Percival Scientific News Releases

For Immediate Release:

Joni Campidilli, Percival Contact: 515.465.9363

The future of plant research: Robotics paves the way for plants

October 21, 2014 (Iowa State Daily) - Enviratron may sound like a villain from the latest "Transformers" movie, but ISU researchers are actually using the robot technology to measure plant growth.

Within three years, a team of ISU faculty members hope to control several different growing environments and collect plant growth data with a robotic arm on a rover.

Stephen Howell, professor of genetics, development and cell biology and operations coordinator for Enviratron, said five years ago a colleague suggested Iowa State needed a new facility to observe plant growth.

The current commercial system is a moving conveyor belt that transfers plants to stationary sensors monitoring their growth.

“I suggested instead of using conveyer belts we could use robots — let the robot carry the sensors,” said Lie Tang, associate professor in agriculture and biosystems engineering and co-principle investigator of the project.

The robot would travel in between the growth chambers, taking readings of plant growth and allowing the plants to stay stationary.

The chambers will allow researchers to control the environment in each individual enclosure. The purpose of Enviratron is to help supplement climate change research.

Steven Whitham, professor of plant pathology and microbiology and primary investigator of the project, said they will be able to control light, humidity, temperature, watering, delivery of nutrients and carbon dioxide levels in the chambers.

The National Science Foundation was impressed with Enviratron and awarded faculty members a $929,773 grant to build it. They hope to have a working prototype of the robot and one chamber by next year.

Tang said the project is being funded as a major research instrument. A requirement for receiving funding as a research instrument is that the project must be useful for many programs and benefit researchers. The plan is to have eight chambers within three years.

Howell said the chambers will be about 8-by-3 feet, allowing around 20 different plants to grow at a time depending on the size of the plants.

Whitham said Enviratron will be able to create a huge data set.

“The most exciting thing is potentially you could monitor a plant continuously,” Whitham said. “It creates new challenges for how we analyze all of these reams of data and how we interpret it.”

With Enviratron’s ability to monitor plants continuously, Whitham expects to find much more depth in the data set revealing new traits or responses in growing plants.

Whitham said that with the amount of data collected researchers will have to collaborate with people who are able to handle large data sets. It will also become an interdisciplinary field, meaning researchers would have to work with people experienced in statistics and bioinformatics.

“A student would really benefit if they could learn from a collaborator,” Whitham said.

The biggest challenge for researchers will be deciding what sensors to use and how they should be programmed to collect data.

“If you mount the sensor to a fixed position and put the plant in, you’re limited by what you can do,” Tang said, “With [a] robotic arm you can have intelligence incorporated with the data sample.”

Tang is working on creating cameras that will be able to project 3D images because researchers currently have to take 2D images, according to Whitham.

The sensor will be able to take a picture and the decide where to go to take a data sample. It should be able to detect which leaf to clamp down on and take a reading.

Tang is currently zeroing in on a robotic arm for the rover. His criteria for a good candidate includes cost, payload, reach and degrees of freedom.

Tang said the human wrist, elbow, shoulder and waist together have seven degrees of freedom. Higher degrees of freedom will give the robotic arm higher dexterity.

Percival Scientific had created prototype growth chambers in the Roy J. Carver Co-Lab. Howell said they were very happy with the chambers and Percival Scientific said they may be able to create chambers for the Enviratron.

The chambers will have a vestibule with a door that will allow the robot to enter. After the door closes, the robot will adjust to the environment and then enter the chamber through a curtain.

“We’re having to integrate this whole thing with the rover and the chamber — that’s the big challenge at this point,” Howell said.

When the project is fully operational, they want to be able to allow the public to come and see how Enviratron works to hopefully to spark interest and show the public that they are serious about researching the effects of climate change.

“No matter if its business or technology, robots are going to be a leading trend in technology,” Tang said.

Green Fields: Less erosion not due to biotech, group says

October 11, 2014 (Des Moines Register) - Genetically modified crops are unfairly getting credit for reducing soil erosion on U.S. farmland, an environmental group said Thursday.

In a short report, the Environmental Working Group said soil erosion has declined on cropland because of conservation practices included in the 1985 farm bill and not the planting of biotech corn and soybeans.

