Meeting Minutes - Mike Dixon: Agri Food Sector-New Technologies - June 27th. 2019
New President, Julian Sale, opened the meeting at 9:57am with 47 members in attendance. He welcomed a new guest, Terry Maurice as well as today’s guest speaker, Dr. Mike Dixon. Julian went on to say some opening remarks as the new Club President. He wanted to share some priorities that he wished to pursue as the president. First he wished to thank Martin Alderwick and the past year’s Board for their work. He wanted to continue with the great speakers’ program under the leadership of John Sneyd and the Speakers’ Committee. He wanted to build the membership and help with the special social experiences under the guidance of Ken Marchant, chair of the Activities Committee. The House Committee under Bob Reeves is continuing to set up the membership meetings and prepare coffee. Volunteers are necessary to help with all committees and Julian encouraged members to get more involved. Another priority is to provide members with a high quality AV experience. At the same time he informed the meeting that the Club now has its own projector and headset. Thanks to Ritchie Zelk and John Sheflin for spearheading that effort. Julian further commented that he wanted to listen to the feedback form the membership as to what was working and what was not working. Julian’s last comment was that with the purchase of the new AV system, Tom Gordon had announced that he wished to retire from the role of setting up the sound and mic system after many years of being the setup man. Thanks goes to Tom for his many years of service in that capacity.
In the immediate future, Ritchie Zelk is going to do the audio portion setup until another volunteer agrees to take over this function. Therefore we need someone to step forward to volunteer for this role on the House Committee. Ritchie will teach this member how to do this.
Announcements Activities – Ken Marchant - First, thank you to Ray Biffis for his past Activities Committee leadership even though Ray is continuing on as a committee member. The committee needs more volunteers. - A distillery tour is coming up on Tuesday, July 23rd at 2:00 pm at Spring Mill Distillery on Arthur Street at a cost of $5:00 paid at the door. Members and guests are welcome but you need to sign up so that we know numbers for attendance. - Hamilton Family Theatre (Drayton Group) event scheduled for August 13th at 2:00 pm to see “12 Angry Men.” Cost is dependent on the number of people signed up but the top price is $39 a ticket. - Horserace night at Elora Raceway is scheduled for September 23rd with 36 people signed up and a maximum of 40 can go.
Coffee – Andy Curtis - Next Thurs., July 4th, coffee will be at the Boathouse and the alternative meeting location is the Airpark Café.
Member Recognition – Julian Sale - Julian announced that the Tour de Guelph bicycle race was held recently with proceeds going to Sick Kids Charity and the Guelph Hospital Cardiology Department for equipment with a $125,000 objective to be raised. Two Club members, Julian Sale and Ken Alsop were participants with Ken doing the 50 km and Julian the 75 km races. In two weeks’ time Ken will be 86 years old.
Kerry Gennings introduced today’s guest speaker, Dr. Mike Dixon from the University of Guelph. Topic: A presentation related to exploiting space exploration life support technology in terrestrial agri-food sectors including various technology transfer examples to the plant made medicine sector and issues like food security in the North.
Bio: Dr. Mike Dixon is a Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and Director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF), University of Guelph. He served as Chair of the Department of Environmental Biology from 2003-2008. Dr. Dixon joined the University as a NSERC University Research Fellow after earning his PhD from Edinburgh University in Scotland and holding a post-doctoral position at the University of Toronto. As project leader for the Canadian research team investigating the contributions of plants to life support in space, Dr. Dixon formed the Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture (SALSA) program at the University of Guelph. This program currently represents Canada’s main contribution to the international space science objectives in biological life support and collaborates with NASA and the Canadian and European Space Agencies. The CESRF is among the world’s leading research venues for technology developments and research dedicated to studying plant and microbial interactions in advanced life support systems. The technical “pull” of space exploration has aided the development of a wide range of technologies that have spun off into applications in terrestrial agri-food sectors and most notably the phyto-pharmaceutical (medicine from plants) sector in recent years.
(Dr. Dixon’s slides for his presentation can be seen on the club website under “more.”)
