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Whiz Kids: Meet the teenage winners of YouTube’s Space Lab science competition

  • YouTube Space Lab Winners 2.jpg

    March 22, 2012: 18-year-old Amr Mohamed from Egypt (center), 16-year-olds Dorothy Chen (left) and Sara Ma (to right of Mohamed) from the U.S., and other regional winners of the YouTube Space Lab contest simulate microgravity in Washington, D.C., after an awards ceremony. (Bryan Rapoza / YouTube)

  • amr mohamed in space.jpg

    March 22, 2012: 18-year-old Amr Mohamed from Egypt simulates microgravity. (Bryan Rapoza / YouTube)

  • Sara and Dorothy YouTube Space Lab.jpg

    March 22, 2012: Sara and Dorothy experiment with microgravity. (Bryan Rapoza / YouTube)

  • YouTube Space Lab Winners 3.jpg

    March 22, 2012: Winners of the YouTube Space Lab contest simulate microgravity. (Bryan Rapoza / YouTube)

Three brilliant teenagers have asked questions that can only be answered on the International Space Station. YouTube has agreed -- and will send their projects into space for answers.

The online video powerhouse on Thursday announced the winners of the Space Lab contest, a worldwide science competition that challenged 14- to 18-year-olds to design a science experiment that can be performed in space. Amr Mohamed, an 18-year-old from Egypt, and Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma, 16-year-olds who attend Troy High School in Mich., were awarded the honor at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., attended by members of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. 

“Our goal was to inspire the next generation,” Zahaan Bharmal, head of marketing operations for Google, told FoxNews.com. The students will have their experiments conducted by astronauts 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station and streamed live to the world on a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop via YouTube later this year.

“Today’s Space Lab winners could be tomorrow’s space explorers,” said Bharmal, the man behind the idea of Space Lab. “Who is going to be the first person to set foot on Mars, for example? It’s not going to be me, but it could very well be one of these two.”

Chen wasn’t so sure about that.

"We wanted to give ordinary kids an extraordinary opportunity to design an experiment that could actually be carried out in space."

- Zahaan Bharmal, Google's Science Lab creator

"I don’t know if my stomach could handle it!” she told FoxNews.com on Friday. Still, Chen agreed the concept was wonderful.  “Space exploration is absolutely fascinating. I would love to.”

Her project asks the question, “Could alien superbugs cure disease on Earth?” Chen’s idea is to send bacteria to the space station to see if introducing different nutrients and compounds can block their growth in the hopes of providing new tools to fight germs on Earth.

She told FoxNews.com where the germ of the idea came from.

“We found an experiment about how Salmonella became more virulent in microgravity. We thought, if this harmful bacteria gets worse, why can’t good bacteria get better?”

“If it becomes more virulent, it becomes better at doing its job, and it could potentially be developed into antibiotics to treat new diseases,” Chen told FoxNews.com.

Chen plans to pursue a career in science -- whether on Earth or in space remains to be seen. Mohamed was also excited by the potential of space.

“The fascinating thing about space is that unlike other science fields where you have to go really deep to find a mystery, in space, everywhere you look there is a mystery to be solved,” he told FoxNews.com.

His experiment would explore the question, “Can you teach an old spider new tricks?”  Mohamed proposed investigating the effects of microgravity on the way the zebra spider catches its prey and whether it could adapt its behavior in this environment.  

“On Earth here, they adjust their trajectory to compensate for gravity. On the ISS, there’s no gravity, so they’ll just have to realize that,” he told FoxNews.com. “This will help us measure how developed their brains are. It will also be the first time we have an animal adjust its hunting style to a microgravity environment.”

“This will teach us about the survival of other species in space … a very important field,” he added.

The project was supported by Chinese computer giant Lenovo -- the company’s ThinkPad laptops are the only ones certified for use on the International Space Station --  and endorsed by some of the smartest brains on the planet.

"Humanity's future relies on moving beyond Earth,” said renowned scientist and professor Stephen Hawking. “Realizing this goal will require an entrepreneurial spirit and a new generation of scientists and astronauts. YouTube Space Lab is a wonderful initiative that helps inspire young minds around the world to take a greater interest in science and the future of space exploration."

The experiments will be launched on a Japanese rocket sometime this summer, although the exact launch date has yet to be determined. The launch event will be carried live at YouTube.com/SpaceLab.

“I can’t wait to see what happens later this year when we send the experiments up into space,” Bharmal told FoxNews.com.