Agriculture Building Phytotron Infrastructure Renewal

The University of Saskatchewan is home to one of the largest phytotron facilities in the world. This controlled-environment plant-growth facility is one of the College of Agriculture and Bioresources’ most important teaching and research tools.

Even with Saskatchewan’s long, cold winters, the phytotron enables scientists to study three generations of plants (two in the phytotron and one in the field) every year, thereby accelerating development of new crop varieties and plant research.

The phytotron was built as part of the new Agriculture Building (1988–1991). There are 183 environmental chambers, located largely on the first floor of the Agriculture Building. These chambers range in size from 1 to 20 square metres and are capable of producing both high and freezing temperatures. Although four additional growth chambers were added in 1999, the chillers and operating systems that are fundamental to this important facility have reached the end of their life cycle. The refrigeration plant has become unreliable, and both the lighting systems employed within the growth chambers and the electronic controllers mounted on the chambers are obsolete.

The upgrade, which will be completed in three phases, will transform the phytotron into an efficient, state-of-the-art facility.

Phase one, the lighting replacement and retrofit, is close to completion. The new lighting will produce intensities much closer to sunlight, which will result in more vigorous and healthier plants, and be much more energy efficient. The Phytotron is one of the most energy-intensive operations within any University of Saskatchewan building. The reduction in electrical energy used by the growth chambers is over 50%.

Phase two, replacing the controllers, is also nearing completion. The obsolete microprocessor controllers on each chamber and the central computer monitoring system will be replaced and upgraded.  Individual chambers within the Phytotron are managed by controllers.  Without these controllers, chambers cannot operate and the stability of these controllers is significantly impacted by power fluctuations or outages.  The replacement of the controllers will provide stability and allow the ongoing consistency required for the College’s research and plant breeding programs.

Phase three, replacement of the original chillers, This phase will involve the replacement of the chillers that supply chilled coolant to 171 of the 183 environmental chambers/rooms housed in the Phytotron on the main floor and various other locations throughout the Agriculture Building. 

The new phytotron, when completed, will attract top scientists and researchers from around the world and further enable the training and education of students who will join the ranks of the most accomplished scientific personnel in the world. This will allow the U of S to continue being a vital source of innovative plant varieties and land usage.