Cobb County students win NASA-sponsored international space competition

The students won the “Most Innovative Design" award.
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 10:20 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A group of Sprayberry High School STEM students are celebrating a big win in an international space competition.

The NASA-sponsored Plant Mars challenge tasks students from across the world with finding innovative ways to grow crops in outer space.

“Our students receive a soil sample from the University of Central Florida’s Exolith lab and that simulant then we can modify and fertilize and water in all sorts of different ways,” Sprayberry science teacher Todd Hefflinger said.

Alyna Dang is one of the team leads for the Sprayberry STEM team that worked all semester long to grow royal purple beans in “Martian soil.”

The vegetables were even planted in pots created by the students using 3D printers.

“They (the pots) were designed with a little window, so we were able to see the root developments,” Dang said.

Hefflinger and Dr. Hannah Oldham say the student-developed plan involved growing beans from multiple generations, which captured the eye of NASA scientists and won them “Most Innovative Design.”

“We harvest beans and then use those beans to harvest again and again and again. With our goal being that we can create beans that are more hospitable to martian soil and not need as much earth soil,” Dr. Oldham said.

The sustainable plan landed the Sprayberry students international acclaim. The kids also learned how to be leaders, critical thinkers, and stand-out students along the way

“All that hard work just paying off in that way, it’s just such a huge accomplishment and I could not be more proud of them,” Hefflinger said.