Camp students apply discoveries to real-world problems

Published 6:25 pm Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Paul D. Camp Community College students and their professor made discoveries this semester that they believe could change the world.

Three of these projects were presented at the 2022-23 Virginia Academy of Science meeting May 19 at Liberty University in Lynchburg. Each of them covered a spectrum of issues and findings based on experiments conducted by students and their professors.

Of the projects presented, one of them has a very crucial aspect that affects everyone globally and impacts the future of the planet, according to Jacob Kmieciak, leader of the first project.


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Kmieciak and classmates researched the effect of methane on photosynthesis. Through their research and experiments the students determined global warming will not be earth’s problem, instead it will be food.

“It is imperative to have a better understanding of this gas and its effects,” Kmieciak said. “Not only is methane a global warming gas, but it is also worse than carbon dioxide by holding heat more than 80 times as efficiently.”

Students questioned whether adding more gas would increase the rate of photosynthesis. NASA was the first to link rising levels of methane with harm to photosynthesis, according to Dr. Carl W. Vermeulen, associate professor emeritus at the College of William & Mary.

Classmates researched by measuring the amount of time it took plants to produce oxygen after being exposed to methane.

The class estimates that in 40 to 50 years, the increase in the concentration of methane will cause a 30% drop because of its steep rise in recent decades. This means plants will produce 30% less oxygen, grow slower and produce less food.

Their research concluded that as gas goes up, photosynthesis goes down.

“I want to say this again, by the time I am, let’s say in my 50s to 60s, the world will be experiencing a global famine that it brought upon itself,” said Kmieciak, 18. “That terrifies me.”

Even at the current concentration of methane, which is about 0.0002%, less than the amount of oxygen we breathe, it is poisoning photosynthesis, according to Kmieciak. He believes as methane rates rise faster than expected, poisoning of photosynthesis will worsen. Rates of food and oxygen would be down to about 30% by 2040 to 2050.

“We must act now to stop methane emissions,” warns Kmieciak.

Kmieciak is a Suffolk native who graduated from King’s Fork High School in 2021 with an Advanced Diploma in Honors. He participated in the dual enrollment program with Paul D. Camp Community College, where he plans to finish his associate of arts and science and transfer to Virginia Tech by next spring.

Another project presented was given the option to study atmospheric pressure and its effects on plants to further develop the research on the colonization of Mars.

The classmates’ research was built on finding the effect of pressure on seed germination based on atmospheric pressure in various stages of plant life.

The team found that a high minimum of air pressure was required for seed germination on Mars. Most seeds will not germinate if the pressure is below 0.1 atm, unit of pressure, even if oxygen is within the growth range.

Research concluded that pressurized greenhouses must be used in order for a chance of survival on Mars.

Current students are now investigating why plants need air pressure, according to Vermeulen. They hypothesize that pressure keeps respired carbon dioxide in solution in the sap. If the pressure is too low, carbonated sap is expected to effervesce and interfere with sap flow.

The last project presented was about the Mesophyll microbiome, where students researched the attack on plant biomes.

Kmieciak and other students worked on beneficial bacteria living in and on plants, also known as the microbiome. In exchange for resources and a place to live, the bacteria fight infection and invaders. Stronger microbiomes confer greater disease resistance.

Students also discovered the origin of the microbiomes, which are passed down from the mother flower to seeds to the sprout into the next generation.

After determining that some crops are heavily affected by infections, students concluded they have a weak biome. Their next step was to find a way to replace the biome with a stronger one.

Students are currently working to replace weak microbiomes in disease-prone plants, according to Vermeulen. Their desired outcome is to replace a weak tree’s biome with a stronger one that has been around for hundreds of millions of years, helping it appear to outlive many viruses and diseases. Students hope for their research to one day be significant to all crop-related diseases on this planet, Vermeulen stated.

“The proposed implications of this are that we could take any crop, any plant really, that is prone to be sickly and make it stout to diseases,” Kmieciak said. “This would mean the use of pesticides, to an extent, would be null and void, saving on fuel, pollution and even making the crops cleaner.”