UWS hopes space link-up will see students’ work take off

Michael Foale, left, with UWS vice-principal professor Ehsan Mesbahi
Michael Foale, left, with UWS vice-principal professor Ehsan Mesbahi
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A Scottish university is hoping its reputation for science and engineering will take off thanks to a new partnership which will see students’ work tested on the International Space Station.

The University of the West of Scotland (UWS) announced this week it had joined forces with the International Space School Education Trust (ISSET), which will give research staff and PhD students the opportunity to collaborate with NASA and other American academic institutions.

The partnership will use collaborative research to tackle challenges humans face both on Earth and in space, from environmental issues to technology.

Michael Foale, the most experienced British-born astronaut in the history of spaceflight, visited the university’s Paisley campus on Monday to speak to an audience of students, academia and industry, about his experience in orbit.

“After leaving NASA in 2013 following flying in space six times, I enjoy talking about it, reliving my excitement about it, and encouraging young people to get into science, technology, engineering and maths subjects,” he said.

“Now, we’re working with UWS on a programme of different experiments that will fly on the International Space Station. My role will be to talk to them about the space environment, both inside and outside the ISS, so they understand the conditions when conducting their research.

“Over the next few years, ISSET, UWS, and myself will mentor those students, helping them get the most out of this fantastic opportunity to put their experiments into space, furthering Scotland’s position within space research.”

Through the partnership UWS researchers will have the opportunity to exploit their knowledge in areas such as gas sensing technologies for growing healthy plants on the space station, the effects of growth hormone administration on muscle mass and cognitive function, and the changes in material decomposition in space.

The university has also announced the creation of three fully-funded PhD scholarships as part of the partnership, available to students in the UK, EU and world-wide, giving them the chance to be part of a unique, experimental research programme in Scotland.

Professor Ehsan Mesbahi, UWS academic vice-principal said: “Our new partnership with ISSET represents a key step forward in realising UWS’ strategic vision to link its multi-disciplinary expertise to projects in space.

“Through collaboration with ISSET, NASA, and a number of important American academic institutions, our PhD students have the opportunity to explore the unknown opportunities that space, and the ISS itself presents.

“The partnership will undoubtedly bring many benefits to the academics and their research, and will go a long way in building our knowledge of what’s achievable both in space and on Earth. The university is immensely proud to be part of such an important initiative, which puts Scotland firmly on the map for this type of exploratory study. We wish every success to the PhD students taking part in it.”

Dr Julie Keeble, chief scientist at ISSET, said: “The opportunity to send research into space is so unique and fantastic for anybody who manages to achieve it. There’s one International Space Station working on behalf of the entire planet Earth, yet there are thousands of laboratories on Earth carrying out science.

“Creating a bridge from science on Earth to the ISS is achieved by so few people, and now it’s going to happen for the PhD students at UWS.”