A high school experiment of Xanthi traveled in a rocket above the Earth!


The children’s experiment was about the enzyme nitrate reductase (NR) and how it works in microgravity.

After many delays and postponements due to pandemic, bureaucratic and technical issues, the school experiment of the TiS team, the students of Xanthi, traveled to space successfully and returned back to Earth, thus making the great challenge that the children experienced by winning the Panhellenic Student Competition of the Union of Greek Physicists (EEF). It should be noted that this is the first public school in Greece to send an experimental device to space.

The reason for the students of the 2nd high school of Xanthi who in May 2020 received the first prize in the Panhellenic competition announced by the EEF entitled “Space missions” and were awarded during the 18th Panhellenic Conference of the EEF in Eretria, in September 2020.
The five then 1st and 2nd high school students (Anna Kanata, Giorgos Kosmidis, Anastasis Pavlidis, Thanasis Pruntzos, Dimitris Manos) who participated in the competition with the cooperation of their two teachers (Thomas Alexopoulos, Physics and Anastasia Pechtelidou, Biology) and the support of the school director (Georgos Argyropoulos, Physicist), they implemented an innovative experiment that two years later finally traveled above the earth, in zero gravity conditions, inside a specially designed rocket that carried many provisions from all over the world.

The EEF competition project

According to the pan-Hellenic competition project announced by the EEF, with the support of the US Embassy in Athens, the Open Technologies Organization (EOTLAK) and the European initiative Space EU, students from all over Greece were invited to submit their proposals and designs them for an experimental device that would travel in the stratosphere. The device had to have specific dimensions and specifications, supporting the realization of an innovative experiment in conditions of zero gravity, which will help the implementation of space travel to other planets.

The experimental arrangement of the 2nd high school of Xanthi was the one that was awarded and chosen to be placed in a special capsule, together with other arrangements from other countries, in a rocket of the American space company BLUE ORIGIN. The NEW SHEPARD rocket would carry the experiment capsule into the stratosphere, in zero gravity. There, it would stay for a short time and then return back to Earth. Unfortunately, the pandemic of the last two years greatly delayed the launch of the rocket.

The final stage of the launch was finally realized a few days ago, namely on September 12th on the consecration day for the start of the new school year!

What was the students’ experiment about?

After their prize in the competition, the children and the teachers established a working group with the original name TiS (Thrace in Space), which included teachers Giota Maletska, Thanasis Balafoutis, Giorgos Tsikrikonis, Katerina Mavrodi, Georgia Tsouga and Michalis Polychronidis. Thus, they began to work methodically on the implementation of the experiment. The team was subsidized by the EEF to purchase all the necessary materials, chemicals and equipment to complete the experiment.

It should be noted that throughout this effort, the help of the Molecular Genetics & Pharmacogenomics – Toxicogenomics laboratory of the Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics of the ITH and the auto racing team of the ITH DRT (Democritus Racing Team) was important.

The children’s experiment was about the enzyme nitrate reductase (NR) and how it works in microgravity conditions. Nitrate reductase is an enzyme of enormous importance, both for the environment and for humans, as nitrogen is one of the basic chemical elements of life. It is the raw material for the production of proteins and nucleic acids, chemical compounds on which the creation and evolution of life is based.

The experimental device (STEM project) that the children built together with their teachers was placed in a specially designed box made of carbon fiber. Its interior was specially designed to include reagents, special sensors, microprocessors and a recording camera. The entire design lasted over 12 months, with work under difficult and demanding conditions due to the pandemic but also due to the fact that it was something innovative for school data.

Together with other experimental devices of various companies and schools, it was launched into the stratosphere with the NS-23 rocket of the BLUE ORIGIN company, where it stayed for a short time in microgravity conditions, to finally return back to the Earth’s surface.

The aim was to study how nitric reductase (NR) will react in these very special conditions above the earth’s surface where the planet’s atmosphere is much thinner and at the same time microgravity conditions prevail.

As explained by Mrs. Anastasia Pechtelidou speaking to APE – MPE “upon the return of the capsule to Earth, the TiS team will receive back the experimental device in order to make the necessary measurements and draw the conclusions of the experiment”.

An unprecedented experience

In any case, children and teachers lived an unprecedented experience in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Professor Thomas Alexopoulos, who currently works at a school in Thessaloniki, speaking in October 2020 at AME – BEE, had emphasized that this entire preparation of the experiment was “an excellent effort and a unique experience through which students, teachers and the entire school unit we get a university know-how that is valuable for the future… All this planning to present the idea and participate in the competition was done in the midst of a pandemic.

However, it was the remote teamwork that helped all of us to a great extent to overcome the communication barriers during the COVID-2019 quarantine… The children’s mobilization motivated us to be creative and draw strength in the unprecedented situation that we experienced… For our part, as educators, we want to thank our students from the bottom of our hearts for the sincere attention, diligence and dedication they showed throughout the preparation of the proposal, despite the workload. With a great investment of personal time, we all achieved a great victory together!”


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