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Students find a home for their new ‘living wall’ in ORU’s Biological Sciences Center

Chair of ORU’s Biology & Chemistry Department Rachel Budavich (left to right), biology student Hannah Marie Lucy and engineering students Garrison Lucy, Nate Youmans and Tanner Craig display plants designated for the team’s plant wall prototype. The model currently measures 3 feet tall and 6 feet long, but the finished project is set to house about 120 tropical plants.

Oral Roberts University’s new Biological Sciences Center, located at 8408 S. Delaware Ave., has many features that focus on nature and environmental sustainability, such as a greenhouse observatory and green roof entry canopy.


After the building’s grand opening in January, a team of engineering students got to reveal their senior project: a modular, automatic vertical plant wall. Senior Garrison Lucy and his team of Tanner Craig, Nate Youmans and Anna Kinnunen have been working on it since August. 


Kinnunen, an engineering major with a mechanical concentration, describes the project as a functional but aesthetic display.


“We’re combining disciplines like mechanics of materials, the use of CAD (Computer Aided Design) for the product design, computer and electrical engineering to outfit the garden with automatic irrigation, moisture sensors,” Kinnunen said. “And we’re even looking into monitors to track the pH levels of the water and the amount of light hitting the wall.”


The team met Tuesday to decide where the wall will be placed.


“It’s going to be on the wall in the portion of the building with the professors’ offices,” Kinnunen said. 


This wall will be made out of four modules, each being 3 feet tall and 6 feet long. The wall will grow plants for the indoor-outdoor classrooms, have a greenhouse observatory space and grow farm-to-table produce on-site.


“Automating everything means that more plants can be cultivated easily without increasing effort,” said Kinnunen. “It’s also designed to have an aesthetic display component that adds to the calm, organic atmosphere of the building. It’s also a great collaboration between departments, where we can each learn from each other and work within our strengths to accomplish the vision the chairs had for this project.”


The idea originated with the project’s advisors, Associate Chair of Biology & Chemistry Rachel Budavich; Associate Professor William Ranahan, who co-chairs the Biology Department, and Associate Professor of Engineering Pavel Navitski. They passed the idea along to Craig and Lucy, who built the team from there.


“The team is really enjoying having this as our senior project, and we are very grateful to be a part of a meaningful project with a tangible application like this,” said Kinnunen. 


Before leaving for winter break, the team finished one module to use as a prototype, which is now in the Biological Sciences Center being used to grow plants while waiting for the other three modules to be made. 


“We are doing some refining and redesigning of a few parts because the scope of the project has changed a bit,” team lead Lucy explained. “We plan to start ordering final parts and building here in a few weeks.”


At the end of the project, the modules will house about 120 tropical plants, including Monsteras, Philodendrons, Alocasias, and Syngoniums.  


“Some of the plants will be sourced from biology student plant tissue culture projects. Students working on these projects are part of the Biological Sciences Center’s Molecular Botany Lab,” Budavich said. “Student Hannah Marie Lucy is one of the lab students and her twin brother Garrison is on the Engineering side of the project.”


The team is still working to finish the project and now that the prototype is proving itself in the new center, they hope to be done in early April.

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McKenna Lewis
McKenna Lewis, Staff Writer
I am a double major in Public Relations and Advertising and Graphic Design. I love using writing and art to empower and educate. Other loves include board games, coffee and my cat.
Anna Rebecca Gonzalez
Anna Rebecca Gonzalez, Photographer

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    John KorstadMar 5, 2024 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks for this well-written and informative article. I am greatly encouraged by this collaboration and am impressed by their design. I love sustainable projects!