BCM’s Center for Educational Outreach has turned to some tiny helpers in its effort to advance quality teaching and learning opportunities in science and health. About 800 ants were launched into space and are now aboard the International Space Station, where their behavior is being studied by school children back on Earth.
The ants were sent to space as a part of a collaborative project of the Center for Educational Outreach, BioServe Space Technologies of the University of Colorado Boulder, NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. They aren’t the first creatures to go to space as part of this project – butterflies and spiders also have been studied.
The aim of the project is to see how ants behave in microgravity when they explore habitats of different sizes, according to Dr. Nancy Moreno, professor at Baylor’s Center for Educational Outreach.
Ants have very interesting social behaviors. Research has shown that ant colonies operate without central control. Instead, the complex behaviors of members of the colony result from ant-to-ant interactions. The experiment will help determine whether these behaviors change in microgravity. Scientific expertise on ant behavior is being provided by Stanford University.
The ants on the ISS are contained in eight separate compartments with about 100 ants per compartment. The compartments are opened periodically to see how the ants explore new sections of their habitats. The experiment includes about 60 minutes of video footage per compartment. Both the video and an educational guide are available free online for teachers and students.
Baylor’s Center for Educational Outreach developed a classroom version of the habitat, which enables students to conduct their own investigations on earth. Students can view footage from the ants on the ISS and compare their behavior to the behavior of the control group of ants in their classroom.
“The most important aspect of this project from an educational perspective is that teachers and students will participate in authentic science investigations if given the opportunity. When you provide teachers with an exciting, real-world project, they will find the time to integrate it into their curriculum,” said Moreno.
Download the free teacher’s guide and get more information on the experiment at http://bioedonline.org.