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Internal Assessment Lab: Germination

Elaura Ligon
November 19, 2013

In reference to the use of nitrogen for seed germination in plants, an experiment done by
ecologist Thomas A. Monaco and several of his associates had tested the effects of nitrogen on
seed germination and seedling growth. In Monacos experiment, they had tested this theory on
medusahead grass as well as other perennial grasses in order to evaluate the evidence of
differences in nitrogen availability and forms of mineral nitrogen percentages of the population
of grasses. As a part of their conclusion, Monaco and his associates determined that root length
was generally greater in the nitrogen-free control treatment compared to the root length of the 3
nitrogen treatments for most of the grasses used during the experiment. However, since
Monacos experiment was solely based on the growth of perennial grasses I had decided to
modify the experiment for a more common group of plants: sweet corn.
Sweet corn, otherwise known as Zea mays, is maize that specifically grows to have
higher sugar content than other types of maize. It grows best at a soil temperature above 15.6C
with a neutral soil pH level and it is typically grown in Arizona and various places around the
world with a similar climate. However, because soil in Arizona is naturally deficient in nitrogen
deposits, it is the nutrient that most influences the fertility and growth of sweet corn when it is
present in the soil. Though an increase in nitrogen is possibly beneficial to plant growth because
it is a natural source of nutrients for plants, nitrogen alone is not enough to effectively grow
plants, specifically sweet corn.
Question: Does an increase in the amount of nitrogen in the soil positively or negatively affect
the rate of germination in corn seeds?
Hypothesis: Based on the research done for this experiment, I hypothesize that an increase in the
amount of nitrogen in the soil will positively affect the rate of germination in corn seeds.
o Independent Variable: The amount of nitrogen present in the soil.
o Dependent Variables: Amount of soil (grams), amount of nitrogen supplement used
(grams depending on the amount of nitrogen needed for each trial), amount of water used
(mL), depth of seed underneath the soil (each petri dish was only 16mm in depth), length
of root growth (mm),
o Controlled Variables: Temperature (between 21.1C and 24.4C based on air handling
system controls), hydration (strictly controlled by the experimenter based on optimum
hydration for growth), percentage of nitrogen in the soil (calculated and evenly
distributed by the experimenter depending on how much is needed for which trial), the
type of water used (Distilled water was continuously used throughout the experiment to
prevent changing the soil pH), and light could possibly be a controlled factor depending
on whether my experiment was within the range of the Grow Light overnight or not.


55g of Miracle Grow Seed Starting Potting Mix for plant growth. (Contains .05% of
nitrogen originally: .03% Ammoniacal Nitrogen, .02% Nitrate Nitrogen)
Ferry-Morse Sweet Corn seeds (Early Sunglow hybrid)
10-16mm deep petri dishes used for seed containment
Microfiber paper towel squares
Nitrogen Supplement tablets from your local gardening center, crushed and used to
increase nitrogen levels in the soil
10mL syringe (needle attachment removed) used for watering the seeds
400mL beaker used for water containment
A metal probe used for removal and replacement of seeds before and after root
An electric scale to determine the weight of the soil and the nitrogen supplement
A metric ruler to measure the length of root growth

Lab Setup:


1. Take 10 microfiber paper towel squares and place one at the bottom of each empty petri
dish to decrease the rate of soil dehydration.
2. Place 2-3 corn seeds in each petri dish; be sure that each dish is labeled with which trial
group it contains and that you can distinctly recognize its markings.
3. Use the electric scale to measure the correct amount of soil/nitrogen supplement being
used for each trial. (For example, for the 3:1 ratio group you would measure out 10g of
soil and 3.3g of the nitrogen supplement. This is to ensure that the proper percentage of
nitrogen is distributed to the soil for each trial group.)
4. Once both the soil and the nitrogen are measured for your trial group, evenly combine the
two together to ensure that the nitrogen supplement is evenly distributed throughout the
soil and vice versa.
5. Use the measured amount of nitrogen and soil (which would measure out to be 13.3g for
each petri dish in this experiment) and cover the corn seeds in the dish corresponding to
your soil-to-nitrogen ratio.
6. Once the corn seeds are covered, use the syringe to evenly coat the soil with 20mL of
7. Repeat these previous steps for all of your trials, changing the ratio of soil-to-nitrogen
depending on which trial you are measuring for. Once each trial is composed, placing the
petri dishes near a natural light source is recommended for optimum growth.
8. Use a metric ruler to measure any signs of growth each day you observe the plants and
write it down in a journal.
9. Each day, continue watering the seeds with 10mL of water rather than 20mL of water to
avoid drowning the seeds. Note the various changes in growth during the process of
germination in your journal and create a table of all of your data at the end of the
experiment. The typical duration for this experiment is 7-10 days. Look for any root
growth as well as growth of other fungi or bacterium and take note of it.

