Elizabeth Blaber

University of New South Wales
Sydney, Australia

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Principal Investigator: Eduardo Almeida
Project: The influence of Spaceflight Factors on Biological Function

Education and Experience:

In primary school, the only thing that I wanted to do was become a bus driver. That was my sole ambition in life, all my hopes and dreams rested on driving that big bus, and at the time this was all very exciting.

A few years later, in high school, I had an excellent science teacher. She was the kind of person that I thought was a genius, she knew everything! She always had an answer for you no matter how complicated I tried to make the question and she made the lab an interesting place to be. This was my first experience with science and I was hooked. I always looked forward to science class and conducting experiments. I became very interested in biology and medicine. The bus driving would have to wait.

When I arrived at the University of NSW I enrolled in a Bachelor of Medical Science course. I aimed to pursue a career in research and I discovered an honours project concerning space and microgravity and its effects on the human body. I was immediately captivated.

I started reading about the physiological effects of spaceflight and realised that astronauts encountered a vast array of health problems in space. I wanted to know why these health issues were occurring and determine how they could be fixed. I found that a lot of people were looking into the effects of microgravity on specific physiological systems. So I decided to take a broad perspective - I wanted to look at the effects of spaceflight on human beings as a whole. I did this by investigating the effects of simulated microgravity on a pluripotent stem cell line. By determining the effects of microgravity on protein synthesis at a cellular level, I correlated these results to systems of the body. The research led to more questions than it answered, and I aim to answer some of these questions throughout the remainder of my PhD project.

This research is the only research of its kind being conducted in Australia which led to a lot of media coverage by the Australian Broadcasting Company and also The Australian newspaper. I also presented the work at several conferences, and published a review article in Astrobiology, as well as a scientific article in Australasian Science Magazine.

This is the first year that an Australian student has had the opportunity to attend the Academy and therefore I feel very lucky to be the selected student! This opportunity will enable me to work with some of the top scientists in this field and to build international collaborations to further pursue our common research goals to understand and counteract health problems in space. Additionally, this experience will enable me to generate public and scientific interest in this field of research in Australia. Importantly, I will also be able to use this experience at the NASA Ames Academy to motivate future Australian students to pursue a career in this field. I will be working with the Victorian Space Science Education (VSSEC) to develop curriculum material based on my work and my experience to inspire the scientists of the future. A somewhat grander ambition than the one I started out with!