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What do you get if you mix Tim Peake, 600,000 school children, the International Space Station, the Royal Horticultural Society and Royal Holloway, University of London seed experts? The answer is Rocket Science!
This nationwide experiment run by the Royal Horticultural Society, in partnership with the European Space Agency and Royal Holloway looked to determine whether humans could grow their own food on long term space missions, or even on another planet.
In September 2015, one million tiny rocket seeds were launched into space for a six month stay on the International Space Station in a project supported by the UK astronaut Tim Peake.
On their return the space seeds were cultivated by schoolchildren as part of a long-term project where they were planted alongside seemingly identical rocket seeds that had not journeyed to the cosmos.
How successful is space salad?
The question was, how does space travel and exposure to conditions of the space environment affect rocket seed germination and plant growth? The children’s experiments showed those seeds rocketed to space did not grow as well as their earth-bound counterparts.
Working with The Royal Horticultural Society, Professor Gerhard Leubner’s team at Royal Holloway’s Group of Seed Biology and Engineering replicated the experiment in laboratory conditions to show that the earth seeds germinated quicker, supporting the findings of the student scientists.
“We’ve been very impressed with the theories put forward by the students as to why space seeds didn’t flourish. From practical theories around the effects of gravity and radiation, to slightly more creative ideas around alien intervention this project has shown that science can create opportunities that are out of this world,” said Professor Gerhard Leubner, Chair of Plant Biochemistry, Royal Holloway.
From Surrey to Space, local seeds take an extraordinary journey
The experiments were made possible with seeds supplied by Tozer Seeds, located in Cobham, Surrey.
An alumnus of Royal Holloway and collaborator on a number of projects with the university, Dr Frances Gawthrop, Research Director at Tozer Seeds also provided expertise for the project.
You can find out more about our world-leading research into seeds and biotechnology by watching our video.
With recent investment of £16 million in facilities for teaching and research, Royal Holloway’s Department of Biological Sciences offers world-class opportunities for students.