The Rhizosheath Project


The Rhizosheath Project is the result of an independent study under Professor Mathew Schwartz at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. My role in the project was to take the research done by former biology student, Monica Torralba, and create an automated plant growth and documentation system to assist biologists study the growth of plant roots in different aggregates. 


Python, Sketching, 3D Modeling, 3D Printing (SLA and FDM), Laser Cutting, Woodshop Tools


Mathew Schwartz (faculty advisor) and Monica Torralba (biology researcher)

The Problem

In speaking with Dr. Claus Holzapfel of Rutgers University – Newark Biology, Monica discovered the need for an automated system to help study and test root growth under controlled conditions.

The Requirements

Create an automated plant growth system with the following features:

  • UV day/night lighting cycle
  • Nutrient cycle
  • Photo documentation cycle

Initial Ideation Sketching

First of Many Problems to Solve

Failed efforts in filling the growth volumes or “sheaths” from the top down with one pump led to the idea of chaining the sheaths together and filling them from the bottom up.

Old SheathDaisy Chained

Quick Model

Model made with lab trash to show off the new “Daisy Chain” bottom up method.

Concept Diagram

Visual diagram detailing the updated filling and draining system.

Proof of Concept

Manual demonstration of the automated task of filling the sheaths with one water pump.

And after much iteration...

The final version of the nutrient distribution system.

Automated Task Demonstration

Lighting Cycle

LED grow lights are coded to cycle through “day/night cycles” of 16 hours on 8 hours off

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Camera Documentation

Twice a day, a camera module is pulled along a track with a belt and pulley system. As the roots are contained separately from the top half of the plant to keep them from prolonged light exposure,  a brief flash of white led light is used to capture the root photo before the module is moved along to the next sheath.

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Nutrient Dosing

As the plant nutrient begins to degrade after approximately 48 hours after being mixed into water, it was important to develop the dosing chamber. When it is time to distribute the nutrient, water is pumped into an acrylic chamber until a float sensor is triggered. The time it takes from the instant the pump is turned on to the instant the float sensor is triggered is used in a formula to calculate the volume of water in the chamber. From this calculation, the correct dosage of nutrient is pumped through an automated syringe into the tank, and mixed by a submergible liquid agitator.

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Nutrient Distribution

After being mixed, the nutrient is fed into the interconnected sheaths, resulting in the water level to rise simultaneously. The first sheath always first to be filled, resulting in a slightly higher water level than the rest while being filled. For this reason, an initial “dummy sheath” was placed before the sheaths. This “dummy sheath” houses a float sensor at the correct top fill height of the sheaths. When triggered, the sensor temporarily pauses the pumping of the nutrient water, allowing the water level to even out. After a few seconds, the pumping continues, and this process is repeated until the time between the sensor triggers are negligible. 

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