Haley Boles, a student in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) with an interest in space microbiology was granted VP Promise funding to attend the American Society of Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. This annual meeting aims to bring together scientists and working professionals focused on understanding the responses of biological and physical systems to variable gravity conditions. At the conference, Boles presented research she conducted during the Spring 2021 semester at the Kennedy Space Center focused on evaluating plasma as a sanitization agent for seeds. While attending, she utilized the opportunity to network with researchers from across the United States.
Boles’ nerves were high as she prepared to present her very first research poster, but she found as she got into the groove of presenting, she enjoyed sharing her research with professionals in attendance. “I had professionals from far outside my field of study coming up and asking me questions about my research, and it tested my ability to understand and communicate my science. The experience of presenting a poster at a professional conference gave me confidence in my ability to be an effective science communicator,” Boles said. All of the posters were judged, among the more than 30 undergraduates presenting a poster, Boles was honored to receive the Student Investigator Space Flight Award, an award given to an undergraduate student who shows promise in their investigative efforts and encourages the student to continue to pursue research.
Invaluable connections were made at the conference. Boles was introduced to Melissa Pore, a teacher from Bishop O’Connell High School, who has been actively participating in Growing Beyond Earth, a Citizen Science program to advance NASA research on growing plants in space. “Ms. Pore was interested in developing a program that allows high school students to design a payload and send it to the International Space Station and was very interested in connecting with my research advisor at UF, Dr. Amy Williams, a geobiologist who is an active contributor for both the Curiosity and Perseverance rover science missions. Ms. Pore was interested in hearing about my own personal experience with designing a spaceflight payload. We are in the process of coordinating a time for me to Zoom with her students,” Boles said.
Attending ASGSR was an opportunity for Boles to meet her mentor in person for the first time. With her Spring 2021 internship at the Kennedy Space Center being virtual, Boles only met with her mentor online. “It was great to be able to strengthen our connection while simultaneously having her introduce me to many of her colleagues,” said Boles. One of the colleagues she met from Montana State University researches biofilms and expressed interest in having Boles contact him after the conference to discuss possible opportunities in his lab for graduate school.
ASGSR hosted technical sessions which offered state of the field updates including the launch of two new commercial space stations. “The launch of the new space stations is incredibly exciting, it provides new avenues for getting research projects into space,” said Boles. “There is also a major push in the field to start addressing the pain points associated with returning to the moon. While there is no major planetary protection concern regarding the moon as it is known to be sterile, there is concern regarding the microbiome of a lunar habitat. This information is important and I can tailor my future research to address these concerns,” she continued.
“Attending ASGSR was a great opportunity that allowed me to practice communicating my scientific research and connect with others in my field. I am thankful for all the future opportunities that going to this conference has given me.” – Haley Boles
The VP Promise is an initiative to provide financial assistance for students pursuing experiences in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources. CALS supports student success both inside and outside of the classroom and encourages students to broaden their perspectives through enriching opportunities such as study abroad programs and travel to conferences. For more information on the VP Promise visit the CALS website.