“These claims have been repeated so frequently they are now being taken at face value, but a closer look reveals the opposite: GE varieties have made little or no contribution to cutting soil erosion in the United States, and they pose frightening risks to soil and water quality,” said Craig Cox, the Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

The group estimated that soil erosion averaged 4.37 tons an acre in 1982, before falling to 3.44 tons in 1996. It has averaged between 3.05 and 3.08 tons an acre since 2007.

Supporters of biotech crops were skeptical of the study.

“The benefits of (genetically modified) technology — including the increase of no tillage and conservation tillage practices on the farm — are well documented. But the fact is, every farmer needs access to as many tools as possible, and any effort to limit that access benefits neither the farmer nor the environment,” said Karen Batra, a spokeswoman with the Biotechnology Industry Organization whose members include Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer parent company DuPont.

Iowa soybean estimates shrink
Iowa and other Corn Belt farmers will harvest 14.475 billion bushels of corn, up from last month’s forecast of 14.395 billion, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, while the estimate for soybeans was boosted by 14 million bushels, to 3.927 billion bushels.

The agency has gradually increased its estimate for corn and soybeans in recent months as timely rains and moderate temperatures have pushed yields for both crops to all-time highs.

In Iowa, the country’s largest corn and second-biggest soybean producer, USDA left its corn harvest prediction unchanged at a record 2.442 billion bushels, while soybean estimates were ratcheted down to 504.4 million bushels, a decrease of 7.6 million bushels from a month earlier. The soybean harvest would be the third-largest on record for the state.

Grant Kimberley, market director for the Iowa Soybean Association, said he expects demand driven by exports will increase. Prices, which have plummeted more than $3 per bushel since the summer, will follow in the long-term because building demand takes time.

“The old saying is the best cure for low prices is low prices because they stimulate demand and discourage production,” Kimberley said. “The story has been China over the last five years and their purchases will probably grow a little faster than anticipated. We’ll also likely see an additional jump from other parts of the world that have been priced out of the market the last few years.

“It will be the job of the farmer to be on his or her toes to capture better prices when the opportunity presents itself,” he said.

ISU robot would harvest plant data
Iowa State University faculty members are developing a new facility that will use a specially designed robot to gather unprecedented amounts of data on the growth of plants under different environmental conditions.

The project was funded recently by a $929,773 grant from the National Science Foundation. ISU personnel plan to have a prototype of the plant-growth facility next year and a completed facility with as many as eight growth chambers in three years.

“Everything has to be created from the ground up,” said Steven Whitham, a professor of plant pathology and microbiology and the primary investigator of the project.

The specialized growth chambers will be built by Percival Scientific, a company based in Perry, Ia., said Whitham, the director of the ISU Center for Plant Responses to Environmental Stresses.

Researchers will control environmental conditions such as temperature, moisture, light and carbon dioxide concentration in each chamber, which will simulate the effects of climate change on the early development of plants, Whitham said.

The ISU team is calling the concept the “Enviratron,” and if that sounds like a word you might hear in a science fiction story, there’s a good reason.

And that reason is robots.

A robotic rover, armed with various sensors, will travel from chamber to chamber to measure and record plant performance under different environmental conditions.

Automatic sliding doors installed in each growth chamber will allow the rover to enter each chamber.

Kaeding joins farm initiative
Iowa City native and former National Football League Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding is the newest member of the America Needs Farmers team, joining a roster of former Hawkeye and NFL stars supporting the campaign to raise awareness about the food and energy options that today’s farmers provide, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation said.

The Iowa Farm Bureau partnered with the University of Iowa Athletic Department four years ago on the initiative, raising more than $70,000 for the Iowa Food Bank Association through donations and sales of America Needs Farmers merchandise.

“To me, ANF means an appreciation for the hard work and all the other great things that farmers do,” Kaeding said. “The calling card of Iowa football is their work ethic and doing things the right way, and that’s the exact same thing you’ll find on Iowa farms.”

The fourth annual America Needs Farmers game day will be celebrated at Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 1 when the Hawkeyes face Northwestern. A portion of “Farm Strong” merchandise sold will support Iowa food banks.

Iowa State University researchers turn to robotics to improve understanding of plant growth

October 10, 2014 (Ames, IA) - Iowa State University faculty members are developing a new facility that will utilize a specially designed robot to gather unprecedented amounts of data on the growth of plants under different environmental conditions.

