Media Experts Spotlight
Feeding astronauts and growing food on Mars - Take a look at what Florida Tech has to offer
· 1 min. read
Astrobiology student Hannah Blackburn is relentless about building a better future—not just for the next generation, but for all humankind. As we look to Mars in hopes of supporting human life, Hannah is developing ways to grow nutritious food on the Red Planet.
As an astrobiology student, Hannah is able to take an interdisciplinary approach to her research, which is providing the building blocks for what gardening on Mars could eventually look like.
Looking to know more about Florida Tech and the amazing programs like astrobiology? Let us help.
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Florida Tech Scientist to Study Deep-Space Agriculture After Planetary Society Grant Award
No matter where humans travel, sustenance remains a necessity. Finding a bite to eat during a visit to New York, for example, is no problem. When the destination is a bit farther away, such as Mars, the options are not as plentiful there or on the long journey to get there. That’s where Florida Tech’s Andrew Palmer comes in. He and other scientists are exploring ways to feed our explorers, and a new competitive grant from the Planetary Society will fund work that examines the two most likely ways to produce food during travel to these far-flung spots: in soil or something like soil, or in water. Palmer and his team were awarded a $50,000 Science and Technology Empowered by the Public (STEP) grant, the Planetary Society recently announced. Their project: “Evaluation of food production systems for lunar and Martian agriculture.” For the next year, they will grow radish microgreens, lettuce and tomatoes in identical environmental conditions with one major exception: one batch will be grown hydroponically, and another will be grown in regolith – like lunar or Martian soil. The aim of the experiment is to characterize and compare the two methods, both of which have merits and shortcomings. “It may be that a combination of these approaches, tailored to the diverse needs of different crops, is the best way to provide sustainable and productive agriculture,” Palmer said. “Until now, there have been no direct comparison studies between hydroponic and regolith-based systems for any crop targeted for space applications. We are excited to address this knowledge gap.” The team, which includes experts in plant physiology and biochemistry as well as space agriculture and systems efficiency analysis, will test their hypothesis that faster growing crops like microgreens will be better suited for hydroponic systems even in the long term, while slower-growing crops like tomatoes may favor a regolith-based production system. Palmer and his co-investigator, Rafael Loureiro from Winston-Salem University, are joined by collaborators J. Travis Hunsucker and Thiara Bento from Florida Tech, Laura E. Fackrell at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Jéssica Carneiro Oliveira at Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Care to delve a little deeper? Palmer and a second STEP grant recipient, Dartmouth College professor Jacob Buffo, spoke to the Planetary Society senior communications advisor Mat Kaplan about their respective projects. The segment with Palmer begins at the 23:57 mark and the piece is linked above. Looking to know more about what it will take to feed our deep-space explorers? Then let us help with your questions and coverage. Dr. Andrew Palmer is an associate professor of biological sciences at Florida Tech and a go-to expert in the field of Martian farming. He is available to speak with media regarding this and related topics. Simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview.
June 02, 2023
Expert Q&A: The Summer of Sargassum?
