Since the first research project was initiated there in May 1967, the Biotron Laboratory on the west end of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus has been one of a few research centers in the world capable of simulating a range of environmental variables with precision and control for studying plants, animals, materials and materials. Natasha Kassulke reports.
“The Biotron and its staff have made substantial contributions to the research of its academic and commercial clients, who come from as close as campus and as far away as the International Space Station,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The Biotron has met the goals that it was intended to and has been the model for controlled environments and climate-controlled greenhouses.”
However, concerns about supporting the building’s aging infrastructure in the decades to come has led the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education to announce that the Biotron will end its run as a research center by the spring of 2021. Other UW labs and research cores are stepping up to fulfill requests to help continue the studies that previously could only be done at the Biotron.
And it has been quite a run. In 50 years, the Biotron has been written up in the New York Times, played an important role in NASA research, and even served as a hatchery for a pair of rare Siberian cranes.
Over the decades, Biotron’s flexibility in climate control has drawn clients from Harley Davidson to the Middleton-based Springs Window Fashions, which found the facility useful for testing their products in environmental extremes and benchmarking performance in precisely monitored conditions.
The Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Tissue Culture Laboratory has conducted its research at Biotron on potato-killing infections while also supplying seed stock for nearly all the publicly available varieties of potatoes grown in Wisconsin.
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Photo above: Paul Bethke, associate professor of horticulture, checks on a variety of potato plants housed in wire cages inside a greenhouse at the Biotron Laboratory in 2015. Photo by Bryce Richter