The project was funded recently by a $929,773 grant from the National Science Foundation. ISU personnel plan to have a prototype of the plant-growth facility next year and a completed facility with as many as eight growth chambers in three years.

“Everything has to be created from the ground up,” said Steven Whitham, a professor of plant pathology and microbiology and the primary investigator of the project.

The specialized growth chambers will be built by Percival Scientific, a company based in Perry, Iowa, said Whitham, the director of the ISU Center for Plant Responses to Environmental Stresses.

Researchers will control environmental conditions such as temperature, moisture, light and carbon dioxide concentration in each chamber, which will simulate the effects of climate change on the early development of plants, Whitham said.

The ISU team is calling the concept the “Enviratron,” and if that sounds like a word you might hear in a science fiction story, there’s a good reason. And that reason is robots.

A robotic rover armed with various sensors will travel from chamber to chamber to measure and record plant performance under different environmental conditions. Automatic sliding doors installed in each growth chamber will allow the rover to enter each chamber.

Plants can’t be grown under different environmental conditions in other commercially available facilities. And current facilities require the plants to be transported to a central location on conveyer belts where they are examined by sensors. The Enviratron won’t move the plants for screening, an important feature that will allow researchers to gather more reliable data, said Stephen Howell, a professor of genetics, development and cell biology who’s working on the project.

“The growth of plants is sensitive to movement,” Howell said. “Trees on a coastline, for instance, grow thicker trunks because the winds batter them around. With the system we’re developing, the plants never leave the chambers, so there are fewer variables introduced during their development.”

Lie Tang, an associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, is leading the effort to develop the robotics necessary for such a complex project. Tang said the mobility of the robotic rover presents advantages beyond eliminating the need to move the plants.

“You can’t guarantee consistent and trustworthy readings with stationary sensors such as spectral sensors when using a conveyor belt system,” Tang said. “But the robotic manipulator on the rover has the capability of automatically moving the sensors into the optimal positions to get the best readings. So, ultimately the robot will allow us to acquire high-quality data.”

A robotic arm will protrude from the rover, equipped with a suite of sensors that can take photographic, holographic, spectroscopic and thermographic readings, to name just a few. But writing the algorithms to control the robotic system and make sense of the reams of data the rover will produce will take substantial time and effort, Tang said. Howell said cash crops will be the most likely plants to be studied in the growth chambers.

“We hope the crops commonly grown in Iowa – corn, soybeans and biomass crops – will be the main targets for the research,” he said. “We’ll be able to control the environment and capture a lot of data particularly during the early stages of the plant’s development, which are some of the most critical stages of development.”

Percival Scientific Introduces an Affordable LED Lighting System for the Research Industry

Product Webinar explains the benefits of this new LED Lighting Option in Research Chambers

PERRY, IA, February 15, 2013— Seeing a need to bridge the gap between costly color-specific LED lighting and lower-cost conventional fluorescent lighting, Percival Scientific, a global manufacturer of chambers and incubators for the research industry has introduced the LED-Elite Series. This new series of chambers features a multicolor LED lamp providing the correct spectral quality at the correct irradiance with exceptional environmental control every time.

LED, or Light Emitting Diode, is a solid-state, semiconductor that emits light when voltage is applied to it though a process called electroluminescence. These solid-state lights (SSLs) are rapidly growing, both in application in various industries and products, in efficiency and in popularity among consumers.

Designed Around the Pros and Cons of LED Lighting
LED lighting systems, while growing in popularity, possess both benefits and challenges. Percival, with over 20 years of designing, testing and installing LED lighting in chambers, began the process a year ago to design a new lamp bank with these benefits and challenges in mind.

The popularity of LED for research applications stems from the following:

  • A longer life and no harmful toxins mean LED is environmentally friendly
  • Ability to control the output and wavelength
  • Highly stable and predictable which allows for the reproduction of the same experiment over many experiences
  • A robust light source due to the solid-state architecture; this reduces burnout and other mechanically induced failures
  • Maximum light output varies by chamber model. Beginning at 24° C, unlike fluorescent lighting, LED output increases 10% measured at 6” from the lamp bank as the temperature decreases to 0° C. In contrast newer fluorescent lighting (without using Percival’s patented lamp bank design) experiences a decrease in light intensity of up to 60% for the same temperature drop.

