At the presentation day held at the Toulouse Space Centre on Thursday 18 March for the French scientific and educational experiments set to depart on ESA’s Alpha mission, CNES, in partnership with the national scientific research centre CNRS, is officially launching the call for participation by schools in the ‘Blob’ experiment (#EleveTonBlob [#RaiseYourBlob]).
Better known as slime mould or simply “blob” in the French-speaking world, Physarum polycephalum is a unicellular organism that is nevertheless capable of learning, and it is this capacity that CNRS research director Audrey Dussutour is investigating in the laboratory at the Integrative Biology Centre’s animal cognition research unit at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse.
Will this organism behave differently in space? How might microgravity and radiation affect its evolution? To find out, the International Space Station (ISS) will be playing host to this unusual ‘lodger’ in July under the watchful eye of Thomas Pesquet, who will be tasked with ‘waking it up’ and taking pictures under two scientific protocols. ‘Exploration’ will study how two blobs respond alongside one another in an environment without food, while ‘Exploitation’ will analyse the behaviour of two other blobs when food is available.
The CADMOS centre for the development of microgravity applications and space operations at CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre is developing and monitoring the dozen scientific and educational experiments that the astronaut will be operating during his mission. Besides preparing the Blob experiment, it is in charge of the student experiments selected for the Generation ISS competition organized in partnership with the Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation.
NES’s Youth Education department, in partnership with CNRS, is inviting 2,000 primary, middle and high schools to take part in this education experiment and compare their results with those obtained on the ISS. Blobs will be supplied in a dehydrated, dormant sclerotium state and then rehydrated in the classroom and aboard the station. In addition to the experiment protocols provided by CNRS, other avenues of investigation imagined by CNES and the Toulouse education authority will give teachers the chance to prolong the experiment. Schools that have applied to take part with CNES will be selected in June and receive their kit containing three blobs to start work from end September.
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