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A simple pollination system

Create a pollination system for plants in space that replicates the pollination process we see here on Earth. Your system must include at least one simple wheel-and-axle mechanism. You can add as many other simple mechanisms as you would like!

Grade level

Grades 3 to 5

Text version of infographic entitled "The engineering design process"

The engineering design process

  • Problem or challenge
    • Define the problem
    • Identify the constraints on your solution (e.g. time, money, materials) and criteria for success
    • Brainstorm multiple solutions for the problem
    • Select the most promising solution
    • Prototype your solution
    • Test and evaluate your prototype
    • Iterate to improve your prototype
    • Communicate your solution

Infographic entitled "The engineering design process". (Credit: Canadian Space Agency [CSA])


As we prepare to travel to the Moon and eventually to Mars, we need to better understand how to grow food in space and on other planets.

When the wind blows on Earth, it can take the pollen from one plant to another to help grow new plants. Various insects and birds can also help the pollination process as they land on flowers and carry pollen onto the next flower. As a matter of fact, one of the most efficient pollinators is the bumblebee, because it reaches directly in the middle of the flower.

In space, there is no wind, no insects and no birds. Canadian scientists are doing research on how to efficiently grow nutritious food in space, such as vegetables, fruits and grains. Devices called pollinators may be required to carry the pollen to make sure new plants can grow to help feed astronauts.


What is pollination and how does it work? Pollination is taking the seeds from the male part of the flower and sharing them with the female part of another flower. This process will fertilize the seeds and then the flower will be able to produce a fruit. So we cannot have plants without pollination.

Scientists are exploring how technologies like robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence could help us with space pollination.

Keep in mind that plants of the same species are needed to pollinate each other. Most plants and trees can't pollinate themselves. They rely on cross-pollination to make things work. Your challenge will be to design a pollination system to help do research on how to grow food in space.

Suggested materials

Text version of infographic showing a few cardboard cutting and folding techniques

A few cardboard cutting and folding techniques

  • Flange
  • L-brace
  • Tabs
  • Slot + cut
  • Slot + tab
  • String

A few cardboard cutting and folding techniques. (Credit: CSA)


Simple mechanisms

  • What are the important parts of the wheel and axle?
  • How can they be useful in your pollination system?
  • What other simple mechanisms can you add to your design?
  • How do they differ from high-tech or complex mechanisms?
    Think about one of your last adventures: where do you think you saw simple mechanisms in action (construction sites, shipyards, mechanic shop, etc.)?
  • What are some common features and differences between both?


  • What are pollinators?
  • Why are they important? What do they do?
  • When you go on a picnic, you can pack cans and a variety of food with you. Can we just pack cans of food for space missions? Imagine having to plan all the food you need for a trip of three months or more and having to stock it. What would you bring?
  • Make connections between simple mechanisms and your pollinator. What can you use to replicate the role of wind, the insect, or bird in the pollination process? Can you develop a system to allow for the pollen of one flower to be transferred to another?
  • How can you recreate wind, or the pollination process using technology like robotics or automation?
  • How will the materials that are available affect our design possibilities?


From your brainstorming session, identify the most promising idea and try to sketch it out on paper. Please try to label your important features.


Example of a pollination system that uses a simple wheel-and-axle mechanism. (Credit: CSA)

Close-up of a pollination system that uses a simple wheel-and-axle mechanism. (Credit: CSA)

Let's build a pollinator using at least one simple wheel-and-axle mechanism.

Your prototype should include:




Taking it further

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