Phytotron Zone Descriptions

The Growth Chamber Zone is currently equipped with 37 Conviron chambers of different sizes and capabilities. Units include standard chambers in 7, 15, and 36 ft2 models; multi-function TC30 chambers used for Arabidopsis and specialized 36 ft2 chambers. All the chambers are equipped with magnetic refrigeration valves, atomizing spray nozzles, and provide precise control over temperature (+/-0.1°C), relative humidity (+/-3%), light intensity and photoperiod. Specialized chambers are equipped with high light fluorescent or metal halide canopies providing intensities of over 1000 µmoles/m2/s, low temperature capability (-10ºC), refined humidity control (30%-95%RH) and CO2 control (180-3000 µmol/mol-1) options.

Chambers are individually controlled with microprocessors and computers which are connected to a central computer control system. All programming, data collection and maintenance planning for the individual chambers are managed through the central computer system. Automated telephone dialers contact Phytotron staff immediately whenever alarm conditions arise.

(Controlled Environments Ltd., Winnipeg, Manitoba)


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Remote access to all Phytotron computers is possible via modem using PcAnywhere terminal emulation software packages and more recently by direct internet connection using Conviron's V7 central control system. Over the past decade the McGill University Phytotron has collaborated with industry partners in the testing and development of numerous controlled environment technologies including control computer hardware and software, novel lighting technologies and CO2 control systems.

The Greenhouse Zone occupies the top floor of the Stewart Biology building's South Block and shines brightly over the Montreal skyline. The venlo-style glasshouse was custom designed by Alex Turkewitsch, Engineer, (Greenhouse Engineering, Toronto, Ontario) and constructed by the firm of Frank Jonkman & sons (Bradford, Ontario).

The structure is divided into 10 independent research compartments each equipped with 175 ft2 of space on rolling benches. All research zones are identically outfitted to assist design and replication of experimental work. Heating is supplied in two stages by under-bench and peripheral hot water lines. Cooling is provided by rooftop ridge vents, evaporative pad coolers and overhead misting nozzles. Bench temperature can be maintained between 5ºC and 35ºC during the winter months and 4ºC below ambient to 40ºC during summer months.
All zones are equipped with automated thermal screens (50% light reduction), supplementary lighting (1000W HPS/ 8-12/compartment), high pressure fog nozzles for RH% control (MEC Systems inc., Chilliwack, BC) and optional drip irrigation systems. A CO2 analyzing station allows continuous monitoring and dosing of all research zones. A headerhouse is centrally located and equipped with soil mixing equipment, filtered fume hood, and supplies for users to mix and pot up soils, or harvest plants. All greenhouse zones are independently controlled and monitored by DGT lcc1220 computers (Dansk Gartneri Teknik, Denmark) which are linked to a central control computer in the Phytotron office. The DGT computers provide integrated control of temperature, relative humidity, lighting, CO2 and irrigation in response to programmed variables as well as inputs from the compartment sensors and rooftop weather station. 

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Mechanical Zone

The Phytotron is equipped with it's own dedicated mechanical room which provides heating, cooling and air handling to the facility. The growth chamber area is supplied with filtered air under positive pressure maintained at 20 degrees Celsius and 50% relative humidity, the ambient conditions under which the controlled environment equipment functions most reliably. A cooling tower provides chilled water to the facility's refrigeration systems. The greenhouse is heated by hot water converted from steam generated by the university's central power plant. All major mechanical systems are maintained by the Department of Facilities Management in collaboration with the Phytotron support staff.

Systems Monitoring and Data Archiving:

Environmental conditions of all growing facilities are continuously monitored by the remote and central computer systems. Automatic dialers and e-mail messaging systems notify Phytotron staff immediately if any alarm conditions arise and staff utilize terminal emulation software and modems to communicate with the facility computers. Data (environmental conditions, service information) is collected from all experimental units at 1 minute intervals and logged on hard disk. At weekly intervals, collected data is compressed and archived for future reference. All experimental programs, data and design specifications are also archived to assure accurate replication of future trials.

For more information on equipment specifications and capabilities please consult:

Phytotron Equipment - Description & Rental Fees


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Copyright January 2003  [McGill University Phytotron]. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy of the Biology Dept. Image Centre, (photographers Guy L'Heureux & Carole Smith)

and McGill's Web Communications Group (photographer Marci Denesiuk)

Last update: Sept. 30, 2009