The first science prize of the Dutch children’s program ‘Het Klokhuis’ goes to…
by Suzanne Flinkenflögel on Thursday, 9th February 2017 in Food for Mars, People, Wieger Wamelink, STEM
Dr. ir. Wieger Wamelink, a Mars One adviser, is a senior ecologist at Wageningen Environmental Science at Wageningen University & Research (the Netherlands). He has made significant scientific contributions to the understanding of the possibilities of using Martian soil for food production on Mars, a key component of the Mars One mission. He has written several blog posts about his Food for Mars research for Mars Exchange. In this most recent publication, Wamelink writes about winning a Dutch Children's Science Award.
"‘I am going to enlist you, unless you demur before the end of the day.’ I found this short e-mail from one of our press officers on a morning in my inbox....
... Luckily I just emptied my inbox otherwise I would have missed it. It came with a difficult task; to wrap up three years of research on how to grow plants on Mars and Moon soil simulant in a few lines, in such a way that children of the children’s TV-show ‘Het Klokhuis’ would appreciate it. This all for the first ever science reward of the program.
We were able to fill in the form just in time and after a short while we learned that our research was placed on the long list together with 34 other researches from Dutch universities and research institutes. Amongst others a project from colleagues from Wageningen, Gert-Jan Steeneveld and Bert Heusinkveld, about the most healthy school route for children regarding smog and other air pollution. More likely to be picked than our research I thought, because with children’s participation which should be appreciated by a children’s jury. Other enlisted projects were a really interesting and appealing research about robots in the classroom, laws that protect children on the internet, why do only humans cry, and the human computer.
A week before the (at that time still secret) announcement of the winner, we got an e-mail that our research had made it to the short list, together with five other nominees! We were with six because the jury could not decide between two researches. Were we one of the two researches on the fifth place or were we higher on the list? It started to become exciting, because who knows, maybe we had a chance?
A few days later, I was called by someone from the broadcaster of the program about the InScience film festival in Nijmegen where the reward ceremony would take place. The festival had already booked me to present the research for groups of 10-12 years from Wednesday till Friday, ánd to give later that Friday an introduction to the Dutch premiere of the Film Indune. The conversation started about those presentations, and since the broadcaster was heavily involved in the organization of the festival I was not surprised by their call. The big surprise came at the end of the conversation, when she told me that we had won the science reward! This meant another presentation but then in the big theatre room for way over one hundred children. The most difficult task, however, was to keep it quite till the award day. Even my nephew (aged eight) and my nieces (aged 4 and 10) who I wanted to invite to the show could not know why they were invited. So they had to be lured in, including their parents, since before you know it the news may end up on Facebook or Twitter.
The ceremony itself was awesome, supercool and chill. ‘Het Klokhuis’, which translates as apple core, came with its new talent (born in Wageningen) Eva Cleven and with its very famous apple chair for selfies and pictures with Eva. During the presentation Joep (core member of our research team) and I gave, children could ask questions. Fun fact: the children asked these questions with a microphone disguised as a die cube. The mic was a big success and made the presentation much livelier. Maybe something for the often serious (dull) scientific symposia?
To end, I would like to thank the jury, the ‘Plusklas’ of the ‘Maaswaal’ college for the big honour and the great ceremony day. One of the quotes from the jury report: ’if we are grown up we want this dealt with’. Perks that are linked to the award, except the lovely statue, is a beautiful reward, and one of the episodes of ‘Het Klokhuis’ will be dedicated to our research and will have his premiere on the next InScience festival in November 2017. All that is needed is the budget to do a new experiment."
Research description for the science award entry:
Vegetables from Mars
What can we eat when living on Mars?
There is no plant growth on Mars so you will have to bring or grow your own food. It is best to bring your own seeds and sow them in a growth chamber and later on to harvest the eatable parts of the crops. However, is the Martian soil fertile enough and is it safe to eat the crops? The first thing we investigated was if it would be possible to grow plants in Martian soil. We thought it wouldn't, but we were so wrong. The plans grew better than we ever believed they would on the Mars soil simulant we bought from NASA. Some of the cress plants even started to blossom and form seeds! After that first experiment, we grew ten different edible crops. We succeeded and were able to harvest radishes, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, peas, and others. Only cultivating spinach was unsuccessful. When we tested the vegetables for heavy metals, it appeared that these were not present in high quantities and that vegetables were safe to eat.
When we will go to Mars we will have to eat there. Humans will probably not go before 2030, but we must investigate now if it is possible to grow crops over there, otherwise it will be too late. What makes it especially exciting to work on, is the fact that nobody else has done similar research in the large extend we are doing it. Wat was especially fun was that we could present a meal and taste the first ever tomatoes radishes and potatoes grown on Mars like soil ourselves!
WUR: Q&A met Wieger Wamelink (in Dutch)
The award ceremony with the TV-host Eva, Joep, the children of the jury and me.
The first ever flowering plant on Mars soil simulant, Garden cress, on 5-5-2013 (liberation day in the Netherlands).
The NTR Klokhuis science award.
Story contributed by Wieger Wamelink, a Senior Ecologist at Alterra (Twitter: Wamelink_wieger).