Laboratories and Equipment

ITW Plant Systematics Laboratory and Nancy Poole Rich Herbarium

Plant systematics is used as a basis for fields as diverse as taxonomy, restoration, medicinal research, and historic climate changes. Supporting this work is the preparation, mounting, and accessioning of new herbarium specimens. A herbarium is a historical record, documenting what plants grew where and when.

The herbarium has the capacity to house approximately 70,000 specimens and currently holds more than 21,000 accessioned specimens.

Population Biology Laboratory

When scientists, interns, and graduate students in the Population Biology Laboratory examine factors affecting plant reproduction, they may conduct experiments in two Growth Chambers (funded by the D & R Fund). The chambers are each approximately 10 feet by 10 feet and feature shelving for plants, light, temperature and humidity controls, and a watering system. One chamber can release carbon dioxide, enabling scientists to assess how future plants will likely respond to a planet with increased atmospheric levels of the gas. Plants may be in the growth chamber their entire life cycle—which may last from a few months to a couple of years—or they may be evaluated for six months before set out in the field for further study.

Scientists in lab

students in lab


Abbott Ecology Laboratory

From measuring plants to assessing their environment to growing them under different environmental conditions, scientists in the Abbott Ecology Laboratory pursue many avenues of research. They are aided in their quest to understand native habitats by the lab’s specialized microscopes and other instruments. The combined space for the Ecology Laboratory and Population Biology Laboratory is 2,400 square feet.

Soil and Soil Preparation Laboratory

Together, the Soil Laboratory and Soil Preparation Laboratory cover 1,200 square feet and provide a closed environment for soil research. The Soil Preparation Lab is used for receiving, storing, and processing soils. The Soil Lab proper contains equipment for soil analyses, including microscopes (light, dissecting, FTIR), plate readers, balances, centrifuges, gels, rigs, and a C/N combustion analyzer.

Harris Family Foundation Plant Genetics Laboratory

A combination of molecular and quantitative techniques enables Garden scientists to understand the level and distribution of genetic diversity within rare and endangered species. A DNA sequencer and other specialized equipment is used to gain an understanding of the molecular genetics of such plants, ultimately enabling plant populations and their habitats to be better managed and preserved.

Astellas Economic Botany Laboratory

Scientists in the Astellas Economic Botany Laboratory can screen genetic diversity of plants and conduct collaborative research with major centers at universities, or with private or federal laboratories to investigate questions such as presence of possible medicinal properties. The Astellas Economic Botany Laboratory and the Harris Family Foundation Plant Genetics Laboratory together are 2,000 square feet

Reproductive Biology Laboratory

Under what conditions do seeds germinate? How long can they be stored and remain viable? The 700-foot Reproductive Biology Laboratory is where scientists and graduate students discover the answers to these questions. In addition to learning more about the reproductive process, they can replace seeds displaying diminished viability with new collections. Alternatively, existing seeds may be removed from the seed bank to grow new plants, from which seeds may be harvested for the collection. Samples of seeds stored in the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank are tested in this lab to determine how their viability—or ability to germinate—holds up over time.

seed bank

student in lab


The Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank and Seed Preparation Laboratory

Healthy seeds brought to the Seed Quarantine Room are separated from other plant material, then cleaned and analyzed for moisture content, weighed, and counted. A fume hood ensures that any contaminants are sequestered and filtered out. Seeds are slowly dried to 15 percent humidity, carefully labeled and packaged in heat-sealed foil containers, and stored in the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank at -20 degrees Celsius. The Chicago Botanic Garden has committed to collecting 30 million seeds from 1,500 native species across the Midwest.

Josephine P. & John J. Louis Foundation Microscopy Laboratory

Plant science research often involves studying small structural details, such as pollen grains, epidermal anatomy, stem or root anatomy, fungal hyphae or spores, etc. The Josephine P. & John J. Louis Foundation Microscopy Laboratory provides the essential technical equipment to support the wide range of research activities that require visualization of microscopic details. Scientists have access to microscopes fitted conventional light or fluorescence illumination systems and digital image capture and analysis systems to observe and document plant structure.

The GIS Laboratory

Researchers take GPS units into the field to record precise locations of individual plants or plant populations. Then, using GIS, they overlay other types of data—soil types, amount of rainfall, presence of other plant species, and similar—to answer questions or make predictions. The GIS Lab is dedicated to becoming a regional center for spatial analysis and cartographic production promoting collaboration with regional partners in spatial analysis, research, teaching, and training in support of plant conservation and restoration ecology.