Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on ISS) is an investigation of how microbes found in buildings on Earth—in particular public buildings such as stadiums—compare to those on board the biggest building ever built in space: the International Space Station.

The project lets citizen and student scientists participate in the research using kits to collect microbes from surface areas in buildings. Amateur scientists can form a team or join a team to collect samples through September 2013. Collected samples will be mailed to the University of California, Davis, where they will be sequenced. Results will be shared on the SciStarter citizen science Web site so participants can compare their samples to those from other locations, including the International Space Station.

Project MERCCURI kicks off at the National Science Teachers Association conference in San Antonio, Texas, on April 11 where project leaders will distribute free kits and teach teachers how to collect samples. Participants will use a sample kit with a q-tip to swab surface areas. Samples will then be analyzed at U.C. Davis, for identification through DNA sequencing.

In addition, up to 40 samples will be selected to fly in September on the International Space Station, where their growth rates in microgravity will be monitored using a device called the microplate reader and compared to their counterparts in the U.C. Davis lab.

SciStarter is teaming up with our sister site, Science Cheerleader (an organization of more than 250 current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers) and scientists at the U.C. Davis to conduct this research.