Can jumping spiders kill in space? Student’s experiment set for orbit

Editor’s Note: Each month, Inside the Middle East takes you behind the headlines to see a different side of this diverse region.

Story highlights

Egyptian Amr Mohamed designed an experiment for the YouTube Space Lab competition

His experiment to send jumping spiders into space will be carried out on the International Space Station

His school was closed for several months during last year's revolution

Alexandria, Egypt CNN  — 

Can jumping spiders still hunt for their prey in space?

It may sound like science fiction or the start of a bad joke, but this is an experiment that will be carried out on the International Space Station later this year, thanks to Egyptian teenager Amr Mohamed.

Mohamed, 19, from Alexandria, came up with one of the two winning entries from around the world for the YouTube Space Lab competition, backed by Professor Stephen Hawking, which asked students to design experiments for space scientists.

The idea behind Mohamed’s experiment is to study how the zebra spider, which jumps on its prey rather than building a web, will hunt when it is in zero gravity.

It was conceived through Mohamed’s fascination with both science and spiders.

“I’m just interested in how things work, and science seems to answer all my questions,” said Mohamed. “For example, physics can explain the world with just a handful of equations. And biology tells you how your body works. I’m just interested in that stuff.”

Mohamed only heard about the Space Lab competition three days before the deadline, so he designed and made a YouTube video of his idea in a single day.

He said he was reading about which animals had been in space, and discovered orb weaver spiders among them.

“They were very interesting because they build the knots differently,” said Mohamed. “So I say, OK, they can survive, let’s make things a little harder. Let’s get a kind of spider that can’t build webs in space and that actually gravity is a factor in the way it hunts, so that’s how the idea came.

“I just started writing a script and turned the camera on and explained my experiment and edited the video and it was online before the day was over.”

Mohamed was announced as a regional finalist and after a week of public voting was invited to Washington DC as a regional winner to experience a zero-gravity flight.

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During the trip, Mohamed and a two-girl team from Troy, Michigan, were announced as global winners whose experiments will be taken to the International Space Station.

Mohamed is currently taking a gap year before studying at Stanford University, California, in the fall.

He said: “Before the competition, I was just a kid struggling with my A-levels. Out of the huge ocean of the internet, the tide brought me Space Lab. So right now, I know where I want to be. I know who I want to be.”