A 5,000-mile-wide mass of sargassum seaweed is drifting toward Florida's beaches. It could arrive, with its brown, slick leaves and rotten eggs smell, around July as the state's Atlantic beaches are filled with locals and tourists. Florida Tech oceanographer Kevin Johnson offered his insights into this looming arrival. Is it dangerous? Will it spoil the beaches? Here are his answers to some key questions. QUESTION: Is this situation really a big deal? Kevin Johnson: I wouldn’t say it is being overhyped, but it is yet to be determined whether this year will have greater amounts of sargassum in the Atlantic offshore, (visible by satellite) or coming ashore and covering the beaches, a connected but separate phenomenon requiring the cooperation of onshore winds. 2018 was a record-setting year, and this year could exceed what was seen in both locations in 2018. If the winds contribute strongly to sargassum coming ashore, it could make it smelly and hard to find an area of clean sand to set up on the beaches. QUESTION: Is there a health risk if we head to a beach where sargassum is present? Kevin Johnson: Sargassum doesn’t produce aerosolized organic toxins, but as it rots on the beach, it will smell and give off hydrogen sulfide gas, or H2S. That's the stuff that smells like rotten eggs. When concentrated in enclosed areas, this gas is toxic and can be harmful. However, in the open air, diluted on an exposed beach, it is more of a smelly nuisance than a genuine health hazard for most people. But there could be a minor irritation, like itching, after coming into contact with sargassum. There are symbiotic species living in and amongst this seaweed when it is healthy and floating at sea. (These intricate relationships are part of what makes sargassum ecologically significant as a food source, nursery and habitat for many populations.) One of the symbionts is a tiny branching colonial hydroid, related to corals. it grows on sargassum fronds. Hydroid colonies have a sting like corals and jellyfish, but it is generally not severe. Some people may experience itching around their feet or ankles (or any body part that contacts the sargassum hydroids) if they brush up against sargassum in waves or swash, or step on freshly deposited sargassum on the sand. Many people will not be bothered or only mildly troubled by this, but some people may be more sensitive to the hydroids. QUESTION: I was planning to visit the beach. Should I reconsider now? Kevin Johnson: If the winds collude with the large bloom already underway to deliver huge mats to the beach, it could be hard for beachgoers to find a place to sit on the sand, and the smells could make the beach untenable. I emphasize “could” with the hydrogen sulfide smell because it depends on how the sargassum is deposited and how wet it is as it breaks down. In some cases, beached Sargassum can be very dry and in such cases it may not smell too bad. People who are more sensitive to the hydrogen sulfide or to the hydroids on the fresh sargassum may find the experience even more unpleasant. Westerly winds would be helpful from the perspective of keeping sargassum away from beaches, but unfortunately easterlies are pretty common this time of year. If you're a reporter looking to know more about this topic, let us help with your coverage. Dr. Johnson can be available for phone, Zoom or, depending on scheduling, in-person interviews.
March 16, 2023
Expert Q & A: Florida Tech's Csaba Palotai talks about the green comet's return after 50,000 years away
Looking to the skies over the next week or so, you may see something you will not see again for 50,000 years. This occasional visitor, C/2022 E3 (ZTF), also known the “green comet,” will make its closest approach to Earth Feb. 2. We asked Csaba Palotai, aerospace, physics and space sciences associate professor, and Amelia Brumfield, graduate research assistant, about the green comet, what we can learn from it, where to look for it and more. Q: Why is this comet green? Palotai: The composition of a particular comet determines what the color is. This one has most likely diatomic carbon in it, and then that carbon comes out and interacts with the sunlight. Certain photochemical processes take place and that gives it the green color. This is not for every comet. Q: Why haven’t we seen this comet in 50,000 years? Brumfield: It has a very eccentric orbit. Our orbit, we go around the sun every year, but this comet, its orbit is on a scale of thousands and thousands of years. There's a chance that no one's ever seen it. Dr. Palotai had mentioned that it might have come by during the ice age. It might not even have passed by Earth (to be visible) at that time, if it did. So, it won't be back and if it does even come back, we're going to be long gone. It's just a cool chance to see something that maybe no one's ever seen before and might never ever get to see again. What can we learn from this comet? Palotai: This comet has an interesting orbit and then people study this orbit after the discovery of the comet. They figure it out that this is coming from a part of the solar system called the Oort Cloud (named for the Dutch astronomer who first described it, Jan Oort). This region of the solar system is not well understood because it is very far from us, so actually we haven't seen any objects in this region. It is thought that there are about, give or take, a trillion icy objects in this region. Some of them are smaller ones, some of them are bigger ones. And the only way we know about these things is that whenever comets like this come from that region. Q: When is a good time to view this comet? Palotai: In the next few days, or maybe in the next couple of weeks or so is the greatest chance to observe it. You need several factors to have a comet to be visible with a naked eye, starting with clear, dark skies. Beyond the naked eye, if you have binoculars or a smaller telescope, you should also be able to see it. Q: Where can you view this comet? Brumfield: You can still see it between the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper, and then around Jan. 30 it should be closer to the North Star, so you can look for it in that area of the sky. And the best time to view it is very late at night, so between midnight and dawn. And then the closest approach is going to be Feb. 2, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's going to be the best time to view it. If you're a reporter covering the green comet, let us help with any of your questions about this rare celestial phenomenon. Csaba Palotai is available to speak with you. Simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview today.
