Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Orange Park Academy Students Reach for Skies on NASA Grant

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Orange Park Academy Students Reach for Skies on NASA Grant

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Maraghy, County Line staff writer

Science students at Orange Park Christian Academy were awarded a second $18,700 NASA grant for their space shuttle-bound research project on bone health in space.

They remain the only Florida high school students to receive a grant from the Florida Space Grant Consortium, which is funded by NASA, and supports Florida-based space research and education.

"They are a bunch of go-getters, very sharp and highly motivated. We love them to pieces," said John Brandenburg, a physicist at the Florida Space Institute at Kennedy Space Center, who has met with the students several times.

The academy on Kingsley Avenue, with approximately 300 students, is affiliated with Orange Park Assembly of God. Because church schools aren't eligible for many government grants, six science students in 2001 created their own non-profit corporation called Tekna-Theos Inc. The word is Greek for children of God.

"It has moved on to become such a large-scale project," said Claire Piatt, one of the original six, who graduated in 2002 but still serves on the Tekna-Theos board of directors. "This is really, really exciting."

As part of the grant project, 17 Tekna-Theos students will be tutored in cell biology via e-mail by NASA specialists.

"It's really a cool project," said ninth-grader Deborah Eccles, who is among the 17 to be tutored. "I didn't know it would reach this height."

Eugene Williams, who also graduated in 2002, and Adam Graham, Class of 2003, also still serve on the Tekna-Theos board.

Under the direction of science teacher Kevin Simmons, a former biochemist, the students are trying to help NASA scientists send astronauts to Mars.

Because there is no resistance in weightless space, the astronauts can't exercise properly, which causes their bones to weaken and muscles to atrophy.

"Bone mass loss is a serious problem for astronauts," said Brandenburg, the physicist. "We haven't learned how to manufacture gravity in space yet."

He said he's hoping the students' research will help astronauts and also lead to more effective treatments for bone mass loss on earth called osteoporosis. …

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