White Paper | Technology | Oct 23, 2013

Latest LRC Program Aims to Fine Tune Light for Greenhouse Crops & Medicinal Plants

Light and plants expert Tessa Pocock, Ph.D., recently joined the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as a senior research scientist, leading the development of a new plant physiology lighting program. Her research focuses on plant photosynthesis, and plant development and regulation by light for traditional greenhouse crops and the emerging field of medicinal plants.

Prior to joining the LRC, Dr. Pocock was director of research at Heliospectra, in Sweden, where she designed light-emitting diode (LED) regimes to reduce energy consumption, produce healthier plants, and improve the quality of greenhouse crops. For the last four years, she has been developing a biofeedback system in which the physiology of the plant regulates the spectrum and intensity of LED arrays, in collaboration with Chalmers University of Technology, under a prestigious grant from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra).

Light is a powerful regulator of plant physiology, affecting flavor and appearance, as well as nutritional and medicinal value. Each wavelength of light has a different effect on plant physiology. For example,  plants grown under “blue” light are physiologically different than plants grown under “red” light. And each species of plant has an individual response to different wavelengths as well.  

Due to advances in narrowband LED technology, it is now possible to select and deliver a specific wavelength and intensity of light, or different combinations of wavelengths and intensities, resulting in unprecedented control of plant characteristics. A specific wavelength and intensity of light could, for instance, increase the level of antioxidants in salad greens like red leaf lettuce, while a different wavelength and intensity could change the height of poinsettias, or perhaps, increase active compounds in medicinal plants—there are endless possibilities.

“Thanks to recent advances in LED technologies, it is now possible to better elucidate the effects and functions of different portions of the spectrum to manipulate plants with unprecedented control and accuracy,” said Dr. Pocock. “The fine-tuning of light spectra and controlled regulation of plant attributes is adding new sophistication to plant production.”

One of Dr. Pocock’s first projects at the LRC is a study in collaboration with Gotham Greens, a New York City based agribusiness with rooftop greenhouses in Brooklyn. The team will research, evaluate, and model LED and high intensity discharge (HID) greenhouse lighting systems to reduce energy and its associated atmospheric pollution, and improve plant throughput and appearance for higher margins. The study is funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which is providing $500,000 through a research and development program targeting improvements in energy efficiency and crop production for controlled environment agriculture, such as greenhouses. This research will identify optimal lighting to increase leafy vegetable production using energy efficient LEDs compared with existing HID fixtures.

Dr. Pocock earned her diploma in horticulture greenhouse management at Olds Agricultural College in Alberta, Canada, and an honors bachelor’s degree in plant science, master’s degree in plant biochemistry, and doctoral degree in environmental stress biology at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. She then travelled to Sweden on a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship to study the effect of climate change on algal photosynthesis and stress responses. She is the author of numerous scientific and technical articles related to plant science and the effect of light and temperature on plants, and has presented at more than 20 national and international conferences.  

About the Lighting Research Center:
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world’s leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC has been pioneering research in energy and the environment, light and health, transportation lighting and safety, and solid-state lighting for more than 25 years. In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today the LRC offers both a M.S. in lighting as well as a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. Internationally recognized as the preeminent source for objective information on all aspects of lighting technology and application, LRC researchers conduct independent, third-party testing of lighting products in the LRC’s state of the art photometric laboratories, the only university lighting laboratories accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP Lab Code: 200480-0). LRC researchers are continuously working to develop new and better ways to measure the value of light and lighting systems, such as the effect of light on human health, and the effect of light on plant physiology. The LRC believes that by accurately matching the lighting technology and application to the needs of the end user, it is possible to design lighting that benefits both society and the environment.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation's oldest technological university. The university offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty are known for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of fields, with particular emphasis in biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.

NYSERDA, a public benefit corporation, offers objective information and analysis, innovative programs, technical expertise, and funding to help New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. NYSERDA professionals work to protect our environment and create clean-energy jobs. NYSERDA has been developing partnerships to advance innovative energy solutions in New York since 1975. For more information about NYSERDA, visit http://nyserda.ny.gov.

About Gotham Greens:
Gotham Greens is a New York City based agribusiness that builds and operates commercial scale greenhouse facilities in urban areas for fresh vegetable production. Since commencing production in early 2011, Gotham Greens has quickly become one of New York State’s leading producers of premium-quality, greenhouse-grown vegetables and herbs. Gotham Greens’ pesticide-free produce is currently grown in technologically-sophisticated, climate-controlled rooftop greenhouses in Brooklyn, NY. Gotham Greens provides its retail, restaurant, and institutional customers with reliable, year-round supply of premium-quality produce grown under the highest standards of food safety and environmental sustainability.