The challenges to LED lighting in research chamber applications include

  • High ambient temperatures and humidity reduces output and efficiency
  • High initial cost
  • Color rendering is limited; doesn’t allow for every color in the spectrum of sunlight
  • Sensitive to voltage and polarity
  • Hard to achieve color distribution when multiple colors are used

The challenge for researchers, especially those in the plant-growth research industry, has been finding a happy medium between unstable, high heat, hard-to-control fluorescent lighting and the high cost and color limits of LED lighting.

New Design Approach
Building upon a long history of experience and knowledge in LED lighting for a variety of research applications, Percival is taking a different approach to LED lamp design. The new design includes:

  • Improved lighting system performance over a larger range of temperatures
  • Greater flexibility to control specific wavelength of light
  • LED modules contain White/Red and White/Far Red color combinations
  • White LED’s are included on every module and offer a high-output Cool White color that is ideal for high light intensity, color rendering and visual plant inspection.

This type of lighting system is currently available only through Percival Scientific. While standard with the Elite Series in 30, 36 and 41 sizes, this exclusive lamp bank is also available as an optional upgrade to any other Percival chamber.

For More Information
Percival produced a webinar to help industry professionals understand the features and benefits of LED lighting in research chamber applications. This webinar is available now at http://www.percival-scientific.com/about-us/led-lighting-webinar. In addition, complete product specifications are available at www.percival-scientific.com or at info@percival-scientific.com

About Percival Scientific, Inc
Percival Scientific, Inc. is based in Perry, Iowa. Established in 1886, the company received its first patent in 1901 for a refrigerated cabinet design. In the 1950’s, Percival became involved in creating the first commercially available plant growth chamber. Today, Percival leads the industry in the design and manufacturing of plant growth chambers, biological incubators and special application chambers.  Percival ships chambers to universities, government institutions and business both domestically and internationally. For further information on Percival Scientific, Inc, please visit www.percival-scientific.com.

Percival Scientific’s New Web Site Showcases Extensive Product Line

Product Benefits and Specifications at Your Fingertips

January 27, 2012 (Perry, IA) - Easy to navigate and designed to showcase a larger product line reaching a broader array of research disciplines, Percival Scientific, Inc. today announced the launch of its new website, percival-scientific.com. The redesigned site reflects the company's mission to provide reliable, custom research chambers while simplifying the decision-making process. The home page lets the user immediately target their chamber of interest. From there, users will find a photo, product overview, features and benefits, lighting options, control systems and model types for each Percival Scientific growth chamber - without leaving the product page.

"This site has a fresh, clean look and feel which I think appeals to a both a new audience as well as our long-time customers," said Percival's vice president of sales and marketing, Joni Campidilli. "Site visitors shouldn't have to hunt for information.  Percival's new site delivers information that is essential to the laboratory manger, purchasing manager or research scientist."

The site also includes a full product catalog in PDF format, information on parts and service, and technical information on Percival's unique control systems Intellus and Weathereze. "This new site also allows us to showcase the many partnerships we have with research labs all over the world," adds Campidilli.

About Percival Scientific, Inc.
Percival Scientific, Inc. is based in Perry, Iowa. Established in 1886, the company received its first patent in 1901 for a refrigerated cabinet design In the 1950's, Percival became involved in creating the first commercially available plant growth chamber.  Today, Percival leads the industry in the design and manufacturing of plant growth chambers, biological incubators and special application chambers.  Percival ships chambers to universities, government institutions and business both domestically and internationally. For further information on Percival Scientific, Inc, please visit www.percival-scientific.com.

Percival Scientific, Inc. Awards Second Annual Student Scholarship

Scholarship Encourages Careers in Biological Sciences

April 11, 2011(Perry, IA)— Janet Arras was the recipient of the Percival Scientific Undergraduate Entomology Student Activity Award at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America held in Amarillo, TX, during March 6-10 2011.  Ms. Arras is a Junior Biology major at the University of Texas at Tyler located at Tyler, Texas. A native of Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, Ms. Arras grew up in El Paso, Texas.

