Investigation of VEGGIE Root MatVEGGIE is a plant growth facility that utilizes the phenomenon of capillary action as its primary watering system. A cloth made of Meta Aramid fiber, known as Nomex is used to wick water up from a reservoir to the bottom of the plants roots. This root mat system is intended to be low maintenance with no moving parts and requires minimal crew interface time. Unfortunately, the water wicking rates are inconsistent throughout the plant life cycle, thus causing plants to die. Over-wicking of water occurs toward the beginning of the cycle, while under-wicking occurs toward the middle. This inconsistency of wicking has become a major issue, drastically inhibiting plant growth. The primary objective is to determine the root cause of the inconsistent wicking through experimental testing. Suspect causes for the capillary water column to break include: a vacuum effect due to a negative pressure gradient in the water reservoir, contamination of material due to minerals in water and back wash from plant fertilizer, induced air bubbles while using syringe refill method, and material limitations of Nomex's ability to absorb and retain water. Experimental testing will be conducted to systematically determine the cause of under and over-wicking. Pressure gages will be used to determine pressure drop during the course of the plant life cycle and during the water refill process. A debubbler device will be connected to a root mat in order to equalize pressure inside the reservoir. Moisture and evaporation tests will simultaneously be implemented to observe moisture content and wicking rates over the course of a plant cycle. Water retention tests will be performed using strips of Nomex to determine materials wicking rates, porosity, and absorptivity. Through these experimental tests, we will have a better understanding of material properties of Nomex, as well as determine the root cause of water column breakage. With consistent test results, a forward plan can be achieved to resolve the issue and give valuable insight for the next generation of VEGGIE.
Subbiah, Arun M. (Florida Univ. Gainesville, FL, United States)