Dr. John Z. Kiss

Dean Kiss wins COSPAR medal; Asteroid named in his honor

Repost from the College of Arts and Sciences

In January 2021, Dr. John Z. Kiss, a space biologist and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, was awarded a prestigious International Cooperation Medal from the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) at their meeting in Sydney, Australia.

The medal recognizes two decades worth of international research with NASA, SpaceX, and the European Space Agency (ESA), during which Kiss and his global collaborators have made pioneering discoveries on how to grow plants in space.

In addition to the COSPAR medal, an asteroid has been named in his honor: Asteroid Kiss 8267.

“I feel tremendously honored and humbled to receive this award,” said Kiss. “We need international cooperation to solve big problems and issues in science. Working together, we can get more accomplished.”

John Z. Kiss with collaborators from NASA's Ames Research Center in California.
John Z. Kiss (right foreground) with collaborators from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

Over the past 20 years, Kiss has worked on eight spaceflight projects, seven of which have involved collaborators from across the globe, including Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Italy, and Norway.

Their recent Seedling Growth experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) have led to unique insights into how plants grow in reduced-gravity environments — whether on the Moon, Mars, or during space travel. They have also studied how these environments affect gene expression in plants.

Seedlings of Arabidopsis thaliana in a ground control for experiments on the International Space Station.

Learning to better grow plants in space can lead to prolonged space exploration by supplying astronauts with fresh food, oxygen, and psychological benefits.

Dr. Kevin Sato is a NASA program scientist for exploration in the biological and physical sciences division who has seen firsthand the impact of Kiss’ spaceflight research.

“Dr. Kiss’ investigations have led to important scientific discoveries in understanding the relationship between light and gravity tropic responses at the physiological and molecular biological levels, which could not have been identified in a Earth-based laboratory,” said Sato.

Kiss is in good company with these latest recognitions. His fellow principal investigator on the ISS experiments, Dr. Javier Medina of Spain, also received a COSPAR medal and asteroid designation.

“Dr. Kiss’ international collaboration with Dr. Medina is exemplary,” said Sato. “Combining their scientific expertises has resulted in one of the most comprehensive studies to define the behavior and biology of a plant, from its whole physiology to the omics level, in the spaceflight experiment.”

This diagram shows the location of Asteroid Kiss 8267 in the solar system. Click to track its current location.

Kiss’ asteroid is in good company as well. Located in the main asteroid belt, Asteroid Kiss 8267 orbits between Mars and Jupiter. It shares space with asteroids honoring such impressive figures as American Composer George Gershwin (Asteroid 8249), French artist Henri Matisse (8240), and Italian astronomer Francesco Bertelli (8266).

“It feels really cool and simply fantastic that they have asked the International Astronomical Union to provide an asteroid,” said Kiss. “It makes the COSPAR medal even more special.”

Watch Kiss’ acceptance video for the International Cooperation medal:

Repost from the College of Arts and Sciences


Story by Elizabeth Keri, College of Arts & Sciences
Portrait photography by Martin Kane, University Communications
Group and seedling photos courtesy of NASA