Rocket Science ProjectEarlier this week, Head of Science, Mrs Alexandra Ballard, Head of Physics, Mrs Amanda Kingsland and Housemistress of School House, Mrs Charlotte Taylor-Smith, gave an update in Chapel on the Rocket Science project and launched a Science Poetry Competition, which will culminate during National Science Week in March.

Mrs Taylor-Smith gave an update with regards to the Rocket Science project: on Tuesday 26th April 2016, the LIV began their participation in the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and UK Space Agency’s Rocket Seeds Project. The girls planted up four seed trays, with 25 rocket seeds in each. Fifty of these seeds had been launched into space on Soyuz 44S on 2nd September 2015 (as part of a million seeds!), with European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen and his crew arriving on the International Space Station (ISS) two days later. British ESA astronaut Tim Peake took charge of the seeds while on the ISS for his Principia mission which started in December 2015, which the girls had watched the launch of in the Chapel. After being held for about six months in microgravity, the seeds returned to Earth with astronaut Scott Kelly in March 2016 and were then packaged up with identical seeds that have stayed on Earth, one set in red packets and one in blue.

The girls had to record various measurements, such as when the seeds first germinated, first developed two leaves, how high they grew etc over the next five weeks and in June 2016, I submitted our results to the RHS, where the results were analysed by professional statisticians. Leading scientists from the RHS and the European Space Agency interpreted the results and drew possible conclusions. The online report was published in September 2016, so we could see if our predictions were in line with the scientific community's findings - which they were! We had predicted that the red seeds had stayed on Earth, as they grew a little bit better.

As well as being a fun project and a natural addition to the plant-growing activities we were doing to establish the School House Garden, it was hoped that this project would help to inspire our girls to think scientifically and see how curriculum and life interact with each other and to help them to see the potential of future careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) and Horticulture. Many of the girls were excited by the idea of being part of a project that explores what growing plants in space can teach us about life on Earth and whether we can sustain human life in space through the production of our own food - just as in the recent Matt Damon movie The Martian, as one girl remarked!  Mrs Charlotte Taylor-Smith

Analysis of the Rocket Science project and the theories that were likely to have caused the tiny difference in the growth outcomes of the seedlings
(Mrs Amanda Kingsland)

Microgravity was unlikely to have affected the seeds as they had not developed their gravity-sensitive systems in their dormant state.
Cosmic Radiation – was extremely likely to have altered the protein structure and DNA of the seeds and although growing plants have a remarkable ability to repair DNA damage, seeds cannot do this, so any damage would remain. The cosmic radiation would have hit the ISS and then bombarded the seeds with nuclei and protons and led to energy deposits in the seeds which caused the damage.

The journey and the temperatures encountered were unlikely to have led to any changes in subsequent growth. The temperature range for the seeds was pretty small from 12 (degrees C) to 30 during the crash landing of the Soyuz capsule and it is unlikely that this variation in temperature would affect the seeds. The enormous vibrations and forces encountered on the journey to and from the ISS could potentially cause damage to the seeds if combined with humidity getting into them, but as long as they were sealed properly it shouldn’t be a factor.

The findings of the project are extremely encouraging for future manned missions to Mars, as we will need to plan how to grow our own food in a weaker gravitational field and get the seeds there in the first place. Our collaboration in this project will add to the huge field of scientific research being done as we hold Mars in our sights as the next milestone of manned space exploration.


Science Poetry Competition
Mrs Ballard announced the Poetry Competition: 

The theme for National Science Week this year is Change. The Science Department have teamed up with the English Department and are inviting entries to a poetry competition along this theme. There are many different ways the girls could approach this – evolution, metamorphosis, chemical reactions, energy changes – the list could go on and on. There is only one rule: it must be scientifically accurate!

There are four categories for entry for the pupils: Fourth Form, Fifth form, Sixth Form and ‘Over 18’ for staff and parents.
GIrls are asked to type up their entries and email it Mr Salter (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) by 9am on Monday 6th March. The entries will be judged first by the Science Department for scientific accuracy and then by the English Department for poetic merit and a prize awarded in each category during National Science Week (13-17th March).

Good luck girls!