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The products of technology are all around us: furniture, buildings, and even the computer upon which these words appear. There is also a whole family of technologies -- biotechnology and biorelated technologies -- that is not as easy to spot.

Bioprocessing uses microorganisms to change materials. Sound strange? Not really. An example can be found in baking bread, which people have done for thousands of years. When live yeast cells are added to bread dough, they give off carbon dioxide. This creates tiny pockets of air, making the bread light and soft. Modern bioprocessing techniques are used to clean polluted soil and water: live organisms are mixed into polluted areas to remove pollutants.

Biorelated technologies also include health technology. From artificial joints to vaccines, this group of technologies has improved our quality of life in recent years. The oldest biorelated technologies are used in agriculture. Mechanization has dramatically increased farm production and made farm work easier. Pesticides and fertilizers have made plants bigger, stronger, and insect-resistant. Today, biorelated technologies genetically change the characteristics of plants and animals. These technologies have also changed how we grow plants. The use of environmentally controlled greenhouses and hydroponics (growing without soil) brings agriculture indoors, yielding higher production and faster-growing plants.

These Are Your Challenges:
  • Challenge 1. You and your teammates work for NASA, which is interested in hydroponic technology as a means of growing food in space. You have been asked to conduct an experiment to see which plants grow best hydroponically. Use the Design Process plans and diagram that follow for your growing unit.

  • Challenge 2. There are many different techniques used to provide nutrient solution to the hydroponics plant. In Challenge 1, you use a wick system. Investigate other growing techniques, such as drain down and aeroponic systems. Have your team develop an experiment to see which system grows the same plant most efficiently.

Equipment and Supplies: Three one-liter plastic soda bottles, three small squares of window screening, three strips of cotton, three pieces of black construction paper, supply of seeds (lettuce, radish, beans, spinach, etc.), vermiculite.

Design Process

Develop Alternative Solutions:
1. Form cooperative teams with two other classmates.
2. Research traditional farming techniques. What do plants need to grow?
3. Research the basic principles behind hydroponic farming.
4. Research the growing requirements for a variety of common plants.
5. Build three growing units according to the following directions and as shown in the diagram below.

--Obtain an empty 1-liter clear plastic soda bottle and cut it in half crosswise.
--Take the top part of the cut bottle, turn it upside down, and place it inside the bottom part of the bottle so that the opening points down.
--Use your strip of cloth as a wick and place it through the opening of the top part of the bottle so it comes to rest on the bottom part of the bottle.
--Take the square of mesh window-screen material and cut a hole in the center of it large enough for the wick to fit through. Place the screen inside the upside-down top part of the bottle. Fit the top part of wick through the mesh screen.
--Place plant seeds on top of the mesh screen.
--Place vermiculite on top of the seeds.
--Pour some water through the mesh so it builds up at the bottom of the bottle.
--Cover the outside of the bottle cylinder with black paper so the water will not be exposed to sunlight, which causes algae to grow.
--Check periodically to make sure water has not run out. Add as necessary.

Plants Diagram

Implement Your Solution:
1. Based on your research, select three different plants to grow in the three growing units. Label your growing units and place your seeds below the surface of the vermiculite. Be sure not to mix seeds; only one species of plant may grow in a unit.
2. Pour water through the top of the growing unit and allow it to drain into the reservoir at the bottom of the unit.
3. Be sure to check the nutrient level (water) each day.

Evaluate the Solution: Observe the plants over an eight-week period. Record data such as the size and health of the plants.

Based on your observations, which plants are best suited to hydroponic growing?

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