Kai Staats, Linda Leigh, Trenton Kenney, Douglas May at SAM, Biosphere 2

Today we were honored to receive Linda Leigh, one of the original eight Biospherians and Biome Design Manager for the rainforest, savannah, and desert where she was responsible for coordinating the planning of B2’s land sections as well as collecting, storing, propagating and transferring more than 2,000 plant species for the original 1991-93 experiment. She was featured in the 2020 documentary film “Spaceship Earth“. Linda conducted the longest stay in the Biosphere 2 prototype Test Module, sealed inside for three weeks. All of her air, water, food, and waste were recycled by the plant systems contained within. The fully refurbished Test Module is now cornerstone to SAM, the habitat analog being constructed at Biosphere 2.

Linda was joined by Douglas May, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Arizona. Doug mentors the Engineering Capstone team projects each year, and was involved in the team that recently completed the Automated Pressure Regulation System for SAM. Trenton Kenney, volunteer at SAM for the month of June from the University of Minnesota and NASA intern is between Linda and Doug in the banner photo.

We enjoyed Linda’s stories about her time in the Test Module and are eager to learn more about her time in the Biosphere 2 and continued work as a plant ecology instructor and manager of the Oracle Community Learning Garden.

Welcome back Linda! We look forward to your next visit to SAM!

The following material is consolidated from interview with Linda for an article for the Edge Effect, 2021.

In her early undergraduate days, Linda was inspired by a University of Wisconsin-Madison botany professor, Dr. Hugh Iltis. Exuberant in his love of earth’s diversity, he painted a grim picture of a diminished-diversity Earth with only robins and white-tailed deer remaining. They traveled to nearby patches of native tall-grass prairies and burned them, learning about nature’s “services” and how, in the absence of natural processes such as fire, humans could take their place in an attempt to maintain ecosystem diversity. This set the scene for her use of a systems approach to understanding the earth. Before Linda joined the team at Biosphere 2, she worked as a field botanist locating endangered plant species’ habitats for recommendation as conservation sites.

In 1985 Linda joined Biosphere 2 as the “Biome Design Manager” for the rainforest, savannah, and desert, contracting specialists in termites, ants, aquatic insects, galagos, reptiles and amphibians, rainforest plants, soils, desert plants, and many more. Her team worked to answer the questions How many individuals of each species would be needed for 100 years of survival, and what were their pollinators? Did we have enough plants to provide the oxygen we would need? Since her work at Biosphere 2 she has worked in research and as a professional educator. She co-founded and manages the Oracle Learning Community Garden with intent to build habitats for migrating birds, insects, and bats while maintaining diversity of species for feeding people with plants that are appropriate to this region.