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NASA-Funded Study On Growing Plants In Space

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Results of first phase of NASA-funded study validates the use of quantum dots for optimised crop growth on space missions

UbiQD, a New Mexico-based materials company, has published the results of the first phase of its NASA-funded plant trials in the open-access Nature Research journal, Communications Biology.

The study validates the use of quantum dots for optimised crop growth on space missions. The collaborative research and development project with the University of Arizona's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (UA-CEAC) demonstrated a 13 percent biomass improvement for red romaine lettuce using UbiQD's orange-emitting, luminescent greenhouse product UbiGro, and a 9 percent increase for a new red-emitting film.

The plant trial was designed to maintain all growth parameters except spectrum, and showed improved photosynthetic efficiency under the film treatments compared to the unmodified control case. These results demonstrate the importance of light colour on plant growth, and how this technology can improve crop productivity, both on Earth and in Space.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to develop an understanding of quantum dot capabilities to improve crop production," said Gene Giacomelli, a professor of Biosystems Engineering at University of Arizona, who leads the work at UA-CEAC. "Ultimately, UbiQD's technology is about the betterment of crop production, and will lead to new strategies for optimszing production in greenhouses."

In late 2018, UbiQD was awarded the phase I contract as part of NASA's strategic mission to advance capabilities for food production in space. In 2020, NASA awarded UbiQD a phase II contract for exploring new light recipes, and the company also received a matching award from the New Mexico Economic Development Department to further commercialisation.

The picture above is an artist's rendition of UbiQD's quantum dot-enabled greenhouse film, UbiGro, installed in a lunar greenhouse growing tomatoes.

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