The Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) at the University of Arizona commemorates 20 years of innovation and collaboration since its inception. Numerous Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) research projects have been conducted at CEAC by leading scientists and aided by students. CEAC Director Dr. Murat Karcia states that about 100 to 150 undergraduate and graduate students are involved at CEAC through credit-bearing courses and research activities. CEAC’s unique blend of biosystems and agriculture engineering as well as plant sciences draws faculty from various disciplines to work together on innovative research.
Notable projects include Dr. Gene Giacomelli and Dr. Murat Karcia’s research conducted on the Vertical Farm (UAg Farm) and the Lunar-Mars prototype system. Dr. Chieri Kubota carried out important research on greenhouse production that helped improve flavor, taste, and quality of hydroponic tomatoes. Dr. Kubota also produced high-quality seedlings and transplants for planting outdoors, which bridged greenhouse work with traditional outdoor tomato production. In addition, she researched hydroponic strawberries to develop on a larger scale, which led to multiple states having acres of strawberry production. CEAC was also one of five teams that obtained new funding from NASA to design a prototype system to more efficiently deliver water and nutrients for crop production and microgravity at the International Space Station.
Karcia attributes the center’s success to partnership and support from both the industry and government. Thanks to the demand of its unique multi-disciplinary, hands-on approach, CEAC projects have maintained steady funding over the years. Back when CEAC was taking off, Dr. Merle Jensen pushed to obtain funding from the state of Arizona leading to an astonishing $600,000 yearly investment. The USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative provided $2.7 million in funds to study the indoor production of leafy greens.
20 years of innovation and collaboration continue to catapult CEAC into the future by integrating science and technology; experts, and students to find solutions for tomorrow’s needs.
“I think the impact of the CEAC really has been working on some cutting-edge research and CEA systems and design concepts to help the industry and produce graduates who are now and will continue to be the leaders of the future,” declares Karcia.