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New growth chamber facility on UF campus investment in Florida agriculture

  • A new plant science facility has opened on the main UF campus in Gainesville.
  • The UF/IFAS Growth Chamber Facility will help faculty and students study how changes in climate may impact Florida agriculture.
  • The facility contains 15 growth chambers, special compartments that allow scientists to see how plants respond to variations in temperature, humidity, light and even carbon dioxide.

“In all kinds of weather” might be a common refrain on the UF campus in Gainesville.

But step into the new UF/IFAS Growth Chamber Facility, and you’ll gain a whole new understanding of the phrase.

The new facility, which officially opened Jan. 28, features 15 specialized chambers where researchers will grow plants under precisely controlled temperature, humidity, light and other environmental factors. While individual growth chambers have existed on the UF campus before, this is the first time a large number will be centrally located, better facilitating research and management.

Growth chambers

Inside the new UF/IFAS Growth Chamber Facility. UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]The facility will allow scientists to study how different plants and plant varieties will respond to changes in climate[/inlinetweet], said Jerry Fankhauser, assistant director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of UF/IFAS.

Scientist using touch screen that operates a growth chamber

Touch screens allow scientists to control the conditions inside each growth chamber. UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones.

“Research at the facility will no doubt include multiple crops and species of plants,” Fankhauser said. “Our faculty, staff and students will be looking at issues like disease tolerance, response to environment stress like drought, and growth response to varying length of exposure to light.”

Some chambers will also allow researchers to control the amount of carbon dioxide to which a plant is exposed.

“Changing carbon dioxide levels will help simulate how plants respond to more carbon in the atmosphere and tells us about possible future impacts of climate change on Florida agriculture,” said Dean Kopsell, chair of the UF/IFAS environmental horticulture department.

Each of the facility’s growth chambers are designed for different types of plants and experiments. The smallest chambers — about 20 ft2 — will support research on seeds and small plants. Larger walk-in chambers, which range from 64 to 121 ft2, will house larger and taller plants.

The facility will support the work of researchers from many UF/IFAS departments and schools, including agricultural and biological engineering, agronomy, environmental horticulture, horticultural sciences, microbiology and cell science, entomology and nematology, and the School of Forest Resources and Conservation.

In addition to faculty, students in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences will have access to the facility for research and hands-on learning.

Plants inside of one of the reach-in growth chambers.

Plants inside of one of the reach-in growth chambers. UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones.

“Undergraduate and graduate student alike should benefit from having access to these growth chambers as they conduct research under the direction of UF/IFAS faculty and staff,” Fankhauser said.

“We anticipate many opportunities for student research,” Kopsell added. “The main purpose of the facility is to offer year-round opportunities.”

The new facility was funded by the office of the UF Vice President of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the UF/IFAS Office of Research and the University Athletic Association. This work was also supported in part by funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Hatch Regular and Hatch Multistate capacity programs.

The facility is an investment in UF/IFAS’ research and teaching infrastructure, Fankhauser said.

“A modern and centralized growth chamber facility will allow faculty and students more opportunities to create new knowledge that will ultimately benefit producers and others in Florida and beyond,” Fankhauser said.