Rocket launched with student experiment onboard

Sofia Heller

SpaceX launched a rocket Feb. 19 containing an experiment in paper chromatography that Samuel Buckley-Bonanno ’19 designed.

The experiment tests the effect that gravity has on chromatography and how the outcome differs between Earth and space.

Buckley-Bonanno explained that in his experiment, he puts one side of a piece of paper with a sample of pen ink in water. Then, the water travels up the paper, separating the various parts of the sample. In his experiment, Buckley-Bonanno said that he is trying to determine if gravity influences the water when it flows through the piece of paper.

“It’s such a common process in chemistry, so it’s really important to know whether it works [in space] or not,” Buckley-Bonanno said.

In his Chemistry Honors class this year, Buckley-Bonanno said that one of the labs dealt with paper chromatography.

Buckley-Bonanno began the experiment by submitting a proposal with three friends for a competition held at his previous school, Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica. After winning, he and his friends were able to carry out the design and work with Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, NASA and SpaceX.

This is the third SpaceX rocket launch to the International Space Station with Buckley-Bonanno’s experiment plans.

On the first attempt, the rocket exploded, and on the second attempt, Buckley-Bonanno said that the experiment broke due to ambiguity in the instructions.

Buckley-Bonanno expressed the value he finds in seeing firsthand the complexity of space and science. He said the three years working with the experiment has been a rewarding learning experience.

“I hope that this time it succeeds,” Buckley-Bonanno said. “I hope to continue this sort of research, but not the exact program because it’s something I did in eighth grade. Even though I’ve always loved space exploration, I want to continue research in, not specifically space, but just science and physics in general.”