MSU Students Launch Campaign to Build Massive Biodome

A concept illustration of the biodome planned for the Michigan State University campus. (Photo: Student Greenhouse Project)

A slice of the tropics may soon be available to Michigan residents eager for a soul-reviving respite from Old Man Winter.

Students at Michigan State University in East Lansing have launched a formal fundraising campaign for the construction of a massive biodome on campus. The geodesic structure, spanning more than 150 feet and enclosing some 17,600 square feet of space, will serve as an immersive tropical greenhouse, meditative space and living classroom.

"We plan to create a small tropical valley under the dome, with a canyon, waterfalls, stream and a pond," the nonprofit Student Greenhouse Project shared on their website. "The choice of tropical plants adds uniqueness. Tropical plants are necessary because they will not drop their leaves in the winter, as local plants are conditioned to do. We plan to have trees reaching up and forming a canopy forty feet overhead with flowers and other understory plants thickly filling spaces below."

The biodome is being pursued as a successor to the former botany greenhouse, a century-old, 22,000-square-foot glass structure that was demolished in 2013 over safety concerns. The new tropical enclosure, estimated to cost a little over $1.5 million, will be funded entirely from public donations.

In the spirit of the original beloved botany house, the biodome will be free and open to the public during normal business hours on weekdays.

A virtual tour of the inside of the biodome hints at the lush landscape planned for the facility.
A virtual tour of the inside of the biodome hints at the lush landscape planned for the facility. (Photo: Student Greenhouse Project)

According to the most recent engineering specs, the biodome will be specifically designed to capture solar energy, with landscaping features such as a 28-foot cliff, paving stones, pond and 100-foot-long stream acting as passive solar thermal masses to radiate heat at night.

"In the summer these same features continue to help with the thermal regulation of the Biodome interior. The pond, stream and waterfalls now become evaporative coolers," they add. "Opening inlet vents around the bottom and a large vent port at the top takes advantage of the dome's chimney-like flow pattern to cool the interior. The cliff's heat accumulating function is eliminated during the summer by having shading foliage above the cliff lean outward about five feet."

In addition to acting as a living classroom, the site plans also include designated areas for poetry readings, concerts, student activities and other events. For those just wanting to recharge either from the stress of life or the brutal cold of a Michigan winter, the biodome is also being marketed as the ultimate breath of fresh air for the soul and mind.

"Unfortunately for students the majority of the school year is during the worst season," they write. "To breathe the moist, fragrant air of the tropical Biodome and clear one's mind of fatigue and stress would have great health and well-being benefits."