Aleca Borsuk, a senior Mechanical Engineering student in the College of Engineering, worked with mentor, Kent Kobayashi, associate horticulturist in Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences at the College of Tropcial Agriculture and Human Resources, on a project which used artificial lighting to simulate amaranth grown in space. She presented this work at the Spring 2016 Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium Fellowship & Traineeship Symposium, as this investigation was supported by the Hawai’i NASA Space Grant Consortium.
“As an engineer, I am fascinated by the form and function of plants, and how they interact with light,” said Borsuk. “I’m also interested in how plants can contribute to long duration spaceflight, such as a mission to Mars.”
In the context of a spacecraft, live plants are a valuable source of nutrition, refresh oxygen levels in the air, and can bring greater well-being to those who tend them. Amaranth was an ideal candidate for this project because it is heat and drought tolerant, and because both its shoots and seeds are edible and highly nutritious–all attributes that would make it suitable for long duration spaceflight.
Borsuk demonstrated that enhancement of crop yield for densely planted beds of Amaranthus tricolor can be accomplished using spatial configuration of LED lighting with no additional energy inputs or chemical treatments. This investigation provided insight into horticultural practices that may one day be employed in space.
Borsuk will also be presenting her research at the 113th Annual Conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science in Atlanta, GA in August 2016. She will be graduating next year (May 2017) and plans to start a doctoral program to continue to explore the intersection of photobiology and technology.