OWU prof named co-chair of renowned panel


Ohio Wesleyan University professor Chris Wolverton, Ph.D., has a new title to add to his already impressive curriculum vitae.

In addition to being an OWU professor of Biological Sciences and a NASA-funded researcher, Wolverton is now co-chair of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s panel on Biological Sciences in Space.

The National Academies panel is one of three that makes up the Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences Research in Space 2023-2032. Ultimately, the survey will “generate recommendations for a comprehensive vision and strategy for a decade of transformative science” intended to help NASA “advance scientific knowledge, meet human and robotic exploration mission needs, and provide terrestrial benefits.”

“The end result,” Wolverton explained, “is a report that helps NASA prioritize and plan its investments in fundamental biology and physics research for the next decade and beyond.

“For instance,” he continued, “we’ve heard recently about the launch and unfolding of the James Webb Space Telescope, a multibillion-dollar project that has been years in the making. That instrument was originally conceived in a similar Decadal Survey conducted 30-odd years ago. Getting to be a part of helping to identify a similar project for space biology is exciting and humbling.”

In addition to the Biological Sciences Panel co-chaired by Wolverton, the other two panels comprising the decadal survey are the Physical Sciences Panel and the Engineering and Science Interface Panel.

Wolverton said his committee already has met several times, including discussions with “NASA’s space biology leadership about current plans and directions for the future.”

A member of the Ohio Wesleyan faculty since 2002, Wolverton has earned two NASA grants, to date, to support his research, which has included sending plant seedlings to the International Space Station. Ultimately, he hopes not only to determine the best protocols for growing plants in space, but also for improving plant viability, health, and crop yield on earth.

This semester, Wolverton said, he is working with four OWU independent research students and seven honors tutorial students while gearing up for another busy summer of research. “Just the usual!”

Learn more about Wolverton and Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of Biological Sciences at www.owu.edu/BiologicalSciences. Learn more about the university’s 10-week Summer Science Research Program at www.owu.edu/SSRP.


Special to The Gazette

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