Marion County 6th grader breaking barriers in STEM, science experiment selected to be flown into space

Honor is part of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program

CITRA, Fla. – As Women’s History Month is underway, two teachers are hoping to get results by showcasing one sixth grader’s attempt at making history after she was selected to have her science experiment flown to space.

“So, in the first one we put in the nutrient broth or the growth agent,” said Collins Shepard, who is a sixth grader at Howard Middle School.

Shepard, surrounded by her teachers, began breaking down the compartments that will take her science experiment into space.

This is all a part of the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program.

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It’s a national educational program that would immerse students deeper into STEM fields by having them conduct their own research.

Sheldon says her experiment will question if microgravity affects protein production within E. coli.

Sheldon explained, “What we needed from a kill agent was something that can kill the bacteria without killing the protein in the bacteria made and so Lysozyme was a thing that killed E. coli but didn’t kill the protein.”

If this experiment is successful, it could be groundbreaking for a number of things like manufacturing proteins that can combat diseases like COVID, diabetes or even the flu.

It could also help astronauts develop their own medicine in space.

“Because medicine isn’t really made in space, but it might be made more efficiently or faster in space,” Sheldon said.

Lisa Fontaine-Dorsey, who is a Gifted Resource and STEM lab teacher at DR. NH Jones Elementary, was there helping to facilitate and oversee the experiment.

Fontaine-Dorsey says it was remarkable seeing Sheldon work.

“She would come early in the morning before school would even start and meet with me and we would work on her project,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey tells News 6, Sheldon would go as far as going in-between Howard Middle School where she is in the International Baccalaureate Program to North Marion High School to conduct the experiment.

School administrators are on board supporting the trio of women by accommodating not only Sheldon, but Dorsey as well, as she came from Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary where the experiment first started, according to Dorsey.

Fontaine-Dorsey shares this is Sheldon’s second time trying to get a project into space, and says it didn’t come without its challenges.

“It was a lot of trial and error and a lot of like ‘oh my gosh moments’ and then when we finally hit something, it was like woah!” Fontaine-Dorsey said.

Dorsey says help came from everywhere, from mentors around the world, and even within her own school district.

So I provided the lab,” said Carla Reedy, who goes by the name Dee.

She is the BioTechnology Teacher at North Marion High School.

Reedy notes while this is experiment has been great for growth with Collins she hopes others will learn from her story.

“A lot of students think ‘oh I can’t do science, I can’t do science. It’s too hard’ It’s not, no it’s not, you just got to stick with it,” said Reedy.

As for Dorsey and Sheldon, It’s all about promoting girl power within STEM fields.

Dorsey said, “It’s so important to keep them in because they’re just some incredibly intelligent young ladies out there like Collins who could help change the world.”

Sheldon also said, “There is so many things that we can do with more people and more diversity and just a different thought process because I mean women in science is really good.”

Now Sheldon’s experiment is set to launch off later in June, but before Collins will have to load a mini lab 6-weeks before that launch date. One for here on earth and another in space.

Both will run a parallel test to monitor results.

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About the Author:

Jacob joined in 2022. He spent 19 years at the Orlando Sentinel, mostly as a photojournalist and video journalist, before joining Spectrum News 13 as a web editor and digital journalist in 2021.