DELAWARE, Ohio – Chris Wolverton’s research is about to blast off. And the Ohio Wesleyan University botany-microbiology professor is over the moon at the news.
NASA announced this week that Wolverton, Ph.D., is one of a handful of scientists chosen in this latest round of funding to have research conducted on the International Space Station. Wolverton’s work examines how plants sense and respond to gravity.
In announcing the news, Marshall Porterfield, director of the Washington, D.C.-based NASA Division of Space Life and Physical Sciences, stated: “We selected these investigations expecting them to provide new knowledge that will lay a foundation other researchers and engineers can build upon. These studies will not only help us create countermeasures to the problems inherent in microgravity, but we also expect them to translate into new biological tools and applications on Earth.”
According to NASA, the research will help the agency to develop “the resources and measures necessary to ensure astronauts remain healthy as we venture beyond low-Earth orbit and head out to study an asteroid and eventually Mars.”
Wolverton, who joined the Ohio Wesleyan faculty in 2002, said he and his student-researchers are excited to be working with the International Space Station on the project “Characterizing Plant Gravity Perception Systems.”
“Plants are always taking in messages from their surroundings in order to grow better,” said Wolverton, who has collaborated with dozens of Ohio Wesleyan undergraduate students on his botany research. “One of the messages plants use to decide which way to grow is gravity.
“My students and I have been working on understanding how plants decode this message for many years, and we’re at a point where we need to eliminate the normal gravity message to be able to take the next step in our understanding,” he continued.
“The things we have found have direct applications not only to future space exploration, but also to improving crops, to be able to breed plants that are more drought-tolerant or better at collecting nutrients from the soil,” Wolverton said. “This is because plants use similar growth responses to many different kinds of messages.”
Read more about Scot Chris Wolverton’s work on his teaching and research blog, Gravitropic. Read the complete NASA announcement, “New Research Headed to Station Helping NASA Explore the Universe.”
Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers 86 undergraduate majors and competes in 23 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Ohio Wesleyan combines a challenging, internationally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities to connect classroom theory with real-world experience. OWU’s 1,750 students represent 46 U.S. states and territories and 43 countries. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” listed on the latest President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, and included in the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at www.owu.edu.