MSU students grow innovative virtual plants and harvest real knowledge
Contact person: Meg Henderson
STARKVILLE, Mississippi—Mississippi State’s Future Growers Technology Initiative, an effort to develop a virtual greenhouse program, is in its final stages of development. Starting this fall, plant and soil science students will spend the academic year working with the software in Dorman Hall’s virtual reality lab.
Amelia Fox, Assistant Clinical Professor of Plant and Soil Science, has spent the past three years leading a multidisciplinary team to develop a virtual reality program to train users to grow plants in a greenhouse without the time investment , risks and expense of learning in a physical environment.
“Students today enjoy the freedom to make mistakes in the lab and then work to correct them. We give them the opportunity to learn problem-solving skills,” Fox said. “We need the information provided by the program, but equally important, students need the opportunity to fail in a safe environment.”
Academic collaborators on the project include Christopher Hudson, a research engineer for MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, and Shuchisnigdha Deb of the University of Texas at Arlington, human factors team leader. Industry partners include Pulseworks LLC, an Atlanta-based motion simulation technology leader; Wadsworth Control Systems, which develops greenhouse automation systems; and Chore-Time, a world leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of agricultural systems and solutions.
The greenhouse program allows users to modify environmental parameters such as temperature, type and number of plants, feeding schedules, and infection treatments, resulting in a variety of results in plant growth and health. plants. Fox noted that the growth models are based on recommendations found in peer-reviewed literature.
“Working in this virtual environment allows scientists to better understand how multiple interacting elements such as light, temperature, relative humidity and soil moisture affect plant growth. Where it is impossible to isolate these factors in a physical environment, the VR program makes it possible,” explained Fox.
She also noted that users can quickly visualize growth that would take weeks or months in the real world.
“Agricultural researchers only have four to five growing seasons a year in a greenhouse, but this program will allow us to see what’s happening in a greenhouse for days or weeks in just minutes,” Fox said.
Although the program is not yet available to researchers, it will be tried and tested by students over the next academic year.
Funded by the USDA’s National Food and Agriculture Institute, the virtual reality lab has endless potential for further testing and expansion. Fox hopes to replicate the virtual greenhouse scenarios in a physical greenhouse environment and compare the results. And looking ahead, she said the same ideas used in the greenhouse program could be applied to multiple ecosystem scenarios.
“You could model any ecosystem with growth to measure, such as field crops, chicken coops, and aquatic environments. You can even create “what if” scenarios to model the impact of climate change and natural disasters,” Fox said.
To learn more about the project, visit www.futuregrowers.cals.msstate.edu. To learn more about the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, visit www.pss.msstate.edu. CAVS is online at www.cavs.msstate.edu.
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