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Elementary school students discovered something NASA never knew

Students in the Gifted Learners (PGL) program at St. Brother Andre Elementary School in Ottawa have been studying the effects of cosmic radiation on epinephrine. Epinephrine is the active ingredient in Epipen or emergency treatment that patients use during severe allergic reactions.

NASA chose to experiment with students as part of the Cube in Space program, which is designed specifically for school children. Live Science For this program, he writes, students aged 9 to 12 designed an experiment in which samples of epinephrine were placed in small cubes and sent to the edge of space via a balloon or rocket.

When the samples returned to Earth, researchers at the Center for Mass Spectrometry at the University of Ottawa tested the samples and found that only 87 percent of the epinephrine was pure, while 13 percent had been converted to highly toxic benzoic acid derivatives.

Cosmic radiation consists of highly energetic particles that are released by stars, including the Sun. The Earth’s atmosphere largely protects life on Earth from these radiations, but astronauts exposed to cosmic rays for long periods of time face significant health risks, such as radiation sickness and an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.

Cosmic radiation also has a clear effect on chemicals such as epinephrine, said Paul Mayer, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Ottawa. “The samples showed signs of epinephrine reacting and breaking down after being exposed to radiation,” Meyer said. In fact, after the cosmic radiation exposure event, there was no epinephrine in the epipen solution samples.” This result raises questions about the efficacy of EpiPen for space environments, and students in the PGL program are working on these questions.

While benzoic acid occurs naturally in certain herbs, such as blackberries, plums, and cinnamon, and is often used as a food preservative, the National Institutes of Health says this colorless compound is dangerous to health when consumed in high doses.

Students are designing a capsule to protect the EpiPen in space. They will travel to Langley Research Center in Virginia in June to present their findings to NASA.


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