January 30, 2023
Interested in the true pursuit of greatness? Take a look at what Florida Tech has to offer
If you are up for the challenge and want to begin your own relentless pursuit of greatness, let us help. The Florida Tech campus is located in the heart of Florida’s Space Coast. That means proximity to key agencies and operations, such as NASA-Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX, Embraer, L3Harris Corporation, Northrop Grumman and more. Oh, and did we mention there are miles and miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches just moments away? Learn more about all Florida Tech has to offer. Get in touch today! Simply contact: Adam Lowenstein Director of Media Communications (321) 674-8964 email@example.com
November 28, 2022
Feeding astronauts and growing food on Mars - Take a look at what Florida Tech has to offer
Astrobiology student Hannah Blackburn is relentless about building a better future—not just for the next generation, but for all humankind. As we look to Mars in hopes of supporting human life, Hannah is developing ways to grow nutritious food on the Red Planet. As an astrobiology student, Hannah is able to take an interdisciplinary approach to her research, which is providing the building blocks for what gardening on Mars could eventually look like. Looking to know more about Florida Tech and the amazing programs like astrobiology? Let us help. Simply contact: Adam Lowenstein Director of Media Communications (321) 674-8964 firstname.lastname@example.org
November 16, 2022
#Expert Research: New National Science Foundation and NASA-Funded Research Investigates Martian Soil
Studies have shown crops can grow in simulated Martian regolith. But that faux material, which is similar to soil, lacks the toxic perchlorates that makes plant growth in real Red Planet regolith virtually impossible. New research involving Florida Tech is examining how to make the soil on Mars useful for farming. Andrew Palmer, co-investigator and ocean engineering and marine sciences associate professor, along with Anca Delgado, principal investigator and faculty member at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, and researchers from the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, are participating in the study, “EFRI ELiS: Bioweathering Dynamics and Ecophysiology of Microbially Catalyzed Soil Genesis of Martian Regolith.” This National Science Foundation and NASA-funded project will use microorganisms from bacteria to remove perchlorates from Martian soil simulants and produce soil organic matter containing organic carbon and inorganic nutrients. Martian regolith contains high concentrations of toxic perchlorate salts that will impede plant cultivation in soil, jeopardizing food security and potentially causing health problems for humans, including cancer. Researchers will look at different bacterial populations and how well they are able to process and break down the perchlorates, as well as what kind of materials they produce when they do. They’ll also look at different temperatures and moisture conditions, as well as in the presence or absence of oxygen. Students in the Palmer Lab will receive the simulants after this process, try to replicate it, and then test how well the perchlorate-free regolith is able to grow plants. A challenge the researchers face is how they remove the toxic salts, as well as if they can remove all of them. Palmer cautioned that the possibility that removing the perchlorates does not necessarily mean the regolith is ready for farming. “You can’t make the cure worse than the disease, so we have to be ending up with regolith on the other side that’s better than when we started,” Palmer said. “We can’t trade perchlorates for some other toxic accumulating compound. Just because we’re removing the perchlorates doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to make the regolith better for plants. We might just make it not toxic anymore. How much does it improve is really what we’re trying to figure out.” Even without perchlorates, there are significant challenges to growing crops in Martian soil. While researchers have grown plants in simulated regolith, the regolith is not good for plant growth, as in addition to a lot of salts, it has a high pH and is very fine, which means it can ‘cement’ when wet, suffocating plant roots. Being able to grow in the soil instead of using hydroponics could also provide a more efficient, cost-effective solution. “There is always the option of hydroponic growth of food crops, but with a significant distance to Mars and the lack of readily available water, we need a different kind of plan,” said ASU’s Delgado. “If there is a possibility to grow plants directly in the soil, there are benefits in terms of water utilization and resources to get supplies to Mars.” Some of the microbial solutions the team is proposing could also help with studies of soils on Earth. “The best soils for agriculture on earth, they were taken up decades ago, and so now we’re trying to farm on new land that’s not really meant for agriculture, if you think about it,” Palmer said. “So, as we think about ways to convert it into better soil, I think this research helps teach us how to do that, but it also inspires.” The research will also allow Florida Tech students to get hands-on space agriculture experience. “We’re going to be training the grad students and the undergraduates who are going to be the researchers who take on those new challenges, so I think one of our most important products are going to be the students we train,” Palmer said. “We’ll deliver Mars soil, but we also deliver, I think, a future group of researchers.” If you're a reporter looking to know more about this topic - then let us help with your coverage. Dr. Andrew Palmer is an associate professor of biological sciences at Florida Tech and a go-to expert in the field of Martian farming. Andrew is available to speak with media regarding this and related topics. Simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview today.
