From Plants to Planets: Madeleine Landell’s Path from Plant Science to Astrobiology | Ontario Agricultural College

From Plants to Planets: Madeleine Landell’s Path from Plant Science to Astrobiology

Posted on Wednesday, May 15th, 2024

Madeline Landell sitting on a muskoka chair at the football stadium

Madeleine Landell, a BSc Plant Science graduate from U of G’s Ontario Agricultural College and current MSc Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences student at the University of Edinburgh, shares her journey of bridging the study of plants to exploring space. Landell's research focuses on studying lunar rocks to facilitate plant growth on the moon. She credits her diverse skill set from Guelph, including controlled environment agriculture, microbiology, and soil science, for aiding her in her master's studies. For her, studying plants opens doors to understanding intricate biological, ecological, and geopolitical dynamics, emphasizing their pivotal role in sustainable agriculture and humanity's expansion into space.

Read more about Madeleine's experience in OAC's Plant Science major in this Q&A.

Name: Madeleine Landell
Program: BSc Plant Science, 2021
Hometown: Vancouver, BC
Currently an MSc student at the University of Edinburgh


What are you studying at the University of Edinburgh?

The programme I'm in now is MSc Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. It's the first ever cohort of the programme which is very exciting for the development of future space scientists. It's a taught programme which means we take two semesters of full time classes and then perform dissertation research over the Summer. 

Some of my favourite subject areas have been Remote Sensing (using satellites to collect environmental data about Earth and other planets), Astrobiology Theory (learning the foundations of geology, chemistry, biology, and astrophysics to search for habitable environments in our solar system and beyond), and Social Dimensions of Astrobiology (discussing the history and ethics of space exploration). 

My particular area of research is the bioleaching of nutrients from lunar rock to explore how we can grow plants on the moon!

How are you applying the skills from your program at U of G to your master's studies?


While I am the only plant scientist in my cohort at Edinburgh, so many of the skills I learned at U of G have come in handy. Most directly applicable have been the Controlled Environment Agriculture class which gave a primer on the biological challenges presented by space exploration, microbiology and culturing courses such as Plant Tissue Culture and Mycology, and Soil Science courses which gave me an understanding in the subsurface biosphere. The wonderful thing about astrobiology is that every field of science has a part to play. Even my selection of diverse electives from Geology of Natural Disasters to Classical Studies at U of G gave me a wide enough foundation to be an effective generalist even in areas like planetary sciences and history of space exploration. 


What was your most memorable experience at U of G?

One of my most memorable experiences at U of G was the tractor tug with the varsity rowing team. The campus is so beautiful in the Fall with the red brick walkways and vibrant changing leaves. I honestly had no idea what the fuss was about until I experienced an Ontario Fall for myself. The tractor tug, if I remember correctly, was an event put on by the SFOAC, with a whole lot of character. Blasting country music and challenging other teams to run down the street with a tractor on a rope is something you definitely don't find everywhere. Our team took it very seriously with a whole strategy to pull together. No amount of seriousness could stop us from celebrating like it was the provincial championships when we won our first round. Thankfully, they didn't follow through on the rowing tradition of throwing me in the lake after a victory. It's stuff like that, doing things a bit ridiculous but so quintessentially Guelph, that really stick with me. University is more than a four year brain bootcamp. I don't remember the hours in the library nearly as well as I remember putting on my Gryphons kit to go run down the middle of campus with a tractor. 

What's the most interesting part about studying plants?

The best part about studying plants is how they act as a gateway to the whole biological world. When I came to U of G, I expected to learn about different plants and how to grow them. In reality, I learned about biological wars waged on the cellular level, vast webs of ecosystem dynamics, and geological processes spanning millions of years which shape the world we live in today. Plant agriculture is a key hinge of our political and social environment as well as our physical one. Long term sustainability of our species relies on proper plant agriculture management. Even our expansion into the solar system relies on how we can get the food we need in extreme environments. Seeing the world through the lense of plant science helped me gain deep insight into processes and issues I never would have thought to study before.

News Archive