Tomatosphere™: Sowing the seeds of discovery through student science
Since 2001, the award-winning Tomatosphere™ educational project has done just that. An estimated 3 million students in Canada and the United States have helped researchers gather data to address these questions, while learning about science, space exploration, agriculture and nutrition. Tomatosphere™ provides students with two sets of tomato seeds: one set that has been exposed to space or space-simulated environments as well as a control group for comparison. Without knowing which set is which, students grow the seedlings in their classrooms, measuring a variety of information about the tomato plants, the germination rates, growth patterns and vigour of the seeds. This methodology, known as a "blind study," allows the mystery of the project to be real science for the students. Each class submits their results to the project's website to be shared with scientists studying horticulture and environmental biology.
The project's baseline experiment investigates the germination rate of the seeds; however, supporting materials have been developed to allow educators from grades 3 to 10 to build on student understanding of a variety of topics, from the science of plants to the science of nutrition to the science of ecosystems.
Tomatosphere™'s hands-on approach to learning gives students a taste for science and space research. In addition to being rewarded with their very own "space tomatoes" to bring home, the students participating in Tomatosphere™ today know that they have each made a personal contribution to assisting space exploration in the future. And perhaps one day, an astronaut biting into a fresh, juicy tomato on the surface of the Red Planet will thank them.
Follow the journey of the tomato seeds: from Earth to space, then back to Earth!
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Take a bite out of the science with Tomatosphere ™!
- 600 000 tomato seeds are prepared to be sent to space.
- The seeds travel to space in the belly of a dragon—SpaceX's Dragon space ship, which transports the seeds to the International Space Station.
- The tomato seeds spend 5 weeks in space, orbiting the planet about 550 times.
- Back on Earth, the seeds are sent to 18 000 classrooms across Canada and the United States. Students then grow the space seeds and compare them with regular seeds. They will only find out which seeds went to space when they complete the experiment.
Why grow tomatoes in space?
Future crews on long space missions will not be able to take all their food with them—they will need to grow plants, which will add oxygen and water and remove carbon dioxide from the environment. Why tomatoes? They are easy to grow, versatile, nutritious and tasty and make a great space salsa!
- *Over 17 800 classes took part in Tomatosphere™ in 2014.
- *Since it began in 2001, Tomatosphere™ has reached over 3 million students across Canada and the United States.
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