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Principles, Rights & Responsibilities

The following section outlines the current mandate of our facility, and presents a summary of major rights and responsibilities of its user community. This set of principles, rights & responsibilities dates from discussions held within the steering committee that created the Phytotron and were agreed to by the original users and the department. These principles, rights and responsibilities were reaffirmed by Phytotron users at the annual meeting held on October 18th, 1999.

  1. Mandate
  2. Basic Principles & Rights
  3. Administration
  4. Products & Services
  5. Care of Facility & Equipment
  6. Care of Experimental Materials
  7. Support Staff & Students



The McGill University Phytotron is to function as the principle plant growth & controlled environment facility on the main campus of McGill University providing equitable and economical use for all interested users. The principal user community is derived from within the Biology department, and to a lesser degree, from other McGill departments, external university departments, government agencies and private industries. The primary criterion for acceptance into the facility is the submission of a scientifically sound project proposal that does not violate university or government guidelines for the safe and ethical conduct of research.

Basic Principles & Rights

The Phytotron is founded on a series of basic principles, which are shared by most large controlled environment facilities. The users of the facility have a number of rights within the operating structure and, by extension, responsibilities as well.

Wide range of environments

The Phytotron is designed to provide a wide range of precisely controlled environments under one roof. The composition of environments is designed to accommodate a wide range of users and scientific disciplines. 

Users have the right to expect a realistic, reliable and repeatable simulation of their required environmental conditions.

Shared Resource

The Phytotron is a shared resource, providing fair and equitable use by numerous researchers. 

All potential users have the right to apply for, and receive space in the facility. Due to limited resources, users must be prepared to share space and equipment as necessary and scientifically appropriate.

Wide range of internal & external users

The Phytotron is designed to attract and foster inter-disciplinary research and collaborations. 

Users have the right to undertake collaborative projects with external scientists from university, government and industry sectors.

Well defined Management Plan

The Phytotron has in place a well defined management plan which clearly identifies the responsibilities of all parties involved with the facility (users, staff & administrators). 

Users have the right to be apprised of current rules and protocols governing the facility, and to have a voice in improving the overall plan for operations.

Integrated control & data acquisition systems

The Phytotron’s zones and experimental units are linked together by a dedicated network of host computers equipped with sophisticated control and monitoring systems. 

Users have the right to have data on environmental conditions within their zones as well as environmental programming and alarm notification during their experiment.

Managed by a staff of specialists

The Phytotron is managed by a staff of specialists knowledgeable in controlled environment technology and plant culture. 

All users have the right to consultation on plant culture, assistance with experimental design and programming, monitoring and treatment of pest and pathogen problems. Users also have the right to assistance during emergency situations.

Preventative Maintenance Program

The Phytotron has in place a well established preventative maintenance plan to maintain the facility and its equipment at a high operating standard. 

Users have the right to expect accurate and reliable simulations of environmental conditions within Phytotron equipment.

Cost recovery budget

The Phytotron operates on a cost recovery budget with fees charged for the rental of equipment and the provision of services. 

Users have the right to economical use of the facilities, and fair prices for supplies and services.

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The Phytotron is considered a service center of the Biology department. Staff report to the Chair through the administrative officer. The Phytotron Staff consist of one full time managerial position, one senior-level technical position and one half lower-level technical position. In addition, a scientific director is appointed by the Chair. A Phytotron committee consisting of the manager, administrative officer and scientific director is responsible for dealing with routine issues pertaining to the facility. The committee members convene an Annual meeting (or when special conditions warrant) with the internal user group to discuss issues of relevance.

Reservation Procedure

A well defined and equitable procedure is in place to process requests for use of the Phytotron. The primary criterion for acceptance is the submission of a sound scientific proposal that does not violate university or government guidelines for the safe and ethical conduct of research.

Users have the responsibility of reserving space using the appropriate forms, are required to register all staff, students and affiliates who will be using the facility, and are expected to honour reservation time commitments (start & stop dates).

Abstracts & Publications

The facility was constructed and outfitted using a very large grant from NSERC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. This agency represents the primary source for new operational and equipment funding. The scientific progress of the facility is periodically reported to the agency and supports the requests for new funding to users of the facility.

Users have the responsibility of submitting abstracts for each individual project undertaken, including those of students (graduate & undergraduate). Users are required to acknowledge the Phytotron in all theses, reports and publications arising from work undertaken in the facility.


The ongoing operational cost of the Phytotron is divided between the Biology department (staff salaries), University (major mechanical systems maintenance) and User fees (equipment & facility maintenance, operations & pest control). A differential fee structure is in place for external versus departmental users to reflect the staff salary subsidies provided by the Biology department.

Users have the responsibility to pay fees for use of equipment, and for supplies and services provided.

Grants & Funding Initiatives

Improvements and upgrades to the facility are possible through several avenues. The acquisition of new equipment is possible through NSERC and selected other agencies. The improvement of the facility may be partially supported by user fees (smaller projects), but larger scale improvements require University support (structural, mechanical) or granting initiatives (equipment).

Users have a responsibility to promote the facility and to participate in grants and funding initiatives for the acquisition of new equipment and necessary facility upgrades.

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Products & Services


The Phytotron offers a wide range of equipment to its users. All Phytotron users have the right to use equipment both primary (controlled environment chambers) and ancillary (hoods, shakers, autoclave).

