Faces of GIAR: Nicholas Miklave

April 30, 2024


Grant: $850 in Fall 2022

Education level at the time of the grant: Doctoral student

Project Description: 
Plant growth and health in microgravity is primarily impacted by modified water distribution in the root zone. Current research-focused systems on the International Space Station use clay aggregates, known as arcillite, sifted to a specific size fraction to mitigate some of these issues, but introduce additional logistical challenges regarding mass considerations, reusability, and ease of use. My research focused on developing a synthetic substrate that optimizes total yield or nutritional content of crops, while also simplifying some of these logistical considerations.

This project specifically focused on collecting data like pH, moisture, and oxygen in the root zone for arcillite and different formulations of synthetic substrate. Using controlled-lighting and temperature growth chambers, “Cherry Belle” radishes were grown to maturity in the different substrates. As the plants grew, water consumption was tracked and related to the total crop yield. Nutritional information like total carbohydrate and protein, mineral, and vitamin C content were measured from the harvested crops to assess potential changes in plant metabolism or fertilizer availability due to the physical properties of the substrate. 

How did the grant process or the project itself influence you as a scientist/researcher?
It really helped me think of how to break down a project into smaller experiments, as opposed to one large proposal with a big budget. The GIAR application process made me think about and figure out what parts of my dissertation were more self-contained. I also think it influenced how I go about planning and performing experiments in a similar way, by focusing on incremental progress instead of jumping straight to the “big picture” and becoming intimidated by that. 

What advice would you give to future applicants?
The advice I would give to future applicants is to just keep writing, every day, even if some days that only means editing a few sentences. And in that same idea, keep applying for things. Every time you submit an application, or revise based on reviewer comments, is just more practice for writing grants and thinking about your research in different ways.

Where are you now?

I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Fellow at Kennedy Space Center. 

Students may apply for Sigma Xi research grants by March 15 and October 1 annually at www.sigmaxi.org/giar.

More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Nobel Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. www.sigmaxi.org. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety