Controlled-Environment Lighting Laboratory

Recent articles, videos, and highlightsCover

What is CELL?

The Controlled-Environment Lighting Laboratory (CELL) is a vertical farming research facility developed by Dr. Erik Runkle in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University. CELL consists of two independently controlled and refrigerated growth rooms, each with 12 deep-flow hydroponic shelves. Sole-source lighting in CELL utilizes customized, state-of-the-art light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and control software that enables digital light control of individual shelves. In total, 24 different lighting treatments can be delivered at one time.

MSU CELL William Pano June 2017


Research in CELL

Indoor production of leafy greens

We are performing research on lighting to produce leafy greens indoors with desired attributes through light-mediated regulation of extension growth and leaf size, leaf thickness (texture) and color, as well as taste and nutritional value. We are in the midst of a 4-year project supported by the USDA, in collaboration with horticulturists, plant physiologists, engineers, and economists at MSU, Ohio State, Purdue, and Arizona. Our primary research objectives are to 1) define and model the relationships among capex, opex, and revenues generated based on yields and high-value attributes for indoor leafy-greens production; and 2) to co-optimize indoor environmental conditions (humidity, air movement, temperature, light, and CO2 concentration) to increase yield and high-value attributes of leafy-green vegetables while minimizing opex. Visit our OptimIA project website for more information.

Below is a video by Qingwu Meng (Ph.D. graduate, and currently at Univ. of Delaware) that highlights research about how temporal changes to the indoor lighting spectrum influence growth of red-leaf lettuce. This research was recently published in Frontiers in Plant Science and a full presentation on that experiment can be viewed on YouTube.

Below are two videos that showcase some of our research inside CELL on indoor production of leafy greens. Videos by Ph.D. graduate, Qingwu Meng.

Below is a video that highlights our partnership with OSRAM to develop the lighting system in CELL, and how the facility can be used in research applications in the production of high-value specialty crops.

AFE project

Indoor production of transplants

CELL is used for another research project entitled "Development of Sole-Source Lighting Guidelines for the Production of Floriculture Transplants", which is supported by the American Floral Endowment. This project will provide a better understanding of how sole-source lighting (primarily from blue, red, and far-red LEDs) affects growth and development on a range of floriculture seedling plugs, especially annual bedding plants. Trade magazine articles that feature some of our results are here.

Take a look inside

CELL is located on the first floor of the Plant and Soil Sciences Building (room A154). Students and visitors can look inside CELL through its large windows from the corridor, which can potentially spark their curiosity about the emerging vertical farming industry. It also serves to demonstrate indoor growing systems to inform growers and capture the interest of students and the public about this future of farming.



We gratefully thank the following for funding and support of CELL and related plant science research projects:

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We also thank the following people for supporting the development of CELL:

  • Doug Buhler (MSU AgBioResearch)
  • Jiyong Shin, Nathan Kelly, Nate DuRussel, Qingwu Meng, Steve Brooks, and Vance Baird (MSU Horticulture)
  • Jim Kells and Steve Pueppke (MSU Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences)
  • David Hamby, Rodrigo Pereyra, Charles Brunault, Alan Sarkisian, and Dorian Spero (OSRAM)
  • Chris Eichelberger and Drake Stallions (OSRAM Opto Semiconductors)
  • Caleb Harper (MIT Media Lab)

For research-based information on horticultural lighting, consider these resources:


Disclaimer: Reference to companies, commercial products, or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU or bias against those not mentioned.