A ‘Martian’-inspired science project: Growing potatoes in space

A 'Martian'-inspired science project: Growing potatoes in space

A ‘Martian’-inspired science project: Growing potatoes in space

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A ‘Martian’-inspired science project: Growing potatoes in space
Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(208 KB)
Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere
Tiny potatoes. These mini spuds will be placed in tubes and grown in orbit. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(111 KB)
Tiny potatoes. These mini spuds will be placed in tubes and grown in orbit. Photo: Douglas Levere
Shaniylah Welch, left, and Toriana Cornwell examine potatoes being grown in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(126 KB)
Shaniylah Welch, left, and Toriana Cornwell examine potatoes being grown in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere
UB biologist Mary Bisson, right, talks with Hamlin Park students about the space potato project. From left: Toriana Cornwell, Shaniylah Welch and Gabriella Melendez, who call themselves the “spud launchers.” Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(166 KB)
UB biologist Mary Bisson, right, talks with Hamlin Park students about the space potato project. From left: Toriana Cornwell, Shaniylah Welch and Gabriella Melendez, who call themselves the “spud launchers.” Photo: Douglas Levere
Gabriella Melendez, center, and Shaniylah Welch (right) examine potato plants in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(127 KB)
Gabriella Melendez, center, and Shaniylah Welch (right) examine potato plants in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere
Tiny potatoes like the ones in this jar will be placed in tubes and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(77 KB)
Tiny potatoes like the ones in this jar will be placed in tubes and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas Levere
Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere
1 of 6 fullscreen
By CHARLOTTE HSU
Published April 6, 2016

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“When I watched that movie, I started thinking, ‘What if we could grow potatoes in outer space?’ ”
Gabriella Melendez, student
Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo
UB biologists are serving as consultants on the ultimate middle school science project: farming potatoes aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The experiment is the brainchild of Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo. She came up with the idea after seeing “The Martian,” the sci-fi movie in which actor Matt Damon plays a potato-growing astronaut trapped on Mars.

“When I watched that movie, I started thinking, ‘What if we could grow potatoes in outer space?’” she said. “If we could start growing them in outer space, then maybe we could take it a step further — like the movie — and grow them on Mars.”

Armed with this inspiration, Melendez enlisted the help of classmates Toriana Cornwell and Shaniylah Welch to design an experiment for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a nationwide initiative that selects student projects to launch into orbit.

Winning was a long shot. But to improve their chances, the team expanded to include UB faculty members James O. Berry and Mary Bisson, plant biologists who helped answer questions that included what kind of fertilizer to use, how to transport potatoes in frigid conditions, and how to prevent a potato farm from becoming a mess in orbit (imagine the mayhem that tiny specks of free-floating dirt or water could cause in microgravity).

The work paid off: Earlier this year, the experiment was chosen as one of several that will go into space. Though no official launch date has been set, the tubers are expected to head to the ISS this summer, hitching a ride to the station with a SpaceX rocket.

Space-born potatoes to be planted at UB
James O. Berry and Mary Bisson.
UB plant biologists James O. Berry and Mary Bisson serve as advisers on the space potato project. Photo: Douglas Levere

If all goes well, the spuds will germinate in orbit and then return to Buffalo after about six weeks. At that point, the team plans to plant the tubers in UB’s Dorsheimer greenhouse to test how the space-born potatoes fare on Earth.

The idea to continue growing the tubers at UB came from Bisson, who suggested that the team cultivate the space potatoes alongside Earth potatoes with the goal of seeing whether spuds started in orbit have the same nutritional value as their land-bound counterparts.

“That was the game-changer,” said Hamlin Park teacher Andrew Franz, the students’ mentor on the project. “A lot of different crops have been grown on the station, but continuing to grow them on Earth is more rare, and it’s what makes the experiment really unique.”

A farm in a tube
Berry and Bisson — both professors of biological sciences at UB — are ideal advisers for the space potato project: Berry has done research that required him to grow plants in sterile environments and without soil, and Bisson has studied how plants respond to gravity.

Growing tubers in a tube.
The potatoes will be placed in a tube like this one and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas Levere

“Dr. Berry and Dr. Bisson have been almost colleagues to the girls,” Franz said. “They just started brainstorming with the girls, throwing out ideas.”

