Topping Off Celebration is thrown for progress on plant growth facility

The East Campus Plant Growth Facility, a $28.2 million project, will finish construction in April, creating new opportunities for the MU plant community.
The East Campus Plant Growth Facility is currently under construction and is projected to be done in April 2019.

The Plant Growth Research Facility Topping Off Celebration was held Saturday at 11 a.m. in the East Campus Plant Growth Facility, which is currently under construction.

The East Campus Plant Growth Facility, a $28.2 million project, started construction in September 2017 and is estimated to finish in April 2019. In honor of its progress, the Topping Off Celebration was held.

“A topping off ceremony is a traditional event,” Robert Sharp, professor of plant sciences and director of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group, said. “It's meant to recognize when a new building has reached the point where the highest level of the construction is put into place.”

The IPG, which is made up of 60 faculty members representing seven departments and divisions from four colleges, has been central in the process of developing the new facility.

“The IPG was created in 1981 to bring the plant biology community together on campus [while] transcending traditional departmental and disciplinary boundaries,” Sharp said. “And so, the IPG serves to promote plant biology on campus for the broader community in things like developing facilities like this.”

Such a facility has been highly anticipated by many players within the MU plant community, including the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Foundation Board of Trustees.

“I sit on the CAFNR Foundation Board of Trustees, and on that board, this is something that we've been yearning for for so many years to keep Mizzou at the top of the charts when it comes to being on the cutting edge of technology,” Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said.

The facility will also benefit MU’s plant researchers by opening up more space for their work, Jim English, director of the Division of Plant Sciences, said.

“It's going to have a large array of growth chamber space, which is not currently sufficient,” English said. “For the plant community, we're way below what we need in terms of increasing capacity for that kind of controlled environment. This space here is massive, so you can imagine the amount that can happen here.”

Not only will the space of the facility allow for more research space, it will also open up possibilities in studying different types of plants.

“The facility in particular will include not just an increasing amount of reserved space, but specialized facilities, controlled environment plant growth chambers and some of the greenhouse modules that will have an enhanced height, so we can work on taller plants than we've been able to do before,” Sharp said.

The new facility will also be able to branch out from the conditions that are typical of other plant research facilities on campus.

“There’s going to be a component [of the facility] that's separate that will allow researchers to work with field soils, natural soils and even working with some plant pathogens and things like that. So, we'll be able to expand the capability of the facilities for different types of research than we've been doing in the past,” English said.

With these new research capabilities will also come a range of benefits to MU, Chinn said.

“It has a completion date of April, so we’re going to be able to offer this as a selling point to next year's freshman class,” Chinn said. “We're going to be able to attract better researchers. We're going to have a lot more opportunities here for our students and for our faculty, because there's only about six facilities like this in the world today.”

The creation of such a facility is consistent with MU’s history of excellence in plant science research, Christopher Daubert, vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, said.

“I think the fact is that our university has a historical commitment to agriculture, to plant sciences and plant biology,” Daubert said. “It truly is one of the cornerstones of this university, and our relationship to Missouri agriculture is strong. The work that we do here is intended to benefit all Missourians, all of the [agricultural] enterprise throughout the state.”

The celebratory ceremony began with a period where attendees could get refreshments and browse displays related to plant sciences.

Next, remarks were made by a range of speakers, including Sharp, Chinn, Daubert. The other speakers were UM System president Mun Choi, Donald L. Cupps, curator emeritus on the UM Board of Curators, Latha Ramchand, MU provost and executive vice chancellor and Patricia Okker, dean of the College of Arts and Science.

After the remarks were made, attendees were invited to sign the ceremonial beam which would be used to “top off” the construction.

Throughout the event, there was an emphasis on the new capabilities for research at MU the facility would produce.

“I recognize the importance of this facility and what it represents to our faculty and the citizens of Missouri: to be able to conduct research on innovative approaches to better understand drought resistant crops, to have a better understanding of digital and precision agriculture and, in the process, finding new ways to help feed the world,” Choi said.

The facility will create benefits on many different levels, Choi said.

“While there are very important practical benefits to this research, there's also the intellectual merit of the research that we do to advance the science of better understand the genetics of plants [and] control the growth rates of plants that will help us develop a clearer scientific understanding of the plant biology,” Choi said. “But beyond that, it's important to recognize that there are these other broader impacts of training our students to become the next generation of leaders through this facility.”

Edited by Morgan Smith |

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