Seeds from Space

Investigation Brings Space Station Science to the Classroom

The first thing that the eighth graders do when they get to Patricia O’Gorman’s science class is check on their seedlings. They head to the sunny counter in the back of the classroom where dozens of carefully labeled tomato seedings in small peat pots are growing. While some are already two-inches big, others are still unfurling. Could the difference be that some of the seeds have been to outer space and back?

This is Tomatosphere™ —an award-winning program that ties students into scientists’ investigations on the effects of the space environment on the growth of food. This is the first year that all of John Jay Middle School's students have participated in the initiative which has involved more than three million students in North America since 2001.

Some of the seeds have been to outer space

Germination = sprouting of a seedling

Data is captured on the classroom counter

Look closer at the seedlings and you’ll see boxes and dates written in florescent chalk on the counter. Within them, the seedlings are carefully grouped by the day that two leaves were visible on the stem.

O’Gorman explains what’s going on.

“On June 3, we planted seeds in two groups—Q and R. It’s a blind test; either Q or R has spent time on the International Space Station—but we don’t know which.”

An international research project

In mid-June, O’Gorman, along with five other science teachers, will submit the students’ data on the Tomatosphere™ website. An automatic response will convey which of the seeds went to space and which didn't. Students will be able to compare their classA data with other classrooms.

The students’ data will help scientists determine if time in space and exposure to radiation affects the seeds. “Will humans be able to successfully grow food when we someday travel to Mars,” O'Gorman posed to her students. “Your data will help scientists find out the answers to this and other important questions!”

Outer space engages students in science