This Spring the Minnesota West Community and Technical College Bluejay Team received the Best in Show Award for Experimental Design in the Plant The Moon Challenge.
This hands-on challenge focuses on addressing the human need for access to nutritious food that can be grown on the Moon.
The team decided to plant Cherry Belle radishes, Raphanus sativus, because they are container friendly, have a fast germination time, and retain their taste quality for a long time after harvest to prevent food waste. The nutritional value of Cherry Belle radish bulbs is high.
During the Fall 2022 semester, the Minnesota West Bluejay Team also won a Plant the Moon Challenge award, the Best Evaluation of Results Award.
The Fall 2022 Bluejay Team conducted an experiment and found that collard greens, Brassica oleracea, grew significantly larger in the presence of a nitrogen-rich compound compared to when no nitrogen source was provided.
Funding by MnSGC
Minnesota Space Grant Consortium provided funds to the Minnesota West Bluejay team for the necessary kits for the Plant the Moon Challenge for both the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters. The kits include a standardized soil mixture simulating the composition of lunar soil.
Minnesota West Bluejay Team
The team, competing at the undergraduate and professional level, consisted of Minnesota West students Selam Alemayehu, Julian Bennett, Brandon Berghorst, Leidy Chavez Martin, Devaughn Demus, Taya Denroche, Irma Hernandez, Antonio Heser-Leiva, Christian Lopez, Dylan Markus, Arlene Martinez Cambara, Irving Mendez, Emmot Nathan, Aaliyah Petersen, Taylor Pronto, Deante Porter, Lolita Ramirez Velasquez, Omar Robles, Simon Spittle, Paul Troe, Vant Tucker, and Du’Vaughn Williams; and advisors Biology Instructor Heidi Tarus and Chemistry Instructor Dr. Tyler Wadzinski.
The instructors said they enjoyed offering the opportunity to Minnesota West students to participate in scientific research and discover what other teams around the world experimented on.
Testing Nitrogen Sources
The challenge consisted of 4 parts: Research, Design, Plant & Monitor, and Analyze & Present.
In their lunar samples, the Bluejay Team’s study focuses on the best source of nitrogen that will allow plants to grow while reducing the amount of payload required on a spacecraft. The nitrogen sources tested (the independent variable) were calcium nitrate tetrahydrate [Ca(NO3)2·4H2O], ammonium nitrate [NH4NO3], and urea [CO(NH2)2]. The three nitrogen sources have different molar masses and nitrogen percentages.
The larger team of twenty-two students formed eight sub-teams that contained one to three students per team. Each sub-team was responsible for one pot per treatment. Day Zero started on February 16, 2023. There were eight weeks of a growth period, and the surface area was collected during the final week on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, with the final Day 49 on April 6. Plant height was measured each week and the data was analyzed using a linear regression model to show plant height growth over the grow period.
The main driving question for this project is to discover the trade-off between limiting the mass of nitrogen fertilizers brought to the moon while producing the highest yield of nutrient-rich crops needed to feed individuals living on the moon.
The Bluejay Team put forth three hypotheses:
(1) The nitrogen source will not influence the germination (primordial leaf emergence) rate of the R. sativus plants;
(2) The R. sativus plants grown in pots containing a nitrogen source will produce a higher leaf height growth rate, a larger leaf surface area, and the largest bulb compared to the control group; and
(3) Out of the three nitrogen sources being tested, ammonium nitrate [NH4NO3] will produce the highest leaf height growth rate, the largest leaf surface area, and the largest bulbs.
Data from the experiment supported the first hypothesis. There was no significant difference between the treatment groups and the primordial leaf germination rate. Data from the experiment rejected the second and third hypotheses.
Although radish bulbs did not develop, based on the data the team recommends the use of urea as a nitrogen source when growing R. sativus as urea is the most weight-efficient nitrogen source tested in this experiment.
Dr. Rafael Loureiro, a Science Advisor Board member, provided feedback on the final report. Dr. Rafael Loureiro said, “The experimental design is well-planned and executed. The paper presents a clear and concise hypothesis and independent and dependent variables, allowing for a clear understanding of the study’s objectives and design. Using the LeafByte App to measure leaf surface area is innovative and provides a more precise measurement than visual estimation.”
Moon and Mars Challenge Fall 2023
The Plant the Moon & Plant Mars Challenge is open to all grade levels from elementary through higher education and is an international event. This spring the challenge had teams participate from Canada, India, and 24 U.S. states. The Fall 2023 competition is now open for registration until September 2, 2023.
Plant the Moon & Plant Mars Challenge
(Register by September 2, 2023)