With a donation of $407,000 from the Earhart Foundation, a "phytotron" - a greenhouse with built-in weather and soil controls - was created in June 1949 for the study of botany. Associated Press informed the public the new "climate factory" at the California Institute of Technology represented "a new world of agriculture" which could "artificially recreate every kind of climate in the world (fog, rain, smog, desert air, sunlight) which will support plant life." However the phytotron would not be able to control cosmic radiation ("rays from out in the universe").
Dr Frits Went told the Associated Press, "We don't know any way to protect our plants or ourselves from these radiations but we hope, by controlling all other factors, to learn exactly what effect these radiations do have. Strangely enough, we already know more about the effects of radiation – through X-ray experiments – than we do about the effects of weather. Experts have bred strains of fruit and vegetables for one characteristic or another through generations, and have never known which effect was due to breeding one year, or to weather the next.
"If we can tell in advance what plants will grow best in what climate, we should be able to increase the world's food supply even under current farming methods. Eventually, we may find it feasible to grow all crops in such laboratories. The increase in yield and flavor may well justify the expense. It already is true in the case of orchids."
As pointed out in 1966, "Modern technology has never surpassed Mother Nature as an engineer." Hence "today's (back in the 1960s) engineers are turning to the animal world seeking solutions to many of their problems." It was argued, "Long before human engineers appeared, animals developed powered flight, underwater propulsion systems, electric circuitry, sonar and countless other techniques."
In the 1960s, "a new science called bionics specializes in discovering nature's techniques and applying them to human technology." The examples provided were the modern subsonic aircraft with wings similar to the bird's wing and the Bathyscaphe Trieste which dived 35,000 feet in the Pacific Ocean in January 1960 moved in a manner similar to those deep sea creatures which moved freely under water.
Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity in 1759 "but animals have used it from the time before recorded history to send messages from one part of the body to another. Plants also generate electricity. A growing bean plant sends out currents to its bottom-most roots where cells are most actively dividing. The currents are weak; about 100 billion bean roots would be needed to light a 100-watt bulb."
With sonar, it was made known "bats developed the technique some 50 to 60 millions of years ago during the Eocene periods. Now (back in the '60s) scientists are studying bat sonar, inaudible to human ears, in the hope that they can learn enough to jam their sonar using counter-sonar devices." A moth was said could detect a bat 130 feet away.
It was asked how a whale with only about 60 horse-power available to propel itself could swim as if it had 7 times more. "The secret is a specialized type of skin that absorbs the turbulence that normally slows bodies moving through the water. Engineers have now (in the 1960s) simulated a rubber-coated dolphin skin that reportedly reduces drag by about 50%.
"Animal muscle is an engineering miracle. It has self-contained power, unlike a mechanical steam shovel that must receive power from an outside source such as a gasoline motor. Fireflies produce light without wasting a lot of energy as heat; electric companies have spent thousands of dollars to find out how the insects achieve their cold light."
At the time scientists were also "investigating the antennae of flies in the hope of developing better detectors for poisonous gases in mines and factories. Other scientists are studying the eye and brain mechanism of frogs. Scientists believe that a frog – inspired electronic system might watch patterns on a radar screen at an airport and detect the departure of any plane from its prescribed course. Instructions to correct the situation would then be flashed to the automatic pilot."