A Visit to a Giant Science Lab

A unique, huge science building has a rainforest, a swamp, a grassland and even an ocean with a coral reef.
Inside Science Contributor

(Inside Science) -- This may look like an architectural work of art but this glass dome, called Biosphere 2, is actually a work of science.

Kate Morgan, program coordinator for marine science education and outreach at Biosphere 2 describes the unique structure: "We can do research inside of Biosphere 2 that can't be done anywhere else in the world, because we can scale it and we can manipulate all the different variables, from temperature to nutrient levels to humidity -- all those things are things that we can do at Biosphere 2 that can't necessarily be done in a small-scale laboratory setting and can't be manipulated in the natural world. So we can answer these hard-hitting questions that we're asking currently and be able to solve them right inside this building."

Biosphere 2 is a large-scale laboratory for scientific studies. Researchers can monitor controlled experiments that give them the unique opportunity to explore complex environmental questions.

The dome, made with 6,500 panes of glass, houses a variety of simulated environments, from rainforests to deserts. It even has a miniature ocean with a living coral reef.

Besides natural habitats, the dome also provides living spaces and laboratories for the researchers, and workshops open to the public.

John Adams, deputy director at Biosphere 2, said, "The mission of Biosphere 2 was to better understand the function of biological systems and that interconnectedness but taking that understanding and extrapolating that for potential space colonization -- how could we bottle up the biological processes that we have here on Earth, leverage those to support and create a sustainable environment for human existence, with potential of taking that and establishing some type of a sealed environment, whether that's on the moon or Mars, for future space colonization."

Kevin Bonine, director of education and outreach at Biosphere 2, said, "The landscape evolution observatory is understanding how soil forms, how water moves through that soil. We have a rainforest here where we can manipulate things like temperature and carbon dioxide levels and precipitation, we can see how those plants respond. So, we have an ocean that's about 700,000 gallons and we can manipulate the parameters of that ocean and we can see, OK, what does elevated temperature do, what does increasing carbon dioxide do to the pH level of that ocean? We take this ocean biome and use it to understand how corals can persist in the world under a changed climate and we can make those future conditions happen here and see how the corals respond. So there's a whole bunch of really neat stuff that we can do here because we have this scale and we have this sort of iconic facility that invites folks to come and want to do research here and want to learn more," concluded Bonine.

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A Visit Into A Giant Science Lab

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