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    Meet the team

    From school lab into space: Three agricultural students from Ravensburg in Germany are aiming to use their project, "Vegetative Propagation Ability of Plants in Orbit", or "V3PO" for short, to discover how plant cuttings and their roots behave in zero gravity. A NASA rocket, scheduled to be launched in February, will transport the cuttings to the International Space Station (ISS). But who exactly is behind the intriguingly-named V3PO project? Click on the photograph below to get to know the people behind of one of the most exciting agricultural research projects that BASF has ever been involved with.

    David has a lot of hobbies: he likes working on the family farm, he plays table-tennis and trombone with a local music group, and he carries out experiments in zero gravity. His passions all come together in the V3PO research project: the 20-year-old particularly likes the creativity of science and the opportunity to discover new things - as well as the teamwork and perseverance. Agriculture, on the other hand, is where he says he feels most at home. That's what made it all the more interesting to be part of a project that would take farming into space. The variety of insights he has gained through his involvement in this project, in terms of the research itself, in the search for sponsors and the extraordinary nature of the experiment, are, for him, what make the project so special. The fact that things don't always go as planned in research was something he also experienced, when the initial attempt at crowdfunding failed. The funds were eventually obtained, which along with the internship at BASF, turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire experience. But the real highlight is still to come in February when the plant cuttings will be on board a rocket travelling to the International Space Station. Only then will we know whether V3PO will be a success. For David, there's only one word to describe the whole project: "spacey".

     

    In the film adaptation of the book, "The Martian," the hero faces a seemingly impossible task when he has to find a way to feed himself for an extended period of time on Mars without having sufficient supplies on hand. This Herculean task in Maximilian Biedermann's favorite film is science fiction. But the 33-year-old BASF employee, who works for the Crop Protection division in the global research unit, Early Fungicide Biology, is convinced that sooner or later, mankind will have to deal with the same sort of challenge. That's why this avid reader of science fiction and fantasy is lending a hand with the V3PO project. As a biologist, Biedermann oversees and assists with all the practical aspects of the project and also conducts additional experiments that the students do not have time for. The thing that intrigues him most is that the goal of the project and the question being addressed are so different to anything else he has worked on. Not only that, but the challenge gives rise to an entirely new set of problems that also will need to be solved. He is equally impressed by how far-sighted the project is; V3PO is already looking ahead to the future of agriculture in space, an issue that concerns him both personally and professionally: "The only thing worse than hunger is thirst. Agricultural efficiency can tackle both, which is why I'm working for BASF."

    Maria is an enthusiastic horse rider with a passion for agriculture. But the 19-year-old student is also an aspiring young researcher who is taking a closer look at crop production through the V3PO project. This is not new territory for her because she grew up on a farm and agricultural biology is one of her favorite subjects. But like Maria, anyone conducting research must be prepared to break new ground – and this project does just that by transporting agriculture into space. "Researchers need to be interested not only in expanding their knowledge; they must also possess curiosity, perseverance and team spirit in order to succeed." Maria knows what she is talking about because she and her teammates have lived through both the highs and lows of research. The V3PO project will culminate in February when the plant cuttings are launched into space. It's an event that Maria is very much looking forward to because, after all, the excitement of having an experiment performed aboard the ISS and seeing the results is what makes this project so unique. When she's not dealing with the agriculture of tomorrow, she's busy taking care of current-day agricultural projects – whether on the family farm, at school or through her degree study in agriculture. Whatever the situation, agriculture is very dear to Maria's heart.

    Turning science fiction into science reality - that's the dream of many scientists when conducting research. And 37-year-old BASF manager Sebastian Rohrer definitely considers himself one of them. In his department, Early Fungicide Biology, a global research unit in BASF’s Crop Protection division, he is responsible for testing and evaluating new approaches and ideas for crop protection products that could be used in agriculture a decade from now – which is how long it takes for a new product to make it to the marketplace. Working together with Maria, Raphael and David from V3PO to explore the type of products that will be needed for space farming in the future is something he finds very exciting. As scientific advisor to the project, he is assisting the young researchers with their biology experiment on the International Space Station. He considers the students' idea groundbreaking since to date no studies have been carried out on whether plants can reproduce vegetatively in zero gravity. If it works, astronauts would be able to supply and maintain their own food needs through space farming. Many of Sebastian Rohrer's colleagues are envious of his opportunity to work with the students, since every researcher wants to be part of turning science fiction into science reality.

    For Raphael, it’s obvious how important agriculture is, since it provides people around the world with fresh, nutritious food. It's something he sees every day in his work on the family farm. But how can we feed people who are travelling in space and not living on Earth? That’s the question this ambitious young scientist is investigating together with his friends in the V3PO project. As Raphael sees it, to answer this unique experimental question you need ambition, perseverance and a creative mind for new ideas. That researchers must be willing to persevere is something the 19-year-old has learnt first-hand: The initial attempt to find financing for the V3PO project didn't work out. It wasn't until the second try that they received the money they needed – experiences that were for Raphael both a low and a high point of the project. Another high point was the week-long internship at BASF's laboratory, where he got a real look into the world of research. Raphael was able to draw on the experience he gained there and put it to work in the school laboratory. In general, what he enjoys most is working together with his teammates in the lab. Now he's eagerly looking forward to getting the results once the cuttings return from their trip into space – which will also mark the conclusion of the project. But Raphael will still have his agricultural work back on Earth to keep him busy because he is now studying agriculture at university, and will then go into farming. But maybe if a farmer is ever needed to work onboard a space station in the future, then Raphael would have all the necessary skills.

     

    A closer look

    Until today, space research has focused on the behavior of seeds. Now the V3PO project takes this one step further into unexplored territory. Take a closer look...

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