Montana State University

Space research takes MSU student to France and beyond

July 9, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Kien Lim examined these bacteria samples that flew on the Soviet Foton-M3 spacecraft. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Just last fall, Kien Lim asked Barry Pyle if he could work in his microbiology lab at Montana State University.

Since then, the MSU senior from Malaysia has analyzed bacteria that flew on the unmanned Soviet Foton-M3 spacecraft. He received $500 from the European Space Agency to travel to France where he explained his preliminary findings to more than 100 scientists attending an international conference on "Life in Space for Life on Earth." He also learned new lab techniques at the conference, mingled with researchers and met someone from the Japanese Space Agency who said he might be able to introduce Lim to prospective employers.

"Barry gave me the chance, and I took it," Lim said of his job. "It was a very good experience."

Lim, Pyle and research associate Susan Broadaway all flew to Angers, France in June and presented initial results from MSU experiments that flew on two space missions. The Foton-M3 was launched in September from Kazakhstan. The Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched in March from Florida. Each spacecraft carried MSU experiments that tested the effect of space flight on common bacteria that can hitch rides into space and threaten astronauts' health.

"There is still a lot of work to be done, but this was an opportunity to present what we had found so far and also to meet again with our Russian colleagues and the people from NASA Ames Research Center," Pyle said about the Foton experiments.

Broadaway said they are still analyzing the Endeavour experiments, but so far have seen little difference between bacteria samples that stayed on Earth and those that flew on the shuttle.

Pyle has led several students and scientists into space research. Lim, one of the latest, is majoring in biotechnology with an emphasis on microbial systems.

"We like to encourage our undergraduate and graduate students to submit abstracts and, if possible, give presentations at conferences, because it gives them an opportunity to not only become more comfortable when presenting and preparing their results, but also it gives them an opportunity to interact with other scientists and students," Pyle said.

Pyle said he and Broadaway give students "supportive supervision" when they start working in the lab. At the same time, they help the students learn how to make good decisions and solve problems. As a result, the students move from being "quite directed" to working independently toward the goals of the project. They eventually become more like colleagues than students.

With his experience, Lim said he is thinking about pursuing a career where he will continue to work in a lab.

NASA paid most of the costs for the trio to attend the recent conference. Pyle also received a mentor travel grant from the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology. Broadaway received travel funding from Pyle's lab. The main sponsors of the conference were the European Space Agency, the International Society for Gravitational Physiology, the European Low-Gravity Association and the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology.

While in France, Pyle, Broadaway and Lim also visited AES-Chemunex, the company that made MSU's laser cytometer. The instrument, located in MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering, uses lasers to count cells and gives scientists a fast, sensitive way to detect disease-causing microorganisms in water, Pyle said. As a result, it will play an important part in an upcoming water quality project based at MSU and the Crow Indian Reservation in south-central Montana. The Environmental Protection Agency gave MSU almost $600,000 for the three-year project.

For related articles on MSU's space research, see:

"MSU experiments to be launched on space shuttle" March 4, 2008

"Russian rocket carries experiment to be analyzed at MSU" Sept. 14, 2007

Contact: Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or