Project MERCCURI Registration and FAQ
Welcome to Project MERCCURI! (pronounced just like the planet and first US manned space program) MERCCURI stands for: Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on ISS (the International Space Station!).
We're putting together kits and information you will need to get started but for now SIGN UP so we can reach you when we are ready to launch!.
What is Project MERCCURI?
Project MERCCURI is an investigation of how microbes found in buildings on Earth (in public buildings, stadiums, etc) compare to those on board the biggest building ever built in space – the International Space Station (ISS).
The project provides an opportunity for YOU-- citizen scientists and student scientists --to participate in the research by using kits we will send you to collect microbes from surface areas in buildings or even your own cell phone or shoes. You can form a team or join a team to collect samples through September 2013. Your samples will be mailed to the University of California Davis where they will be sequenced and analyzed. Results will be shared on SciStarter so you can compare your samples to those from other locations, including the International Space Station! In addition, up to 40 samples will be selected to fly on the International Space Station where their growth rates will be compared to their counterparts in the UCDavis lab! Wouldn't it be cool if your sample is sent to the International Space Station!?
Who is leading the project?
SciStarter is teaming up with our sister site, Science Cheerleader (an organization of more than 250 current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers) and scientists at the University of California Davis to conduct this research. The experiment project, led by Dr. Jonathan Eisen and colleagues at UC Davis and members of Science Cheerleader and SciStarter teams, was one of 8 experiments competitively selected in late November 2012 in the ISS Research Competition sponsored by Space Florida and NanoRacks LLC. Project MERCCURI and the 7 other winning experiment teams will have their experiments flown and executed onboard the ISS in the Fall of 2013.
If you'd like to learn more, here’s a link to the first announcement we posted:
And here’s a link to the proposal we submitted to Space Florida and NanoRacks, LLC:
When does it take place?
Project MERCCURI will kick off at the National Science Teachers Association conference in San Antonio, TX on April 11 where we will distribute free kits and teach teachers how to collect samples. Then, we will start sampling popular venues like NFL and NBA stadiums, college sports fields, and other places you recommend! We'll sample cellphones and shoes at select Yuri's Night parties where thousands of people will be celebrating the anniversary of manned space flight! Remember, you can collect microbes from your own phone and shoes! Forty select samples will be launched into space on the Space X rocket on September 30, 2013 and delivered to the astronauts on the ISS. The samples collected by the ISS astronauts will be returned to Earth in November and that's when we'll find out which sampled building most closely resembles the microbial make up of the International Space Station!
Why is it important?
Project MERCCURI is an extension of ongoing research conducted at UC Davis on the microbial ecology of the built environment. This research examines the type of microbes that surround us all of the time, in the buildings we work and live in and on the surfaces we touch. Much is understood about the “bad microbes” or pathogens that can make us ill, but little has been done to characterize the rest of the microbial environment at the DNA level.
The purpose of this activity is to compare the general microbial make-up (population distribution) of microbes collected from large, public venues (including various NBA and NFL stadiums as well as college and high school sports venues) with the microbial population on the International Space Station (a very controlled, closed environment). Sites, including classrooms, around the world will also participate in this research project. We hope to build towards a global microbe population map to help uncover patterns.
A subset of the samples will be introduced into the microgravity environment of the International Space Station in September 2013 to observe how their growth characteristics may differ compared to their growth in the normal Earth gravity
This is a model for understanding how microbial communities are affected by long term isolation in microgravity - which is critical for planning future long duration space missions. Lastly, this study will be one of the first using modern DNA sequencing tools and analytical techniques applied to the microbial communities of a continuously inhabited spacecraft.
We will send the samples back to UCDavis where they will be sequenced and we'll post the results online in a user-friendly, easy to understand manner (colored dots on a map). Please note that we will post a select group of the most common set of microbes from all samples. This isn't a project to look for "good" or "bad" microbes. Microbes exist EVERYWHERE and we're looking, in very general terms, at the differences in the population distribution on a global scale and how our Earth-bound findings compare to what we find on the Space Station. We are happy to answer any questions you or anyone in your organization might have about this.
You will be part of an important research project to help advance America's space program! AND your sample just might be chosen to fly on the International Space Station! We'll even alert you as to when the International Space Station will be visible to your naked eye...perhaps with your sample on-board!
How does it work?
Registered participants will use a sample kit with a q-tip to swab surface areas in a prescribed manner to follow. Directions will come with your kit and you'll be matched to a local team leader. Might even be one of the Science Cheerleaders! These samples will then be analyzed at UC Davis for identification through DNA sequencing. A subset of the samples will be cultivated for growth and flown to the ISS on the Space X Dragon cargo spacecraft. These samples will be allowed to grow in microgravity and monitored using a device onboard the ISS called the microplate reader. Differences in growth between Earth and space samples taken by people like you from a variety of venues will be compared in sort of “microbial playoff”. Samples taken by the Astronauts on board the ISS will be returned to Earth on the Space X Dragon spacecraft, DNA sequenced, then compared to the microbial populations obtained by the citizen scientists and student scientists on Earth.
What will we sample?
Specific instructions of what to sample and how to sample will be provided on the Project MERCCURI project page on SciStarter in the coming weeks. Sign up, below, to be notified when the registration page is live! In the big picture sense, samples will be taken surfaces such as handrails, laptop keyboards, and other things that people touch every day. Even the game ball or pom poms from a football, basketball, baseball or volleyball game, etc, would provide interesting data, which would be comparable to surface swabs taken from the ISS. Participants will be asked to provide a summary of the type of surface they have sampled and the environment at the time of sampling. These metadata will be logged and tracked as the growth and DNA sequencing of the samples from you are analyzed at UC Davis.
How do I participate in the project?
The process starts with a simple sign up form. We will then advise you via email when the experiment protocols are finalized, and this information will be posted on the Project MERCURRI home page here on SciStarter. Once you have reviewed and acknowledged your understanding of the sampling protocol you will be invited to join a team or start your own team. Then, we'll send you the sampling kits with more information.
Your registration is the first step in you becoming a contributing scientist in microbial ecology research and the research conducted in a professional space experiment performed onboard the ISS!
So SIGN UP to learn more and we'll send you details when we have them!