Rob Ferl, distinguished professor in the UF/IFAS horticultural sciences department and assistant vice president for UF research, has received one of NASA’s most prestigious honors, the Exceptional Public Service Medal.
The award recognizes non-government individuals whose work has made a steady, lasting impact on the agency, its projects and goals.
“NASA is a truly great national science agency, one that relies on and respects community input,” Ferl said. “I have had the amazing opportunity to represent the space biology community in various ways that impact the trajectory of our science as humans explore space. I deeply appreciate the recognition from NASA. However, the deeper implications of this award draw from the very real fact that NASA places enormous value on its community of scientists.”
Ferl is an internationally recognized expert in the field of space biology. He specializes in the study of how plants respond at the molecular and genetic level to extreme conditions found on Earth and in outer space.
With Anna-Lisa Paul, Ferl co-directs UF Space Plants Lab, which has launched 11 orbital experiments with plants on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, as well as five suborbital spaceflight experiments. Ferl and Paul have also conducted six Arctic research campaigns to the Canadian High Arctic (Haughton Crater) and two Antarctic campaigns to the Neumayer III Research Station on the Ekström Ice Shelf.
These experiments have investigated how the gene expression of Arabidopsis, a plant commonly used in the plant sciences, changes after spaceflight, micro gravity and other situations that are outside of their evolutionary experience. These experiments help lay the groundwork for one day using plants to support human life during future space missions.
“Dr. Ferl represents the best of the scientist as public servant, seeking to feed a future population that will need to grow food in increasingly challenging environments here on earth and perhaps even in space,” said J. Scott Angle, UF’s senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). “We’re proud to see NASA recognize Dr. Ferl for his public service. As a scientist at a Space Grant affiliate institution, he is gleaning knowledge from the stressors of a space environment that may offer insights to the work we do as a Land-Grant university in addressing the production of food in an increasingly challenging environment.”