Users have the responsibility of reporting and paying for applicable use and for ensuring proper care is taken in the use of the equipment.

Phytotron Staff Services

The Phytotron staff offer users a variety of support services.

All users have the right to technical support and consultation. Staff are experienced in, and prepared to assist users in areas of experimental design, programming, retrofitting equipment, data collection and plant culture. In addition, staff offer consultation on pest prevention, pest monitoring and undertake all pest management and control. Users also have the opportunity to commission the staff (at their cost) in cases where specialized modifications are desired, or for the undertaking of work considered the responsibility of the user (plant care). These additional services can only be obtained if adequate time is available to staff.

Casual help Services

The Phytotron can act on behalf of its users to hire and train casual helpers for watering and other required plant care.

All users have the right to casual help services that are provided and trained by the Phytotron. The users retain the ultimate responsibility for the work of these helpers. The user who commissions any services is expected to pay the resultant fees regardless of the quality of services provided.

Phytotron Stores

The Phytotron will make available a set of standardized supplies for the culture of plants (pots, soils, fertilizers, CO2 gases & accessories). The Phytotron staff will also assist the users in selecting and ordering any additional materials necessary. The users have the responsibility to report and pay for all materials utilized or provided.

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Care of Facility & Equipment

Routine Maintenance

The Phytotron staff have, as their main responsibility, the task of caring for the entire facility and its equipment. This is most effectively undertaken through the application of a sound preventative maintenance program based on well defined protocols.

All users of the facility also share the responsibility of protecting the equipment. This is accomplished by learning proper methods for use, training and monitoring staff and students to prevent misuse, and reporting problems immediately upon detection.

Emergency Services

The Phytotron staff is responsible for caring for the facility and its contents during emergency situations (power & water shutdowns, unusual weather phenomena). All possible resources will be mobilized and used to maintain the integrity of the equipment and to permit the survival of organisms and satisfactory progression of experiments.

Users have the responsibility of providing and updating contact information to allow staff to reach them during these situations. Users must understand that emergency backup resources are limited and must be distributed equitably.

Dangerous Products

The use of dangerous products within the facility must be carefully managed to prevent risk to personnel or other users, damage to equipment and to avoid disruption of neighboring experiments. The use of products that would potentially have residual effects, thus impacting subsequent users of the equipment, is not permitted.

Users have a responsibility to consult the staff when dangerous products are to be used and to follow the legal guidelines for their safe use and subsequent disposal. Users are responsible for charges related to the safe handling, storage, and disposal of such products and for any damages caused by misuse of these products. It is important to note that diverse biological organisms have varying tolerances to chemical products.


The modification of equipment at any level is expressly forbidden without prior consultation and supervision of the Phytotron staff. This would include the incorporation of specialized structures or devices, modification of existing structural components or use of defacing agents (tape, wire, adhesives and corrosive liquids).

Users have the right to incorporate modifications within their experimental zones providing that no permanent damage is caused to the equipment. The Phytotron staff will work in conjunction with the user to assure that modifications are properly undertaken. The user has the responsibility to discuss all potential modifications with the staff, work with them during installation and report any problems during the course of the experiments.

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Care of Experimental Materials

Care of Experimental Organisms

The care of experimental organisms and materials within the facility is the responsibility of the research user. This includes the proper watering, fertilizing and pruning of plants; handling, containment and feeding of insects, fish and animals; growth, handling and containment of bacterial, viral or fungal organisms. The Phytotron staff is available for consultation in the areas of plant culture and organismal care, particularly in areas related to controlled environment studies. Users have the responsibility of adhering to existing protocols for safe laboratory and scientific practices including cleanup and disposal of experimental materials.

Pest & Pathogen Management & Control

The management of pest and pathogens within the facility is the joint responsibility of the user and Phytotron staff. The primary tactic in this endeavor is the successful prevention of pest and pathogen migration and establishment.

Phytotron staff have the responsibility of monitoring experimental populations for the presence of problems, applying preventative and prescriptive treatments according to a set of well established protocols, and communicating progress with the research users. As well, Phytotron staff must remain current in the field of pest management, investigating and implementing changes to procedures as necessary. Users have the responsibility of following established guidelines for the handling of organisms, monitoring their populations, respecting specific "order of entry" protocols and assuring the proper cultural care and cleanliness of their growing environments.

Emergency Services

The Phytotron staff is responsible for caring for the facility and its experimental contents during emergency situations (power & water shutdowns, unusual weather phenomena). All possible resources will be mobilized to permit the survival of organisms and satisfactory progression of experiments. All efforts will be made to keep organisms alive, and provide the necessary cultural requirements (watering, feeding and fertilizing).

Users have the responsibility of informing staff of possible courses of action during emergency situations (prioritization of experimental materials, environmental tolerances of materials). Users are also required to provide and update contact information to allow staff to reach them during these situations. Users must understand that emergency backup resources are limited and must be distributed equitably.

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Support Staff & Students

Training & Supervision

The Phytotron is operated within a framework of rules and guidelines designed to preserve and protect the equipment and assure the safety and scientific success of all users. The Phytotron staff are responsible for monitoring the use of the facility and for training and consulting with staff members on related issues.

The primary users also share in the responsibility of training and supervising their own students and staff members to assure that Phytotron rules as well as sound scientific procedures are understood and being followed.

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Copyright October 1999  [McGill University Phytotron]. All rights reserved.