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Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Capstone students contribute to space research

April 12, 2024
The Biofilm Capstone group examining a sample

Students majoring in Agricultural Systems Management and Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering participate in a senior capstone project during their final undergraduate year as part of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE) curriculum at The Ohio State University. Through the two semester-long capstone project, students can apply their knowledge to real-world situations and partner with international companies to further expand their technical skills. 

This year, with the introduction of the Starlab - George Washington Carver Science Park's temporary home within the Agricultural Engineering Building, two FABE capstone teams have a unique chance to engage in research directly correlated to the type of work which will be conducted on the Starlab Space Station. 

NASA Biofilm Team
(Aadi Dutt, Ava Lacy, Logan Nethers, Jay Patel, Angela Szilvas)

Biofilm Capstone TeamAs space exploration continues to expand, it is extremely important to provide nutritional benefits from fresh crops for astronauts to maintain their health for long missions. In both extraterrestrial and terrestrial applications, hydroponic system pipes are prone to fouling by biofilm growth, which can negatively affect the system. Biofilm growth can cause clogging, nutrient depletion, disease, and generally disrupt the effectiveness of hydroponic systems. 

The NASA Biofilm Capstone team is working to identify ways to reduce biofilm formation and adhesion in extraterrestrial hydroponic systems to maintain operation, plant production, and astronaut health.​ In space, it can be especially difficult to maintain the hydroponic system, which has guided the project members to reduce biofilm growth by testing a variety of materials with antimicrobial properties.

The team collaborated with Dr. M. Soledad Benitez Ponce from Ohio State's Department of Plant Pathology to revise their testing methods, leading to the design and 3D printing of an apparatus to test how altering the shear force of different nutrient solutions would affect biofilm growth.

"This project has opened our eyes to possibilities of research and careers that we had not been aware of before. As someone who is interested in medical devices for animals, I am extremely interested in reducing biofilm growth on the devices and infections caused by biofilms," said team member Angela Szilvas. "Another member of the team, Ava Lacy, was able to get a job because of her work on this NASA capstone, while other members of the team are very intrigued to continue connecting biological research to create safe solutions on problems around the world."


NASA Substrate Team
(Matthew Bouic, Brianne Cochill, Kayla Jones, Elijah Rex)

Substrate Capstone TeamA proper nutrient delivery system capable of operating in microgravity is a key piece to growing plants in space. For these systems to operate properly, reliable moisture and oxygen sensors need to be developed and tested thoroughly to ensure that astronauts are eating healthy, nutritious food. 

The NASA Substrate Team was tasked with designing an apparatus to measure the dissolved oxygen and moisture levels within a substrate. Although the team encountered several challenges along the way, the students were able to identify several sensors that could measure the moisture in the substrate, and a couple of options for measuring oxygen, developing a prototype for the moisture sensors. 

Through the capstone project, the team was able to visit the NASA Zero Gravity Facility, located at the NASA John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio for preliminary testing. 

"The opportunity to work in an emerging field or research was great and opened me up to the interworkings of such a respected institution like NASA," said team member Elijah Rex. 

As the Starlab - George Washington Carver Science Park partnership continues to evolve, giving students valuable experiences in the rapidly advancing space industry will be a top priority, separating FABE students as they move through the University and beyond. 

All senior capstone teams will present their projects at the 2024 FABE Student Scholarship and Awards Banquet next Wednesday, April 17.