Seedlings from space find a place to grow at the IOP

28 April 2016

The IOP is nurturing some rocket seedlings that started life on the International Space Station as part of a UK-wide experiment.


The research, which aims to compare growth rates of seeds that have spent some time in space with others that remained on Earth, is part of the Principia Mission and was launched by British astronaut Tim Peake in January.

Called Rocket Science, a major aim of the project is to inspire children in more than 8,500 schools, clubs and societies with some fun science while also educating them about experimental methods such as randomised trials. Participants will not know which seeds spent six months on the space station and which remained on Earth until the experiment is over.

Seeds weighing a total of 2kg were returned from the space station in March and distributed to schools and other settings around the UK for the project, which is being organised by the Royal Horticultural Society and the UK Space Agency.

While having educational value, the experiment has a scientific purpose in assessing the impact of micro-gravity and radiation on plant growth – an issue that will become increasingly important if astronauts are to survive long space missions such as a journey to Mars.

The IOP was approached to host some seeds by final-year PhD student and prize-winning science communicator Jessica Wade and fourth-year MSci physics student Ben Fernando, who are both at Imperial College London. The seedlings are currently sprouting in the foyer of the IOP’s central London centre where Wade and Fernando will water, cultivate and measure them until the experiment ends about six weeks after it started on 22 April.

Most schools began their experiments in the week beginning 18 April and once the results from across the UK have been collated they will be published in the autumn.

The progress of the IOP’s seedlings can be followed on Instagram or Twitter or in person in the IOP’s building at 80 Portland Place, London W1B INT.

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