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Genes in Space finalists a step closer to contributing to development of space travel

Five teams, comprising eight young scientists, were selected as finalists in the Genes In Space competition, which challenges pupils to design experiments to be conducted in space and encourages future talent for the industry.

ABU DHABI // Eight UAE pupils are a step closer to contributing to the development of space travel after their experiments were chosen to be the final five in the Genes in Space contest.

The five teams selected from schools in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and Dubai were announced at a dinner on Sunday night in the capital, where they were congratulated by family members, teachers and the competition organisers.

The announcement of the finalists was timed to coincide with the second Innovation Week, which began on Sunday, exactly one year after the contest was launched by the UAE Space Agency, The National and Boeing, during the first Innovation Week.

“This competition is the first of its kind in the UAE and we are thrilled to meet the students who participated in this inspired experiment,” said Khaled Al Hashmi, director of space mission management at the UAE Space Agency.

Mr Al Hashmi believed the competition was important in raising awareness about space exploration.

“We cannot develop UAE’s space sector without the inclusion of our youth and engaging them through initiatives such as this one is essential to the field’s advancement,” he said.

Genes in Space challenged pupils to design DNA experiments that take advantage of the low-gravity environment in space and solve real-life space exploration problems.

Having just flown in from Boeing’s headquarters in Houston, Kevin Foley, the company’s global sales and marketing manager, agreed on the importance of Genes in Space.

“This is the first time Genes in Space takes place outside the United States and from the quantity as well as quality of proposals we received here you can already tell the contest is making an impact,” he said.

With the US edition of the competition in its second year, already having sent up its inaugural student winner’s experiment to the ISS, Mr Foley said the competition was already being noticed, something he said could easily translate to the UAE.

“Already we are seeing an increase in proposals and the interest from teachers, students and schools has been tremendous. This is just the beginning for the UAE and no doubt the interest her will increase,” said Mr Foley.

Scott Copeland, manager of research integration at Boeing, said selecting the top five from all the entrants was challenging.

“It was very hard. We had to filter it down to a smaller group first. But was very difficult to narrow it down to five because of the quality. You could see the amount of work that had already gone into the proposals and the level of understanding and ingenuity in the experiments,” he said.

The top five the finalist’s were presented with a miniPCR machine — a device that carry out molecular biology, genetics and biological engineering experiments — which each of their schools would receive.

Emirati Ahmed Al Mansoori, whose daughter Alia reached the final, said the competition was an unparalleled opportunity.

“My daughter wants to be a space scientist and our country’s focus on innovation and research, including this competition, will give her that chance,” he said.

Dr Arati Shirali, the mother of finalist Akio, said she could have never have imagined her son would have the chance to be involved in the study of space.

“Giving the children a chance to learn independently and come up with their own experiments at such a young age was difficult to imagine,” she said.

Her husband, Mahendra Shirali, said he had initially thought the UAE’s focus on innovation was to do with marketing but had changed his mind when he learnt about the competition.

“I’m really impressed to see the process in practice and have to congratulate all those involved on making this a reality,” he said.

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Genes in Space: Full coverage

Genes in Space

Profiles: Meet the five finalists for Genes in Space

In pictures: UAE pupils get chance to fine tune their entries

National Editorial: More than a contest

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