“They gave us wonderful ideas on different things to do, like what environment the potato needs to be in,” Melendez said.

In consultation with the professors and Franz, the students are pursuing a design that involves growing the tubers in a tube. The set-up is spartan: No dirt. Minimal moisture. A small amount of plant preservative mixture to prevent microbial contamination.

Potatoes don’t need much to survive, and the team is hoping only for a tiny amount of growth — simple germination — while the experiment is in space.

The spuds they’ll be using are tiny seed potatoes of the Upstate Abundance variety, a disease-resistant breed obtained from Cornell University researchers through Sharon Bachman, a community educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County, who is also advising the project.

#SpudLaunchers
Months before launch, the Hamlin Park experiment is already generating national interest: It was featured in The Buffalo News and WBFO locally, and in Scientific American online.

This January, Cornwell, Melendez and Welch traveled to Washington, D.C., for the White House State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math address, where they got to Skype with scientists in Antarctica and ask an astronaut whether he thought it would be possible to grow potatoes on Mars. (“More or less, he said yes,” relays Franz, who chaperoned the trip.)

Franz asks members of the UB community, as well as other Buffalonians, to support the project by sharing stories and new developments under the hashtag #SpudLaunchers on social media. (He’ll be posting to this hashtag on Twitter as the launch date gets closer).

Berry and Bisson are looking forward to seeing how the students’ experiment unfolds.

“I have been impressed with the originality of their project, and the dedication and enthusiasm they have brought to their plant-space research idea,” Berry said. “It is rewarding to work with students interested in plant biology at this early stage of their studies, and to see how they have worked to resolve issues associated with getting their project ready for launch.”

“I found it very exciting to see how the girls responded well to criticism, and at the same time took charge of the project to work creatively to solve difficulties,” Bisson adds.

And to think — it all began with a trip to the movies.

“All I could say is that hard work pays off,” Melendez says. “I’m just happy that I brought my school some recognition — we’re doing this at a public school, and I’m proud that we’re known for something good.”

About the Student Space Flights Experiment Program
SSEP is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

UPCOMING GEM EVENTS
Sep – 30 – GEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Manoj J. Mammen – 4:00 PMSep
30
Sep – 30 – 4:00 PMGEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Manoj J. Mammen
4:00 PM
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Oct – 28 – GEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Rachael Hageman Blair – 4:00 PM – 5:00 PMOct
28
Oct – 28 – 4:00 PM – 5:00 PMGEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Rachael Hageman Blair
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Nov – 25 – GEM Science Work-in-Progress talk: Dr. Elsa Bou Ghanem – 4:00 PMNov
25
Nov – 25 – 4:00 PMGEM Science Work-in-Progress talk: Dr. Elsa Bou Ghanem
4:00 PM
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
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University at Buffalo The State University of New York
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Vice President for Research and Economic DevelopmentCommunity of ExcellenceUB HomeMapsUB Directory
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A ‘Martian’-inspired science project: Growing potatoes in space
Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(208 KB)
Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere
Tiny potatoes. These mini spuds will be placed in tubes and grown in orbit. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(111 KB)
Tiny potatoes. These mini spuds will be placed in tubes and grown in orbit. Photo: Douglas Levere
Shaniylah Welch, left, and Toriana Cornwell examine potatoes being grown in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(126 KB)
Shaniylah Welch, left, and Toriana Cornwell examine potatoes being grown in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere
UB biologist Mary Bisson, right, talks with Hamlin Park students about the space potato project. From left: Toriana Cornwell, Shaniylah Welch and Gabriella Melendez, who call themselves the “spud launchers.” Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(166 KB)
UB biologist Mary Bisson, right, talks with Hamlin Park students about the space potato project. From left: Toriana Cornwell, Shaniylah Welch and Gabriella Melendez, who call themselves the “spud launchers.” Photo: Douglas Levere
Gabriella Melendez, center, and Shaniylah Welch (right) examine potato plants in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(127 KB)
Gabriella Melendez, center, and Shaniylah Welch (right) examine potato plants in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere
Tiny potatoes like the ones in this jar will be placed in tubes and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(77 KB)
Tiny potatoes like the ones in this jar will be placed in tubes and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas Levere
Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere
1 of 6 fullscreen
By CHARLOTTE HSU
Published April 6, 2016

Share This
Print
“When I watched that movie, I started thinking, ‘What if we could grow potatoes in outer space?’ ”
Gabriella Melendez, student
Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo
UB biologists are serving as consultants on the ultimate middle school science project: farming potatoes aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The experiment is the brainchild of Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo. She came up with the idea after seeing “The Martian,” the sci-fi movie in which actor Matt Damon plays a potato-growing astronaut trapped on Mars.

“When I watched that movie, I started thinking, ‘What if we could grow potatoes in outer space?’” she said. “If we could start growing them in outer space, then maybe we could take it a step further — like the movie — and grow them on Mars.”

Armed with this inspiration, Melendez enlisted the help of classmates Toriana Cornwell and Shaniylah Welch to design an experiment for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a nationwide initiative that selects student projects to launch into orbit.

Winning was a long shot. But to improve their chances, the team expanded to include UB faculty members James O. Berry and Mary Bisson, plant biologists who helped answer questions that included what kind of fertilizer to use, how to transport potatoes in frigid conditions, and how to prevent a potato farm from becoming a mess in orbit (imagine the mayhem that tiny specks of free-floating dirt or water could cause in microgravity).

The work paid off: Earlier this year, the experiment was chosen as one of several that will go into space. Though no official launch date has been set, the tubers are expected to head to the ISS this summer, hitching a ride to the station with a SpaceX rocket.

Space-born potatoes to be planted at UB
James O. Berry and Mary Bisson.
UB plant biologists James O. Berry and Mary Bisson serve as advisers on the space potato project. Photo: Douglas Levere

If all goes well, the spuds will germinate in orbit and then return to Buffalo after about six weeks. At that point, the team plans to plant the tubers in UB’s Dorsheimer greenhouse to test how the space-born potatoes fare on Earth.

The idea to continue growing the tubers at UB came from Bisson, who suggested that the team cultivate the space potatoes alongside Earth potatoes with the goal of seeing whether spuds started in orbit have the same nutritional value as their land-bound counterparts.

“That was the game-changer,” said Hamlin Park teacher Andrew Franz, the students’ mentor on the project. “A lot of different crops have been grown on the station, but continuing to grow them on Earth is more rare, and it’s what makes the experiment really unique.”

A farm in a tube
Berry and Bisson — both professors of biological sciences at UB — are ideal advisers for the space potato project: Berry has done research that required him to grow plants in sterile environments and without soil, and Bisson has studied how plants respond to gravity.

Growing tubers in a tube.
The potatoes will be placed in a tube like this one and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas Levere

“Dr. Berry and Dr. Bisson have been almost colleagues to the girls,” Franz said. “They just started brainstorming with the girls, throwing out ideas.”

“They gave us wonderful ideas on different things to do, like what environment the potato needs to be in,” Melendez said.

In consultation with the professors and Franz, the students are pursuing a design that involves growing the tubers in a tube. The set-up is spartan: No dirt. Minimal moisture. A small amount of plant preservative mixture to prevent microbial contamination.

Potatoes don’t need much to survive, and the team is hoping only for a tiny amount of growth — simple germination — while the experiment is in space.

The spuds they’ll be using are tiny seed potatoes of the Upstate Abundance variety, a disease-resistant breed obtained from Cornell University researchers through Sharon Bachman, a community educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County, who is also advising the project.

#SpudLaunchers
Months before launch, the Hamlin Park experiment is already generating national interest: It was featured in The Buffalo News and WBFO locally, and in Scientific American online.

This January, Cornwell, Melendez and Welch traveled to Washington, D.C., for the White House State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math address, where they got to Skype with scientists in Antarctica and ask an astronaut whether he thought it would be possible to grow potatoes on Mars. (“More or less, he said yes,” relays Franz, who chaperoned the trip.)

Franz asks members of the UB community, as well as other Buffalonians, to support the project by sharing stories and new developments under the hashtag #SpudLaunchers on social media. (He’ll be posting to this hashtag on Twitter as the launch date gets closer).

Berry and Bisson are looking forward to seeing how the students’ experiment unfolds.

