NASA tech used to grow vegetables without soil for developing countries

Nikian Aghababaie, 22, wanted to create a product that had the long-term potential to alleviate hunger, malnutrition and poverty across developing nations.

Nikian Aghababaie tested the prototype in Peru
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Nikian Aghababaie tested the prototype in Peru

A student is using NASA technology to grow vegetables without soil and using minimal water, in a bid to alleviate hunger and provide an alternative source of income for communities across developing nations.

Nikian Aghababaie, a BSc Product Design student at Nottingham Trent University, has created a low cost growing kit that allows families with little resources in harsh climates to cultivate vegetables using 90% less water than traditional methods.

The technology works by suspending seedlings or cuttings from plants or vegetables mid-air in a growing chamber.

Mostly made from local materials, the roots are sprayed regularly with a diluted nutrient solution through pierced recycled plastic water bottles, allowing for increased oxygen circulation around the roots promoting rapid growth.

Nikian, 22, came up with the idea after wanting to create something with the long-term potential to alleviate hunger, malnutrition and poverty across developing nations.

He said: “It was important to me to design an affordable product which communities can make themselves, maintain and adopt.

“So I researched 30 years of NASA papers, interviewed 9 industry leading professionals and have worked to simplify existing technology that cost tens of thousands of pounds and created something that people can construct using materials in the local area.”

NASA uses a complex version of the technology at the International Space Station so astronauts can grow fruit and vegetables in space.

Nikian, of London, teamed up with EcoSwell, a charity based in the Lobitos District of Peru, to see how the community interacted with his prototype and to empower the locals to grow their own food.

Nikian, a fourth-year student in the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, said: “One of the advantages of using the growth kit is that it will enable communities to grow a variety vegetables quickly and easily.

“Communities can research gaps in the market to see if they can grow produce that is unique to the area, which they can then sell at higher prices and potentially make a profit from.”

Using locally sourced seaweed, Nikian has designed his product with instructions so people can make the nutrient solution themselves.

He is currently working with a local school teacher in Lobitos to introduce the technology to young children, with the aim to inspire about the future of agriculture in combination with technology. He is also working on adapting the system for larger scale productions.

Dr Matthew Watkins, course leader for BSc product design at Nottingham Trent University, said: “Nikian has shown how complex technology can be simplified and adapted into an appropriate and affordable product that can help people in developing countries alleviate hunger and malnutrition.

“Nikian has worked very hard to make ensure his product is accessible and easy to use, going above and beyond requirements to test the product in its intended environment.”

Nikian will be presenting in the New Designers in London this summer.

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    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.

    The University is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. The University is the sixth biggest recruiter of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and 95.6% of its graduates go on to employment or further education within six months of leaving.

    NTU is home to world-class research, winning The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 - the highest national honour for a UK university. The prize recognised pioneering projects to improve the detection of weapons and explosives in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula and combat food fraud.

    With an international student population of approximately 2,600 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook and seeks to attract talented students and staff from across the world.

NASA tech used to grow vegetables without soil for developing countries

Published on 19 June 2017
  • Subject area: Architecture and civil engineering
  • Category: Press; School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment

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