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Hove, Arthur (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 62, Number 14 (June 1961)

The new biotron controlled environment,   p. 16


Page 16


S INCE DR. HAROLD SENN came
    to University of Wisconsin to build
 and operate the world's first big bio-
 tron, he and other planners have cov-
 ered a lot of ground in a search for
 ideas.
   One engineer went to Walt Disney's
 studios in Hollywood; others have been
 in an odd building at California Insti-
 tute of Technology called the Phyto-
 tron; and the biotron planners have
 even been aboard an ocean-going ship.
   It's not quite as strange as it sounds.
All these efforts, and many more, are
part of the planning that is going into
building the $1,500,000 biotron, a UW
laboratory with rooms in which the
environments of many spots in the
world can be copied. When the biotron
goes into operation on the west campus,
near the intramural fields, sometime in
1962, it will be used by Wisconsin,
United States and foreign scientists for
important research on plants and ani-
mals.
   Before then, there are a million de-
tails to be thought of-mostly concern-
ing the intricate systems of control that
will be necessary to create and maintain
Arctic cold, desert heat or tropical
storms in this building in the heart of
Wisconsin.
   On one of the recent "idea missions,"
Robert Rodwell, a Milwaukee mechani-
cal engineer, spent several hours in
Walt Disney's Hollywood studios. He
was studying procedures of humidity
control, air filtration and temperature
control. In Hollywood these are neces-
sary for quality photography processes;
in Wisconsin, perhaps they will provide
useful clues for environment control.
  Then Dr. Senn took Rodwell; A. T.
Godschalk, consulting electrical engi-
neer from Appleton; James Maloney,
of the State Bureau of Engineering; and
Milwaukee architect Edwin Wagner to
the Earhart Plant Research Laboratory
at California Institute of Technology.
There, they have the world's first con-
trolled-environment l a b o rat or y for
plants only-the Phytotron--completed
in 1949.
   The planners studied actual opera-
tions problems there, but they won't
copy the Cal Tech laboratory; there
have been many advances in technology
since 1949 that the Wisconsinites will
want to include. "We're trying to take
16
Members of the Biotron Building Committee gather on the projected site of
the unique
building. The committee includes: Prof. Roland K. Meyer, zoology; Prof. Harold
A.
Senn, botany; Prof. Folke K. Skoog, botany; and Prof. Robert H. Burris, biochemistry.
The United States Forest Products Laboratory can be seen in the background.
The New Biotron
            Controlled Environment
advantage of the most modern tech-
nology we can," said Dr. Senn.
  Recently there was the inspection of
the ship-the Mormacpride, a cargo
liner about to leave Milwaukee harbor
for Argentina on her second voyage. It
was a new method of air handling used
in the ship that attracted Dr. Senn, a
high pressure air system using four-to-
five-inch steel tubing to save space and
to move air at six times the usual speed.
  "We may never use any of these sys-
tems," said Dr. Senn, "but, in the bio-
tron, we intend to try to save space and
also to prevent the spread of contami-
nation in the air through the building.
We have to think in terms of sanitation
comparable to hospital sanitation for
some of the experiments that may event-
ually be carried on here."
  Research in the biotron will deal with
many aspects of the growth, develop-
ment and behavior of plants and ani-
mals as related to their physical environ-
ment.
  Dr. Senn has been interested in con-
trolled environment facilities for about
10 years. He came to Wisconsin from
Ottawa, Canada, where he was with the
Department of Agriculture as director
of the Plant Research Institute. Before
he was invited to become UW's director
of the biotron, he had spoken with men
in charge of controlled plant environ-
ment projects being   developed    in
France, Australia and New Zealand.
These will all be phytotrons-for plant
study only. Wisconsin's biotron is for
both plants and animals and parts of
the laboratory will be designed to study
animals as large as a horse.
  "In some ways, the animal side of it
will be much more pioneering," Dr.
Senn said, "because many universities
have some rooms with controlled envi-
ronments for plants.
   "The biotron," he said, "is not really
a building. It's more like a machine,
with a building as a shell around it.
There will be a lot of automation and
it will need only a small staff. The
experiments that will be done there will
cross many disciplines, for the project
is not the idea of any one department."
     Wisconsin Alumnus, June, 1961


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