space caused mutations in the animals, Hall said.

They’ve ordered embryos to go up in space, but if that doesn’t work out, they’ll need to rely on the breeding of Edith and Nigel — two African clawed frogs ordered specifically for the experiment, who reside in Schonfeld’s classroom.

One challenge of the program is that the experiment must be small enough to fit into a 10-milliliter tube and need minimal work by the astronauts, but will answer a complex scientific question, Schonfeld said.

Schonfeld decided to implement the program into his physics curriculum as a special project during the first few months of the school year. It allowed students to explore both science and their curiosity — and was a chance to design an experiment and work at a level many of Schonfeld’s students might not have until graduate school if they decide to pursue a career in the sciences.

The program also required writing a five-page experiment proposal, Schonfeld said. Although Hall, Nordin and Hanlon don’t have aspirations to pursue a career in the sciences, Hanlon said the project helped prepare them for the writing and critical thinking that will be expected of them in college.

The Duluth Children’s Museum helped facilitate Northland students’ involvement in the national Student Spaceflights Experiments Program. More than 200 students from Duluth, Two Harbors and Cloquet submitted experiment proposals for the chance to be included on the spaceflight.

“It’s incredible. We’re really proud of them,” said Drew Jensen, the museum’s education director.

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