Meet: Gregory D. Goins, Ph.D.
NASA Kennedy Space Center
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.