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Dr. Dickson Despommier

Emeritus Professor - Columbia University


Tomorrow's city will be self-sustaining

With the next 20 years, cities will be able to produce most of what they consume - food, water, energy. Integration of municipal functions leading to the conservation of these valuable resources will be the norm. All of this will be achieved by mimicing what already goes on in a balanced ecosystem. Nature has evolved efficient, resilient mechanisms for nutrient recycling, water conservation and energy use. We can translate those characteristics into the built environment using technologies developed over the past 20 years. In doing so, we can stop using up our natural capital and return large portions of land to hardwood forest. Sequestration of carbon by reforestation will slow down and perhaps even reverse the current rate of climate change, giving us humans time to adjust to a world that has higher sea levels and less habitable land. 


Dickson Donald Despommier Ph.D, professor of public health and microbiology, has been a faculty member at Columbia University since 1971. He is Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Microbiology, having retired in 2009. During his tenure at P&S, Dr. Despommier made significant contributions to the life of our campus. He served on numerous committees, including heading up the admissions committee for the Mailman School of Public Health, and still serves on the Medical School Admissions Steering Committee, to which he was appointed in 1988. He was chair of the Animal Care Committee and served on numerous doctoral qualification committees. He was a faculty advisor for the P&S Club and was the advisor to the P&S Photography Club until his retirement.

From 1978-2009, he was course director for Parasitic Diseases, a required course in the pre-clinical years. During that time, he was recognized by the second year medical students as Teacher of the Year no less than eight times. He was the Dean’s Distinguished Contributions to Teaching medalist in 1989.

In 2003, he earned further recognition for his teaching skills from the American Medical Student Association by becoming the recipient of their annual National Golden Apple Award for Teaching Excellence. Many of those who regularly instruct medical students consider this award the equivalent to the Noble Prize for teaching. It should be noted here that he is the only faculty member at P&S to ever earn this distinction.

His outreach teaching has also earned for him numerous teaching awards, including Teacher of the Year for the third Grade at Roscoe Central School, in New York state. He conducted laboratory-based research for 27 years, funded by a single continuous grant from the NIH. He has published four books, and numerous peer-reviewed articles in Science, PNAS, and a host of other top science journals. He is currently engaged in a project to bring fresh produce to the urban environment by growing edible crops in vertical farms (see: The Vertical Farm, Picadore Press, New York).

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Dr. Erik Runkle

Professor, Michigan State University


Lighting in vertical farms to produce crops with high-quality attributes

In vertical farming, electric lighting has a profound impact on crop yield as well as a variety of plant growth attributes, including leaf size, stem length, leaf coloration, phytonutrient concentration, and even taste.  Four dimensions of lighting need to be considered when growing plants in indoors: intensity, duration, quality, and uniformity.  Dr. Runkle will explain these attributes and discuss research that is elucidating the effects that various wavebands have on plant growth.  Additional considerations such as lamp cost and efficacy will also be briefly presented.


Erik Runkle Ph.D, is a Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University.  Erik obtained a B.S. in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Illinois and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Horticulture at Michigan State University. 

Since he joined the faculty in 2001, he and his graduate research team have performed numerous practical experiments in controlled environments to determine the effects of light, temperature, and other environmental factors on plant growth and development.  Experiments have been performed on a wide range of herbaceous specialty crops including leafy greens and ornamentals.  

Erik recently developed the Controlled-Environment Lighting Laboratory to better understand how the light spectrum can be manipulated to produce crops with desired attributes.  To date, he has co-edited 6 books and authored 14 book chapters, nearly 100 papers in scientific journals, and over 250 articles in trade magazines.

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Christine Zimmerman-Loessl M.A.

Chairwoman, Association for Vertical Farming e.V.


Christine Zimmerman-Loessl M.A. has a background based on studying political science, sinology and philosophy at Munich University - and this was the starting point for her interest in Asia. She has worked in different Asian countries which has given her experience and deeper insight in the culture and people.

In Germany, she benefited from this as a project manager for risk analysis and crisis management. Christine founded the Asia Network Information Center – combining her talents for projects, research and entrepreneurship. Later on, as the representative for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in China, she took responsibility in different areas and was director of the German-Chinese Management Institute, initiated environmental protection and poverty alleviation projects, as well as engaged in women’s programs.

Christine was inspired by her son’s (Max Loessl) interests in Vertical Farming and got involved. She was able to use all of her experiences and networking skills to found with a group of like minded young people the first nonprofit in the world - the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) in 2013, since then she is acting as the chairwoman of AVF .

