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2 Students With Space Projects Are on Way to Beijing

July 16, 1987|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

In an unusual coincidence, two classmates from John Marshall High School in Los Feliz have been selected to represent the United States at a student space symposium to be held next week in Beijing.

Lisa Chow and Emilie Nakayama, both 16-year-old juniors and A students, were picked by officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Teachers Assn. for their work on proposed space experiments. The students will leave today for the one-week conference.

The classmates were selected because their separate entries in an annual NASA competition for microgravity experiments in space were judged to be among the best in the country during the past two years, according to Helenmarie Hofman, the contest's national director.

Thousands of students across the nation compete in the contest each year. Forty eventually become regional winners. Only West Coast winners were considered eligible for the trip this year, officials said.

The Los Feliz girls will share their proposed experiments with Chinese students at the conference.

"It's wonderful. I never dreamed I would get a chance like this," said Chow. "I'm looking forward to sharing my ideas with the children there."

Selection 'Purely Coincidental'

Hofman said the names of students and their addresses were kept secret during judging, and officials were unaware that they had selected two classmates. "It was purely coincidental," said Hofman, who will accompany the girls to the conference. "It is nice that they turned out to be friends."

Sid Sitkoff, a science instructional specialist for the Los Angeles Unified School District and a regional director of the NASA student competition, said the pair were chosen "because of the quality of their projects. They will be excellent student ambassadors."

The students began their projects two years ago while attending Thomas Starr King Junior High School in Silver Lake. They credited science instructor Thomas Grgurich with helping them develop their winning proposals. Grgurich, who has tutored several winners of the 8-year-old NASA competition and now teaches at Fairfax High School, "makes science interesting," Chow said.

Chow's project, among winners in NASA's competition last year, proposes that scientists study the effects of microgravity--the minute force of gravity found in space--on genetic engineering. She theorized that bacteria used to produce insulin and other drugs could be grown more rapidly in space than on Earth.

Chow, who was born in Hong Kong, said she is considering becoming either an engineer or a doctor. She plans to visit relatives in Hong Kong before returning to Los Angeles from China. That will be her first visit to her birthplace since she left as an infant.

Nakayama's project focused on the effects of gravity on regeneration of growth and the production of proteins in space. Nakayama said she is considering studying either psychology or biological science. Her father is an engineer and her mother a microbiologist.

Nakayama said that, after the conference, she plans to visit relatives in Japan for the first time.

Both of the girls are active in school sports and played on this year's league champion volleyball team. Hofman praised their "outstanding academic achievements, as well as extracurricular activities."

The students will live in a Beijing dormitory with Chinese students and take part in seminars. They also will tour other parts of the country, with trips planned to the Great Wall and the Imperial Palace.

Travel expenses are being provided by the Los Angeles/Guang Zhou Sister City Assn., a group promoting exchanges between Los Angeles and that Chinese city.

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