Students from St. Brother André Elementary School’s Program for Gifted Learners (PGL) were interested in the effects of cosmic radiation on the molecular structure of epinephrine, a medication found in EpiPens used in emergencies to treat severe allergic reactions.
The PGL students had their experiment accepted by the Cubes in Space program, meaning that it was sent into space with NASA.
The John Holmes Mass Spectrometry Core Facility in the uOttawa’s Faculty of Science analyzed the returned samples to find the epinephrine sent into space returned only 87% pure, with the remaining 13% transformed into extremely poisonous benzoic acid derivatives, making the EpiPen unusable.
“Kids are natural scientists. They are curious and ask questions. We adults just need to facilitate their participation in the scientific process”
— Full Professor of the Faculty of Science’s Department of Chemistry and Bimolecular Sciences
“As part of the Cubes in Space, two cubes were put together by the students, with one going on a rocket and the other on a high-altitude balloon. We then did GC-MS analysis of both pure epinephrine and the solution from an EpiPen before and after flights. The ‘after’ samples showed signs that the epinephrine reacted and decomposed,” says Full Professor Paul Mayer of the Faculty of Science’s Department of Chemistry and Bimolecular Sciences.
“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.”
The students’ findings have not only helped researchers understand the effects of cosmic radiation on epinephrine but also have real-world implications for space travel and astronaut safety.
The PGL students, who range from ages nine to 12, are now designing a capsule that could protect the EpiPen solution in space so that it doesn’t become unusable.
Mayer encourages parents and adults to foster a sense of discovery in young students.
“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,” he says.