“I have been impressed with the originality of their project, and the dedication and enthusiasm they have brought to their plant-space research idea,” Berry said. “It is rewarding to work with students interested in plant biology at this early stage of their studies, and to see how they have worked to resolve issues associated with getting their project ready for launch.”

“I found it very exciting to see how the girls responded well to criticism, and at the same time took charge of the project to work creatively to solve difficulties,” Bisson adds.

And to think — it all began with a trip to the movies.

“All I could say is that hard work pays off,” Melendez says. “I’m just happy that I brought my school some recognition — we’re doing this at a public school, and I’m proud that we’re known for something good.”

About the Student Space Flights Experiment Program
SSEP is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

UPCOMING GEM EVENTS
Sep – 30 – GEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Manoj J. Mammen – 4:00 PMSep
30
Sep – 30 – 4:00 PMGEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Manoj J. Mammen
4:00 PM
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Oct – 28 – GEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Rachael Hageman Blair – 4:00 PM – 5:00 PMOct
28
Oct – 28 – 4:00 PM – 5:00 PMGEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Rachael Hageman Blair
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Nov – 25 – GEM Science Work-in-Progress talk: Dr. Elsa Bou Ghanem – 4:00 PMNov
25
Nov – 25 – 4:00 PMGEM Science Work-in-Progress talk: Dr. Elsa Bou Ghanem
4:00 PM
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
SEE ALL

University at Buffalo The State University of New York
Find us on Facebook!
Find us on Twitter!
955 Main St., Suite 4102E, UB Downtown Campus Buffalo, NY 14203

