[About Us]

What is a Phytotron? It is a facility for growing plants under various combinations of strictly controlled environmental conditions. Phytotrons are usually laboratories expressly 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 and night length, temperature, water, nutrients, and soil composition. Currently, we are developing methods to control humidity and CO2

The NC State University Phytotron, formerly known as the Southeastern Plant Environment Laboratory (SEPEL), first opened in May 1968. It was the second facility in the United States and one of the largest in the world. After more than 40 years of heavy use, the NCSU Phytotron went through major renovations. The NCSU Phytotron houses 60 growth chambers, four greenhouses Biosafety Level 3 Lab with a greenhouse, and other miscellaneous chambers.


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. All applications are then reviewed by the Phytotron Committee Members and they will determine which projects are approved. The function of the review is to ensure Phytotron space is used effectively and to assign priorities when requests exceed the available space. If you are interested in using our facility please contact us and apply.

Come and see the NCSU Phytotron!  Visiting the Phytotron is a great opportunity to get first-hand view of the laboratory where environmental conditions from around the world can be achieved. We offer free tours led by our Director and Research Manager. To schedule a tour, please contact us and make an appointment. We ask that all requests are two weeks in advance. Please note that we do not offer tours on weekends or on days that the University is closed. 


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.


For staff: Reserve room