Five Hong Kong students’ experiment set to be launched into space

School pupils’ skin treatment trial will be tested on the Tiangong 2 space station

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 October, 2016, 10:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 3:21pm

Five Tin Shui Wai secondary school students with a passion for science have designed an experiment that is going to be performed in space, hoping to produce a high quality skin replacement treatment that could help treat burn victims.

The experiment, designed by Secondary Six students from Shun Tak Fraternal Association Yung Yau College, was the winner of a competition held last year, and will be launched into space on Monday.

The top three winners of the competition, organised by Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Bureau and China Manned Space Agency, will have their experiments conducted by astronauts on China’s recently launched and second space station, Tiangong 2, in the next couple of days.

Speaking to the Post ahead of their trip to Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in China where they will be able to witness the launch of the spaceship carrying their experiment, the students said the aim of the experiment was to create high quality porous membranes.

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Only three of winning students will be travelling to the launch, as two had other commitments.

Leann Lo Li-yan said current membranes are poor quality with diverse pore sizes, which limits their potential applications.

“Because of gravity on earth, we cannot use certain technology to form membranes with regular porous structure,” Lo said.

But with microgravity in the space station, surface tension becomes a dominant force, making it more likely that astronauts can create films with polyvinyl alcohol solution and saturated salt water, which is not possible on earth, she said.

The astronauts can then combine the two films to form an even membrane, that is permeable to air, but not water, she added.

Lo said that if the experiment succeeds, these high quality membranes can be mass produced in the space station and used as artificial skin for burn victims and those with skin injuries, and dialysis tubing.

Rex Ho Yik-lung, recalled once suffering a slight burn and still feels pain when he presses on the area on his left arm.

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“This got me thinking about how it felt like for burnt victims,” he said.

On the challenges faced, Lo said that they had to go through many reading materials and used trial and error in order to find suitable chemicals for the experiment’s design. The chemicals have to be non-toxic and the apparatus not too heavy.

While the students do not know if their experiment will succeed, they were thrilled to have their experiment performed in space.

“It was a very long process, building something from nothing, so we feel very accomplished,” Kathrine Choi Yan-ching said.

The students said they were also grateful to their chemistry teacher Tsui Yuen-kee for her time and support.

Tsui said she was happy they had this special opportunity.

“Students in a school in a public housing estate do not have many such opportunities.”