SF State News {University Communications}

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New greenhouse offers perfect climate for research

September 15, 2009 -- In Professor Tom Parker's lab, students study how climate change is affecting plants in the wetlands of the San Francisco Bay Delta -- without ever leaving the climate-controlled greenhouse newly opened for fall semester.

Photo of exterior of University greenhouseThe state-of-the-art greenhouse located behind Hensill Hall.

The Parker Lab is one of 12 rooms in the University's new greenhouse located behind Hensill Hall. Biology graduate student April Robinson is using the new facility to study how the sea level rise associated with climate change will affect the tall, grass-like plants that live in the wetlands of the San Francisco Bay Delta. Robinson has set up a pump system in the greenhouse to create artificial tides that engulf her plants twice a day. "Climate change will push salinity further inland," Parker said. "April's work is testing how wetlands will cope with a more salty environment and a rising sea level." "

The greenhouse is a spectacular resource for our classrooms, teaching labs, faculty research and the Bay Area community," said Mike Goldman, chair of the Biology Department. "It helps us teach students and the community about the critical role that plants play in sustaining our world -- providing us with food, medicine, energy, natural beauty and diversity."

Photo of the greenhouse's arid room containing cactiThe arid room, one of three collection rooms containing a living library of plants used in teaching biology.

The 8,000 square foot greenhouse includes more space for undergraduate and graduate students to conduct their own biology research. Graduate student Jennifer Chapman is studying a rare manzanita species, Arctostaphylos virgata, that only grows on the edge of redwood forests in west Marin. Using seedlings planted in the greenhouse, Chapman is testing the effect of different light levels on this species. "Jennifer's research will help us understand how to conserve rare manzanita species and will provide clues about what will happen to coastal redwood forests in the face of climate change," Parker said.


Seven of the greenhouse's rooms are used for faculty research. Faculty can control their rooms remotely to set precise temperature, humidity and light conditions. The greenhouse uses evaporative cooling, an energy efficient alternative to air conditioning or refrigeration. Cooling pads at the back of each room are pumped with water droplets which evaporate and lower the air temperature.

Photo of interior of the greenhouse's tropical rainforest roomThe tropical rainforest room, home to the corpse flower.

The greenhouse's corpse flower, which bloomed this summer, is a testament to the facility's favorable climate and conditions. The titan arum, known as the corpse flower because of its death-like stench, bloomed for the first time in 14 years this summer after being settled into the greenhouse's tropical rainforest room. The greenhouse brings together the Biology Department's collection of teaching plants, which was previously dispersed in a number of temporary locations, including some off campus. The greenhouse now houses a plant collection that represents almost 200 plant families from across the world.

Professor of Biology Bob Patterson hopes the greenhouse will inspire students to pursue biology. "Seeing an amazing selection of plants in their own environment will make plant biology more accessible," said Patterson, who teaches "The World of Plants," a general education course. "There will be students in this course who have never taken a science course before and I hope that studying in the greenhouse will encourage students of undecided majors to choose biology."

For more information about the greenhouse, see: http://biology.sfsu.edu/content/sfsu-greenhouse

An aerial time lapse of the greenhouse's corpse flower blooming can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/42qiOs

-- Elaine Bible


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