REALM at Kerr Middle School’s “Effects of Microgravity on Penicillium Mold Growth” Team’s SSEP Mission 12 Experiment Selected for Flight

Experiment Moves through Review Phase, Group Hopes to Present in Washington, D.C.


BURLESON, Texas (Jan. 10, 2018) – Burleson Independent School District (BISD) students in the REALM at Kerr Middle School’s “Effects of Microgravity on Penicillium Mold Growth” team were named a finalist in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 12. The team advanced to the SSEP Mission 12 to the International Space Station (ISS) Step 2 Review Board, where the experiment was selected for flight. The experiment will undergo NASA Toxicology/Flight Safety Review beginning late January, before entering the SSEP Flight Operations Phase. The experiment will fly to the ISS on SpaceX-15 as part of the SSEP “Mercury” payload to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, no sooner than June 2018.

Local Step 1 Review  judges poured over student team submissions to determine which three flight experiments moved on to the SSEP Mission 12 to the International Space Station (ISS) Step 2 Review Board. This Board selects the experiment that will eventually fly to the ISS on SpaceX-15 as part of the SSEP “Mercury” payload, and will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, no sooner than June 2018.

Principal Investigator Gabe McCarthy, Co-Investigators Ryder Huskins and Kenneth Sanders, and Collaborators Ethan Moore and Ian Ray, make up the sixth grade team whose experiment tests the experimental rationale:  “Growth of Penicillium Mold will not decrease in a Microgravity Environment.”   


The student team was inspired by previous Burleson ISD SSEP winners and risk takers, like those who experimented with plants, medicines, and cancers.

“We considered many of the experiments done previously and finally decided on molds in space because a lot of medicines are derived from molds, and could maybe be used in space one day,” said Gabe McCarthy.

This team is particularly inspirational because they are part of a group of students who have accelerated in science. Because they moved more quickly through middle school science curriculum, they essentially skipped 6th grade science, when SSEP is taught in the classroom.  As a result, they worked on their own, and checked in with teacher/facilitator Laura Smith as they had questions.

While all three finalist experiments were highly researched and rigorous in their experiment designs, the national judges in Washington D.C. determined “Penicillium Mold Growth” to be  the flight experiment choice for BISD.

“These students were determined to participate in SSEP and focused on examining how medicine could enhance the experience of astronauts in space,” said Dr. Leslie Bender Jutzi, BISD Chief Academic Innovation Officer. “They are remarkable and are ready to present their experiment to student researchers and professional scientists at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., this summer.”

More than 240 experiment proposals from BISD students spanning grades 5-6 were submitted for SSEP Mission 12. This represented more than 950 students engaged in active scientific research in which the student researchers asked a question about the world around them, identified the information and steps needed to answer that question, then designed an experiment to test it.  While it sounds easy, there were constraining factors. For example: The experiment had to take place in three steps or less, and had to be completed in space, so that gravity would not affect the outcome when it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. These were tough challenges the winning team was able to overcome.

Student researchers also had to collaborate and communicate effectively in order to complete their experiment design in the time allotted. They will compare this experiment design with a ground truth experiment that will be completed at the same time as the space experiment, so the two can be compared when the flight experiment returns. This enables the student researchers to draw conclusions about how penicillium mold grows in microgravity. After all, it’s real science, all the time.

SSEP is a U.S. National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education program that immerses students in every facet of authentic scientific research of their own design, using a highly captivating space flight opportunity on the International Space Station. SSEP Mission 12 to ISS provides a real research mini-laboratory capable of supporting a single microgravity experiment, and all launch services to fly the mini-lab to ISS Summer 2018, and return it safely to Earth for harvesting and analysis. Mirroring how professional research is done, student teams across the community submit research proposals, and go through a formal proposal review process to select the flight experiment.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program [or SSEP] is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre- college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.


For information on the Mission 12 to ISS flight opportunity, and to get a detailed understanding of the program, visit the SSEP Home Page:



Burleson Independent School District serves more than 12,000 students at 17 schools, and is recognized as a premier school district in the Dallas/Fort Worth-area. The mission of Burleson Independent School District is to engage and support every learner with a rigorous curriculum so that they graduate college and career ready.



Mikala Hill or Katelyn Tyler

Burleson ISD Communications