Hello! I’m Maria Neagoie, a 9th grade student at Tudor Vianu National Highschool of Computer Science in Bucharest, Romania and I’d like to share with you my first-year ExoLab experience!

               First off, I have to admit I was very excited to be starting this project since I’ve heard we’re going to be growing plants as on the ISS, as it felt like being a real scientist. Then, I read the instructions carefully and went to school on Friday November 20th  in order to plant the seeds there among my colleagues and teacher, Mrs Ioana Stoica. If you’re curious to see how we prepared everything, go to the Planting Days page: https://vianuprojects.com/p08_planting/ !

               Then, having taken my personal kit, it was time to plant the seeds at home. On Monday November 23rd, I gathered all the required materials and started planting. I followed the protocol and after approximatively one hour I finished planting 3 seeds in each of the 2 recipients with the agar soil and put them on my desk with the lamp open 24/7 above them together with natural light and that from lightbulbs during the day. I wanted to pick a meaningful name for each tube, and the first idea that came to mind was to call them Cassini, and respectively Huygens, after the Cassini-Huygens mission. That’s because the two satellites were launched together and then ESA’s Huygens probe was released from Cassini on 25 December 2004 just like I kept the two tubes in identical conditions until Thursday December 3rd and then changed Cassini’s environment. Also, it’s often said that Cassini-Huygens was a mission of firsts and, as the 2 tubes were my first ones, I found it interesting to use these names. Since planting day, I have carefully and enthusiastically monitored the whole growing process of the plants, taking pictures daily at the same hour (about 10:30 PM) and making comments on their evolution compared to the previous days and also to each other, analysis which will be available as well here, on my website.

               Cassini and Huygens were having a fulminant evolution, but as I still had many remaining seeds and aimed to see the difference between normal potting soil and agar. Therefore, on Sunday November 29th I prepared the seeds, soil and then planted once again.  The name I chose for this one is Cluster, another mission which collected the most detailed data yet on small-scale changes in near-Earth space both because the Romanian word for potting soil is “pamant”, the same as the term corresponding to Earth and because I wanted to have very detailed data regarding the growing process of the plants. I kept Cluster without a cover above and only with natural and room lightbulb lumen, watering it daily.

               Cluster was rising very quickly, but unfortunately I met a problem with Cassini on Thursday December 3rd, one of the plants starting to fall. I came to the conclusion that the cause was probably that the specific seed hasn’t been stuck very well in the agar soil. I took off the stopper of the Cassini tube, stuck the seed better and changed the environment by completely removing the stopper.

               Then, I had 2 recipients of plants in agar, one in normal soil, and still a remaining quantity of agar from planting at school. Thus, I thought to make great use of it and prepared a combination of potting soil and agar on Friday December 4th, planting 4 seeds in a glass. I named this recipient Proba-2, being a test combination between 2 soils that I hope will turn out to be successful.

               That’s all about the planting process. For more details about this project and the complete analysis, please visit https://vianuprojects.com/ in the ExoLab section and stay tuned for the latest updates on Cassini, Huygens, Cluster, Proba-2, our school’s ExoLab and, who knows, maybe other new subjects! Thank you for organising the ExoLab Project which is definitely a wonderful opportunity and very exciting!