Cassidy Brozovich is following a career path that will take her to space

Cassidy Brozovich is following a career path that will take her to space
Cassidy Brozovich

Like many high school students, Cassidy Brozovich didn’t know exactly where her career path would lead her. Little did she know, her journey would take her to space.

Brozovich, who was recently honored as a Distinguished Senior at The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), is researching the design of 3D-printed substrates to grow plants in space. To put it simply, she is looking into how to design plant containers that will guide water to a plant’s roots in a zero-gravity environment.

“I never knew someone in my field could do anything with space research,” Brozovich said. “I thought it was about building rockets, but never thought about what goes inside the rockets.”

Brozovich will graduate this spring after majoring in food, agricultural and biological engineering (FABE) with an emphasis on ecological engineering, but her career journey began in a high school classroom in Warren, Ohio.

“Throughout high school, I wanted to become a pediatrician because I wanted to help people, and I love kids,” Brozovich explained. “Pediatrics seemed like the path for me because I also loved biology.”

However, after taking botany and zoology her senior year, Brozovich realized that she really enjoyed studying the environment in which organisms live.

Fortunately, she had already decided to study at Ohio State because she was looking for a large school that gave her room to figure out what she wanted to do. She began looking at different areas of study in both science and engineering, her two passions. After careful research and consideration, she found the CFAES FABE program and realized that was exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to study ecological and environmental sciences as well as engineering.

“The FABE program was a beautiful hodgepodge of exactly everything I was into,” she said.

During her freshman year, Brozovich met Shannon Dixon, a sophomore in the FABE program, who became a mentor. Dixon, who was studying coral reef restoration, eventually introduced Brozovich to a research lab that was studying stormwater in urban environments.

“She really helped me figure out who I was within the FABE program,” Brozovich said.

Brozovich thought her career path was clear. She began working in the research lab studying water runoff, and she started thinking about grad school. In her junior year, the stars started to align when, during a random conversation, she heard about the Starlab project from Chris Tkach, a lecturer in FABE who teaches metallurgy and welding.

Brozovich says she couldn’t stop thinking about the opportunity to study space research.

“I thought, I have to pursue this or it’s going to drive me nuts for the rest of my life if I don’t,” she said.

Tkach introduced Brozovich to Scott Shearer, PhD and chair of FABE, who described the project and shared what he had hoped the project would accomplish and what it could lead to in the future. After their conversation, Shearer arranged for Brozovich to meet with John Horack, PhD, professor, and Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace Policy at John Glenn College of Public Affairs and the College of Engineering, both at Ohio State. Horack, who leads the Starlab project, asked Brozovich what she wanted to do with Starlab.

Zero gravity growth medium

She replied, “I want to grow plants in space.”

She immediately worried that her desire to work in Starlab was a pipe dream, but Horack thought otherwise and responded with, “Let’s make it happen.”

She reached out to Peter Ling, PhD and associate professor in FABE who specializes in controlled environment agriculture. Ling put Brozovich on his NASA capstone team, which conducted the initial substrate research.

“I’ve gotten close to the faculty in my department,” Brozovich said. “They really helped find the right people to talk to once I showed interest. They really encouraged me to keep pursuing it as well. I’m really thankful that I have that kind of support system.”

Being a part of the capstone project validated Brozovich’s desire to work on the Starlab project. She will continue working on the Starlab team when she starts grad school next fall. She would ultimately love to work for NASA’s space crop production lab.

“It’s been an interesting journey of studying things I did like and didn’t like, and then stumbling into what I believe is the coolest thing I could have ended up in,” Brozovich said.