Home News Local News Public library experiments with seeds that have been to space station

Public library experiments with seeds that have been to space station

Peggy Bohlin talks Thursday about the Tomatosphere experiment she is conducting in the children’s department of the Roswell Public Library. She will be growing tomatoes from two sets of seeds provided by NASA, one of which has been to the International Space Station, and recording their growth. The tomatoes will be in the window where the public can observe the plants. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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Tomato and chile plants are not unusual sights in Roswell, but the ones now growing at the Roswell Public Library have a purpose beyond adding some flavor to food.

The three groups of plants could lead to one day providing fresh, flavorful meals to astronauts on long-term missions on the International Space Station or even to Mars, Peggy Bohlin, science, technology, engineering and math instructor at the library, said.

“The idea behind this is because we want to send astronauts to Mars, and it takes about a two-year journey, a year and a half,” Bohlin said.

“They’re on Mars for about two years. Because of that timeframe, they can’t put all that food on board, so they have to learn to grow plants so they can survive,” she said.

Bohlin, who taught in Roswell Independent School District for 28 years, signed up for NASA’s Tomatosphere project. The project provides two sets of tomato seeds: a control group of “normal” seeds and an experimental group of seeds that have been to the International Space Station. The experiment is a blind study, so Bohlin won’t know which seeds were on the space station until it is over.

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Since the children’s department at the library is closed, Bohlin is growing the tomatoes in the window of the department, where the public can walk by and view the plants.

NASA is most interested in how many plants from each group germinate and on how many days from planting they begin to sprout, but Bohlin can also record other variables such as plant height, the rate of growth, number of flowers per plant and how many fruits each plant produces. Bohlin will also use different types of soil to grow the plants in. She will transfer them to pots after the seeds germinate.

“It’s going to be a really fun experiment,” she said.

The other component of her space-oriented project is the Space Chile Grow a Pepper Plant Challenge, started by Jacob Torres, a NASA research scientist working with the University of New Mexico. Volunteers grow Martinez Chimayo Peppers in a controlled environment and vie to grow the hottest pepper.

“In the ISS, when you’re in space, your taste buds are not working. Food tastes bland up there,” Bohlin said.

According to a NASA educational publication, that is because on Earth, gravity pulls fluids in the body to the legs. In the reduced gravity of Earth’s orbit, fluids are distributed equally through the body and can block the nasal passages and the ability to smell, which affects the ability to taste.

To compensate, NASA provides astronauts with condiments such as hot sauce and tortillas with extra spices mixed in.

The Martinez Chimayo Pepper is one candidate for a crop at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to the Space Chile challenge Facebook page.

Each grower will submit one sample pepper to UNM, where the capsaicin content will be analyzed. Capsaicin is the chemical compound in chile peppers that give them their heat.

“I’m excited to get some green chiles,” Bohlin said with a laugh.

A new feature at the library will help people keep an eye on the International Space Station. ISS Above is a computer program that calculates where the space station is. A monitor near the periodicals shows information on the space station, including when and how to watch for it passing over Roswell.

Bohlin received the equipment through the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the nonprofit organization that manages the space station, and donated it to the library.

Young patrons of the library will soon have the opportunity to conduct their own scientific experiments and observations through another project Bohlin has been putting together. Through the STEM at Home program, children will be able to take home kits that correspond to the topics of STEM-themed books from the children’s department. The books will have stickers on them letting patrons know there is a STEM at Home kit available.

“You’ve got them from biodiversity and humans to energy, you’ve got forces in motion, solar system, structure and function design, engineering problems and design solutions,” Bohlin said.

The kits were developed based on the book “Picture-Perfect Science Lessons” by Emily Morgan and Karen Roerich Ansberry. Each kit has materials and worksheets children and their parents can use to conduct the experiments.

“You want the parents to collaborate with the kids, you want them to have some good quality time together,” Bohlin said.

The kits are designed for elementary school age students, but Bohlin said they could be used by older children as well.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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