“Through AVF we are raising awareness and building a network of like-minded people for the implementation of Vertical Farming around the world”.

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Dr. Joel L. Cuello

Professor of Biosystems Engineering, University of Arizona


Joel L. Cuello Ph.D, is a Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Director of the Global Initiative for Strategic Agriculture in Dry Lands (GISAD) at The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.

A globally recognized expert in the engineering of sustainable biological and agricultural systems, his technical expertise in both engineering and biology provides the platform for engineering designs in various agricultural and biological systems with emphasis on optimizing biological and agricultural productivities while fostering resource sustainability and environmental protection.

Prof. Cuello has designed, constructed and implemented varied types of engineered agricultural or biological systems, including those applied in bioregenerative space life support, crop hydroponics, plant tissue culture, micropropagation, industrial mass production of algae and plant cell and microbial cultures for production of biomass, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, etc. He is the Principal Inventor of the patented algae photobioreactor series -- the Accordion photobioreactors -- and is the creator of the Minimally Structured, Modular and Prefabricated Vertical Farm design (the Vertical Greenbox® Solution) that is considered an archetypal design for Vertical Farming 2.0.

Prof. Cuello conducted his postdoctoral research in the Controlled Ecological Life Support System Division at NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida as a U.S. National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Associate. He earned his Ph.D. in Agricultural & Biological Engineering, with Minor in Chemical Engineering, from The Pennsylvania State University in 1994. He also earned two M.S. degrees (Agricultural & Biological Engineering;  Plant Physiology) from The Pennsylvania State University. He obtained his B.S. in Agricultural Engineering (cum laude) from the University of the Philippines at Los Banos. He is a lifetime Visiting Professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China and a Faculty Fellow at the Innovation Center of the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.

Prof. Cuello has published over 50 refereed journal publications and 11 book chapters, and has delivered over 200 professional presentations around the world. As major advisor, he has graduated 26 Ph.D. and M.S. students, and has mentored three postdoctoral research associates, five international visiting Ph.D. candidates and 10 international visiting scientists and professors. Prof. Cuello has lectured and has been invited as Guest or Keynote Speaker around the world, including in Brazil, China, South Korea, Israel, Palestine, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, India, Italy, Jordan, Egypt, Japan, Australia, Spain, Singapore, Thailand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

He is an active member of a number of scientific and professional societies, having served as officer of technical committees for the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) and the Institute of Biological Engineering (IBE). He recently served as President of the Arizona Chapter of the ASABE. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for Biopharmia, LLC based in Oslo Norway, C-Trade based in Tucson, Arizona, and has also done so for companies based in India and Africa.

He has developed and currently teaches the courses “Globalization, Sustainability and Innovation” and “Engineered Sustainable Solutions in the Food, Water, Energy Nexus” at The University of Arizona.

Prof. Cuello has been inducted as member of three U.S. professional honor societies, including the U.S. Honor Society of Agriculture, the U.S. Honor Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and the U.S. National Honor Society of Engineering. He was elected to the Philippine-American Academy of Science & Engineering in 2012, and was the 2012 Recipient of the Excellence in Global Education Award by The University of Arizona’s Global Initiative Program. Prof. Cuello is a 2015 Recipient of the Tech Launch Arizona I-Squared (Innovation and Impact) Award for his innovative work on various algae production systems. He was also elected as Corresponding Member of the National Academy of Science and Technology – Philippines in 2016.

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Dr. Toyoki Kozai

President, THe Agricultural Academy of japan


Toyoki Kozai Ph.D, is the president of The Agricultural Academy of Japan. After establishing his early work on greenhouse light environments, energy savings, ventilation, and computer applications, his scientific interest was extended to in-vitro environments and their control for sugar-free medium micro-propagation and transplant production in closed systems using artificial lighting. Since 2010, he has been serving as President of the Japan Plant Factory Association (a non-profit organization) and is leading the research and development of controlled environmental greenhouses using heat pumps, artificial lighting, fogging, CO2 enrichment, and nutrient solution control systems.

Awards - Friendship Award from Chinese Government, Lifetime Achievement Award from The Society for In Vitro Biology (USA), The Purple Ribbon Award from Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, The Japan Prize of Agricultural Sciences from Association of Japanese Agricultural Scientific Societies, and many others. 

