Thomas Graham

Assistant Professor
Phone number: 
(519) 824-4120 Ext. 54869
Bovey Bldg., Rm 2105
Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF)

Thomas grew up in rural Southwestern Ontario, which helped shape and foster his interest in the natural sciences at an early age.  Thomas gravitated towards the plant sciences in particular and that, combined with his concern with the environmental issues of the day, lead him to the University of Guelph for his undergrad (and eventually his MSc and PhD as well).  Towards the end of his undergraduate degree, Thomas took his love of plant sciences to new heights as he became involved in the use of plants as bioregenerative life-support systems for human space exploration; the ultimate manifestation of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), a field in which Thomas has since developed substantial expertise.  After completing a NASA Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Kennedy Space Center, Thomas returned to the University of Guelph as the R&D Manager for the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF). Thomas continues to build and develop a diverse research program around all aspects of Controlled Environment Agriculture in his position as the PhytoGro Research Chair in Controlled Environment Systems.

Academic History

  • BSc in Environmental Sciences (Ecology), University of Guelph/Stirling University (Scotland) (1997)
  • MSc (Horticulture) – University of Guelph (2001)
  • PhD (Environmental Biology) - University of Guelph (2012)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Post-Doctoral Research Fellow (Kennedy Space Center) – 2012-2015

Affiliations and Partnerships 

  • NASA-UoG Liaison for Bioregenerative Life-Support
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Dalhousie University (Adjunct Scholar)
  • German Space Agency (DLR)
  • Associate Editor – Gravitational and Space Research (GSR)
  • Editor (Plant Science) – Open Agriculture
  • Topic Issue on ‘Agriculture in Space’ Editor – Open Agriculture
  • Special Research Topic Editor – Frontiers in Plant Science: Abiotic Stress – Higher Plants, Algae and Cyanobacteria in Space Environments
  • Let’s Talk Science – Tomatosphere™
  • American Society of Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR)
  • Canadian Society of Plant Biology
  • Canadian Society of Horticultural Science
  • American Society of Horticultural Science
  • International Society of Horticultural Science
  • Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research

Research Impact

Thomas’s research philosophy leans towards ‘Jack of all Trades’ both by design and out of necessity – Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) encompasses a broad range of disciplines and affects a wide range of industries and societal challenges.  Controlled Environment Agriculture research is having positive impacts on everything from Food Insecurity in Canada’s most vulnerable communities, to improving the production of plant-based medicines, to helping to ensure agricultural resiliency in the face of the global climate crisis.

Current Research Projects

Standardization of Medical Crops in CEA systems

  • Developing CEA horticultural management practices for the standardization of in planta medical compound production
  • Alleviating the harvest pressure on wild populations of medicinally significant species by evaluating the potential for CEA production

Development of Spaceflight and Vertical Farm compatible tree crops

  • Working with USDA, Academic, and commercial partners to modify tree fruit (Plums) crops to CEA systems

Crop Diversification in High Intensity Urban Agriculture/Vertical Farming

  • Development of crops beyond leafy greens; crops that can contribute significantly to the caloric and nutritional requirements of a human diet
  • Horticultural management strategies for these novel crops

Improving Propagation in Ornamental Horticulture

  • Using light quality to manipulate root and shoot development in cutting-based propagation

CEA Water remediation:  This is a long-standing research theme that examines current and emerging water treatments technologies in CEA systems

  • Ozonation; UV; Advanced Oxidation Processes; Electrochemical systems; Chemical systems; Filter systems; etc.

Resource Recovery from Waste Biomass in High Intensity Urban Agriculture Systems

  • On-site composting for CO2 and nutrient recovery
  • Mineralization of organically bound nutrients

Graduate Student Information

Grad students are the backbone of any academic group.  Given this basic fact, how they are trained, mentored, encouraged, and (occasionally) disciplined is critical to overall lab success.  In order for the lab to be successful, training must be thorough but at the same time the students must be allowed to, and in fact are expected to, develop their own ideas, experiments, and yes even be the authors of their own failures on occasion (there is no stronger learning experience than an epic failure now and then).  Although his door is always (figuratively) open, Thomas does hold bi-weekly grad group meetings and weekly or bi-weekly (depending on stage of the student program) one-on-one meetings. He also takes daily(ish) project tours just to see what’s ‘growing’ on and to chat about the research (and drink his coffee). Thomas has high expectations for his grad students but is willing and prepared to provide the necessary support to ensure those expectations can be met.

If you are interested in the work that Thomas is involved in you are encouraged to reach out to him directly via email. 

Featured publications

Graham, T., Zhang, P. & Dixon, M. A. Closing in on upper limits for root zone aqueous ozone application in mineral wool hydroponic tomato culture. Sci. Hortic. (Amsterdam). 143, 151–156 (2012).

Graham, T. et al. Over-Expression of FT1 in Plum (Prunus domestica) Results in Phenotypes Compatible with Spaceflight : A Potential New Candidate Crop for Bioregenerative Life Support Systems. Gravitational Sp. Res. 3, 39–50 (2015).

Graham, T. & Dixon, M. A. Liverwort control: An ancillary role for ozone-based irrigation water treatment systems? HortScience 47, 361–367 (2012).

Graham, T. & Wheeler, R. Root restriction: A tool for improving volume utilization efficiency in bioregenerative life-support systems. Life Sci. Sp. Res. 9, 62–68 (2016).

Massa, G., Graham, T., et al. Light-emitting diode light transmission through leaf tissue of seven different crops. HortScience 50, 501–506 (2015).

Hawley, D., Graham, T., Stasiak, M. & Dixon, M. Improving Cannabis Bud Quality and Yield with Subcanopy Lighting. HortScience 53, 1593–1599 (2018).

Zheng, Y., Graham, T., Richard, S. & Dixon, M. Potted gerbera production in a subirrigation system using low-concentration nutrient solutions. HortScience 39, 1283–1286 (2004).

Stoochnoff, J. A., Graham, T. & Dixon, M. A. Drip irrigation scheduling for container grown trees based on plant water status. Irrig. Sci. 36, 179–186 (2018).


Area of Research

Plant and Environmental Health