Plainville teen finalist in Space Lab contest

Hopes to study how snow forms in zero gravity

“Just this in itself is wonderful,’’ said Emerald Bresnahan, 17, who was named a finalist in YouTube’s Space Lab competition.

She thinks snowflakes will form differently in outer space.

Emerald Bresnahan, a 17-year-old from Plainville, was one of 2,000 students around the world who designed experiments and submitted them online for a chance to have their theories tested at the International Space Station 250 miles above Earth.

Bresnahan’s experiment is designed to test her thesis that by studying the formation of a snowflake, much can be learned about the birth of a galaxy. It turns out that snowflakes and galaxies share something in common, at least when it comes to their birth and growth.


Last month, she found out she was one of 60 to make it to the second round of the YouTube Space Lab competition, and yesterday YouTube and Google announced that Bresnahan is one of nine finalists.

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There is one more round in the competition before a panel of judges decides the two experiments that will be tested by astronauts. The winners will be announced during an event in Washington, D.C., on March 22, but the Wheaton College freshman said she is honored to have made it this far.

“Just this in itself is wonderful,’’ she said.

Though Wheaton students do not declare a concentration until their sophomore year, Bresnahan is leaning toward pursuing a bachelor’s degree in physics with a minor in astronomy.

Bresnahan said she entered the competition during finals week in her first semester of college. She still made the dean’s list. “It was very hectic,’’ she said, “but I got it done.’’


Bresnahan was chosen as the winner of the 17-and-18-year-old age group in the Americas, and two students from Michigan submitted a joint experiment chosen for the 14-to-16-year-old age group.

Winners in each age group were also chosen from the Asia-Pacific region and a third region covering Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

In Washington, the finalists will go on a zero-gravity flight, among other activities, and attend the awards ceremony.

If chosen as the global winner of her age group, Bresnahan will have the option of going to Japan to see the spaceship launch with her experiment or going to Russia for astronaut training.

“Our mission is to show kids around the world that space is for them, that they can be part of space,’’ said a YouTube Space Lab spokesman, Zahaan Barmal.


The other finalists live in New Zealand, Spain, Egypt, and India, and Bresnahan said she is looking forward to meeting them.

“We would never have met each other, but we’re brought together by a pursuit in science,’’ she said.

Alli Knothe can be reached at