SimCity for Your Greenhouse

USDA Gives Technology Award to Forestry Student
Lee Buckingam master's student in the College of Forestry, created a program that simulates greenhouse operations. (Photo: Nick Houtman)

Lee Buckingam master's student in the College of Forestry, created a program that simulates greenhouse operations. (Photo: Nick Houtman)

When Lee Buckingham’s dad brought home a broken HP computer, Lee took it apart and fixed it. He was 15 years old.

Through high school and college, the Oregon State graduate student in Forest Engineering, Resources and Management fed his appetite for technology (“I like to build them from parts”) and taught himself to write programs.

Now, Buckingham will receive a prestigious award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for using his computer skills to assist the U.S. greenhouse industry. He will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to receive the USDA’s Excellence in Technology Transfer Award for 2012.

Buckingham created Virtual Grower, a program available online that enables greenhouse managers to estimate the costs of raising a crop by a specific date. “It’s kind of a SimCity for greenhouses,” said Buckingham, a native of Milan, Mich. “Most of the cost of raising a greenhouse crop is for heat. By specifying materials, dimensions, fuels, location and type of plant, growers can get an estimate of what it will cost them to produce a crop.”

From 2004 to 2005, he worked for the USDA in Toledo, Ohio. He received a master’s in plant ecology from UC-Riverside in 2009.

At Oregon State, Buckingham works with Professor Claire Montgomery to model forest vegetation in response to fire.

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