Campus / News / April 12, 2017

Knox Engineering builds hydroponic system

The Knox Engineering Club has started building a hydroponic farm in the greenhouse behind SMC. So far, they have planted 80 strawberry plants. (Erika Riley/TKS)

In the greenhouse, the Knox Engineering Club has been bending PVC pipes and synthesizing chemicals to set up a hydroponics system. By the end of the term, they hope to have four separately controlled sections they can use for experiments on plant growth with LEDs and light cycles.

“[Hydroponics] is just growing it in not dirt, [but] in a fluid media,” club member and senior Theo Ruffins explained.

The club has ordered four LED lights, one each in the 630nm, 650nm, 480nm and 400nm wavelengths. Plants absorb these wavelengths the best, optimizing growth. This will let club members conduct experiments on how the lighting and light cycles affect growth.

The four rows will have nine columns of plants and will use around five gallons of water. In total, the system will be able to grow around 650 plants. The club is starting with 80 strawberry plants.

“The benefits of it over traditionally just growing stuff is that it takes up considerably less space and it’s a lot easier to monitor the environment and make the conditions optimal for growth,” Ruffins said.

The hydroponics project has brought in participation from many departments and students, which was part of the club’s considerations when they planned the project and asked for funding.

“We chose hydroponics because we’re trying to involve as many sciences as possible,” Knox Engineering Club President and sophomore Will Parkinson said.

The club used physics knowledge to design the mechanics and electrical components as well as biology and chemistry to create the chemical fertilizers.

“It’s really all the sciences. Anything that you really do in SMC can be involved [in the club], even sometimes outside of SMC,” club member sophomore Annie Carges said.

Parkinson said the club has been doing as much of the work on the project as they can, treating it as a learning experience for the members. This is the club’s first big project.

“We mixed the chemicals. We bought our own chemicals online to make our fertilizer, and we actually did chemistry to create a water-fertilizer that we are going to use,” Carges said.

Most of the funding for the project has come from the Office of Sustainability, through a $500 fund for experiments. However, the project exceeded that funding and received more from the Physics Department, with the help of Professor of Physics Thomas Moses.

The Biology and Chemistry Departments have also helped. The Biology Department gave up space in the greenhouse for the project while the Chemistry Department traded the correct forms of chemicals needed for the fertilizer but of which they ordered the wrong form.

“It would be cool for Knox College to have a nice, automated hydroponics farm. Kind of a cool thing to show off to the public [and] to prospective students as well,” Parkinson said.

Tags:  Engineering engineering club greenhouse growing plants hydroponic systems hydroponics plants

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