Presentation: Dr. Dixon began by saying that Guelph University probably leads the world in that little niche field of research in sustainable food production for space exploration. Food determines how far from Earth we can go and how long we can stay there.
Dr. Dixon said that he has always been hooked on space exploration and has been a science fiction aficionado and a “space junkie.” Of all the science fiction books and movies, “The Martian” is the most scientifically reliable of all the science fiction movies that Mike has seen. He urged everyone to watch it. The arithmetic that was used to calculate the amount of food required is based on basic values and assumptions to sustain a person. This was calculated about 15 – 20 years ago but it has since been upgraded to more modern estimates. It comes down to the fact that each and every one of us requires about 60 square meters of plant production area to provide all of our life support. This is spun off from improved breeding and improved production practices in nutrient management. This is stuff that farmers need to do to for food production. About 40 or so different crops will provide all the nutritional value that a person needs for a balanced vegetarian diet.
Dr. Dixon then went on to inform us of what goes on in U. of Guelph since his program was initiated in 1995. This would have been the first government funded project in Guelph that has “space” in the sub-title. They were working on recycling water, nutrients, energy distribution, light distribution and atmospheric nutrients (CO2 and oxygen). They were trying to manage atmospheric conditions and this spun off into a commercial application of “breathing walls” to clean up indoor air systems. There are some examples locally such as in Guelph City Hall, in the Guelph Humber Building, and Cambridge City Hall and other municipal buildings around eastern North America. These “breathing walls” help create fresh air indoors.
Mass and energy is the currency of space travel. Space exploration is arguably the most potentially huge economic engine for a country like Canada. We spend the money in the Canadian economy. To create a sophisticated technologically useful economy space exploration wins hands down. We’re not strapped to the military industrial complex like the country to our south. We should be attempting to engage in that economy as much as we can.
Dr. Dixon is a member of an international committee called the Candidate Crop Selection Committee that has met irregularly over the last 30 years. He joined the committee in 1995 and made two suggestions for crops. One was roses and the other was barley. However the cost of growing something that wasn’t edible was prohibitive. But barley has been a useful crop in humans entire history for its use in making alcohol. Eventually Dr. Dixon’s suggestion was put on the list.
A list of the technical requirements for life support includes: low mass, low energy requirement, disinfection protocols with non-toxic residue, bulletproof reliability, remote monitoring and control, plant cultivar selection for best nutritional properties, optimal & homogeneous growing conditions, CO2, O2, nutrients and water, vapour pressure deficit (VPD), temperature, air velocity/mixing, light (quality and quantity). You need to be able to control all the variables in the list in order to precisely measure, as much as possible, so that every plant receives exactly those limits for comparison. That’s the technical challenge. When you can control with high fidelity and are able to vary precisely the controls, you can control the nutrient output in quality and quantity. The research at UoG has spent 25 years trying to standardize the nutrient content of food crops for space exploration. The arithmetic for this must be reliable.
The research requires several control environment chambers which were developed in Guelph and this is what sets them apart in their research making them the best on the planet in this particular field. They are very sophisticated controlled environment chambers where they can measure technical requirements extremely precisely.
One of the chambers weighs 8 tons and only produces 1.5 square meters of plant production. This is the “mass” part of the equation and is extremely high for the purpose of space exploration needs. Oxygen is the main limiting variable.
Dr. Dixon went on to explain the research being conducted on various plant chambers which were set up in different climate extremes. These were used to conduct tests on various crops such as corn and canola. The research is in the process of putting together food production in an extremely harsh environment.
Research is now being done to be able to make a manned trip to Mars. Currently a trip to Mars would take about two to three years (about 1,000 days). However, the food requirements are such that at present a flight would not be able to carry enough food for the trip so a solution to being able to produce food is necessary. For the first few trips food will have to be sent up ahead of a manned flight but eventually food will have to be produced on Mars to sustain life. We’re on the cusp of solving controlled agricultural environmental problems for the purpose of growing nutritional food in harsh environments.
John Sneyd thanked Dr. Mike Dixon and gave him token of our appreciation.
Julian Sale adjourned the meeting at 11:02 am Recording Secretary: Kerry Gennings