Are you in the United States?

Switch to Twig Science to check out our NGSS product.

What Plants Need to Grow

This month on Newsdesk: A surprising new use for old mattresses, a virus-fighting computer game, and remembering Katherine Johnson.

A surprising new use for an old mattress

Zaatari Refugee Camp, in Jordan, is home to people who have fled their countries due to war. It’s difficult for the people who live there to grow food, because the soil is in poor condition and there’s not much water.

However, there are lots of old foam mattresses, left behind by people working in the camp. Now, residents have teamed up with scientists to grow plants in the foam!

The foam is placed in cups, and soaked in the nutrients and water the plants need to survive. Because the foam doesn’t dry out as quickly as soil, less water is needed.

Now, for the first time in many years, people here are growing their own fresh food. Scientists think the technique could be used in other refugee camps, as well!

A virus-fighting computer game

Imagine if people could help scientists fight the new coronavirus by playing a computer game. Well guess what – they can! Scientists have developed a game called Foldit that allows anyone to help develop medicines to treat COVID-19.

Foldit players solve puzzles to design different kinds of proteins. There’s a chance that some of these proteins could be developed into medicines that block the coronavirus, so it can’t infect the human body and cause COVID-19.

Researchers take the most promising protein designs and test them in the laboratory. By getting lots of people to help design new proteins, games like Foldit could speed up scientific research and get us closer to a treatment for COVID-19.

Remembering Katherine Johnson

Pioneering mathematician, Katherine Johnson, has died at the age of 101. She was one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.

Katherine was born in 1918, in the US state of West Virginia. From a young age, she loved maths!

In 1953, Katherine joined NASA. There, she used her maths skills to analyse data from test flights, and to plan the paths that spacecraft should follow. Her work helped send the first astronauts to the Moon in 1969!

Katherine retired from NASA in 1986. In 2015, President Barack Obama recognised her achievements by awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Discover what the residents of Zaatari Refugee Camp need to grow plants: What plants need to grow.

For more great topical science content, visit Reach Out Reporter where you'll also find videos, transcripts and lesson support to accompany this article.