Project MERCCURI citizen science update

This piece was originally posted on Science Cheerleader.

Project Update:

Project MERCCURI is a collaboration of the UC Davis microBEnet with the Science Cheerleaders, UC Davis, Space Florida, Nanoracks, and SciStarter. There are three components to this research project:

1) Space Station Microbiome. Collecting microbial swab samples from the International Space Station (ISS) and examining the microbial communities therein (via 16S sequencing)

2) Swabbing Sports and Space Events. Collecting swab samples around the country at sporting and other public events from cell phones, shoes, and various surfaces (e.g. keyboards, screens, railings etc.) These will be used for comparison to the ISS samples and for a look at microbial biogeography across a national scale. In collaboration with Jack Gilbert at the Earth Microbiome Project and the Science Cheerleaders who will be organizing and leading the sampling events.

3) Microbial Playoffs. A microbial growth competition on the ISS. A subset of samples collected at public events will be cultured at UC Davis and the “best” microbe from each environment will be sent to the ISS for a “microbial playoffs” competition. A duplicate of this experiment will be conducted on earth and the results compared. Details here.

We are on target to collect 4,000 microbe samples from shoes and cell phones and another 40 from cool surfaces in distinct locations/venues including several NFL, NBA and MLB stadiums.

AZ Cardinals Project MERCCURI citizen science science cheerleader
AZ Cardinals cheerleader participates in Project MERCCURI

We had several great events across the country including one at a San Antonio Spurs game in connection to the National Science Teachers Association’s annual conference and another at a Phillies game! Microbes from shoes and cellphones have come from the AZ Cardinals cheerleaders (special thanks to the folks at the AZ Science Festival for their help!), the NE Patriots cheerleaders, San Francisco 49ers cheerleaders and more. Other participating teams include the Orlando Magic, Tennessee Titans, Sacramento Kings, and Philadelphia 76ers, with more to follow!

Project MERCCURI citizen science scistarter science cheerleader Pop Warner
Pop Warner Coastal Bengals cheerleader swabs microbes from shoe.

Pop Warner Little Scholars is activating Project MERCCURI as a kick off event at their opening games this month and we’re reserving a spot on the Space Station for one of their samples!

Project MERCCURI Science Cheerleader Talmesha Washington Redskins Yuris Night Smithsonian
Talmesha (former captain of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders, PhD Biomedical Engineering) leads Project MERCCURI activity during a Yuri’s Night celebration at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

We partnered with Yuri’s Night and Teachers in Space and have reserved at least one space on the ISS for samples collected by our various partners at events across the country. Plus….many schools are involved and we’re creating educational materials to help teachers engage their students in the research outcomes throughout the year.

Stay tuned for news about:

  • Upcoming “Science at the 76ers night” tied to Project MERCCURI in early November (we even hope to shoot microbe sampling kits out of their huge T-shirt bazooka, right into the stands!).
  • Bay Area Science Festival collaboration we hope to link to an activity at the Oakland Raiders game on 11/3. Science Cheerleader Wendy Brown, a lead PI earning her PhD from UC Davis, is a cheerleader for the Raiders!
  • Launch celebration! Forty microbe samples will be sent to the International Space Station on the Space X rocket, scheduled to launch this winter. We plan to tie this into a game day activity with the Orlando Magic, conveniently located near Kennedy Space Center where the launch will take place. Looking forward to meeting the leaders at Space Florida and NanoRacks there. They made all of this possible!
  • Announcement of the winners of the “microbial playoffs on the ISS” during an Atlanta Hawks game in late March, tied to the Atlanta Science Festival.

Follow this and more at or #spacemicrobes @scistarter @scicheer on Twitter. Get involved!

Categories: Citizen Science

About the Author

Darlene Cavalier

Darlene Cavalier

Darlene Cavalier is a Professor at Arizona State University's Center for Engagement and Training, part of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Cavalier is the founder of SciStarter. She is also the founder of Science Cheerleader, an organization of more than 300 current and former professional cheerleaders pursuing STEM careers, and a cofounder of ECAST: Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology, a network of universities, science centers, and think tanks that produces public deliberations to enhance science policymaking. She is a founding board member of the Citizen Science Association, a senior advisor at Discover Magazine, a member of the EPA's National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, and was appointed to the National Academy of Sciences "Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning" committee. She is the author of The Science of Cheerleading and co-editor of The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science, published by Arizona State University. Darlene holds degrees from Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania and was a high school, college and NBA cheerleader. Darlene lives in Philadelphia with her husband and four children.