Barry McNamara  |   Published September 21, 2015

Green and Growing

College’s ‘state-of-the-art’ Kopinski Greenhouse now open

As Year Three of Monmouth College’s $42 million Center for Science and Business began, it was Year One for the building‘s Kopinski Greenhouse, which biology professor Tim Tibbetts calls “a state-of-the-art, fully functional academic greenhouse.”

Tibbetts said the new 660-square-foot greenhouse offers many features that weren’t available in the college’s previous facility, which was on the top floor of Haldeman-Thiessen Science Center, a building that closed in 2013. The most significant changes are in the area of climate control.

“We have independent control of each of the three rooms,” said Tibbetts, who joined Monmouth’s faculty in 2001. “For example, we’ll be able to keep one area humid and warm for tropical plants, one area drier for desert-type plants, and the other area at standard settings for research. That’s the way most large greenhouses operate, and we’re now able to do it, too.”

Other cutting-edge advances are a weather station that will monitor data such as rainfall, sunlight and temperature, and automated roof vents and shades which open and close as needed to control the greenhouse climate. Forgetting to water an area of plants is a non-issue, as a computer-controlled automatic watering system will take care of that chore.

Tibbetts appreciates the more practical design of the new greenhouse, which sits on its own pad on the southwestern side of the ground floor of the Center for Science and Business, providing easy access to the outside and better drainage.

Although Tibbetts was on a sabbatical when the greenhouse opened for regular business in the fall, he was pleased to welcome botanist Eric Engstrom to the biology department this year. Holding a Ph.D. from prestigious Stanford University, Engstrom was hired to fill the biology component of the college’s new “Triad” program in food security, which also includes a faculty member in economics and one in anthropology.

“I will be teaching a new course in the spring, ‘Plant Biology,’” Engstrom said. “For that course, I am planning to spend much of the fall semester enlarging the current greenhouse collection, with specimens representing key taxonomic groups, inside and outside flowering plants, and plants of special human interest. The latter group includes coffee, vanilla and Mongongo nuts. The laboratory section of the course has yet to be fully imagined, but I expect it may use greenhouse space extensively.”

Engstrom said he will be launching research projects involving ferns and Arabidopsis thaliana – a model flowering plant for genetic studies – and will be growing the ferns in greenhouse.

“I would like to try growing Arabidopsis in the greenhouse to see how it does,” he added.

Monmouth College trustee Mark Kopinski ’79 and his wife, Deborah, made the naming gift for the greenhouse in honor of Kopinski’s mother, an avid gardener.

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