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Smithtown Central School District
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Blast Off! What a trip for HSE's Charlene Chen

September 19, 2023

This past August Smithtown East Science Research student, Charlene Chen, was one of five finalists in the nation to compete in the Genes in Space Competition at the International Space Station Conference held in Seattle, WA. In addition to preparing for the final presentation, Charlene was able to interact with all of the attendees including over 750 space professionals from around the world!  A highlight was being able to meet NASA astronaut Megan McArthur from Expedition 65 (April – November, 2021) who personally conducted GIS experiments while she was on board the ISS.

Charlene proposed an experiment that would monitor astronaut DNA damage resulting from space radiation and microgravity conditions. Working closely with Ms. Zeitlin, the Smithtown East Science Research Coordinator, and graduate student Fran Navarro from Harvard University, Charlene read copious amounts of background literature and dove into the procedural analysis utilizing equipment provided by the GIS sponsors including miniPCR and New England Biolabs. On the day of the presentation she spoke eloquently and answered rigorous questions from a panel of judges.

Accompanying Ms. Chen was her brother Kevin, also a past GIS finalist from 2019, and Zachary Finger, an East finalist from 2021 when the conference was virtual. 

According to Ms. Zeitlin, “It was such an honor to attend with three student finalists.  As soon as I heard the great news that Charlene placed, I asked the organizers if Zachary could attend since the best part of the win is the interaction with space engineers. They agreed and invited the other finalists from 2021. Three of them returned as well. There was a real sense of excitement and support for Charlene whose presentation was outstanding and addressed a much-needed concern of astronaut health. We are all so proud of her! “  

Scott Copeland, Director of ISS Research Integration at Boeing, also a GIS partner, stated that Smithtown East was one of only two schools in the country to have attended the finals three times! This distinction highlights the excellence of the ThINK Discovery Science Research Program and the passion for space research.

Students and science teacher Maria Zeitlin smiling for picture

Students, science teacher Maria Zeitlin and astronaut Megan McArthur smiling for picture

Students and Maria Zeitlin posing for picture

Students and Maria Zeiltin posing for picture