Scientist and presenter Professor Iain Stewart will live inside a sealed, airtight chamber in our Rainforest Biome for 48 hours as part of a major new BBC Two series provisionally titled How Plants Made the World.
The chamber will be crammed with more than a hundred plants and Iain will be entirely dependent on the oxygen they produce to keep him alive. The chamber is intended to be a powerful demonstration of how plants act as the lungs of planet Earth, providing all the oxygen that sustains us.
Visitors to Eden tomorrow (Friday 16 September) and the next day (Saturday 17 September) will be able to witness Professor Stewart living in the custom-built clear Perspex chamber that measures only 6m by 2m by 2.5m.
Among the plants, he will have a hammock to sleep in, a laptop to work on and a small chemical toilet. Temperature and humidity will be kept at an optimum level for the plants. Powerful lights will be placed both inside and outside the chamber to ensure the plants are continuously lit throughout the day and night, providing the energy for photosynthesis to take place.
Monitoring Iain’s health
Iain will be attached to various medical sensors which record his vital signs. Specialist doctors from University College London’s Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine and the Royal Free Hospital will be on site at all times and will be carrying out various tests on Iain to explore the effects of reduced oxygen.
The levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen inside the chamber are critical – they will be monitored closely and full safety procedures are in place if they drop too far.
The importance of plants to our survival
Alistair Griffiths (pictured), Eden’s Horticultural Science Curator who is one of the scientists working with the BBC on the experiment, said: ‘As we go about our daily lives we often take the thousands of plants around us for granted, especially with regards to the oxygen they produce so that we can breathe.
‘This experiment is a direct illustration that there would be no human life on earth without plants. This is why we need to be good stewards of the plants and the planet that sustains us. I am really excited about the outcome and the learnings that will be gained from this experiment.’
Historical experiment with a mouse
The experiment echoes the experiment first tried by the pioneering scientist Joseph Priestley. In 1772 he showed that a mouse could survive in an airtight chamber full of plants yet could only live a short time in a box without them. It was an early demonstration of the importance of plants in creating the oxygen essential for life on earth.