Man to live in box with just plants for company

 

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The Independent Online

A British geology professor is set to become the David Blaine of the science world, after agreeing to be locked in an airtight chamber for 48 hours with only plants for company.

Iain Stewart, professor of geoscience at Plymouth University and a television presenter, hopes the plants will provide the oxygen required to keep him alive. He is carrying out the experiment at the Eden Project in Cornwall. "That box, this experiment, is the planet," he told i. "People don't think of plants as our life support system without which we wouldn't be able to function and life wouldn't be able to function."

Oxygen levels in the box will be reduced to around 10-12 per cent, just over half that of the air around us.

The first few hours of the experiment, which was due to begin last night, will be in the dark. Scientists will take readings of Professor Stewart's body, and conditions in the chamber, before turning the lights on so the plants can begin photosynthesising.

"This experiment has never been done before with a human," he said. "I cannot think of a more powerful way of driving home to the viewer the importance of photosynthesis."

Inside the chamber, the Professor's and the plants' health will be in delicate equilibrium. If carbon dioxide levels fall too low, and the plants cannot photosynthesise, he will be required to exercise to increase the amount of CO2, which the plants need to produce oxygen. But if carbon dioxide levels are too high, it will damage both the plants' health and his own.

"I will be dependent on the oxygen produced by the plants," he said. "But the plants are dependent on me too. If I don't perform they will die."

Months of preparation has gone into the experiment, including selecting the most appropriate plants, which will include a mix of big-leaved banana plants, sweetcorn and tropical herbs.

In common with the American illusionist David Blaine, who spent 44 days in a glass box beside London's Tower Bridge in 2003, Professor Stewart will be on display to the public at the Eden Project over the weekend. The stunt will form part of a new BBC series called How Plants Made the World.

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