Scientist Julie Chard conducts experiments to learn how plants respond to their environments.
Where do you work and what is your title?
I work at Utah State University's Crop Physiology Laboratory. My title is Senior Research Associate.
What degree did you obtain?
I have a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Bowling Green State University and a master's degree in plant science from Utah State University.
What motivated you to pursue your career?
I've always had a curiosity about the natural world and a passion for environmental issues. I developed a keen interest in plants while doing summer wildlife surveys for the USDA Forest Service. A colleague introduced me to phytoremediation -- using plants to clean up contaminated air, water and soil -- and the topic interested me so much that I went to graduate school to learn more about it.
Briefly tell about the life experiences that made it possible for you to work with NASA.
I was fortunate enough to do my master's research in a laboratory that had been funded by NASA for more than 20 years. Dr. Bruce Bugbee was my advisor and has long been active in NASA research.
What was the most important experience that prepared you for your job?
The process of conducting research and writing a thesis for my graduate degree was the most valuable educational experience I have had. My master's research was not funded by NASA, but the things I learned about controlled environments and research techniques are directly applicable to NASA research objectives.
What's the coolest thing about your job?
The coolest thing about my job is the variety of responsibilities that I have. On any given day I design experiments, set up controlled environment systems, program data loggers, plant and/or harvest plants, collect and summarize data, make and interpret graphs, read scientific papers, assist graduate students with their research projects, and/or write reports.
Describe your role in plant research.
In the grand scheme of plant research, I suppose my role is "in the trenches." At the Crop Physiology Lab we do basic research with whole plants in controlled environments. We answer fundamental questions about how plants respond to their environments.
Please comment on the difficulties of living and working in space.
As a ground-based researcher, I can only imagine the multitude of adjustments that have to be made when living and working in space. On Earth, the challenges of delivering appropriate quantities of water and nutrients to plant roots are significant, but in the absence of gravity those challenges become enormous!
Why do you think plant research is important to the success of space exploration?
Without plants, space explorers must rely completely on engineered systems for their nutrition and for cleaning their air and water. As human beings and inhabitants of Earth, we are inextricably bound to the natural world. Research in space and in extreme environments like Antarctica indicates that plants are a fundamental part of our physiological and psychological well-being.
Because plant growth will be an important part of space exploration in the future, plant scientists like Julie Chard are working today to learn what they need to know to make that possible.