Lucky clover on the way to the ISS: A dream has come true for a German research team from Hanover. In an interview, computer scientist Woiwode explains how they came up with the experiment – and what answers they are hoping for.
tagesschau.de: Mr Woiwode, what do you want to research on the lucky clover that you sent to the ISS?
Dominik Voivode: In principle, we built a small greenhouse for the clover, which we want to use to investigate a symbiosis between bacteria and the clover. The bacteria fix the nitrogen and thereby form root nodules, which we then want to carry out an RNA analysis with. So let’s see what effect this microgravity has on the root nodules.
Dominik Woiwode is a student at the Leibniz University of Hanover. Together with his research team, he prevailed in the 2021 “High Flyer 2” competition of the German Aerospace Center. The group’s experiment deals with plant growth in weightlessness.
tagesschau.de: So, in the end, is it all about growth? To the question of how a plant can grow up there in space?
Voivode: Exactly. Above all, it is about how you can replace the fertilizer that you need for the plants as well as possible, so that you can also fertilize well without adding any other means.
tagesschau.de: And it’s about weightlessness. After all, Klee has to deal with that, doesn’t it?
Voivode: Exactly. In principle, it is weightlessness that makes a serious difference to growth on earth. There are a few other external factors, like a bit of radiation, but those are probably negligible for the experiment right now. Of course, they also play a decisive role in space travel.
Dominik Woiwode, computer scientist at Leibniz Universität, on a student research project on the ISS
tagesschau24 4 p.m., 15.3.2023
tagesschau.de: What role can your experiment play in space travel?
Voivode: The clover belongs to the legume plant family. And these plants also include legumes such as peas or lentils. The experiment can therefore later be used to feed astronauts on long journeys – for example if we want to fly to Mars.
tagesschau.de: You developed the experiment with a team of students at the University of Hanover. How long have you been working on it?
Voivode: We applied for this project in October 2021 and I think we were accepted in December. And since then, almost a year and a half, we’ve been working on it.
Team “Lucky Clover” from the Leibniz University of Hanover
Image: Research project “Lucky Clover”
tagesschau.de: And how does a team come up with the idea of applying for such a competition?
Voivode: In the beginning we weren’t a team at all. In principle, we found each other through this project, through an advertisement on the bulletin board of our university, where our team leader asked: Who would like to take part in a project like this? And then there were ten students who were interested in carrying out such a project and took part with motivation.
tagesschau.de: If you now look again at the launch of the rocket: what was that feeling like?
Voivode: Well, at first I couldn’t even realize that there really is my own experiment in this rocket, in this fireball that’s flying up there. And only later did I think: Oh, that’s really – that’s what we’ve done in the last few years. But then it was worth it.
tagesschau.de: In about four weeks the clover will be back on earth. What will they do then?
Voivode: It is first frozen at minus 80 degrees Celsius on top of the ISS and then sent back to us. Then the root knuckles are excised and the RNA extracted so that it can then be analyzed.
tagesschau.de: Are you looking forward to the next step in research?
Voivode: Yes, I am particularly pleased to be able to get pictures of the ISS for the time being. To see if the plants survived the launch, what they look like and how big they have grown. The next steps, the analysis, come afterwards.
The interview was conducted by Anja Martini, science editor of tagesschau. It was abridged and edited for the written version.