Plant Growth Facilities Research Highlights

Cornell AES greenhouses and plant growth chambers provide carefully controlled environments for smart, innovative research. Whether researchers are working on finding sensible solutions for urgent agricultural or environmental problems, focusing on emerging markets, or building a fundamental knowledge base — plant growth facilities are essential laboratories and testing grounds for the 300-400 research projects housed there. 

Greenhouse Lighting Laboratory

Neil Mattson's group has established the Greenhouse Lighting Laboratory at Cornell AES greenhouses to determine the potential for LEDs and the resulting energy savings in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). The lab contains state-of-the-art LEDs coupled with proprietary control software to quantify and ultimately aid commercial growers regarding the integration of these new technologies. The hydroponic growing systems used mimic commercial growing environments. 

The Mattson lab also studies the impact of light quality and quantity on tomatoes, strawberries and CBD hemp, and is developing energy efficient lighting practices for the greenhouse industry.


The Raguso Lab studies hawkmoths (also known as sphinx moths) to understand how large pollinators use sensory information to find favorable habitats and food sources. Hawkmoths tend to visit and pollinate "moonflowers" — plants like gardenias, jasmines, daturas, evening primroses, four o'clocks — which have pale coloration, long nectar tubes and strong, usually pleasant perfumes. Students involved with this project are studying how hawkmoths respond to color, scent, humidity, non-sugar nectar components, and how well they acquire and transfer pollen during the course of flower visitation.

Water chestnut

The invasive water chestnut (Trapa natans) has been a persistent problem in waterways in the Northeast, substantially impacting fishing and boating, water quality and aquatic habitat. Despite intensive efforts to control the plant using mechanical harvesting, hand pulling and herbicides, water chestnut has continued to expand its range in North America. This project researches biological control alternatives under carefully-managed quarantine conditions. The team is assessing the safety and efficacy of a Chinese leaf beetle that is highly specialized to feed on water chestnut in its native habitat. Researchers: Bernd Blossey, Wade Simmons

Hemp plants in a greenhouse.
A Hawkmoth lands on a plant.
Student stands in a bed of water chestnut.

More greenhouse and growth chamber research highlights

  • Steve Gabriel with the Small Farms Program is comparing yields and cost inputs for on-farm specialty mushroom production
  • Tim Setter's group is part of the NextGen Cassava project and focuses on developing methods by which breeders can improve flowering and seed production of cassava in breeding programs
  • The Robert Reed Lab uses flowering vines for their research on butterflies. By studying wing color variations, Reed's team seeks to understand the genesis of biodiversity.
    In the news: Butterfly wing patterns emerge from ancient “junk” DNA (Cornell Chronicle)
  • Mark Sorrells' team breeds wheat, barley and oats, for the Small Grains Research Program's variety trials and breeding projects
  • Michelle Heck is working on developing controls for Citrus greening, a disease that devastates citrus production all over the world  
  • Walter De Jong's program breeds potatoes for anthocyanin production — natural plant pigments that play a role in stress resistance
  • The Rose Lab uses tomato and tobacco plants for plant cell wall, cuticle and fruit development studies
  • Janice Thies is testing biochar as a soil amendment for corn and soybean production to improve soil management practices and ensure the long-term sustainability of agricultural ecosystems
  • The Bogdanove Lab is working on finding resistance to Xanthomonas, a bacterial disease affecting rice and other crops worldwide
  • The Sijin Li Group is researching complex plant alkaloids that have pharmaceutical potential, and uses yeast to develop pathways for scalable bio-manufacturing.
    In the news: Yeast speeds discovery of medicinal compounds in plants (Cornell Chronicle)