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Friday, November 18, 2016, 23:24

Space experiments designed by HK students successful

By Shadow Li and Honey Tsang
Space experiments designed by HK students successful
Five out of the six silkworms, chosen from more than 4,000 silkworms to be brought to the space lab, successfully made cocoons. (Photo/Xinhua )

HONG KONG - The city’s young aspiring scientists were thrilled to see the success of unprecedented space experiments which they designed - following the safe return of two astronauts from their space mission on Friday.

In a groundbreaking science class hosted jointly by astronaut Jing Haipeng in outer space and another astronaut on earth, Jing presented a silkworm experiment conceived by Hong Kong secondary school students.

Five out of the six silkworms, chosen from more than 4,000 silkworms to be brought to the space lab, successfully made cocoons. Another one failed, despite meticulous care from the two astronauts.

Five out of the six silkworms, chosen from more than 4,000 silkworms to be brought to the space lab, successfully made cocoons

Jing said the project is to see whether the silkworms can produce silk and make a cocoon – like they do on earth.

Jing and Chen Dong returned to earth on Friday safely after completing China’s sixth manned spacecraft mission - and the nation’s longest one to date - on Shenzhou 11.

Together with the silkworm experiments, another two experiments conducted in space originated from Hong Kong students’ ideas. These were a study to see how porous membranes are formed in space and examining the chaos theory through the oscillation of a double pendulum with one placed in space and the other on earth.

The three experiments were selected out of 70 experiments proposed by Hong Kong students during the Space Science Experiment Design Competition last year.

China Manned Space Engineering Office Director Wang Zhaoyao told reporters in Beijing on Friday all three experiments designed by Hong Kong students were successfully carried out. They were likely to lead to new scientific discoveries.

Asked whether the two astronauts will join a delegation of representatives from this mission to visit Hong Kong and Macao, Wang said top priority is for the pair is to recuperate first.

Exchanges will deepen understanding between the nation’s manned space engineering team and people in Hong Kong and Macao. There will also be more educational and public activities for young people from Hong Kong, Macao and other places, Wang said.

“It’s no easy task taking animal species, other than human beings, into space,” said Chow wing-hei, project adviser of the silkworm experiment, who teaches at Christian and Missionary Alliance Sun Kei Secondary School.

“At this stage, we don’t know the quality of the silk as we haven’t had the chance to examine it yet.

“However, it’s confirmed that the silkworms had successfully produced silk fibers under microgravity. Our team regards the outcome as a successful experiment,” said Chow.

Space experiments designed by HK students successful
The project was designed by students at the Christian and Missionary Alliance Sun Kei Secondary School. (Photo / Xinhua)

Chow said a lot of matters had to be considered and tackled beforehand. In early trials, the team discovered that many silkworms died of eating dehydrated morus leaves, which is a common food source for silkworms.

It’s no easy task taking animal species, other than human beings, into space

Chow wing-hei, project adviser of the silkworm experiment
“As a result, we replaced the leaves with artificial fodder which has a longer shelf life,” Leung Tsz-wan, one of the secondary students in Chow’s team, explained. “And we designed a special container, with a valve to lock in the moisture, for better storage of the fodder.”

Chow’s team made numerous efforts to run tests. They adjusted the experiments several times with advice from mainland space experts.

Collecting the feces of the silkworms in space can also be challenging as they might die from accidentally consuming floating feces in the silkworms’ container, explained Leung.

To resolve this, the student team installed a fan to suck the floating feces at the bottom of the container and to clean it.

Jing said during the video science class released on Thursday that the silkworm experiment actually concluded on Oct 26. But they didn’t give up on the silkworm No 6, which failed to make a cocoon. They just carried on with the experiment.

In the video science class, Jing showed the audience on earth how a silkworm could float following his fingertips.

stushadow@chinadailyhk.com

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