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Thursday, November 24, 2016, 00:11

Silkworm space breakthrough inspiring young scientists

By Honey Tsang
Silkworm space breakthrough inspiring young scientists
Students from the Christian and Missionary Alliance Sun Kei Secondary School, who designed an experiment to grow silkworms in space, show their award certificates with a model of Tiangong-2 space station. (Edmond Tang / China Daily)

HONG KONG - New discoveries and insights from the silkworm experiment completed in space earlier by astronauts are encouraging Hong Kong’s young people to further pursue their passion for science.

The fact silkworms used a shorter time to spin their cocoons in space is a new scientific finding. This encouraged four Hong Kong secondary students who came up with the experiment to revisit their design with China Daily on Wednesday.

New discoveries and insights from the silkworm experiment completed in space earlier by astronauts are encouraging HK’s young people to further pursue their passion for science

The fully grown fifth instar silkworm larvae – which are a developmental stage after the silkworms undergo their fourth molt – were expected to be ready to spin their cocoons on the eighth day after being taken into space, the student team explained.

It came as a revelation that the larvae started constructing cocoon nests four days earlier in space than they would have on the earth, the students said.

When re-evaluating the outcome of the experiment, the students concurred, they should have proposed using younger larvae during their third to fourth instar. This would have achieved a better result, they added.

Five out of six silkworms were transformed into cocoons in space. They have been frozen in low-temperature conditions after returning to earth. This is to lay the groundwork for further experiments.

“One new finding may lead into several valuable research areas. We realize that scientific breakthroughs and achievements have to come by across a long course of time,” said Leung Tsz-wan, a member of the team. “The whole process also makes us aware of our passion for science.”

The four Secondary 6 students from Christian and Missionary Alliance Sun Kei Secondary School said the experiment has inspired them to delve deeper into science – including biology. They are enthusiastic to enroll into bio-related degree programs at university.

“We hope our experiment result can spawn some breakthroughs in the future, and even be applied in daily lives,” said Chow Wing-hei, teacher and project adviser of the silkworm space experiment.

The team’s understanding is that mainland space experts will soon conduct follow-up experiments to study the difference between silk spun in space and on earth. They will also further look into the influence of microgravity.

The team hopes the results can be used for medical practice or for manufacturing a spacesuit, which has uses materials including spider silk, said Chow.

honeytsang@chinadailyhk.com

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