Updates from Ghent

As we all know, the first real test case of the AstroPlant kit has been the deployment at the St Barbara School in Ghent. Thankfully, the students who’ve applied to do a project on AstroPlant were the most extraordinary, we couldn’t have wished for a better team of high school students.

If you’re – like us – how things are progressing after two months, please read this interview…

Ok guys, please introduce yourselves

We are the AstroGeeks, a group of young and eager students interested in science:

  • Arnaud Beyne 17 – I focus on the biology and plant science part of the experiment;
  • Laurens Barbier 17 – covering the project and experiment on our blog and social media;
  • Mathias Sierens 17 – designing our website and also acting as science journalist;
  • Maxim De Clercq 17 – I am a software and hardware engineer with some years of experience and will focus on adding temperature control to the AstroPlant kit;***
  • Thomas Moerman 17 – I am also part of the biology experiment.

***Please note that Maxim has made significant contributions to the AstroPlant tech framework, both the hardware and the software, and has correctly identified several design flaws during in the last few months.


How did you find out about AstroPlant?

Last year we followed a class on science, and we were presented a list of possible science projects to do. AstroPlant was one of them and really stood out. At first we wanted to make a temperature regulating box to grow crystals, but when we learned about AstroPlant we decided to be part of this big space experiment.

What have you done before AstroPlant arrived?

Well we started to gather more information about our project, everybody did his part. Maxim immediately started designing his temperature regulating system and by the time the kit arrived it was ready to be tested. The website to cover the experiment was in its beginning state as we were experimenting with slogans and photos. And a lot of research was done to find out what the plants needed to grow in the perfect circumstances (soy beans specifically).

What are the AstroPlant projects you work on?

One of them concerns the making of a temperature regulating system to provide the growing soya beans with a constant temperature. And later on the designing of an app around the project. Another part of the project focuses on communication. They designed a website to keep everybody UpToDate and communicate between the team members and the outer world. Growing the soya beans is the last part of our experiment. Experimenting with the light intensity and how it affects the growth of the plant is one of the main parts in their research.


How are you doing so far? Which challenges did you face?

We have been adapting the kit and it has been in use now for several weeks. We can regulate the temperature and the light intensity. Thanks to the devotion of Maxim everything was ready in time to begin the soy bean experiment. When installing the system we encountered the problem of some pieces of wood being to large so we had to detach them and cut them to the right size. We see this as an ongoing experiment: After growing some saplings in the incubator, we placed the best growing one of the young plants in the kit. After 30 days of incubation we placed the plant inside for 2 weeks and watched it grow. This first plant was a real succes, it grew perfectly, no problems at all, but the second plant (where we did the high far red light intensity experiment) suddenly died. We did nothing particular compared to the first time, but we did come to the conclusion that the candle wick had insufficient capillary effect to keep the rockwool humid, so we had to add water daily by hand. We’ll now try the experiment again with a spare plant and we’ll do everything to make it work once again! When the experiment gets more and more repeated by following groups, than we can start to compare our results and gather some useful information.

Maxim: My experimental part has almost reached conclusion. I have tested various Peltier elements for their energy efficiency, and helped build a setup to control for temperature and continuous air flow as well as light intensity and spectrum inside the AstroPlant kit. Being able to access the data proved to be a challenge, but with the AstroPlant developer Thomas we managed to solve the main issues. Now we can start analysing the data.


What are next steps and expectations?

In the following weeks we will export the soy bean experiment data for analysis. All this information will be put on the website so people can have an idea of what happened during the experiment.

What about being the first group to work with AstroPlant?

We want to make sure that the project can go on, that is why we promote the project among other students and provide the following groups with a basic scientific and technological framework they can build upon. There is a lot of interaction between the team members, teachers and the other projects supporting the experiment (AstroPlant, Reagent, Groeinest). That is something that makes this project interesting. All these interactions and the exploration we are part of makes this mission engaging.

What recommendations would you give to future citizen space scientists working with AstroPlant?

There is a great team of teachers and supporting organizations always ready to answer your questions and help you out. Make use of it!

Any other comments, questions?

The experiment has been really fun up to this moment, everybody is active and eager to work, which creates a nice atmosphere. We can only hope that the following groups can experience the same thing.

12 months ago