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!
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.
- Paper, graph paper, or isometric paper to sketch your design
- Elastic bands and/or string or wool
- Pencil or crayons
- A choice of wood sticks, pencils, straws, or straight branches or twigs
- Cardboard, construction paper, or empty cereal box
- Beads (optional but you can also make your own paper beads)
- Fasteners (elastics, binder clips, brads, pipe cleaners, string, tape, glue, or homemade glue)
- Scissors or cardboard cutters
- Straws or roll recycled paper to make tubes if necessary
- Any repurposed materials you have on hand (plastic bottles, egg cartons, straws or rolled-up paper to make a tube, popsicle sticks, small twigs, rocks, etc.)
- Variety of paints, coloured paper, or crayons, pencil crayons, markers, tinfoil, or any other materials available to make your design look awesome
- Hot glue gun (optional)
- LEGO, K'NEX blocks, KEVA blocks (optional)
- 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.
Let's build a pollinator using at least one simple wheel-and-axle mechanism.
Your prototype should include:
- an enclosure of some sort to contain all of your components of your system
- a representation of flowers or plants
- at least one simple mechanism (wheel and axle)
- a way to transfer pollen from one flower to another
- Test out your creation. Did it work like you thought it would? What improvements can you make? What other materials could you use to help make it better?
- How will it work when your plants grow? How can it be adjusted?
- To make sure your pollinator touches the two flowers, you can add a dab of paint on the pollination tip.
- Will simple mechanisms work in space?
- What will happen if your plants grow at different rates?
- What other simple mechanism could you use in your design?
- Will your system work as well in microgravity?
- What could you suggest for pollination in space? What other techniques are there to pollinate plants?
- What are the highlights of your pollination system? Is there something about it you are really excited about?
- Share your project with us. Ask an adult to share a picture on social media and tag the CSA. You never know: a real astronaut might see your creation!
Taking it further
- How can you add technology to your design?
- Research how you can help plant growth with other techniques.
- What would happen if all pollinators were to disappear? What could you make to help pollinators here on Earth?
- Use Scratch to code a sprite to pollinate plants on the Lunar Gateway.
- If they are available to you, try using Scratch and a Makey Makey to make your pollination system interactive.
- Add paper circuits to add lights.
- Use a micro:bit to add a temperature sensor and turn on a fan or a servo motor to automate the pollination process.
- Write a story about your favourite pollinator's adventures aboard a space station.
- Make a green screen video of your creation aboard a space station.
- Design some parts and print them in 3D for your pollination system.
- Creativity, critical thinking, problem solving
- Measurement – standard and non-standard
- Geometry – shapes
- Pollination and cross-pollination
- Plant growth
- Space and space exploration
- Healthy eating habits
- Intro to robotics and automation
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