IAEA launches comic book contest for teens

March 22, 2023, 3:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

The International Atomic Energy Agency is inviting teens aged 14 to 18 to submit original comic book pages depicting a space-based nuclear science experiment on agricultural seeds that the agency is conducting with the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The contest is offering prizes, including publication of the winning designs on the IAEA website, for the champion and finalists. The deadline for submissions is April 16.

Space mission: Last November, seeds from the laboratories of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture in Seibersdorf, Austria, were carried to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Cygnus spacecraft that launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The seeds were derived from Arabidopsis, a common research plant related to cabbage and mustard, and sorghum, a food crop that is also used for animal feed and ethanol. In the experiment, these seeds are being exposed to cosmic radiation, microgravity, and the extreme low temperatures of space. Half of the seeds are positioned outside the ISS, while the other half are inside the station.

Upon the seeds’ return to Earth in April, scientists at the Austrian laboratories will examine them for genetic mutations that might be useful for developing new crop varieties that could withstand drought and other challenging effects of climate change. The scientists will also compare the cosmic-irradiated seeds with seeds that have been exposed to radiation in laboratories.

Mutation breeding: The ISS experiment is an innovative approach to mutation breeding, which has been used for decades to “accelerate the process of developing and selecting new valuable agronomic traits . . . mimicking the natural process of spontaneous mutation,” according to the IAEA. The IAEA and FAO have long collaborated on the use of gamma irradiation and X-rays to induce mutations in plants. Through such technologies, more than 3,200 mutant varieties of plants—including crops, ornamentals, and trees—have been released for commercial use around the world.

Contest details: To participate in the comic book contest, teens need to create either traditional or digital illustrations that depict some of the steps in the space seed experiment and the benefits of nuclear and space science in terms of climate change. Each participant should create a comic book page, with or without text and dialogue, that shows up to six of the following steps of the seed experiment:

  • Seed preparation, involving selection in the Austrian labs, transport to the Virginia launch facility, and irradiation of one group of seeds on the ground.
  • The journey of the seeds to the ISS.
  • Exposure of half of the launched seeds to radiation, temperature, and microgravity conditions outside the ISS, and exposure of the other half to conditions inside the ISS.
  • Splashdown of the spacecraft with the seeds and transport back to the Austrian labs.
  • Analysis, growth, and comparison of the seeds from the three different groups (outside ISS, inside ISS, and surface).
  • Projected possible results of the experiment, including whether space conditions can produce uniquely valuable effects for crop improvement.

Entry info: Participation in the contest is free. Submissions must be in a digital format—either photos or scans of traditionally rendered illustrations or digitally rendered illustrations. The digital images should be at least 300 dpi.

Contest entries should be submitted to seedsinspace@iaea.org with a completed parental consent form. Participants should include their full name, birth date, nationality, country of residence, and entry description.

Prizes: One overall winner and a select number of finalists will receive IAEA-branded gifts, award certificates, and the publication of their designs on the IAEA website. In addition, a special Seeds in Space comic book will be created based on the winning illustration and will include the winner’s name. The winner and finalists will be announced on April 23.

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