NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Algae and plants respond differently to varying wavelengths of light across the visible light spectrum. NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) determines how different wavelengths of light, representing different colors, affect photosynthesis in a species of algae (Chlorella vulgaris). Results will determine the ideal colors to use when growing algae in microgravity, to be used as possible sources of oxygen, food and fuel on future space missions.
Science Results for Everyone
Initiation of this investigation has been affected by the loss of the Orbital-3 launch vehicle and mission in October 2014.

The following content was provided by Susan Knizner, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks Module-45

Principal Investigator(s)
Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, Houston, TX, United States

Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
Susan Knizner, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, Houston, TX, United States

Developer(s)
NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Space Exploration, Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2015 - September 2015; March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned
43/44,47/48

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • How do different light wavelengths affect the growth of algae (Chlorella vulgaris) in microgravity? The goal of NanoRacks–Duchesne–Algae production in microgravity with variable wavelengths of light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) is to have the students conduct a controlled experiment to test a hypothesis about conditions and their effect on the growth of algae using different wavelengths of light.
  • In 2011 experiments done by Chambers found a trend of the best colors to grow algae.  The three colors that provided the most growth are blue, green and red light. NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production tests for the effect of light wavelengths on the growth of algae, in order to find the optimal color for the highest overall rate of algae growth.
  • The NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production hardware constists of  a 1.5 U (15 cm by 10.16 cm by 10.16 cm) anodized aluminum NanoLab with a NanoRacks Embedded System Interface (NESI+) microprocessor and containing red and blue LED lights, 2 cameras, and pea seeds in Phytoblend agar with nutrients as the growth media.
     

Description

NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) examines the question, how do different light wavelengths affect the growth of algae (Chlorella vulgaris) in microgravity? The goal is to have students conduct a controlled experiment to test a hypothesis about conditions and their effect on the growth of algae using different wavelengths of light. The light in which the alga grows best in microgravity is monitored through observing photographs.  Algae are important to future fuel resources. Algae contain approximately 60% of its weight in bio-diesel. If the preferred color of light is found, then the speed of algae’s growth rate can increase. This could be utilized as a bio-fuel in space and on earth.

Algae are organisms commonly found in aquatic environments. There are two types; macro-algae and microalgae. The large multi-cellular algae are often found in ponds and in the ocean. They tend to be measurable in inches, although giant kelp in the ocean can grow to more than 100 feet in length. Microalgae are tiny unicellular algae that grow as suspensions in water; they are measurable in micrometers.

Algae are a single–celled organism, but not a true plant. There are many types of algae: red, blue green, brown and green. Algae are tiny living things without roots or leaves. They are found in oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, and wet soil. Some algae can only be seen through a microscope. Other algae are larger and made of many cells. All algae require sunlight, water, nutrients, and carbon dioxide for growth. Through the process of photosynthesis, algae convert the carbon dioxide into glucose (a sugar). The glucose is then broken down into fatty acids, which under normal conditions, are used to produce membranes for new cells.

Algae have a very high percentage of oil. Algae could be used as a fuel source for cars and even an energy source on the International Space Station (ISS). Algae have many qualities that may help astronauts in space. It grows quickly, efficiently under certain conditions such as different wavelengths. NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production determines which wavelengths and colors of light aid and benefit the growth of algae. NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production tests for the effect of light wavelengths on the growth of algae, in order to find the optimal color for the highest overall rate of algae growth.

Microalgae have been considered a viable source of biofuels, and many studies have been aimed at optimizing conditions for algal growth and lipid synthesis. In the study by Sorokin and Krauss, they investigated the effects of light wavelength on the growth rate and overall quantity of lipids synthesized by the green algae Chlorella vulgaris and other algae varieties. In Sorokin and Krauss experiment, they found that Chlorella vulgaris are inhibited by red wavelengths, which are characteristic of a shade plant.

NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production is conducted with red and blue LED lights. Agarose is used to give the Chlorella vulgaris algae nutrients needed for the duration of the experiment. Air temperature is kept constant. The code has the camera take 2 pictures every 12 hours; the first picture right after the lights turn on, and the last picture right before the lights turn off. This is done for both sides of the project consecutively for 24 days.
 
 There are a total of 6 LEDs on each side of the project though 4 are devoted to the main project duration and 2 are devoted to the battery pack operation. Once the battery pack finishes its run (the cube is powered from the ISS) the 2 corresponding LEDs turn off and the 4 project LEDs take over for the next 24 days. The LEDs and the cameras are attached to and controlled by the NanoRacks Embedded System Interface (NESI+) microprocessor, which was designed and built by undergraduate students from Texas A&M University. The NESI+ is attached to one end of the NanoLab and the petri dishes are attached.
 

All conditions are kept constant. The hypothesis is that the blue light has the largest impact on algae by accelerating growth due to the low wavelengths preferred by the Chlorella vulgaris algae.  The red wavelengths are between 622 and 780 nm, which is too strong for this algae variety. However, the blue is 455 to 492 nm, which should be most optimal for this algae. Photosynthesis needs 450 to 650 nm to occur. The independent variables are the different colored wavelengths. The dependent variable is algal growth.
 

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Applications

Space Applications

Algae are simple to grow, requiring only carbon dioxide, water and light to produce their own food. The species Chlorella vulgaris is high in protein, which makes it a strong contender for a human food source on board the International Space Station or on future missions. Previous research demonstrated that red light caused plants to develop a higher concentration of an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which can combat some of the damaging effects of cosmic radiation. The investigation examines which wavelengths of light are most beneficial to the algae and to the types of compounds they would provide for human nourishment.

Earth Applications

Chlorella vulgaris is a type of single-cell green algae that produces its own food using only water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. This species is high in protein and oil, and could be a used as a future food or energy source for people on Earth. In addition, this investigation was developed by fourth grade students, who built, programmed and photographed preparations for the experiment. The students, all girls, maintained an engineering notebook with flow charts, diagrams and other details, stimulating their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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Operations

Operational Requirements and Protocols

NanoRacks Module-45 operates autonomously once plugged into the NanoRacks Platform. Data is downlinked at the end of 24 days. It is returned cold stowed.

 

NanoRacks Module-45 is destowed immediately in order to have the maximum number of days possible to obtain data.  It is plugged into the NanoRacks Platform and operates autonomously for a minimum of 24 days. NanoRacks Module-45 returns cold stowage at + 4°C.
 

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
National Design Pilot Program

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Imagery

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The NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) ArduLab lights and camera positioning. Image courtesy of Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.

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Fourth graders from Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart designing a catapult  in class as part of curiculum in preparation for NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production). Image courtesy of Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.

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Fourth graders from Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart working on the CASIS bulletin board as part of the NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) project. Image courtesy of Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.

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Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart fourth and eighth grade students collaborating together on the NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) investigation. Image courtesy of Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.

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The petri dishes are placed on the black circles facing the 2 cameras for the NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) investigation. Image courtesy of Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.

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The petri dish sits on the black piece with Krazy glue and double-sided tape for the NanoRacks-Duchesne-Algae Production in Microgravity with Variable Wavelengths of Light (NanoRacks-Duchesne-Light Wavelengths on Algae Production) investigation. Image courtesy of Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.

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