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Meet: Gregory D. Goins, Ph.D.

Research Scientist
NASA Kennedy Space Center


My Journals

Who am I?

I am a research scientist in the Advanced Life Support/Space Biology laboratories at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). In the Space Biology program, we are testing hardware which may be used to grow plants in space. We investigate new technologies in the area of lighting and nutrient delivery.

As most people associated with the space program already know, power is very limited on spacecraft because it must be conserved to use for propulsion, and not necessarily for growing plants. We have to limit ourselves on how much power use to generate light for the plants to grow. But we need enough light for the plant to have sufficient growth. So we're investigating efficient, safe, long-lasting lighting sources.

One of the promising technologies for spaceflight plant lighting is light-emitting diodes, which are called LEDs. LEDs can be very specific for certain wavelengths of light that are good for plant growth. We are investigating the use of red LEDs, and we are supplementing red LEDs with blue light. We are getting sufficient plant growth without using a lot of power, plus we don't generate a lot of heat from the LEDs. In space, heat is like trash, and is not a good thing. So, we can't be generating a lot of heat just for plant growth.

LEDs are very safe because they are small, which is also good for spaceflight because in space there is not a lot of area to grow plants in. LEDs last a very long time, compared to fluorescent lights. So, safety, power, and long life make LEDs a very promising light source in the future for plant growth applications in space.

As far as nutrient delivery, here on Earth, we can just put plants in a pot and place them in a free pan of water. But in space, there is very low gravity, called microgravity. So the water must be in an enclosed area so that it just doesn't float away, and so that the plants can come into contact with the water and the dissolved nutrients. So we are investigating candidate nutrient delivery systems, so the roots can have the water and nutrients that they require, yet keep the liquid in an enclosed medium.

It is important to remember that plants offer a means to recycle water and oxygen as well as provide food. Thus, an important use of plants in space is a mechanism to keep vital water and oxygen in a cycle.


My Career Journey

As an undergraduate majoring in biology, and I became interested in plant science. So upon completing my biology degree, I went into graduate school studying plants in the plant physiology curriculum at North Carolina State University. I was interested in plant applications for generating food for humans. So, after completing my master's and Ph.D. degree, I did a year of post-doctorate work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, then I saw a job opening for a research scientist at KSC, in the space biology area. So, I was pretty lucky because it is a job where I can study plants, but also look at more advanced technologies, in terms of delivering nutrients and water, and very advanced technologies in lighting for space flight applications.

I had experience with growing plants in closed atmospheres in my graduate studies, which is similar to growing plants in space. The job position at KSC that was open at the time required someone with experience with computers, and growing plants in closed atmospheres. My qualifications fit that job opening very nicely. So, it was a good fit, and here I am now investigating plants that grow in closed atmospheres.

At the time, I didn't have any idea that I would be working at a NASA center. However, I knew that chemistry and biochemistry, which are central sciences, are applicable to all areas of science. I concentrated in those two areas heavily. With a pretty good background in chemistry and biochemistry, you're pretty much well-rounded and can go in almost any direction that you choose, in terms of the life sciences. I knew that concentrating in chemistry and biochemistry would prepare me for any direction I would go in the future.


Likes About Career

I'm able to something that I am interested in, and that is rewarding in terms of using my own thoughts and ideas in the process, as well as a lot of freedom to carry out my ideas within the confines of the research. That's one of the biggest positives. Additionally, the people that I work with are very enthusiastic, and are interested in the common goal of trying to successfully grow plants for human consumption in space.


Dislikes About Career

I wish I had more free time to discuss with the general public about the research at NASA. Science often requires experimental reruns and duplication. Often, by the time a problem is completed we have moved on to the next scientific problem without a lot of time to explain findings outside of scientific journals and conferences.


Influences

Because I'm from a rural area I was around a lot of farm animals and farming techniques. So, I had an excellent opportunity to investigate and to observe living creatures, from a point of watching a plant germinate or a small animal grow to an adult. Being able to see things develop, live and grow in an agricultural environment had a big influence on me.


Advice

Try to avoid the trappings of the "popular" things. Have fun, but concentrate and focus on, and complete your studies before moving on to more recreational activities.

Find yourself a role model to follow or someone to talk to about the things that you want to pursue that are positive. That's really important. Find somebody in your community, whether or not it's a parent or someone in your family, who can give you some guidance and interest in career-minded goals.

I was a product of the public school system. I had the opportunity to interact with others outside of my own neighborhood in a bigger, more modern school. So, I was able to interact with teachers and other students who had the chance to experience more opportunities at that time. I was able to emulate and observe what they had accomplished, and what their goals were, and I was able compare and contrast their goals with my future goals. I was able to adapt what I thought was productive by watching what other people were doing. So, in a way, teachers and other students were one big role model. In an opposite situation, if I had been someone among peers who were less motivated in their career, maybe I would have gone the other way. But I was put in a good situation where I could watch other people that were very motivated.


Personal Information

It's good to have recreational activities outside of my job, and to be able to tell other people about some of the research that we're doing. A lot of the things that I learn at work I am able to apply to basic family home life because I'm in the life sciences. I'm able to apply things that I learn about plants to my home gardening. So working in the life sciences is a really fun situation. You see the things you're doing in your job in daily life.


 
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