Isabel Jiang, a high school student from Hillsborough, CA, is about to take a giant leap forward in her scientific career. She was named the 2023 winner of the Genes in Space student research competition at this year’s International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC), held in Seattle.
“Winning Genes in Space was so exciting and also extremely surreal,” Jiang said. “More than anything, I am excited to be able to carry out this research on the ISS and potentially make an impact on how doctors and physicians prepare astronauts for space travel.”
Founded by Boeing and miniPCR bio and supported by the ISS National Laboratory and New England BioLabs, the Genes in Space program is designed to challenge students in grades 7 through 12 to propose ideas to leverage the unique environment of the ISS for pioneering biotechnology experiments. The winning proposals are developed into flight projects that are conducted by astronauts on the space station.
“I’ve had a phenomenal experience working on this project over the past four months with my mentor, Aleks Radakovic, and I’m eager to continue refining it with him, along with the other amazing scientists and professionals from Genes in Space’s sponsors,” said Jiang.
Her project, which will launch to the orbiting laboratory in 2024, investigates the mechanisms that make latent viruses reactivate in space. Jiang hypothesizes that spaceflight conditions, namely radiation exposure, can activate certain genetic elements called retrotransposons that can replicate themselves and lead to health problems if not regulated.
“By understanding how space affects our genes, this research could help develop ways to protect astronauts during space missions and shed light on genetic risks for certain diseases,” said Jiang.
More than 800 submissions from nearly 1,200 students across the country were narrowed down to only five finalists. Those top five finalists then presented their proposals to a panel of scientists, educators, and technologists at this year’s ISSRDC. The judges announced their selection on the last day of the conference, and Jiang’s parents and mentor were present to cheer her on.
“We’re extremely proud of her accomplishment and very excited about this opportunity,” said Valerie and Vernon Jiang. To learn more about ISS National Lab educational programs and resources, visit the Space Station Explorers webpage.