Space Biology Applications: Seed Outgassing under Vacuum

Theme: Biodiversity & Ecology

Main Supervisor:

Hugh Pritchard

Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology, KEW

Second Supervisor:

Dhiren Kataria

Department of Space & Climate Physics, Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), UCL

Project Description:

Dry seeds from many plant species are known to be able to survive extreme environmental conditions, including those found in outer space, such as vacuum, anoxia, temperature fluctuations and exposure to full-spectrum ultraviolet light. This PhD proposal is part of a long-term Kew-UCL research project studying the effects of space exposure on seeds from a range of species representing wide taxonomic diversity and a variety of plant uses, life forms, habitats, climatic zones and seed morphology.

The proposed project is in preparation for a planned experiment on the International Space Station (ISS), in which seeds from 24 species will be exposed to the extreme conditions of space outside of the ISS for over a year. During this period, the effects of the exposure on the seeds will be monitored in-situ with a mass spectrometer for the first time, primarily through analysis of volatiles released from the seeds. Currently it is not known which volatiles, and at what rate, will be released from different seeds under vacuum. The project will focus on (i) improving the current understanding of released volatiles and (ii) increasing the technology readiness level of the mass spectrometer subsystems. Seeds of different morphology and composition will be studied using a series of vacuum and mass spectrometry systems of increasing complexity. The project uniquely combines seed science and space instrumentation development with researchers from MSSL at UCL (Dhiren Kataria) and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (Hugh Pritchard, Louise Colville and Anne Visscher) working together to supervise the project.

Policy Impact of Research:

Results from this project will help to improve detection of biological compounds in vacuum. Enhanced detection of such compounds will allow more informed decisions regarding storage of seeds under vacuum on Earth, or in space for human spaceflight. Furthermore, it will enable better health and safety monitoring of space environments.

Applications are CLOSED.

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