Fungi, Radiation, & Outer Space with Graham Shunk & Xavier Gomez

If humans ever travel to Mars, we will need fungi to help. We are joined today by two young researchers whose experiment was welcomed aboard the ISS in 2018, where a melanized fungus was sent to space to observe the effects of cosmic radiation on the organism's health, as well the attenuation of radiation. The results are excitingÑ future exhibitions to Mars and beyond could team up with melanized fungi to grow shields that protect humans from life-threatening radiation. Melanin is an abundant pigment that is responsible for some fungi's ability to thrive in highly radioactive environments, including the Chernobyl reactor no.4, and now, outer space. .


Graham Shunk is a high school senior in the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. He is a finalist in the NASA Grow Beyond Earth competition, and has designed one of 5 winning prototypes of dense-agriculture systems for sustainably growing food in microgravity. is goal is to continue pursuing impactful research that will help get humans to Mars by solving decades-old problems that astronauts will face in deep space. In his spare time, Graham enjoys flying Cessna aircraft, conversing in Russian with peers, and leading his school's Rocketry Team.


Xavier Gomez is a sophomore Levine scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Originally from Durham, North Carolina, he is studying to get his bachelor's degree in systems engineering. Coming from a biomedical engineering background with an internship at Duke University, he is now exploring a variety of interests ranging from radiotrophic fungi to research on gentrification in migrant foodscapes. He is looking to get into sustainable and ethical supply chain management focusing on creating lasting relationships between well-compensated producers and ethically-minded consumers, building a more equitable and sustainable global economic playing field. During his free time he volunteers for sustainability and the smart growth nonprofit Sustain Charlotte, runs competitively, and plays the saxophone.


Show notes: