EGENIS seminar: "The International Space Station as a Platform for Plant Biology: Institutionalising a Research Community", Dr Paola Castaño (University of Exeter)

Egenis seminar series

An Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences seminar
Date21 February 2022
Time15:30 to 17:00
PlaceOnline event.

The International Space Station (ISS) is commonly defined as a laboratory in Low Earth Orbit for hundreds of experiments across disciplines. What kind of social object is a space station? What kind of platform for scientific research is the ISS? How might one study that research? And what are the conceptual implications of this study? In my previous work, I have examined those questions using NASA experiments in plant biology, biomedicine, and particle astrophysics as my units of analysis. For this presentation, part of work in progress, I shift my focus to the process of institutionalisation of research communities around the ISS. Specifically, I concentrate on space plant biologists and the Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space (2023-2032) that is currently underway (2020-2022) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the United States.

The Decadal is a formal process with clear institutionalising objectives as “the community comes together” to assess the state of their knowledge and to develop strategies, requirements, and overall priorities for the next ten years. Here, researchers consolidate notions about how plants respond to the space environment, and how to organise their research. The main novelty proposed by this Decadal are “research campaigns” which bring together various projects and grants with “transformative goals.” Based on data from the statements of task, public presentations, and the white papers submitted in late 2021, I examine the nature of those goals, their relationship with notions of “curiosity-driven” and “mission-driven” discovery, and the distinctive characteristics of the ways in which space plant biologists have come to form a research community. I test some conceptual frameworks to understand this process, and consider their pertinence for the study of other research communities. 

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