Data Collection and Processing:

Raw Data Table: Rate of Germination (Soil-to-Nitrogen Ratio (% of Nitrogen))

*There is a possible .01g scale error as well as a possible 1mm measurement error.
Addition of 20mL
of water to the
paper towel
covering the corn
seeds. No signs of

Only Soil (.05%)

13.3g of soil
measured and added
corn seeds which
were then watered
with 20mL of water.
No signs of

3:1 Ratio (24.85%)

10g of Soil measured
and combined with
3.3g of the nitrogen
supplement. Watered
with 20mL. No signs
of germination.

No sign of
germination. 10mL
of water added.
Swelling apparent,
noticeable in one
seed (1mm).
10mL of water

No sign of
germination. 10mL of
water added.
Germination process
noticeable in all 5
seeds (4mm
measured for each
seed). 10mL of water

Day 4

Two seeds
germinated to 2mm
in root length and
the remaining three
seeds had
germinated to
1mm. An
additional 10mL of
water added.

Two seeds
germinated to 11mm
in length, the
remaining three
germinated to 9mm,
10mm, and 12mm.
An additional 10mL
of water added.

No sign of
germination. 10mL of
water added.
Two seeds germinated
6mm and one
additional seed
germinated 1mm.
Sprouting visible from
both sides of the seed.
10mL of water added.
Three seeds
germinated to 8mm in
root length, the
remaining two seeds
germinated 7mm and
6mm in length. An
additional 10mL of
water was added.

Day 5

Three seeds
germinated to the
root length of 2mm
as the remaining
two seeds showed
growth to 3mm in
length. 20mL of
water was added in
attempt to make up
for absence on day

Two seeds had

germinated to the
root length of 17mm,
the remaining three
seeds germinated to
the varying lengths of
18mm, 19mm, and
20mm. 20mL of
water was added in
attempt to make up
for absence on day 6.

Day 7

measurements of
three seeds
indicated growth of
3mm in length as
the remaining two
seeds showed 4mm
in growth.

Two seeds showed a

final measurement
length of 26mm. The
remaining seeds
measured to 24mm,
25mm, and 28mm.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

1:1 Ratio (50.05%)

6.65g of soil
measured and
combined with 6.65g
of nitrogen
supplement. Watered
with 20mL of water.
No signs of
No sign of
germination. 10mL of
water added.
Three seeds
germinated 5mm and
one additional seed
germinated 1 mm.
10mL of water added.

1:3 Ratio (75.25%)

3.3g of soil measured
and combined with 10g
of nitrogen supplement.
Watered with 20mL. No
signs of germination.

Two seeds germinated

to the length of 16mm
and the remaining
seeds germinated to
the lengths of 14mm,
15mm, and 17mm.
20mL of water was
added in attempt to
make up for absence
on day 6.

Two seeds
germinated 9mm in
root length as the
remaining three seeds
germinated 8mm,
7mm, and 6mm. Soil
appeared drier than
that of the 3:1 trials.
An additional 10mL
of water was added.
Three seeds
germinated to the
root length of 11mm.
The remaining two
seeds germinated to
10mm and 12mm in
length. 20mL of
water was added in
attempt to make up
for absence on day 6.

Two seeds showed a

final measurement
length of 25mm. The
remaining three seeds
measured to 20mm,
21mm, and 26mm in
length. Phototropism

Two seeds showed

final measurement
lengths of 19mm.
The remaining seeds
measured to 17mm,
18mm, and 20mm in
length. Phototropism

Four of the seeds

germinated 1mm, 2mm,
3mm, and 4mm while
only one seed remains
that shows no sign of
germination. The amount
of mold has slightly
increased. An additional
10mL of water was
Two seeds were
germinated to the length
of 3mm while the
remaining three seeds
germinated to the root
length of 1mm, 2mm,
and 4mm. The mold
growth seems to have
subsided, but is still
being monitored. 20mL
of water was added in
attempt to make up for
absence on day 6.
Mold visible but no
longer shows indications
of increase growth. Final
measurements taken of
two seeds with 2mm and
remaining seed lengths
of 4mm, 5mm, and

No sign of germination.
10mL of water added.
Mold has begun to grow
on the soil in the petri
dish. Two seeds
germinated 1mm. 10mL
of water added.

