Meridian News
Reaching for the Stars: Meridian Students Headed to NASA Headquarters
April 12, 2023

Students in Meridian’s STEM Academy are reaching for the stars as they head to Houston as NASA HUNCH finalists.  

These students were challenged to choose from several different problems posed by NASA engineers. The HUNCH program empowers students to learn skills through project-based learning. 

Two groups of Meridian students will head to Houston to present their projects to NASA engineers and astronauts this month. Students have worked on these projects since August. 

STEM Academy instructor, Debbie Short said this project gives students a chance to use their prior experiences in the program to, “identify a real-world problem, research prior attempts, develop a solution and design a working prototype.” 

“Working with mentors from the Johnson Space Center to develop solutions for problems that astronauts have identified for the International Space Station is preparing our students for their future careers as engineers,” said Short. 

Generating the Future 

Sterile IV saline solution is necessary in many medical procedures, but it is costly to take into space. Keke Abai and Tobias Gossman, seniors at Stillwater High School; Alexis Panek, a senior at Perkins-Tryon; and Isaac Ochsner, a senior at Epic Charter School, used their experience in the STEM Academy at Meridian to design a solution to this problem.  

“We started out with general prototyping,” Ochsner said. “We spent a lot of time doing research on how pumps work in space and what type of filtration system to use.” 

The team then built a working portable machine that could create both clean drinking water and IV saline solution.  

Gossman used what he learned in his Biomedical Sciences courses to ensure the solution the machine created could actually be used in space.  

“There are standards for water set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the United States Pharmacopoeia sets the standard for pharmaceuticals,” Gossman said. “Our solution is based off those guidelines, and we had to meet certain criteria.” 

Throughout the project students met virtually with NASA engineers to check on their progress and discuss ways they could improve.  

“It was like having another teacher,” Abai said. “When we presented our final project to NASA we’d already met the engineers judging us, so it was nerve-wracking, but we also felt prepared.” 

Creating the Tools 

As NASA plans to extend the time they send astronauts into space there could be a need for things that they haven’t used in space before, like surgical tools.  

Miles Johnston, Zane Miller and Jace Brown, all seniors at Stillwater High School, used their project to find a way to 3D print surgical instruments that could be used in space.  

“When they’re up in space longer, they will need to do surgery,” Miller said. “To get the surgical tools up there it would be costly and the tools are heavy.” 

The group came up with designs for surgical instruments like a scalpel, hemostats that can be used to control bleeding in surgical procedures and tweezers and 3D printed them using a carbon fiber filament. Their design reduced the total weight of the instruments by 80%. 

Brown is part of the Biomedical Sciences program in Meridian’s STEM Academy, and he oversaw the lab tests. The group used the tools to dissect a sheep heart and a cow eye.  

The team used their experiences at Meridian as well as feedback from NASA to refine their design into the working prototype they’ll be taking to Houston.  

“This was a unique experience,” Johnston said, “one we won’t forget.” 

Each of the students will graduate this May and are pursing higher education at various universities such as Oklahoma State University and Boston University. 

Meridian Technology Center has been a driver of economic development since 1975. With a mission to educate, enrich lives and secure economic futures, Meridian offers full-time career training programs, short courses, Business and Industry services and entrepreneurial support to residents from the Agra, Carney, Glencoe, Guthrie, Morrison, Mulhall-Orlando, Pawnee, Perkins-Tryon, Perry and Stillwater school districts. 

For more information or to enroll visit or contact a career counselor by phone at (405) 377-3333 or toll-free at (888) 607-2509. 

Leave a Reply