Photo by V. Miller
Oct. 19, 2005
Lima Beans on Mars
Phaseolus lunatus Growth Patterns in a Simulated Mars Environment
Sasha Annalicia Rohret, 15, San Antonio, Texas
Finalist, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, 2005
Category: Space Science
This project observed the growth of Phaseolus lunatus, or lima beans, in simulated Martian and Earth environments, to determine how much the atmosphere would have to be altered for plants to grow on Mars. It was believed that by increasing the concentration of oxygen within the Martian atmosphere, combined with simulated Martian soil, seeds could grow in low-oxygen environments, without changing other variables.
Four airtight tanks were constructed, and fifteen seeds were placed in containers inside each tank. One tank had a Martian atmosphere, composed of about 95% carbon dioxide and 5% oxygen. The second had 10% oxygen, the third 15% oxygen, and the fourth 21.7% oxygen (to match the concentration in Earth's atmosphere). Growth rates were measured for 3 weeks, and the temperature and humidity were also monitored and recorded. The tanks were then opened, and the containers were photographed.
No plant growth was observed in any of the 60 seed containers, although there were considerable amounts of mold growth on and within many of the seeds. Each seed was removed, labeled, and photographed, but all appeared to be decomposing. On average, there was more mold development in the tanks containing higher oxygen.
The results of the project disproved the hypothesis. It was shown that, even with the increase of oxygen levels in the simulated Martian atmosphere, no growth could take place because of the high levels of carbon dioxide. Further research will be required to determine the proper balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen for successful plant growth on Mars.
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