Students look into ways of cultivating crops in space

Students look into ways of cultivating crops in space
The students are Adam Kelly, Cliodhna O’Reardon, Evanna Niall (helmet) and Sam Enright – who won this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Picture: Sean Curtin/True Media

Four secondary school students investigating ways of growing crops in space are to have their project tested on a low gravity flight.

The team from Skerries Community College in Dublin will be the first ever Irish teenagers selected for the flight due to a unique partnership between the Irish Composites Centre (IComp) at University of Limerick’s Bernal Institute and Project PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere).

Students were asked to design an experiment for testing on a parabolic flight and the Skerries team hope to address some of the challenges associated with developing sustainable sources of food for long term space exploration.

The project will investigate the feasibility of fine water mist absorption in microgravity.

The students, who won this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, are Sam Enright, Clíodhna O’Reardon, Evanna Niall and Adam Kelly.

Team captain Sam Enright said: “We are delighted. It is never something we imagined we would be doing, making an experiment to go ‘into space’ on this microgravity flight and to learn insights into that.

We went through a lot of ideas and because the brief was very specific, focusing on environmental impacts, we settled on growing plants, which is something that is going to be terrifically relevant to the future of space exploration and is completely necessary if you want to go to Mars or any further distances. So that is what motivated us.

“We were thinking about what would change versus what would stay the same in microgravity. 

"The problem is going to be that you can’t just get out a watering can to water plants on a space station in some sort of modified gravity, compared to what they evolved for on Earth. 

"So we thought if you had some sort of mist-system to spray water — and we investigated soil, rather than plants, because that is going to be more necessary and maybe could be an approach that hasn’t been looked at as much.”

PoSSUM will fly microgravity flights in Ottawa, Canada at the National Research Council (NRC) involving different experiments, including the Irish one.

The initiative was led by Dr Norah Patten, Project Manager at IComp.

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