Texas State Team Awarded Grant from NASA

By Amanda Forbes
News Reporter

Texas State is looking to the stars after being awarded a grant from NASA to conduct research aboard the International Space Station.

The four-year grant was awarded to Texas State biology professor Robert McLean. McLean’s Texas State team will be involved in a project called “Polymicrobial Biofilm Growth and Control during Spaceflight.” McLean said they will be examining the behavior of biofilms in microgravity.

“There were only 16 grants that were funded through this specific program and to be one of 16 is pretty cool,” McLean said.

Doctoral student Starla Thornhill displays one of the samples used to simulate microgravity on earth. Photo by Amanda Forbes.
Doctoral student Starla Thornhill displays one of the samples used to simulate microgravity on earth. Photo by Amanda Forbes.

Starla Thornhill, McLean’s doctoral student assistant, will lead the team in the initial data collection process in the Jerome and Supple Science Building on campus. Once the baseline data is assembled, the project will move aboard the ISS. Thornhill said being on the project’s team at a student level will help achieve her career goals and she hopes she can observe the project all the way through.

“I’m really excited about the space flight portion of the project where we’re actually going to be sending the samples up to the space station,” Thornhill said.

On top of being helpful to life on earth, McLean said he hopes studying biofilms will be beneficial to long-duration space flights and possible missions to Mars. The project will examine how certain bacteria growth, such as E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, affect components that make up the ISS.

“Eventually when we get into flight experiments we’re going to see if the bacteria can cause corrosion on stainless steel surfaces,” McLean said.

The project will begin this October and will come to a close in September 2020.

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