The next generation of trekkies is off to an inspiring start with winners recently named in the Future Engineers 3D Printing Star Trek Replicator Challenge. The budding student scientists were invited to engineer the future of food production, particularly those that would address issues faced by long interplanetary space flight and manned missions on Mars.

The student contestants were tasked with designing 3D-printable objects that would help provide astronauts with nutritious meals in the year 2050. In all, the organizers received 405 submissions, with submissions offering concepts on ways to grow and harvest produce in space, as well as methods for the preparation, eating and disposing of food.

First place in the Teen Group (13-19) was Kyle Corrette from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Arizona, who designed a Melanized Fungarium, or mushroom farm. The device, created specifically for use in a microgravity environment, would provide an organic growth bed for its melanized fungus using radioactivity as an energy source.

This ionizing radiation, readily available in space, would allow for continuous growth of the fungi, providing a renewable food source for the crew. Water would be pumped into an extruding intake tube that makes its way through internal pipes to the growth bed.

In the Junior Group (5-12), Sreyash Sola from Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn, Virginia, won for his Astro Mini Farm – a Martian greenhouse designed to provide fresh produce for astronauts on a mission to the planet.

Since Mars gets less sunlight than earth, the mini farm is topped by a magnifying lens for collecting the sun's rays and directing it to the plants. It also comes equipped with a pump to keep the unit pressurized in the Red Planet's thin atmosphere, to about a tenth the pressure of Earth.

A slanted hole in the base of the mini farm allows for the transfer of soil into pots and for watering the plants. Because the unit contains no electronic parts, it can more easily be 3D printed on Mars using a materials extracted from the planet's soil.

Other finalists' in the Teen Group include a Multi-Purpose Mug for making and drinking tea or coffee, measuring liquids and watering plants; and a Spirulina Farm that grows fresh algae under LED lights, with a hand-cranked centrifuge for separating the nutrient-packed spirulina from the growing solution.

The contest was sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation, in partnership with NASA and Star Trek.

Source: NASA

View gallery - 4 images