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Diman trio in running to have experiment chosen for space station

By Michael Gagne
Herald News Staff Reporter
Sophomores Mason Frizado of Fall River and Dylan Barcelos and Kylie Cooper of Westport are headed to San Diego with their sci
Sophomores Mason Frizado of Fall River and Dylan Barcelos and Kylie Cooper of Westport are headed to San Diego with their science teacher, Liss O'Connell, where they will compete for the chance to send an experiment to the International Space Station.
FALL RIVER — A trio of students from Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School is about to experience a crucial step in the scientific research process: pitching their proposal to established scientists in the field.

The group — sophomores Dylan Barcelos, Kylie Cooper, both of Westport, and Mason Frizado, of Fall River — learned this week that they’ve been invited to head to San Diego, California, in July, during the International Space Station Research and Development Conference.

There, they will make their pitch for why their proposed experiment, which will study bacteria and genetics in microgravity, should be chosen to be flown to the International Space Station, and conducted by the scientists on board.

In particular, they are looking to find out whether genes can be used to explain why certain bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. And they’re wondering whether the microgravity environment in space can offer clues as to why that is.

“The kids are so excited,” said equally excited science teacher Liss O’Connell, the group’s teacher and leader in the project. “Now the really hard work starts.”

“Students will have to present in front of the best minds in space,” O’Connell said. “This is life-changing for our kids.”

It’s part of the Genes in Space program, a competition jointly supported by Boeing, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Math For America, miniPCR and New England Biolabs. The Diman team is one of five finalists selected out of more than 380 applicants. At the conference, Diman’s group will compete against other groups from Oklahoma, New York, Michigan and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Other finalists’ proposals include investigations to study radiation damage, engineer biological solutions, and assess the impacts of microgravity on human physiology.

The winner of the Genes In Space competition will be announced at the conclusion of the conference. Members of the winning team also will participate in a space biology workshop to prepare their investigation and be invited to watch the launch of their experiment from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to a news release.

Before students head to the west coast, they will trek to Cambridge, where they will receive mentoring from scientists at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on how to ensure their experiment are feasible for space research.

It’s the second annual Genes in Space competition, and the second time Diman students have entered. Last year, the team was not selected as finalists but received an honorable mention.

O’Connell said team members came up with the experiment on their own. Students met after school a few times a week to draft the proposal.
“It’s incredible what young people can come up with. What it takes is group work, and letting them think outside the box,” she said.

Barcelos said he and his teammates brainstormed to come up with the idea.

Cooper said she and her teammates started with the idea to look at natural selection in space. Eventually they arrived at the idea to look at how bacteria builds resistance to antibiotics.

Frizado said he’s excited “to get the opportunity” to go to San Diego.

“It’s really amazing. I didn’t think we could make it,” he said.

For more information about the competition, finalists, and the honorable mentions, visit the Genes In Space website, at