Not everyone at Lloydminster Comprehensive High School (LCHS) is getting ready for the summer holidays.
Five students from the LCHS Science Club will visit the Canadian Light Source science lab in Saskatoon for five days, beginning on Wednesday, to analyze the effects of cosmic radiation on tomato seeds.
“It is probably the best science experience they will ever get at a high school level,” said Blair Proctor, who teaches physics at the school and leads the Science Club. “I don’t mean to discredit everything we do at high school, we do lots of great things, but this is real science where not even the scientists know the answers.”
As part of the Tomatosphere Project, the club has been growing tomato seeds in preparation for long-term spaceflight, and possible colonization of new plants, since October 2013.
“Our seeds were taken up on the International Space Station,” said Grade 12 student Rylee Prescesky. “They stayed up there for 22 months. Once they came down from space, Tomatosphere packaged them up as well as packaged up a control group.”
She added that the seeds’ germination rates were then supposed to be studied, but she and her peers decided to grow them to maturity and measure all the differences along the way.
In June 2014, the club took the plants to the Canadian Light Source and used synchrotron x-rays and infrared light to diagnose molecular differences between the plants. The results helped provide insight into whether long-term spaceflight will affect the growth of vegetation.
As they head back to Saskatoon, the students will have access to the synchrotron, beamline and other scientific technology that will help them compare the germination rates of the two seed groups.
The group hypothesizes that space radiation affects glucose in the plant, which alters the seeds’ germination. Results of the research could help determine the feasibility of growing plants on Mars.
“It would be a way of eating on the way to Mars, as well as keeping the space station oxygenated,” Prescesky said.
Travelling to and from Mars may take over two years, so the ability to grow food during the trip could prove very important.
The club is scheduled to arrive in Saskatoon Wednesday evening. Proctor says the students will get a tour of the lab on Thursday and have access to the beam on Friday.
“The time after that, we’ll spend two and a half days trying to figure out what our data actually means,” said Proctor.
As a strict students-only experience, Proctor will accompany the students to the lab but will not be allowed to participate in the experiment. The students will, however, be able to collaborate with scientists at the Canadian Light Source.