Dr. B.C. Wolverton conducted more than 30 years of research as a civilian scientist with the U.S. military and as a Senior Research Scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). His military research focus was developing a means to protect against and destroy toxic chemicals and pathogenic microbes. Dr. Wolverton’s NASA research was directed toward the development of a closed ecological life support system for long-term space habitation. Upon retirement from NASA, he conducted research with plants and microorganisms in an effort to reduce environmental pollution problems. Not only is Dr. Wolverton a world-renowned pioneer in the field of phytoremediation, he also has many years of practical application, primarily wastewater treatment and indoor air pollution abatement.
During his research at NASA, Dr. Wolverton tested many plants with respect to air and water cleaning ability. He built closed test chambers to measure the rate of air cleaning of various plants with various pollutants. It was discovered that microbes associated with the root systems of houseplants naturally consume toxins from the air. The byproducts of this process become food and energy for the microbes and host plant. An additional development was the utilization of activated carbon, an extremely porous material which attracts pollutants in the air through “molecular attraction”, or Van der Waals forces. When activated carbon is mixed with the growing media, the amount of pollutants removed from the air drastically increases. The toxins collect on the carbon for the microbes to consume.
Another discovery made by Dr. Wolverton was that the root-associated microbes, with their high reproduction and mutation rates, can adapt quickly and “optimize for” particular pollutants in the air.
Dr. Wolverton presented the following speech April 2012: Improving Indoor Air Quality With Plant-Based Systems.