Phone: 716-829-3890

Fax: 716-829-2725

Email: coe-gem@buffalo.edu

© 2019 University at Buffalo. All rights reserved. | Privacy | Accessibility
ShareThis Copy and PasteSKIP TO CONTENT Vice President for Research and Economic DevelopmentCommunity of ExcellenceUB HomeMapsUB Directory University at Buffalo Genome, Environment and Microbiome Community of Excellence Follow us on Twitter! Like GEM on Facebook! Join our list serv! About Us Research Education Community Engagement Coalesce BioArt Lab News and Events INFO FOR Researchers UB Students K-12 Teachers Community News and Events Latest News Upcoming Events Archived Events RESEARCH NEWS A ‘Martian’-inspired science project: Growing potatoes in space Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(208 KB) Tiny potatoes. These mini spuds will be placed in tubes and grown in orbit. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(111 KB) Shaniylah Welch, left, and Toriana Cornwell examine potatoes being grown in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(126 KB) UB biologist Mary Bisson, right, talks with Hamlin Park students about the space potato project. From left: Toriana Cornwell, Shaniylah Welch and Gabriella Melendez, who call themselves the “spud launchers.” Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(166 KB) Gabriella Melendez, center, and Shaniylah Welch (right) examine potato plants in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(127 KB) Tiny potatoes like the ones in this jar will be placed in tubes and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(77 KB) next Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere 1 of 6 fullscreen By CHARLOTTE HSU Published April 6, 2016 Share This Print “When I watched that movie, I started thinking, ‘What if we could grow potatoes in outer space?’ ” Gabriella Melendez, student Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo UB biologists are serving as consultants on the ultimate middle school science project: farming potatoes aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment is the brainchild of Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo. She came up with the idea after seeing “The Martian,” the sci-fi movie in which actor Matt Damon plays a potato-growing astronaut trapped on Mars. “When I watched that movie, I started thinking, ‘What if we could grow potatoes in outer space?’” she said. “If we could start growing them in outer space, then maybe we could take it a step further — like the movie — and grow them on Mars.” Armed with this inspiration, Melendez enlisted the help of classmates Toriana Cornwell and Shaniylah Welch to design an experiment for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a nationwide initiative that selects student projects to launch into orbit. Winning was a long shot. But to improve their chances, the team expanded to include UB faculty members James O. Berry and Mary Bisson, plant biologists who helped answer questions that included what kind of fertilizer to use, how to transport potatoes in frigid conditions, and how to prevent a potato farm from becoming a mess in orbit (imagine the mayhem that tiny specks of free-floating dirt or water could cause in microgravity). The work paid off: Earlier this year, the experiment was chosen as one of several that will go into space. Though no official launch date has been set, the tubers are expected to head to the ISS this summer, hitching a ride to the station with a SpaceX rocket. Space-born potatoes to be planted at UB UB plant biologists James O. Berry and Mary Bisson serve as advisers on the space potato project. Photo: Douglas Levere If all goes well, the spuds will germinate in orbit and then return to Buffalo after about six weeks. At that point, the team plans to plant the tubers in UB’s Dorsheimer greenhouse to test how the space-born potatoes fare on Earth. The idea to continue growing the tubers at UB came from Bisson, who suggested that the team cultivate the space potatoes alongside Earth potatoes with the goal of seeing whether spuds started in orbit have the same nutritional value as their land-bound counterparts. “That was the game-changer,” said Hamlin Park teacher Andrew Franz, the students’ mentor on the project. “A lot of different crops have been grown on the station, but continuing to grow them on Earth is more rare, and it’s what makes the experiment really unique.” A farm in a tube Berry and Bisson — both professors of biological sciences at UB — are ideal advisers for the space potato project: Berry has done research that required him to grow plants in sterile environments and without soil, and Bisson has studied how plants respond to gravity. The potatoes will be placed in a tube like this one and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas Levere “Dr. Berry and Dr. Bisson have been almost colleagues to the girls,” Franz said. “They just started brainstorming with the girls, throwing out ideas.” “They gave us wonderful ideas on different things to do, like what environment the potato needs to be in,” Melendez said. In consultation with the professors and Franz, the students are pursuing a design that involves growing the tubers in a tube. The set-up is spartan: No dirt. Minimal moisture. A small amount of plant preservative mixture to prevent microbial contamination. Potatoes don’t need much to survive, and the team is hoping only for a tiny amount of growth — simple germination — while the experiment is in space. The spuds they’ll be using are tiny seed potatoes of the Upstate Abundance variety, a disease-resistant breed obtained from Cornell University researchers through Sharon Bachman, a community educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County, who is also advising the project. #SpudLaunchers Months before launch, the Hamlin Park experiment is already generating national interest: It was featured in The Buffalo News and WBFO locally, and in Scientific American online. This January, Cornwell, Melendez and Welch traveled to Washington, D.C., for the White House State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math address, where they got to Skype with scientists in Antarctica and ask an astronaut whether he thought it would be possible to grow potatoes on Mars. (“More or less, he said yes,” relays Franz, who