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Biology Graduate Student Receives Sigma-Xi Research Award

Our Biology PhD student Nickolas Miklave, a member of the Hassenstein Lab, received an $850 Sigma-Xi Science Honor Society Grant in Aid of Research.

The grant is titled "Developing Hydrogel Substrates for Plant Growth in Space" and the $850 award will cover material and supply costs. A brief description of the research follows. Plant growth experiments in microgravity utilize arcillite clay aggregates as substrate, but low nutrient content and water capacity have been problematic. Arcillite does not provide sufficient water storage because of the competing need for aeration to prevent root hypoxia, a condition that severely inhibits plant growth in space. In contrast to arcillite, hydrogels can retain hundreds of times more water per weight basis, while sufficiently rigid gels will not compromise aeration. Hydrogels are known to improve crop production and preliminary data show that hydrogel granules are a promising substrate for space applications. We are developing a hydrogel substrate with optimized rigidity and water capacity to grow plants in microgravity conditions that have improved yield and nutrient content.