Silver and blue make green

4/10/2008 - By: Mikalee Byerman

Students and faculty driving the Interstate 80 corridor between Wells and Virginia streets in Reno have witnessed a green evolution over the course of the past few months — a new physical symbol of the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources’ commitment to environmental education.

Passers-by may have pondered the functionality of the concrete building anchoring six adjacent structures, all located at the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station’s Valley Road Field Laboratory. But when the six structures were fitted with their transparent glass windows this spring, the greenhouses came to life — and many questions were answered.

“The size and scope of the project is impressive, to say the least,” said David Thawley, the college’s dean. “The greenhouse complex’s location just off the freeway gives the public an unfettered look at our college’s commitment to agricultural and environmental innovation.”

The $6.2 million greenhouse complex is closely linked to the on-campus Davidson Mathematics and Science Center. The first capital project for the natural sciences on the Nevada campus since 1972 and the future home of the College of Science, the Davidson Center will be constructed beginning this month on the site of CABNR’s former greenhouses (those greenhouses will be demolished to make way for the new building).

The new Valley Road site offers much more impressive accommodations for the college’s environmental research, each of the six greenhouses is 96 feet long and 30 feet wide. The buildings are anchored to a 12,000-square-foot headhouse.

“Our goal through these greenhouses is to provide the most up-to-date teaching and research facilities to educate the next generation of plant scientists, molecular biologists, range managers and ecologists,” Thawley said. “Nevada’s unprecedented growth coupled with our arid environment creates an increased need for agricultural research.”

Experiments and research underway within the greenhouses provide some insight into the college’s commitment to meeting regional and global challenges.

“These modern facilities are enabling us to address environmental issues like biofuel production, alternative crop development, environmental stress tolerance in plants and mercury contamination,” said Ron Pardini, Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station associate director.

The greenhouse complex also is opening the door to further horticultural innovation, as the college’s partnership with two commercial companies highlights. One company, NewGardens, plans an aeroponic greenhouse adjacent to the complex; the other, Nevada Naturals, will construct up to four hydroponic greenhouses. In an aeroponic environment, plants grow without soil in a misted, nutrient-rich solution. In hydroponics, plants grow by receiving minerals in an all-water-and-nutrient environment.

And while the research within the greenhouses is underscoring environmental considerations, the buildings themselves were constructed with those principles in mind. Examples include the positioning of the headhouse — to the north of the greenhouses, for maximum solar gain — as well as specific design components.

“We’ve maximized sunlight through the greenhouse design to light the headhouse space without the need for constant conventional lighting,” Pardini said. “We also installed wind walls to protect the work area, and the shape of the roof of the headhouse is designed to accept a future photovoltaic array.”


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