This is the second year Percival Scientific, an industry leader in providing quality research chambers, has sponsored the $250 cash award to support and encourage undergraduate students pursuing careers in entomology and related biological sciences.  This cash award, and a certificate, will be presented annually for 5 years beginning in 2010 to recognize an undergraduate student from the Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America for outstanding contributions to the Society, his/her academic department, and the community, while still achieving academic excellence.

Ms. Arras plans to attend medical school following graduation from the University of Texas at Tyler in the spring 2012. She is involved in the Biology Honor Society, Premed/Predent Club, and is the secretary of the Patriot Orchestra Club. 

About Percival Scientific, Inc.
Percival Scientific, Inc is based in Perry, Iowa.  Established in 1886, the company received its first patent in 1901 for a refrigerated cabinet design.  In the 1950’s, Percival became involved in creating the first commercially available plant growth chamber.  Today, Percival leads the industry in the design and manufacturing of plant growth chambers, biological incubators and special application chambers.  Percival ships chambers to universities, government institutions and business both domestically and internationally. For further information on Percival Scientific, Inc, please visit www.percival-scientific.com.

Percival Scientific, Inc. Issued Light Fixture Patent

Covers Temperature Controlled Light Fixture for Environmental Chambers

September 14, 2010 (Perry, IA) Percival Scientific, Inc. announced the issuance to it by the US Patent Office of a patent that holds the potential to revolutionize the environmental growth chamber industry.

The patent (invention number 7,794,105) is for a light fixture that optimizes lamp efficiency and produces stable lamp output over a wider ambient temperature range than was previously possible with conventional lamp bank architecture.

A common application for Percival’s environmental chambers is plant growth research, where parameters such as temperature, light and humidity are tightly controlled.

Fluorescent lights are the light source of choice for plant growth researchers due to their availability and light output; however, some types of fluorescent bulbs are sensitive to the temperature of the ambient environment in which they are operating. A bulb operates at peak efficiency at an optimal ambient temperature. As the temperature moves away from this optimal point, the lamps in chambers become less efficient and start to dim.

To make up for the temperature loss, previous lamp bank designs included additional lamps. While this solution ensured that the minimum light intensity performance requirements were met, it did not address the lighting system’s varying output
throughout the temperature range.

“Before now, no one in the industry had developed a solution which optimizes lamp efficiency and therefore supplies stable lamp outputs over a wider range of temperatures,” said Henry Imberti, senior VP of engineering, Percival Scientific. “Our new light fixture will require less energy, place less stress on other chamber systems, increase the light output and utilize previously wasted by-products.”

Unique features of this patented system include:

  • Specifically tuned temperature controller to maximize light output for a variety of bulb-types per the manufacturers published Temperature vs. Intensity curves.
  • The ability to take previously unwanted heat within a chamber and produce a positive effect on lighting and energy consumption.
  • Increased performance of dimmable lighting to meet a greater demand within the scientific community.
  • Reduce size and energy consumption of the chamber refrigeration system.

A temperature controller with a sensor located inside the light compartment will act as switch for a series of air circulation fans. These fans will turn on and off to regulate the optimal temperature point for maximum lamp efficiency.

“A global mandate for environmentally conscious/responsible products combined with Percival Scientific’s expertise in lighting systems and world-class research equipment design ultimately culminated in this new technology,” said Daniel Kiekhaefer, engineer manager. “Not only will the plant growth industry benefit from this new technology, but so will other types of research based industries.”

About Percival Scientific, Inc.
Percival Scientific, Inc is based in Perry, Iowa. Established in 1886, the company received its first patent in 1901 for a refrigerated cabinet design. In the 1950’s, Percival became involved in creating the first commercially available plant growth chamber. Today, Percival leads the industry in the design and manufacturing of plant growth chambers, biological incubators and special application chambers. Percival ships chambers to universities, government institutions and business both domestically and internationally.

Percival Scientific is Proud to Support Undergraduate Entomology Student Award

April 29, 2010 (Perry, IA) Congratulations to Chris Timmons from the University of Texas at Tyler on receiving the Undergraduate Entomology Student Activity Award sponsored by Percival Scientific. Chris Timmons is an undergraduate student in Dr. Blake Bextine's lab at the University of Texas.

This award will be presented annually beginning in 2010 to recognize an undergraduate student from the Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America for outstanding contributions to the Society, his/her academic department, and the community, while still achieving academic excellence.