JUL 10, 2015 5:35 AM PDT

LEDs Leading the Way in Space Farming Research

Have you ever gone by a house and seen a bright bluish or white glow and lots of leafy plants? Why would someone grow plants indoors? Well, there could be lots of reasons, but growing plants indoors, without natural sunlight has been something scientists have been looking at for a long time. Having the ability to grow food away from soil and weather issues is a vital area of research given the devastation that crops could suffer in a natural disaster, an insect invasion or a plant virus. Basically, if famine, plague and locusts actually show up, there needs to be a back up plan.
Red and blue light can increase plant growth
Aside from the issues of alternative food production on Earth, there is a need for this kind of technology in space as well. Scientists and space experts have been looking at how to grow food in the vast darkness of space for years. The International Space Station has conducted numerous experiments on different plants to see which grow well in the zero-gravity environment. Naturally, the plants need light. At first there were high temperature sodium lights that substituted for sunlight. These lamps were big power suckers, requiring enormous amounts of electricity and for long-term space missions that just wasn't feasible.

Light emitting diodes, or LEDs as they are known are a much more energy efficient way to provide light and produce photosynthesis in plants. They don't throw any heat, so they can be placed closer to the plants. They use much less energy and are physically smaller than traditional lights, so they take up less space, a crucial concern on the ISS or any craft, where every spare inch of space matters.

A new study out of Purdue University could fine tune what works best for certain plants though. As it turns out, the color of the LED light used in space farming matters. Not all light is the same in terms of producing high yields in plants.

Cary Mitchell, a professor from Purdue's Horticultural Sciences Department and Master's candidate Lucie Poulet conducted research that targeted the position of the lights in relation to leaf lettuce plants as well as the color combination. Their research showed that a 95 to 5 ratio of red and blue lights used 90% less energy than traditional white lighting. Also, the placement of the lights mattered. Since they can be as close as four centimeters to the plants, the team experimented with placing the lights in specific positions close to the plants. The results showed that placing the lights so that the plants received more of the light directly versus having multiple lights installed over the entire area of plants reduced energy consumption by 50%. Aiming the light directly at the plants at close range was found to increase plant yield as well.

In a statement issued by Purdue Mitchell said, "Everything on Earth is ultimately driven by sunlight and photosynthesis. The question is how we can replicate that in space. If you have to generate your own light with limited energy resources, targeted LED lighting is your best option. We're no longer stuck in the era of high-power lighting and large, hot, fragile lamps."
The study is published in the journal Life Science and Space Research.

Check out the video below to learn more


Sources: Purdue University, YouTube, NASA
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
JAN 07, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 07, 2020
Baby Penguins Are Often Bullied to Death by Adults
Most people envision penguins as fun, happy-go-lucky birds residing in the Earth’s chilly polar regions, but that’s not always the case. In fac...
JAN 12, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 12, 2020
This is Why You Shouldn't Mess With Beached Whales
When large whales die, one of two things can happen: 1) their bodies can sink to the bottom of the ocean and go on to support smaller life forms; or 2) the...
JAN 17, 2020
Cardiology
JAN 17, 2020
Eating Walnuts Reduces Risk for Heart Disease
Walnuts may be more than just a tasty snack. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found that they may also promote healthy gut bacteria, wh...
JAN 21, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 21, 2020
After Hibernation, These Grizzlies Turn to Clams for Nourishment
Grizzly bears spend up to seven Wintery months hibernating, and in that time, they can lose a substantial amount of their body weight. While surrounding ma...
FEB 07, 2020
Technology
FEB 07, 2020
Flyception 2.0: Tracks Complex Social Behavior of Flies
Researchers at the University of California San Diego now have a better understanding of the social behavior of insets thanks to advanced imaging technolog...
MAR 02, 2020
Earth & The Environment
MAR 02, 2020
New coral gardens discovered in ocean's depths
Bremer Canyon Marine Park sits in the Indian Ocean off the southern coast of Western Australia, a 4472 km² marine protected area teeming with marine b...
Loading Comments...