Tomatosphere Receives Award for Planting the Seeds of Science

March 26, 2013 - News Release

A national science education project started by a University of Guelph professor and a Canadian astronaut earned recognition today for boosting popular interest in science.

The Tomatosphere Project received a 2012 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Award for Science Promotion.

Tomatosphere allows students to learn how space travel affects growth of tomato seeds. The project was created by U of G environmental sciences professor Mike Dixon and former Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, now vice-president of public, government and institute affairs at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“As the education and outreach component of our ongoing space science research program here at U of G, Tomatosphere continues to be one of the most rewarding activities in which we have engaged for more than a decade,” Dixon said. “For educators and scientists, it hits all the buttons.”

Dixon and his team received the $25,000 award today at the Chris Hadfield Public School in Milton, Ont.

“Our government understands that encouraging an interest in the sciences is essential to this country’s long-term prosperity,” said federal Minister of State (Science and Technology) Gary Goodyear. “We are pleased to recognize the Tomatosphere Project team for its ongoing efforts to promote science education among youth.”

Since its first seeds travelled aboard the space shuttle in 2001, the Tomatosphere Project has helped more than two million students learn about space science.

Students and teachers compare germination rates of seeds in space and on Earth to learn about life support requirements for space missions. Canadian scientists use the project results to learn about long-term space travel and agriculture.

“The Tomatosphere Project provides students with real-world research experience that is enjoyable,” Thirsk said. “The fact that the seeds have been exposed to space flight or to Mars-like conditions elevates the students’ interest in the care of their plants and the outcomes of the experiment. That is what science is all about.”

In 2007, Tomatosphere received the Alouette Award from the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, an honour normally reserved for aeronautic experts.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338,, or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982,

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