What is Tomatosphere™?
Tomatosphere™ is an award-winning program where students investigate the effects of the space environment on the growth of tomato seeds.
How does Tomatosphere™ work?
Educators who register for the program receive two sets of tomato seeds.
One package contains seeds sent into space on the International Space Station or treated in space-simulated conditions (space-simulated seeds undergo treatments that simulate the extreme conditions of interplanetary travel). The other contains "control" seeds, which are untreated. Students plant the seeds and conduct experiments to explore the effects of the space environment on the germination of tomatoes. Tomatosphere™ is a free program and seeds typically arrive in classrooms between February and April each year.
Through Tomatosphere™, students learn how to conduct a scientific experiment and compare germination rates of the two groups of seeds. Classrooms discover which seeds are the “space” seeds and which are the control group after they submit their results online.
How long does the Tomatosphere™ program take?
The Seed Investigation (measuring germination) takes between 1-3 weeks. Educators may choose to continue growing the plants, conducting other inquiries such as plant vigour, over a longer time period (4-6 additional weeks or longer).
Planting can take place at any point in the year, but results should be submitted by the end of June (for spring planting) and by mid-January (for fall planting).
How do I order seeds?
Canadian educators, homeschool or community groups can receive seeds by registering online at tomatosphere.letstalkscience.ca. It’s free to register and seeds typically arrive in the mail between February and April. Educators must register each year in order to receive seeds.
I’m located in the United States. How do I order seeds?
The Tomatosphere™ program is operated in the United States by First the Seed Foundation. If you are located in the United States, please visit firsttheseedfoundation.org/tomatosphere to register for seeds.
I’m located outside of Canada and the United States. Can I still participate in Tomatosphere™?
At this time, Tomatosphere™ is only available in Canada and the United States due to the high demand and limited number of treated seeds available for classrooms.
What data will the students gather?
There are opportunities for teachers to direct students to gather a variety of information about the tomato plants, their germination, vigour and growth patterns. However, the key element of Tomatosphere™ Seed Investigation focuses on the germination rates of the seeds that are planted.
The students will observe:
- The time required for each seed to successfully germinate
- The number of successfully germinated seeds in each treatment
What will the students do with the data?
Students will compile information, the teacher will submit the results online at the Tomatosphere™ website and the results will be combined with the other experiments across Canada. An automatic response will then convey which of the seeds were in each of the two seed packages. Students will be able to compare their class data with other classrooms. In addition, teachers receive a certificate of participation for students in the class. The certificate is signed by former Canadian Space Agency astronaut, Dr. Robert Thirsk, and the principal investigator of the Tomatosphere™ program, Dr. Michael Dixon from the University of Guelph.
What will students learn by participating in this program?
Tomatosphere™ offers an excellent opportunity to have students think and act like scientists as they practice their inquiry skills and develop understandings of the nature of science and the concept of a fair test. Tomatosphere™ connects with the curriculum for science inquiry and process skills, as well as the following science content strands:
Grades K-2: needs and characteristics of living things
Grades 3-4: plants, soil, habitats, nutrition
Grades 5-6: space, human needs, weather
Grades 7-8: Mars, careers, environmental studies
Grades 9-10: space exploration, nutrition, environmental studies
Grades 11-12: ecosystems, agriculture/agriscience, photosynthesis, sustainable development, planetary science, space exploration, plant biology
Tomatoes are extremely versatile and nutritious. They have high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C and also contain lycopene, an ingredient that may help prevent certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. Tomato plants are an ideal choice for space travel as they provide wholesome nourishment and water through transpiration from their leaves. Through photosynthesis, tomato plants also convert light energy and carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts into oxygen that is needed for survival.
What types of seeds are involved in the program?
The seeds are a plum tomato type from traditional, conventional sources and have not been altered through any means (including biotechnology). They are a variety of seed from H.J. Heinz Canada - H9478 F1. This is a very versatile variety that can be used for tomato paste products, fresh juice, and whole peel. The plants will produce mature fruit in a period between 85 and 105 days depending upon growing conditions.
Teachers and students will not know the origin of the two different types of seeds used in the program until germination results have been submitted. This maintains the validity of the experiment.
One group of seeds is a control group; these seeds have had no special treatment. A second group of seeds are either sent to space to spend time on the International Space Station or are treated in space-like conditions.
Is a Mars mission the next step for astronauts?
Mars will be the next major global space program after the International Space Station and the establishment of a base on the Moon. Canada is positioning itself to play a signature role in the exploration of Mars and in the provision of life support and closed environment systems for space travel.
Who can order seeds?
Tomatosphere™ is a project aimed primarily at classroom delivery. However, homeschool parents and organizations, as well as community groups and organization such as libraries, after-school programs, and summer camps, etc. are welcome to participate as well. During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents with children who are learning from home are also welcome to participate. Educators can encourage their students' parents and guardians to orders seeds through the Tomatosphere™ website by sharing the instructions below. Please note, orders with fewer than 10 students reported will receive a reduced number of seeds (5–10 per seed group instead of 30).
Ordering Instructions for Parents/Guardians
To order seeds, please do the following:
- Go to tomatosphere.letstalkscience.ca.
- Create a Tomatosphere™ account. Make sure to indicate your child’s school when the form asks what school or organization you are from.
- From the Tomatosphere™ Home page, click on “Order Seeds Today.”
- Follow the instructions and complete your order.
If you run into trouble, please consult the "Troubleshooting page."
Once you have ordered, you can learn more about the Seed Investigation on the “Investigation” page.
The consortium of partners who oversee Tomatosphere™ include the Canadian Space Agency, HeinzSeed, Let’s Talk Science, First-the-Seed Foundation, Stokes Seeds, and the University of Guelph. Let’s Talk Science manages the operations of Tomatosphere™ in Canada while First the Seed Foundation manages the operations of Tomatosphere™ in the United States. Visit the Consortium page for more information.
A listing of Tomatosphere™ supporters in Canada can be found on the supporters page.