To Tech Savvy and Beyond: AAUW Member Sends Her Research into Space

Sarah Wyatt with a group of kids in a lab.

Sarah Wyatt is the committee chair for AAUW’s Tech Savvy in Athens, Ohio. Image via Facebook

May 28, 2014

Sarah Wyatt celebrated her 11th birthday by watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969. She stayed up past her bedtime for this monumental event, never thinking that someday she would be part of a trip into space.

But this December Wyatt will send her research into orbit as part of NASA’s International Space Station flight experiments. Her project is one of 31 proposals that NASA’s space biology program will fund to understand how changes in gravity affect cells, plants, and animals. Wyatt’s experiment will explore how plants and plant proteins respond to the space flight environment, adding to her larger body of work on plant biology and how those organisms react to various environments.

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As Wyatt explained, when humans are outside and it gets chilly, they can simply go indoors and put on a sweater; plants cannot. She hopes to explore what it is that plants do to survive in an unfamiliar and changing environment.

Wyatt thought of the experiment while serving on a panel for NASA. She realized that there was an area of protein-related research left unexplored.

“I’d never put forth an experiment to go to space because you have to have a really good experiment,” she said. “So, needless to say, I’m really excited for this opportunity.”

A professor in the department of environmental and plant biology at Ohio University, Wyatt is also the committee chair for AAUW’s Tech Savvy  program for girls in Athens, Ohio. Tech Savvy is a daylong STEM career conference designed to attract girls from the sixth through ninth grade to these fields.

Girls who attended the Tech Savvy at Ohio University earlier this month got a firsthand look at Wyatt’s space-bound experiment when she gave the keynote address. Wyatt was glad to use her work to show young girls what women are capable of in STEM careers.

“Neither of my parents went to college,” said Wyatt, who has always been interested in botany. “I’m just hoping that these girls can see you can do just about anything. You shouldn’t be thinking, ‘I can’t.’ You should be thinking, ‘I can.’”

Girls at Tech Savvy learn about STEM skills and career opportunities.

Shifra Narasimhan (left) and Abigail Tadlock learn to build a simple circuit during the Tech Savvy workshop at Ohio University May 17, 2014. Photo by Ohio University / Jonathan Adams

Wyatt said her experience as a Tech Savvy committee chair has allowed her to connect with fellow AAUW members she would have not known otherwise and, most important, to give girls in the Athens area an opportunity to explore STEM fields as potential career options. She praised the volunteers and AAUW members who make Tech Savvy happen, noting that the dedication to middle school outreach is very important to encourage girls to become space researchers.

“Tech Savvy is giving girls the chance to realize their potential and live up to their potential,” she said.

This post was written by AAUW STEM Programs and Social Media intern Ariana Witt.

By:   |   May 28, 2014

2 Comments

  1. Elisabeth Bathgate says:

    This week I have been a dorm mom at Sonoma State where 90 of our California girls have attended Tech Trek Camp.
    It has been an unbelievable eye opener for these very smart young 7th grade girls. They have learned so much and matured in their thinking about career possibilities after spending an evening hearing from 11 women from a variety of professions talk to them at tables where they were able to ask questions.
    Their classes have been in depth and their excitement about the experiments they have done each day is so rewarding for us since our branches had to raise $1,000 for each camper.
    Their thank you notes tell it all.
    Liz Bathgate

  2. Alexa Silverman says:

    Liz, thank you for sharing your experience at Tech Trek in California. Tech Trek’s history in California truly shows the power of AAUW in igniting an interest in STEM that stays with girls their whole lives. All of us at AAUW appreciate the hard work of our dorm monitors and branch members. Your effort is what makes Tech Trek happen!

    Alexa Silverman
    AAUW STEM Program Associate

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