November 16, 2022
Experts in the Media: Florida Tech astrobiologist Manasvi Lingam in Astronomy magazine on the search for life 'out there'
It's a question people have been asking since we first started looking at the stars - Are we alone out there? It's been the focus of books, movies, childhood dreams and most importantly, scientists who have spent careers searching for intelligent life in the universe. Recently, the popular publication Astronomy magazine contacted some of the leading experts and academics in America and asked that very question. Manasvi Lingam, an astrobiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace, Physics, and Space Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology was interviewed to add his perspective and expert opinion with the quest to answer a question people have been asking for centuries. If you're a journalist looking to know more or are covering this topic, let us help with your stories! Manasvi Lingam is an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology. He is an author and go-to expert for media when it comes to anything in outer space or out of this world. Simply click on Manasvi's icon now to arrange an interview today.
October 19, 2022
Planet 9 Doesn’t Exist, So Why Does It Matter How We Get There? Let Our Expert Explain.
Planet 9 is an oft-discussed hypothetical planet in the outer region of the solar system. A new study involving Florida Tech astrobiologist Manasvi Lingam helps illustrate how we could possibly get there. The study, “Can We Fly to Planet 9?” is from Lingam and researchers Adam Hibberd and Andreas Hein. The team discovered that using current, unmanned transportation methods, it would take 45 to 75 years to get to Planet 9, which is about 42 billion miles away from Earth. By comparison, Pluto, which is the ninth object from the Sun, is roughly three billion miles from Earth. The research and work of Lingam, Hibberd and Hein is also getting a lot of attention from websites like UniverseToday.com. The team also studied near-future transportation methods nuclear thermal propulsion and laser sails. Using nuclear thermal propulsion, it would take approximately 40 years to reach Planet 9. It would take merely six to seven years to reach Planet 9 using laser sail propulsion, which involves using light from lasers to propel the vehicle. In its research, the team used the principles of orbital mechanics, sometimes called spaceflight mechanics. They inputted the complex and nonlinear mathematical equations into a computer, and then solved those equations with some optimization constraints. “What I mean by the latter is that ideally you want to maximize or minimize some quantity as much as possible,” Lingam said. “You might say, ‘Well, I want to minimize the flight time of the spacecraft as much as possible.’ So, what we did is that we put in an optimization constraint. In this case, it happens to be minimizing the time of journey. You solve the mathematical equations for a spacecraft with this condition, and then you end up with the results.” Lingam is inspired by the trendsetting Voyager spacecraft missions of the late 1970s, and one of his goals is to gain additional information about other worlds in our solar system, in addition to Planet 9 Voyager still provides valuable information regarding the outer solar system, though by 2025 it is expected that there may no longer be sufficient power to operate its science instruments. “Any mission to Planet Nine would likewise not just provide valuable information about that hypothetical planet, but it would also yield vital information about Jupiter, because what we do in some of the trajectories is a slingshot or powered flyby around Jupiter,” Lingam said. “It could also provide valuable information about the Sun because we also do a maneuver around the Sun, so you would still be getting lots of interesting data along the journey. And the length of the journey is comparable to that of the functioning time of the Voyager spacecraft today.” If you're a reporter looking to know more - then let us help get you connected to an expert. Manasvi Lingam is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology. He is an author and go-to expert for media when it comes to anything in outer space or out of this world - just recently he was featured in Astronomy.com where he was asked to answer the illusive question - Are we alone? Manasvi is available to speak with media - simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview today.
October 12, 2022