In the processed graph and data table in the next section, I found it best to use a bar graph
to show the increasing change of growth between each group of trials during my experiment. In
addition to that, since the lines would be so close together on a line graph for this type of data,
the error bars on a line graph would have been clustered and difficult to read in comparison to
the ones on the bar graph. The data is processed to reveal average growth over a seven day
period, and each group of trials indicates the percentage of nitrogen within the soil during the
process of germination. Also, in order to get a better idea of the differences and changes over
time in the different trial groups, I spaced out the average amount of growth in millimeters by
increments of 2 rather than the increments of 5 suggested by the graphing software.
Sample Calculation:
In order to make my data more useful for interpretation, I averaged the 5 measurements I
collected together and set the error bar margin of error to 1mm because of the difference in
growth due to the massive increase of nitrogen (or lack thereof in reference to the Control)
within the soil of my trials. For example, when calculating the data for the 24.85% Nitrogen
group on day 5 of the experiment, I processed this data:
14 + 15 + 16 + 16 + 17 = 78

78 5 = 15.6 (with possible error of 1mm)

Presentation: (Data table + Graph)

Average Growth Over 7 Days of Germination at Different Nitrogen Levels (mm):
Day 1/ Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 7

Control (0%)

Only Soil (.05%)





Measurement of Growth With Nitrogen

Control (.05%)

Only Soil (.05%)

Average Amount of Growth (mm)

16 24.85%
Final Average in Growth on Day 7 (mm)

Based on the data collected during this experiment, there is evidence that both supports
and refutes my hypothesis. Unlike the data collected during Monacos experiment with the
perennial grasses, the control group that contained no nitrogen as well as the trial group that
contained 75.25% nitrogen both showed little to no growth over the 7 day period of the
experiment. The three central trial groups (.05%, 24.85%, and 50.05%) grew at an increased rate
with the .05% trial group growing the most at the end of the experiment, having an average
height of 25.8mm overall. Unlike Monacos experiment where the control group grew more than
the 3 nitrogen treatment groups, this experiment provides strong evidence that the addition of
nitrogen to the soil can improve the germination rate of sweet corn seeds. However, it also
provides strong evidence that an extreme increase of nitrogen can stunt growth and often times
will kill the seedling within the first 5-7 days of the germination process. Therefore, the optimum
increase of nitrogen for an increased rate of germination in sweet corn seeds would most likely

lie between the average potting soil containing .05% of nitrogen deposits and soil containing
50.05% of nitrogen deposits.
Limitations of Experimental Design:
During this experiment, the experimental design implemented worked well for the data
being collected from the experiment. The equipment used worked well in relation to the
simplicity of the setup, and the process required for the collection of data was made simple as
well. However, there were very distinct limitations found in this experiment that could have
created a more accurate collection of data than the data that was processed. For example,
seedling growth during this experiment was disturbed because of the need to measure root
growth over time, and replacing the seed into the soil still could never be the exact same spot as
before which could have affected the plant growth as a whole. Also, the placement of my setup
was near a window since the growth of the plants were indoors, but during the evening they also
were within a 10ft radius of the Grow Light located within the lab. This could have negatively
affected my data because of the light being provided by the Grow Light creating an unnatural
light source for plant growth. As researched, during seed germination light is not an important
factor to the plants growth because of its dormancy underneath the soil where it is dark and the
sunlight doesnt shine through, therefore there was no real issue with this factor. There was also a
days time where the seedlings were not given the 10mL of water required throughout the
experiment because of the inability to enter the lab on that specific day which had not effected
the growth of the seedlings when they were observed the day after. Because of these possible
limitations, there is a possible chance for error in my seedling growth which is why there are
error bars indicating a possible error of 1mm of length.
Suggestions for Improvement:
Some possible suggestions for the previously stated limitations would be beneficial for
the experiment if it were to be duplicated in the future. In order to correct the issue of disturbing
the roots and the plant growth of the seedlings, perhaps the use of a different base for the plants
would suffice, like the use of paper towels instead of using soil so the need to dug up the plants is
no longer requires. In reference to the limitation with the Grow Light, move the Grow Light to
the opposite side of the room or even another room if possible to prevent the possibility of your
experiment being affected by the unnatural source of light. Also, in order to prevent occurrences
where there is an inability to observe your plants for possible growth or to oversee required steps
during your experiment, ensure that you select seeds that grow within the time limit you have so
the overlap of time doesnt affect your ability to make observations and follow strictly enforced
guidelines that are needed for the optimum growth of your seedlings as well as the optimum
results during the experiment.

Sources Cited:
Nitrogen Management Guide for Sweet Corn. N.p., 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2013.

Monaco, Thomas A. Nitrogen Effects on Seed Germination and Seedling Growth. Ed. J.
Range Management. (2003): 1-8. Print