25-year-old Fanny Rößler is a bioinformatics student and is currently conducting research in space.In 2015, she took part in INVENT a CHIP (image right).

| Privat (l.), INVENT a CHIP (r.)
2023-06-30 publication

Research on the ISS

First came INVENT a CHIP, then victory in another competition for university students: Fanny Rößler is quite literally reaching for the stars.

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How useful would it be if, upon entering a hospital room, you could get a reminder to disinfect your hands – and not from a sign on the wall, but a small chip? During the COVID-19 pandemic, we all learned the importance of measures like this. But Fanny Rößler was already thinking about such matters in 2015, when she was just 17 years old. Her own interest in natural sciences was a key catalyst, but so were the efforts to recognize and encourage it at an early age. For example, Rößler had the opportunity to focus on natural sciences and get some initial programming experience as early as in seventh grade at her high school in Unterhaching (near Munich). “At some point, our IT teacher suggested participating in the INVENT a CHIP competition, where three teams from our school actually made it to the practical round,” the now-25-year-old explains.

Her hand disinfection chip didn’t win the competition, but that isn’t really the point. The spirit of INVENT a CHIP is similar to that of the Olympic Games. Ultimately, the competition is primarily about enabling the participants to engage with one another and imparting a key message: What you’re doing is important – keep it up!

Science in space

And Rößler has: After completing her final high school exams, she started studying bioinformatics at TU Munich. Her main aim is to continue working in a research-based field after completing her master’s degree. “Ideally, I’d like to work in neuroscience,” she reveals. “If this happened to intersect with space travel somewhere, that would be my absolute dream.”

Rößler has come a good deal closer to achieving that dream this year in managing a project sponsored by the German Aerospace Center. During the course of this undertaking, a launcher took research equipment from the students involved to the International Space Station (ISS), where it operated autonomously for 30 days. “The equipment contained six cultures of human nerve cells,” Rößler explains. The objective was to examine how the cells developed under zero-gravity conditions in order to learn more about degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

Another special feature of this experiment is that it used a great deal of electrotechnology to control the system and measure the cell signals. This made it possible to fully automate the measurement of the resulting data directly on the ISS, as Rößler explains. “This is unusual for biological experiments in space, which are usually chemically fixed or frozen and sent back to Earth for analysis.” In this case, however, it was enough to send back the measured data – which the young researcher hopes will hold great potential for future space exploration.

But how did a group of students even get the chance to perform an experiment in space? “We were one of four winning projects in the student competition ‘Überflieger 2’, which is run by the German Aerospace Center (DLR),” Rößler recalls. The teams behind these projects received €20,000 in financial support to realize their experiments on the ISS. Winning isn’t everything, of course, but it can be nice now and then!