Meet Our Scholars

Living Lab Scholars

June 2021 Update

Afagh Mohagheghi, PhD candidate
School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering

Afagh is a doctoral candidate in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering at SFU. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Shiraz University. Her PhD research is focused on intelligent control for energy-efficient plant production, which is an interdisciplinary research including energy-efficiency, IoT, intelligent systems, and machine learning.

What motivates your research?
My generation has grown up with concerns about climate change. Thus, I am no stranger to the sustainability concept. Ever since I started working on my research project at SFU, I have endeavored to do the type of research that can contribute and have a positive impact. The Living Lab program is a great opportunity to showcase a main application of my research, namely developing sustainable solutions for local food production using small-scale indoor gardens. The SFU’s living lab team members have impressive backgrounds and achievements which are complementary to mine. This collaboration would thus allow me to promote my inter- and multi-disciplinary skills. Working and exchanging knowledge with them will accelerate my efforts towards this goal.

Tell us about your research project
Our project is focused on developing sustainable solutions for local food production using small-scale indoor gardens. The proposed project will establish an echo-system consisting of various components to develop an experimental automated indoor garden. The end goal is to design a sustainable indoor garden module providing food at the destination to reduce energy costs and provide benefits of fresh local produce as well as including greenery in every-day living environments.

What problems or challenges does your project address?

With diminishing arable land and a growing urban population, a fundamental change in food production would be required that is less intensive in energy, land, water, and greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, new farming modalities called indoor vertical farms have been proposed. These farms are emerging food production systems that can reduce resource usage, when compared to conventional field farming and traditional greenhouses, particularly in regions with unique environmental challenges.

What’s next for you?
I would like to extend my research to develop a commercial product that can make local food production more affordable, accessible, and be an integral part of a household. Through this I can contribute technology-enhanced solutions for energy-efficient food production. My long-term goal is to share my knowledge in the form of teaching, research, and mentoring students.

June 2021 Update

In collaboration with Embark Sustainability and SFU Motion and Power Electronics and Control (MPEC) Lab team, four garden set-ups were developed to combine gardening expertise and scientific knowledge creating a data rich environment for Sustainable Indoor Garden research.

Figure 1. From the left, SFU MPEC Lab Team (Joe Zhang, Afagh Mohagheghi, Dr. Mehrdad Moallem) and Embark Sustainability Gardens Coordinator (Pablo Vimos).

The first growth cycle (from the reproductive stage to harvest) was tested in Smart Garden 1 during the months of January through April. The crops included tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers. This cycle was focused on collecting and analyzing general indoor plant growth data.

As a second step, Planters 1 and 2 were equipped with self-watering systems to reduce human intervention. A growth cycle was carried out in April-May 2021 with plants such as lettuce, basil, and onions to test the irrigation system and study lighting conditions.

After that, the second growth cycle (from vegetative stage to harvest) was started in Smart Garden 1 mid-May 2021. The crops include tomatoes, cucumbers and basil. This cycle is focused on collecting image data for plant health and morphological analysis.

Figure 2. Active learning gardens, from the left, Planter 2, Planter 1, Smart Garden 1, and Smart Garden 2.

The next steps include adding the broad-spectrum LEDs to the Planters 1 and 2 to enhance flavor, deploying the calibrated sensors with a Neural Network algorithm to a growth cycle to quantify supplemental lighting effects on plants and energy savings, and integrating more environmental parameters sensors with the system.

Research project

Sustainable Living Indoor Gardens  

Living Lab scholars

Kamaria Kuling

Yani Kong