Nature appeared to defy physics recently when a four species of mosses survived a plunge from the Earths atmosphere and a collision with a passing trainin a container designed by two West Virginia University engineering students.

Christopher Eddy and James Spence were part of theBioAether Experiment,and the goal was to see if such organisms could survive such stratospheric jaunts while also being located using Global Positioning technology.

Eddy and Spence constructed the box as students in a mechanical and engineering course taught by Drs. Mike Palmer and John Kuhlman. The course is funded by the NASA -West Virginia Space Consortium.

The selection of mossesand a grouping of fruit flies which did not survivewhere supplied by Dr. Susan Studlar, adjunct professor of biology and Dr. Ashok Bidwai, associate professor of biology, in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

One set of moss was relegated to the outside of the box to test its reaction during exposure to the elements.

A helium balloon sent the Mountaineer cargo to the edge of outer space, and reentry was hampered by an obviously unplanned encounter with the train, Studlar said.

But no matter, she said. The moss inside the box survived and was still growing a month later. Mission accomplished, she said.

And as a bryologistone who studies various mossesStudlar said the experiment shows her and us the resiliency of a species and just what it does to survive and thrive.

Clearly, the students were highly successful,she said.The idea was to design a box that would keep four mosses alive in the stratosphere. The survival helped the students understand how mosses achieve such vast distributions, potentially riding powerful updrafts during storms.

Eddy and Studlar plan to pen articles on the experiment toEvansia,a periodical published by the American Bryological and Lichenological Society; and the Bryological Times, a Web-based newsletter of the International Association of Bryologists.

Info: Dr. Susan Studlar at sstudlar@wvu.edu .