Technology Sciences: 4,500 classes start Monday an experiment on the blob orchestrated by Thomas Pesquet

Sciences: 4,500 classes start Monday an experiment on the blob orchestrated by Thomas Pesquet

An unprecedented initiative. From Monday October 11 until October 17, more than 4,500 classes across France will embark on an experience orchestrated from space by Thomas Pesquet and directed by the CNES (National Center for Space Studies). It will consist in comparing the behavior of the blob on Earth and in weightlessness, at an altitude of 400 km.

From CE2 to 12th grade, thousands of students will observe these strange creatures made up of a single cell. As soon as they received their “blobs kits” at the start of the school year, the teachers started breeding and discovered with fascination this living being, responding to the scientific name of “Physarum polycephalum”, inhabiting the undergrowth.

The creature, which appeared on Earth between a billion and 700 million years ago – long before the dinosaurs – consists of only one cell and several nuclei, which can multiply. Similar to a yellow spongy mass, it has no mouth, stomach, legs, or brain … and yet eats (a lot), moves (slowly), and has amazing learning abilities.

The blob can divide at will, merge with others, and go dormant as it becomes dehydrated, making it virtually immortal. It was in this parched state, known as sclerotia, that pieces of the blob were propelled towards the International Space Station in August. In the process, thousands of clones from the same strain as their space congeners have landed, in envelopes, in schools.

The earthly classes gradually turned into mini-laboratories. It was first necessary to wake up the dried blobs with a few drops of water, place them in Petri dishes, protected from light, on an agar bed so that they develop. “It’s taking! You have to take care of it, change the agar every two days, feed them ….” Cécile Lefebvre, SVT teacher in a college in Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines, told AFP. His sclerotia grew at full speed: “I’m almost 20 now!” welcomes the teacher, who has set up an interdisciplinary project on the blob with her colleagues (mathematics, physics, English …).

Others got off to a more upsetting start. “Our first ‘batch’ got moldy, because we had not changed the agar enough”, says Alexandra Da Paz, who teaches at the Paul-Bert elementary school in Saint-Mandé (Val-de-Marne). This little mishap allowed him to explain to his students that the blob, if it was almost immortal, “was not invincible”, remembers this school teacher who, since, has made prosper other sclerotia kept in reserve.

Compared to the usual farms of stick insects or snails, the unicellular organism shakes up the codes so much that it can arouse apprehension. “Some have sci-fi images in their heads, of a yellowish thing that will jump in their face”, says Emmanuelle Bohbot, mistress of CM1-CM2 in the north of Paris. The blob name was given in reference to a 1958 horror film starring Steeve McQueen, where a slimy alien creature invades Earth.

On the Facebook group “Raise your blob”, more than 7,000 teachers exchange advice on their physarum polycephalum, decked out in all kinds of nicknames (“Blob Marley”, “Blob Dylan”, “Bloby-Wan Kenobi … “): how to make agar (with agar-agar), how to feed it (oatmeal) … A teacher even posted a video of attempted blob tasting – quickly spat out.

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