What is a Phytotron? It is a facility for growing plants under various combinations of strictly controlled environmental conditions. Phytotrons are designed for studies of the response of plants to their environment, and they are so organized that many combinations of environmental factors can be studied simultaneously. We are able to control light quality, day length, temperature, humidity, CO2, water, nutrients, and soil composition.

The NC State University Phytotron, formerly known as the Southeastern Plant Environment Laboratory (SEPEL), first opened in May 1968. After more than 40 years of heavy use, the NCSU Phytotron went through major renovations to modernize the facility.  Today, the NCSU Phytotron houses more than 60 growth chambers, four greenhouses, Biosafety Level 3 Lab with a greenhouse, and several laboratories including the NCSU Plant Transformation Laboratory.


Who can use the Phytotron? We provide services to all departments. Our facility is open to faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, post docs, commercial researchers, and researchers from other universities. Those who desire to use this facility must submit a proposal.  If you are interested in using our facility please contact us and apply.

Judith Thomas

Dr. Judith Fey Thomas (1940-2022)
Second Director of the NC State Phytotron


Judith Fey Thomas, 82, passed away peacefully on June 21, 2022. Judy was born June 3,1940, in Springfield, Missouri. She was the eldest child of Thomas and Dorothy Fey.  During Judy's childhood the family moved a number of times due to her fathers work. By the early 1950s her family had moved to California, and would eventually settle in the young, growing community of Las Vegas, Nevada.  In 1979 she was appointed Assistant Director of the Phytotron,
becoming Director in 1994. more

Dr. Robert "Jack" Downs (1923 - 2015)
First Director of the NC State Phytotron

Robert Jack Downs was born in 1923 in Sapulpa Oklahoma to Lester Downs and Elizabeth McGhie. As a result of his father’s death in 1929, he was schooled in a number of towns in Oklahoma and Missouri as his mother found employment. Summers were spent working on his grandfather’s dairy farm in West Plains Missouri. Upon graduation from Tulsa Central High school in 1941, Jack joined the U.S. Navy. After basic training in San Diego, he was sent to the Ford plant in Dearborn Mich. for machinist school. The course was cut short after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and he was sent to the west coast. In Jan. 1942 Jack was assigned to the USS Dixie AD-14, which spent the war years in the south Pacific. more

Our Mission

NC State Phytotron concentrates on applied and basic research related to agricultural problems encountered in the southeastern United States. The ability to control all phases of the environment allows inclusion of research dealing with all aspects of plant science.