He has published over 200+ research papers and 50+ book chapters. He wrote and edited more than 10 books, including “Plant Factory: an indoor vertical farming system for efficient quality food production" published in October 2015 by Academic Press, and "LED lighting for Urban Agriculture" published by Springer in October 2016.


Dr. Heiner Lieth

Professor, University of California Davis


Research Needs in In-door Vertical Plant Production

Plant production in facilities with no sunlight has a number of important research areas. In some of these cases plants are grown stacked vertically to maximize the production. This vertical arrangement leads to a number of issue which represent researchable topics. One facet of this is that the key issues in most cases are different from greenhouse production. The most obvious difference is that all greenhouse production is 2-dimensional so that all calculations are done per unit floor area. With in-door production we do the calculations volumetrically. This then leads to interesting observations about level of efficiency for water, energy, and land use. In many cases, these efficiencies are an order of magnitude different. Thus there are many questions which relate to quantitative measures of factors for  making financial decisions. More specifically for each crop that is a candidate for in-door production, we need crop models which reliably simulate growth and yield forecast return on investment.

The following are some areas where research is needed to fine-tune the methodology.

Soilless culture methods can be adapted from greenhouse to in-door production, but with in-door production all irrigation and fertilization is done using fertigation and recirculation, and the precise blend of nutrients is particularly critical as plant growth is much faster. Also, irrigation water can include condensate water from the air conditioning system; but it is not fully understood how to avoid problems with such water as it has no buffering capacity. In-door production without sunlight means that lamps are used. These generate heat which generally has to be removed (energy research). LED lamps can be specifically designed to create optimal spectra specific to particular plants and growth stages.  Research is also needed on the labor side of this: nearly all indoor and vertical production facilities are fairly expensive, making it cost-effective to shift plants several times during the production cycle (requiring labor or advances in automation). This means that in-door production may have a greater demand for labor. This is good for countries which seek to have a lot of high-tech agricultural jobs, but it fuels a need for research into automation systems in countries where labor costs are high.  There is also a need for better and less-expensive sensing systems along with decision support software.


Heiner Lieth Ph.D, is a Professor of Horticulture at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Lieth’s position in the Environmental Horticulture Department interacts directly with farmers and advisors on issues faced by greenhouse and nursery growers through cooperative extension programs. He has helped develop and laid the foundation for the teaching of undergraduate courses on greenhouse and container nursery production.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Lieth’s research focused flowers and ornamental plants as a protected cultivation system of agriculture in California. This emphasized greenhouse automation, aiming particularly at automated irrigation management and environmental control. He has also conducted research on ornamental cropping systems such as roses, lilies, and chrysanthemums for cut flowers or potted plants.

In the years since then, Dr. Lieth has broadened his research and extension programs to include all kinds protected cultivation, including a wider variety of crops (including lettuce, basil, etc…) with a specific focus on soil-less production.

In 2008, he co-edited a book entitled "Soilless Culture" which describes the state-of-the-art scientific methods of growing plants without field soil. Even today, it is still the most advanced and comprehensive book on the subject.

Dr. Lieth's current research areas include lighting technology, indoor plant production, and photovoltaic energy production as an integral part of agricultural plant production. Much of the work is specifically targeted to help growers achieve the highest levels of production and efficiency. At the same time, his research program also trains some of the brightest young scientists; many of his former students can be found in positions in the industry and at universities throughout the world. He has edited two books, has published over 80 peer reviewed scientific publications, more than 380 limited-distribution reports, and twelve book chapters. 

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Dr. Huafang Zhou

Vice President of Technology & Chief Scientist,  AEssense Corporation


Huafang Zhou Ph.D, the Vice President of Technology and Chief Scientist at AEssense Corporation, based in Sunnyvale, California. A recognized expert in the sensing industry, his expertise in smart air/nutrient sensors and grow lighting provides a strong foundation for the design and development of indoor vertical farms, or plant factories. 

At AEssenseGrows, he directs sensor development and the plant science teams who have determined optimal plant factory growing conditions for 60+ plant varieties.  Dr. Zhou holds 30+ patents, authored 20+ scientific publications, and often presents at international conferences.


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Dr. Fang Wei

Professor of Bio-Industrial Mechatronics Engineering, Taiwan University

Wei Fang Ph.D, Is a professor at the Department of Bio-Industrial Mechatronics Engineering at Taiwan University. He serves as Chief Consultant of the Chun-Hwa Plant Factory Association and a Board Member of the Taiwan Plant Factory Industrialize Development Association.

He is also on the International Consulting Committee for the Japan Plant Factory Association 


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