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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

October 8, 2004

Research briefs

Got (soy) milk?

Tomorrow's space pioneers won't have gravity to help process crops into foods. Not a problem, says a team of Iowa State students. They're proving it's possible to turn soybeans into soy foods without the pull of gravity.

The students designed and built a prototype food blender for space and tested it in microgravity through NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. It's the first test of a food technology in the 45 years of the program that annually enables about 70 college teams to design, fabricate and evaluate reduced-gravity experiments.

Soybeans, which can be processed into a variety of food products, already are grown on space stations and shuttle missions. However, no one had studied how soybeans behave in microgravity during transformation from a solid to a semi-fluid state, said David Chipman, a biology major who developed the blender with five engineering students.

The students spent about 11 months and $1,500 designing and building their device, which is about the size of two microwaves. Last summer they tested it in reduced-gravity created for research experiments by a special NASA aircraft.

Unlike earthbound blenders, the students' device doesn't depend on gravity to pull food toward the blades. Instead, a metal plate moves back and forth under a roller-like blending head to crush food. The secret is to create a mash that has the right amount of proteins and sugars to make a product like soy milk.

The experiment in microgravity went well, Chipman said. They measured the sugar concentrations after blending, and are comparing the results to measurements from ground tests. Their data analysis will be included in a final report.

Miss Piggy, your room is ready

The first residents of a new campus laboratory, 44-pound pigs, have been put on a low-protein diet to discover whether changes in diet can reduce gas emissions from animals in livestock facilities.

"We're not taking the Atkins approach here," said Wendy Powers, associate professor of animal science and environmental extension specialist and lead researcher in the new Animal Emission Laboratory, 4006 Zumwalt Station Rd. (southwest of Ames).

The lab has eight rooms for housing animals (horses, cows, pigs or chickens). Pen, feed and water-handling systems, and manure-handling apparatuses can be changed, depending on the type of animal housed.

The pigs now housed at the lab will be fed one of three diets until they reach market weight in late January. The diets include protein levels of 20 percent, 18 percent and 16 percent. Manure collected from the animal rooms is measured daily and matched against the animals' daily feed intake.

"For this first group of pigs, we are looking at cumulative emissions over their growth phase," Powers said. "We will do the same with the five flocks of broilers we bring in next spring. Layer hens also will be in the lab next spring, and dairy cows next winter. For these last two species, we will pick key production periods and keep animals in for two or three weeks at a time."


Iowa State students have designed a blender to be used in space and a new campus laboratory offers first-class accommodations for testing animals.