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Cancer experiment heads to space

The word cancer strikes fear in the hearts of both young and old, but for two Brookhaven Academy students a cancer diagnosis has served as an inspiration for the chance of a lifetime.

Soon, Missy Clanton and Bailey Stewart will have the rare chance to have their experiment tested in space as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.

Photo Submitted / Bailey Stewart (left) and Missy Clanton have designed an experiment that will be sent to the International Space Station. Part of the experience has included being invited on Sloane Smith's "Wednesday Show" on Supertalk Brookhaven last week.

Photo Submitted / Bailey Stewart (left) and Missy Clanton have designed an experiment that will be sent to the International Space Station. Part of the experience has included being invited on Sloane Smith’s “Wednesday Show” on Supertalk Brookhaven last week.

Last year as Missy Clanton and Bailey Stewart were in the beginning stages of preparing for the SSEP, Clanton’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer. As they were brainstorming in class, Stewart noticed her classmate seemed down

“Alright, what’s the cure to cancer?” Clanton recalls Stewart saying.

Aiming for the top, Clanton and Stewart began the daunting task of jumping into the cancer research realm and developed their very own experiment: “Yeast as a model organism to study enzyme production in microgravity.” Clanton and Stewart’s experiment will study the affect aspirin has on cell growth.

Clanton and Stewart originally wanted to use human cells, but they quickly found that would be cost prohibitive. Instead, they settled on yeast to stand in as a model.

SSEP, organized by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, bases the competition on student-submitted research proposals and sends the first-place winner into space. Clanton and Stewart’s proposal was awarded that honor this year.

Whether or not the study ends up providing a cure for cancer, the program has succeeded in its efforts. Clanton and Stewart both have set their eyes on a career in science.

“I didn’t really even care about science before,” Clanton said.

Stewart originally planned to pursue a career in cosmetology.

“If it hadn’t been for this, I never would have thought about science,” she said. “It’s a major leap.”

Their favorite aspect of the experiment has been fitting all the pieces together.

“When you’re doing homework, you Google the question and the answer pops up,” Clanton said. “With this, it’s not like that.”

“It’s kind of like a puzzle,” Stewart said. “You have all these articles, and you have to piece these together.”

Clanton and Stewart credited their teachers, Leslie Hood and Dianne Watson, for a lot of their success.

“I’ve probably learned more from doing this experiment than anything else in my entire life,” Clanton said.

The one-of-a-kind experience will end with an invitation to present at a conference at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum this summer.

Hood said the conference is the full-production complete with lights and cameras.

“They’re now real scientists,” she said.

Watson said she loves hearing her students discuss the technical aspects of science during break.

“You don’t know what your students are capable of until you push them,” she said.

Hood said the program also teaches the flexibility needed in science.

“You kind of have to roll with it if something doesn’t go your way,” she said.

This is the second year Brookhaven Academy has had a team’s experiment chosen to go to the International Space Station. Last year, Ashlea Bardwell, Samantha Barton, Garrett Smith, Ruth Vaughan and Lindsey Winborne designed an experiment surrounding a bacteria that produces a plastic used in healthcare.

Brookhaven Academy is currently the only high school affiliated with SSEP in Mississippi.