Sophomore Leia Spaniak ‘s passion for science has no earthly bounds, literally speaking. Leia is a member of a team of four local area high school students known as M.I.L.E. whose experiment in two 2018 Higher Orbits: Go for Launch! division competitions garnered top awards. Go for Launch! was created by the nonprofit organization, Higher Orbits. The camp utilizes space as a launching pad for engagement in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. At camp students design experiments, interact with former astronauts, and engage in team building activities.
M.I.L.E. designed an experiment that the girls hope will help lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases. Leia’s team was also required to write a paper about the experiment and future applications of the experiment. A team of STEM specialists then gave team members questions to answer about their experiment. Leia consulted with Regina Dominican’s Science Department Chair Heidi Eichler in crafting a response to the inquiries. If M.I.L.E. wins the upcoming national competition among Go for Launch! camps, Leia and her teammates’ experiment will be conducted on the International Space Station in 2019. This would mean that Leia and her team would then be working with an engineering team from NASA to develop their proposed experiment for space.
What’s behind M.I.L.E.’s success? Natural intelligence, collaboration, hard work, passion, creativity, and – perhaps most important – resilience. In 2017 the experiment that Leia’s team designed was not chosen to advance in the competition. This disappointment only fueled Leia’s desire to design a winning experiment. While M.I.L.E.’s project was a group effort, it was Leia’s suggestion in 2018 to study the impact of weightlessness on Hydra, a seemingly immortal microorganism with the ability to regenerate without end. Leia reasoned that, by studying the organism’s immortality, one could gain insight into possible cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s, degenerative brain disorders that have baffled medical science.
Leia is an academic scholar as demonstrated by her enrollment in eight honors and AP courses at Regina Dominican, all before completing her sophomore year! She reports that she loves learning and building relationships with experts in the field while expanding her knowledge base in areas of authentic interest to her. Her engagement with the STEM space camps has proved to be one of her most challenging and exciting learning experiences and has prompted Leia to consider pursuing space engineering, astronomy, or cosmology as a career.
Regardless of which team is deemed the national winner in the Go for Launch! competition, Leia’s participation in this camp – along with two division wins – is highly impressive. We’re so proud of our Regina girl! Reach for the stars, Leia!