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Source: MIL-OSI Submissions

Source: University of Canterbury

In an upcoming UC Connect public lecture, University of Canterbury (UC) academic Dr Sarah Kessans will share the lessons learned from a life of science and adventure, testing the limits of the human spirit, from rowing the Atlantic to launching a space laboratory.

Dr Kessans is a lecturer, biochemist, synthetic biologist, and a multi-national champion in rowing.

Register to come along to UC’s Ilam campus tomorrow (Wednesday 4 March) to hear her stories of overcoming challenges, learning from trans-Atlantic failures, pursuing deep-space dreams, and how the lessons from her adventures are similar to those learned in university life.

Dr Sarah Kessans is a lecturer in UC’s multidisciplinary School of Product Design. Now a proud Kiwi, Sarah came to New Zealand from the United States, where she earned degrees in plant biology and molecular biology at Arizona State University and worked to develop a plant-based HIV vaccine.

In 2005, between her undergraduate and graduate degrees, Sarah and teammate Emily Kohl competed as the youngest female team in the fully self-supported, 5000km Woodvale Events Atlantic Rowing Race. After 46 days at sea, Sarah and Emily’s boat capsized in 10-metre waves and 30-knot winds, 1400 miles from land. The pair spent over 16 hours clinging to the upturned hull before being rescued by the British tall ship Stavros S. Niarchos. Undeterred, Sarah and Emily joined Tara Remington and Jo Davies (both of whom had also failed to finish the race in 2005) to become Team Unfinished Business in the 2007 Woodvale Events Atlantic Rowing Race, finishing in 51 days and breaking the previous women’s fours world record by a full 17 days. 

Inspired by new perspectives gained during her progression through NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Candidate selection process, Sarah has initiated several projects that are providing the foundation for New Zealand’s space biotechnology industry, with the goal of supporting life both on and off the Earth. Recently, Dr Kessans has been funded $500,000 to take biochemistry to new heights. MBIE’s Catalyst: Strategic Space 2019 fund will support her to develop nanosatellites for protein crystallisation over the next three years. Dr Kessans and her team of researchers will work on developing nanosatellites and biological payloads.


“Conducting biological experiments in space allows for both a more complete understanding of life on Earth and the development of life support capabilities which will enable advanced human space exploration and future off-Earth habitation,” she says. 

In 2019 Dr Kessans gave a TEDxChristchurch talk: How to eat ketchup on Mars

UC Connect public lecture: Science and adventure – testing the limits presented by Dr Sarah Kessans, School of Product Design, College of Engineering, University of Canterbury, 7pm – 8pm, Wednesday 4 March  – in C1, Central Lecture Theatres, Ilam campus, UC.  Register to attend free.