chaperoned the trip.) Franz asks members of the UB community, as well as other Buffalonians, to support the project by sharing stories and new developments under the hashtag #SpudLaunchers on social media. (He’ll be posting to this hashtag on Twitter as the launch date gets closer). Berry and Bisson are looking forward to seeing how the students’ experiment unfolds. “I have been impressed with the originality of their project, and the dedication and enthusiasm they have brought to their plant-space research idea,” Berry said. “It is rewarding to work with students interested in plant biology at this early stage of their studies, and to see how they have worked to resolve issues associated with getting their project ready for launch.” “I found it very exciting to see how the girls responded well to criticism, and at the same time took charge of the project to work creatively to solve difficulties,” Bisson adds. And to think — it all began with a trip to the movies. “All I could say is that hard work pays off,” Melendez says. “I’m just happy that I brought my school some recognition — we’re doing this at a public school, and I’m proud that we’re known for something good.” About the Student Space Flights Experiment Program SSEP is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. previousnext Redefining “human” GEM is advancing genome science through cutting-edge pilot research projects. Researchers partner across disciplines to investigate connections between the airway microbiome and cancer, probiotics and obesity treatments, and much more. Educating for big data challenges Genomic themes are integrated across the curriculum at UB, offering students the chance to explore the “big” questions that relate to data, genomics and the microbiome. Engaging next generations GEM partners with K-12 teachers and schools throughout the region to embed genomic and microbiomic literacy in the curriciulum through hands-on activities in classrooms, on-campus lab visits, and special events. Empowering the public GEM community outreach provides opportunities for the public to engage in genomic and microbiomic exploration, empowering people with tools to better understand personal health issues. Pictured: ‘Balancing Act’ installation at the Buffalo Museum of Science Fusing art and biology The Coalesce Center for Biological Art provides a dedicated studio laboratory for biological art, graduate positions, interdisciplinary coursework, artist residency opportunities, DIY workshops and exhibitions. Pictured: SOIL, by Nicole Clouston UPCOMING GEM EVENTS Sep – 30 – GEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Manoj J. Mammen – 4:00 PMSep 30 Sep – 30 – 4:00 PMGEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Manoj J. Mammen 4:00 PM Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Oct – 28 – GEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Rachael Hageman Blair – 4:00 PM – 5:00 PMOct 28 Oct – 28 – 4:00 PM – 5:00 PMGEM Science Work-In-Progress Talk: Dr. Rachael Hageman Blair 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Nov – 25 – GEM Science Work-in-Progress talk: Dr. Elsa Bou Ghanem – 4:00 PMNov 25 Nov – 25 – 4:00 PMGEM Science Work-in-Progress talk: Dr. Elsa Bou Ghanem 4:00 PM Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences SEE ALL Find us on Facebook! Find us on Twitter! 955 Main St., Suite 4102E, UB Downtown Campus Buffalo, NY 14203 Phone: 716-829-3890 Fax: 716-829-2725 Email: coe-gem@buffalo.edu © 2019 University at Buffalo. All rights reserved. | Privacy | Accessibility SKIP TO CONTENT Vice President for Research and Economic DevelopmentCommunity of ExcellenceUB HomeMapsUB Directory University at Buffalo Genome, Environment and Microbiome Community of Excellence Follow us on Twitter! Like GEM on Facebook! Join our list serv! About Us Research Education Community Engagement Coalesce BioArt Lab News and Events INFO FOR Researchers UB Students K-12 Teachers Community News and Events Latest News Upcoming Events Archived Events RESEARCH NEWS A ‘Martian’-inspired science project: Growing potatoes in space Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(208 KB) Tiny potatoes. These mini spuds will be placed in tubes and grown in orbit. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(111 KB) Shaniylah Welch, left, and Toriana Cornwell examine potatoes being grown in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(126 KB) UB biologist Mary Bisson, right, talks with Hamlin Park students about the space potato project. From left: Toriana Cornwell, Shaniylah Welch and Gabriella Melendez, who call themselves the “spud launchers.” Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(166 KB) Gabriella Melendez, center, and Shaniylah Welch (right) examine potato plants in a classroom at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(127 KB) Tiny potatoes like the ones in this jar will be placed in tubes and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas LevereDownload jpg(77 KB) next Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo, came up with the idea of growing potatoes in space. She is pictured here with her mentor, Andrew Franz, a teacher at Hamlin Park. Photo: Douglas Levere 1 of 6 fullscreen By CHARLOTTE HSU Published April 6, 2016 Share This Print “When I watched that movie, I started thinking, ‘What if we could grow potatoes in outer space?’ ” Gabriella Melendez, student Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo UB biologists are serving as consultants on the ultimate middle school science project: farming potatoes aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment is the brainchild of Gabriella Melendez, a student at Hamlin Park School 74 in Buffalo. She came up with the idea after seeing “The Martian,” the sci-fi movie in which actor Matt Damon plays a potato-growing astronaut trapped on Mars. “When I watched that movie, I started thinking, ‘What if we could grow potatoes in outer space?’” she said. “If we could start growing them in outer space, then maybe we could take it a step further — like the movie — and grow them on Mars.” Armed with this inspiration, Melendez enlisted the help of classmates Toriana Cornwell and Shaniylah Welch to design an experiment for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a nationwide initiative that selects student projects to launch into orbit. Winning was a long shot. But to improve their chances, the team expanded to include UB faculty members James O. Berry and Mary Bisson, plant biologists who helped answer questions that included what kind of fertilizer to use, how to transport potatoes in frigid conditions, and how to prevent a potato farm from becoming a mess in orbit (imagine the mayhem that tiny specks of free-floating dirt or water could cause in microgravity). The work paid off: Earlier this year, the experiment was chosen as one of several that will go into space. Though no official launch date has been set, the tubers are expected to head to the ISS this summer, hitching a ride to the station with a SpaceX rocket. Space-born potatoes to be planted at UB UB plant biologists James O. Berry and Mary Bisson serve as advisers on the space potato project. Photo: Douglas Levere If all goes well, the spuds will germinate in orbit and then return to Buffalo after about six weeks. At that point, the team plans to plant the tubers in UB’s Dorsheimer greenhouse to test how the space-born potatoes fare on Earth. The idea to continue growing the tubers at UB came from Bisson, who suggested that the team cultivate the space potatoes alongside Earth potatoes with the goal of seeing whether spuds started in orbit have the same nutritional value as their land-bound counterparts. “That was the game-changer,” said Hamlin Park teacher Andrew Franz, the students’ mentor on the project. “A lot of different crops have been grown on the station, but continuing to grow them on Earth is more rare, and it’s what makes the experiment really unique.” A farm in a tube Berry and Bisson — both professors of biological sciences at UB — are ideal advisers for the space potato project: Berry has done research that required him to grow plants in sterile environments and without soil, and Bisson has studied how plants respond to gravity. The potatoes will be placed in a tube like this one and grown aboard the International Space Station. Photo: Douglas Levere “Dr. Berry and Dr. Bisson have been almost colleagues to the girls,” Franz said. “They just started brainstorming with the girls, throwing out ideas.” “They gave us wonderful ideas on different things to do, like what environment the potato needs to be in,” Melendez said. In consultation with the professors and Franz, the students are pursuing a design that involves growing the tubers in a tube. The set-up is spartan: No dirt. Minimal moisture. A small amount of plant preservative mixture to prevent microbial contamination. Potatoes don’t need much to survive, and the team is hoping only for a tiny amount of growth — simple germination — while the experiment is in space. The spuds they’ll be using are tiny seed potatoes of the Upstate Abundance variety, a disease-resistant breed obtained from Cornell University researchers through Sharon Bachman, a community educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County, who is also advising the project. #SpudLaunchers Months before launch, the Hamlin Park experiment is already generating national interest: It was featured in The Buffalo News and WBFO locally, and in Scientific American online. This January, Cornwell, Melendez and Welch traveled to Washington, D.C., for the White House State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math address, where they got to Skype with scientists in Antarctica and ask an astronaut whether he thought it would be possible to grow potatoes on Mars. (“More or less, he said yes,” relays Franz, who chaperoned the trip.) Franz asks members of the UB community, as well as other Buffalonians, to support the project by sharing stories and new developments under the hashtag #SpudLaunchers on social media. (He’ll be posting to this hashtag on Twitter as the launch date gets closer). Berry and Bisson are looking forward to seeing how the students’ experiment unfolds. “I have been impressed with the originality of their project, and the dedication and enthusiasm they have brought to their plant-space research idea,” Berry said. “It is rewarding to work with students interested in plant biology at this early stage of their studies, and to see how they have worked to resolve issues associated with getting their project ready for launch.” “I found it very exciting to see how the girls responded well to criticism, and at the same time took charge of the project to work creatively to solve difficulties,” Bisson adds. And to think — it all began with a trip to the movies. “All I could say is that hard work pays off,” Melendez says. “I’m just happy that I brought my school some recognition — we’re doing this at a public school, and I’m proud that we’re known for something good.” About the Student Space Flights Experiment Program SSEP is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in partnership with Nanoracks, LLC. This on-orbit educational research opportunity is enabled through NanoRacks, LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. previousnext Redefining “human” GEM is advancing genome science through cutting-edge pilot research projects. Researchers partner across disciplines to investigate connections between the airway microbiome and cancer, probiotics and obesity treatments, and much more. Educating for big data challenges Genomic themes are integrated across the curriculum at UB, offering students the chance to explore the “big” questions that relate to data, genomics and the microbiome. Engaging next generations GEM partners with K-12 teachers and schools throughout the region to embed genomic and microbiomic literacy in the curriciulum through hands-on activities in classrooms, on-campus lab visits, and special events. Empowering the public GEM community outreach provides opportunities for the public to engage in genomic and microbiomic exploration, empowering people with tools to better understand personal health issues. Pictured: ‘Balancing Act’ installation at the Buffalo Museum of Science Fusing art and biology The Coalesce Center for Biological Art provides a dedicated studio laboratory for biological art, graduate positions, interdisciplinary coursework, artist residency opportunities, DIY workshops and exhibitions. 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