Newswise — FT. LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla., –NASA’s final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour missions, STS-134 on April 19, 2011, will be followed by lab experiments conducted by Heidi Mederos and Richard Sung, freshmen biology majors at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences. The students are also participants in the college’s Undergraduate Honors Program and Dual Admission program for dental medicine.

Under the direction of the college’s Dimitri Giarikos, Ph.D., associate professor/coordinator of sciences, and Barry Pearlman, M.S., principal investigator and associate lecturer, the two students will conduct multiple experiments focused on the formation and growth of tin crystals. Environmental conditions, such as those found in space, can affect crystal growth. In microgravity, crystals are known to grow larger and with a much more “perfect” shape than on Earth. There are times when crystals do not grow unless they are formed in microgravity due to the reduced acceleration environment. Earth’s gravity impacts crystals by constraining their growth and causing defects.

Microgravity research has been a major area of research in the space programs of all space faring nations. The potential scientific, technological, and commercial benefits of microgravity research to humankind are substantial, especially in the biomedical and drug development sectors.

“The college is very proud of student and faculty involvement in this project,” said Don Rosenblum, Ph.D., dean of the college. “It is a unique opportunity for our Honors students, as they are gaining invaluable research experience. Through their involvement, the college faculty members are both contributing to the field and informing their classroom instruction.” This is a historic opportunity for the students and NSU. It marks the first time in the history of the university that students have been able to place experiments on a NASA Space Shuttle, and the April launch marks the last of NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour flights. Commanding the mission will be Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Gifford.

“I feel privileged to be able to partake in such an interesting experiment,” said Mederos. “This will be the last journey of the Endeavour shuttle to space, and knowing that I will participate in the investigation of one of the experiments it will take (onboard) is very rewarding. I am thankful to Dr. Giarikos for allowing me to work with him, Mr. Perlman, and my fellow classmate on this project.”

The opportunity to place the experiments onboard STS-134 comes as a result of collaboration between the Emil Buehler Research Center for Engineering, Science and Mathematics at NSU (EBRC) and NanoRacks LLC (, who is providing the commercial payload mini-lab under their Space Act agreement with NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory Program.

The students will work with Giarikos and Perlman in analyzing the crystals when they are returned to Earth. The crystals will be studied using a scanning electron microscope to determine if the space-grown tin crystals have a different growth pattern than those grown on Earth. Also lending assistance on the project are EBRC project directors, Hui Fang Huang “Angie” Su, Ed.D., from NSU’s Fischler School of Education, and Eric S. Ackerman, Ph.D., from NSU’s Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences.