Steve: Steve Mirsky here. It's December 12th which means, if you're 14 to 18 years old, you still have a couple of days left to enter the YouTube Space Lab competition. Scientific American editor in chief Mariette DiChristina is one of the judges. She recently explained the competition to the ubiquitous Al Roker on his morning program on the Weather Channel.
Roker: In an effort to inspire the next generation of scientists and astronauts, Google, YouTube and Lenovo have created a one of a kind competition called Spacelab. It calls on high school students all around the world to design experiments that'll actually be performed on the International Space Station. Mariette DiChristina is the editor in chief of Scientific American and one of the judges in the competition. Mariette, good to see you.
DiChristina: Good morning. Good to see you.
Roker: This is really exciting. I mean a one of a kind competition. So how does this work exactly?
DiChristina: So, kids think big, right? And if you think big, there's nothing bigger than the International Space Station and looking to get to your experiment up in space. So 14- to 18-year-old kids, who have a big idea can make a two-minute video and upload it to YouTube Spacelab and get that science experiment idea considered for actually launching on the International Space Station.
Roker: You had 14 million views to the Space Lab Web site—5,500 experiments submitted so far. You're part of this judging panel, which is a pretty impressive panel. Tell us about that, and how do you make the decision?
DiChristina: Right. So, judging is going to be really great fun because of all these wonderful ideas. The students are sending ideas in physics and also in biology to do on the International Space Station. The response has been completely gratifying. Yes, I am one of the judges. Also Stephen Hawking, so you may have heard of him. Also many space organizations: NASA, the European Space Agency, JAXA and many other organizations will help screen so that we get the best two ideas up there.
Roker: Now these are—this scares me because when I was in high school I was trying to make an electromagnet—one of the submissions is to determine the effects of microgravity on quorum sensing in a bacterium known as Vibrio fischeri. This isdesigned by 15-year-olds.
DiChristina: Isn't that awesome? Let me break that down for you.
DiChristina: First of all, these are amazing bacteria that live in the water, and they produce something called bioluminescence—a glow to you and me—and the question is here, and this is one of the great examples of a biology experiment, is what role does gravity play on the production of that glow that the amazing bacteria make under water. Do you need gravity to actually have that happen? What happens in the physical systems if it isn't there? And so the students are thinking, "Well, maybe if it's flying up in space, maybe we won't see it glow." That's their hypothesis. But we'll see if they're among the two winners who get to go up to the International Space Station with their experiments.
Roker: So you lost me at, "Here's how this works."
DiChristina: (laughs) Come on.
Roker: So they actually get to go up there with their experiments?
DiChristina: No they don't go up there, just the experiments.
Roker: They don't, but their experiment does. If kids, these junior geniuses, do want to enter, how do they do this?
DiChristina: All they need to do is make a two-minute video, upload it to YouTube Spacelab, which is https://www.youtube.com/spacelab, and put their idea in there. And it will feel like—if I made it sound like they're going to go up there—it will feel like that because we're going to see it, the whole world will be able to see it on a live stream, which is really cool.
Roker: That is just amazing. Mariette, thank you so much.
DiChristina: Make a two-minute video upload it to YouTube Spacelab, which is https://www.youtube.com/spacelab.