Students from St. Brother André Elementary School’s Program for Gifted Learners (PGL) recently teamed up with the University of Ottawa to examine whether EpiPens, the emergency medication used for treating serious allergic reactions, work in space. Believe It or Not!, the students learned that the critical medicine can become poisonous when exposed to conditions on a rocket and high-altitude balloon—something NASA didn’t even know!
A Major Discovery
The budding scientists, ages 9 to 12, collaborated with the university to test a theory, specifically how cosmic radiation effects the molecular structure of epinephrine, according to UOttawa. The stars and the sun release high-energy particles that cause cosmic radiation. Earth’s atmosphere does a good job of protecting the planet from this radiation; however, it can be dangerous if astronauts are exposed to cosmic rays for a long period of time. Cosmic radiation can cause issues such as radiation sickness, cancer, and other diseases.
The PGL and UOttawa experiment was part of the Cubes in Space STEM program that allows student research to take place onboard two suborbital flights organized by NASA. When the team’s samples sent into space were returned to UOttawa and the elementary students, the university analyzed it through its John Holmes Mass Spectrometry Core Facility. The epinephrine came back only 87-percent pure. The remaining 13 percent turned into benzoic acid derivatives, making it poisonous.
Full Professor Paul Mayer of UOttawa’s Faculty of Science’s Department of Chemistry and Bimolecular Sciences, explained that his team analyzed the pure epinephrine and the solution from an EpiPen before and after it flew on a rocket and high-altitude balloon. “The ‘after’ samples showed signs that the epinephrine reacted and decomposed,” he noted, adding, “In fact, no epinephrine was found in the ‘after’ EpiPen solution samples. This result raises questions about the efficacy of an EpiPen for outer space applications and these questions are now starting to be addressed by the kids in the PGL program.”
Listen To The Kids
This experiment by the university team and junior scholars from PGL informed researchers about the effects of cosmic radiation on epinephrine and its ramifications when it comes to space travel and astronaut health.
Meanwhile, the work of the PGL students is still ongoing. They are now collaborating on designing a container to safeguard the EpiPen solution in space so it does not transform into a poisonous, unstable substance.
Mayer believes parents and adults should encourage children to seek answers to puzzles and problems they encounter: “Kids are natural scientists. They are curious and ask questions. We adults just need to facilitate their participation in the scientific process, and then get out of the way and let them explore and learn.”
By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com