Microgravity Research Competition Winner to be Announced Saturday


The means to save the Earth? End hunger? Cure diseases? Among the entrants to this competition is the potential to reap enormous benefits all of us on Earth, and for our planet itself.

Three finalists in the Microgravity Research Competition, sponsored by The Heinlein Prize Trust, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies), and the Rice Alliance have been chosen. This competition gives student researchers an exciting opportunity to advance their projects in the ultimate laboratory—in Low Earth Orbit in the microgravity environment of a private spacecraft, the SpaceX Dragon.

Among the finalists’ proposals are the means to vastly improve drug delivery into patients’ systems, and improve particle filtration, extend the shelf life of food products and pharmaceuticals, and may even lead to a cure for the type of staph infection that plagues everyone from children in kindergarten to hospital intensive care patients.

These finalists are:

  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — Decoupling Diffusive Transport PhenomenaMicrogravity allows for analysis of microparticle diffusive transport to investigate molecular diffusion at the nanoscale. A better understanding of nanoscale diffusion will impact drug delivery applications on earth and in space.
  • Universities Space Research Association — Low-Gravity Colloidal EngineeringThe development and use of colloids – mixtures where one substance is dispersed evenly throughout another – affects everything from practical concerns about product shelf life, to when order arises out of disorder, to the development of advanced carbon-electronics.
  • Durham VA Medical Center/Duke University — Methicillin Resistant StaphylococcusMethicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has become the commonest US infection from kindergarten skin lesions to intensive care unit medicine. Study of Staphylococcus aureus interactions with microscopic worms (nematodes) in space will allow understanding of the molecular mediators of bacterial invasion, and may identify protective strategies from therapeutics to vaccine production.

Finalists’ proposal summaries at: http://www.labflight.com/html/finalists.html

Representatives of these three universities will present their proposals to judges on April 17, 2009 at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The winner will be announced at the awards banquet for the 2009 Rice University Business Plan Competition hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, April 18, 2009.

The winning project will receive a $25,000 prize and transportation to and from Low Earth Orbit for the winning experiment aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

“Decades of demonstrations have shown that the microgravity of space provides a unique window on biological and physical processes,” said Art Dula, Trustee of The Heinlein Prize Trust. “Because of substantial recent funding by NASA and the private sector, access to microgravity will soon be more commonplace. This opens an incredibly exciting opportunity for the research community,” Dula said.