To Tech Savvy and Beyond: AAUW Member Sends Her Research into Space
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.'”
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 former AAUW STEM Programs and Social Media intern Ariana Witt.