Horticulture learns STEM through Rocket Science initiative

Horticulture learners at the Grimsby Institute are learning all about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through an initiative launched by the Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) and the European Space Agency (ESA) which saw two kilograms of Rocket seeds accompany British ESA astronaut, Tim Peake, on his six-month ESA Principia mission.

The initiative, aimed at teaching us about life on earth and the possibilities of sustaining human life in space, was launched last year and Grimsby Institute’s Programme Leader for Conservation & Horticulture, Timothy Hooper, was quick to get on board. Timothy explained:

“I saw the announcement through RHS Schools that they were running the project to send seeds into space along with Tim Peake. On the back of that I contacted RHS to see if we were eligible to apply.

“The seeds were in space with Tim for about six months and then, when they were returned to Earth, they were distributed to the schools and colleges taking part. We were sent two packets of 50 seeds, one has been into space and the other one hasn’t, and the idea is to see how the two crops compare. We have no idea which seeds are which.

“We’re now running a blind experiment through growth trials to see if there is a difference in size, in the development of the roots and leaves and how much biomass is produced. At the moment we haven’t seen much difference but, as the results come in from across the country, I’ll expect slight differences to become apparent.

“This will prove massively important for our learners purely because it takes them beyond textbook horticulture of digging in the garden. This is allowing them to explore other areas of the discipline; science, engineering, mathematics and it ties in perfectly with functional skills. For a lot of the learners it has really opened up their imaginations to the realms beyond the garden of what horticulture can do.”

One of the Level 2 Horticulture learners involved in the project, Stephen Clark, 29, has been looking after the Rocket since it first arrived at the Institute. Stephen said:

“We started off by researching about the Rocket seeds and then planting them, watering them and we are now monitoring them and constantly making sure they are being kept in the correct conditions. It’s really been something different for us to be involved in and it’s nice to think, considering they’ve been in outer space, that we’re now being given the chance to grow them.

“I thoroughly enjoy gardening, for lots of different reasons, and there is going to be a wide range of job prospects available to me at the end of the course.”