CAIRO: Egyptian high school student Amr Mohamed won the global YouTube Space Lab competition, which will see the experiment he presented taken to space through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Mohamed was declared the winner on Thursday for the 17-18 age group, along with Dorothy Chen And Sara Ma from the US for the 14-18 age group.
Mohamed, an Alexandrian who is studying to complete the British IGCSE certificate, was one of three regional finalists in the 16-18 age bracket. His entry was a proposal to examine the behavior of the Zebra jumping spider (Salticus scenicus) in a microgravity environment.
In his age group, Mohamed was the only competitor from the Middle East, Africa, and Europe who reached the final stage.
“Jumping spiders don’t catch their prey using webs like other spiders, but they locate their prey and then jump to capture them,” Mohamed told Daily News Egypt last month after he was named one of six regional competitors in the final stage.
“My theory is that jumping spiders won’t be able to catch their preys in space because they cannot jump in a zero-gravity environment,” he said.
The competition saw 2,000 submissions from 80 countries across the world.
Chen and Ma, both 16, who attend Troy High School in Michigan, created an experiment that asked if “alien superbugs [could] cure disease on Earth.” They want to send bacteria to the space station to see if introducing different nutrients and compounds can block their growth in the hopes of providing new tools to fight germs on Earth.
“The idea that something that is your experiment being sent up into space and actually becoming a reality is incredible,” said Ma. “I definitely want to pursue science as a career,” added Chen.
Mohamed shared the same sentiment. “The idea of sending an experiment into space is the most exciting thing I have ever heard in my life,” he said after the results were announced. “Winning YouTube Space Lab means everything to me, to my family, and to the people of the Middle East.”
The students will have their experiments conducted by astronauts 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and live streamed to the world on a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop via YouTube later this year.
Mohamed, Chen and Ma joined four other regional winning teams in Washington, DC, this week to honor their achievements, with prizes including a ZERO-G flight, a Lenovo IdeaPad laptop and a special tour and dinner at the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum at Dulles.
The ceremony in Washington, DC was attended by members of Space Lab partners including NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
YouTube and Lenovo held the awards ceremony at the Newseum in downtown Washington.
In addition to having their experiments performed in space, the trio will get to choose one of two unique space experiences: either a trip to Japan to watch their experiment blast off in a rocket bound for the ISS, or once they turn 18-years old, a one-of-a-kind astronaut training experience in Star City, Russia, the training center for Russian cosmonauts.
“Our goal with YouTube Space Lab has always been to encourage more kids to put their hands up in the classroom, to study and be inspired by space,” said Zahaan Bharmal, Google’s head of marketing operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“I think we have shown that through this, the world’s largest classroom, kids around the world are excited by science and our three extraordinary winners serve as an inspiration to future scientists everywhere,” said the man behind the idea of Space Lab.
“As the world’s leader in education PCs, we’re thrilled to support programs that turn students on to the sheer wonder of science, especially using technology like our ThinkPad laptops, which are the only ones certified for use on the International Space Station,” said Michael Schmedlen, worldwide director of education at Lenovo.
“We look forward to seeing the winning experiments performed live from space not only for their contributions to advancing science and humanity, but also as a source of inspiration for creative minds around the world.”
Mohamed aspires to join one of the US’s prestigious universities and has already applied to MIT, Stanford and Columbia.
“I hope I can join one of these universities because there are no real scientific research programs in Egypt,” he previously told DNE.
“There is a research program in MIT that enables undergraduates to choose a certain area of study and involve them in undergraduate research while being a research assistant, and it is fully funded,” he explained.
Mohamed also believes that the experience of studying abroad will help him become more independent.
He said that if he is not accepted overseas, he will apply for a science program in a public university, but stipulates that it should have “a human face” like health care.
“I cannot imagine living with machines for the rest of my life,” he said.
But although Mohamed doesn’t like machines, he won two silver medals in programming in the Egyptian Olympiad for Informatics.
File photo of Amr Mohamed. (Daily News Egypt Photo/Hassan Ibrahim)