Rice U. Team Cultivates Indoor Garden

Kelly MarshallEducation, Food, Research

From left: Jared Broadman, George Dawson, Dominique Schaefer Pipps and Sanjiv Gopalkrishnan. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

A team at Rice University, cleverly named Lettuce Turnip the Beet, has designed a produce cultivation machine— a hydroponic garden that grows plants without soil. Instead a pump recirculates 55 gallons of water through tiers of PVC pipe, using little energy and no waste to grow lettuce, garlic and other vegetables. Sanjiv Gopalkrishnan, Schaefer Pipps, Jared Broadman, and George Dawson are all seniors in mechanical engineering at Rice and it is their goal to produce enough food to make one salad a week for a year in an apartment setting.

“We wanted to minimize power consumption and environmental impact, but maximize nutritional content and yield,” Dawson said. “The machine should coexist with humans in a rather small living environment. Noises, lights and smells shouldn’t interfere with the sleep cycle or life in general, and basic maintenance should be kept simple.”

Before it’s done the team will install sensors monitor pH levels, nutrients, temperature and other factors. The final project will be taken to Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.