With a growing world population, making sure that there is enough food for everyone is critical. Plant scientists work to ensure that agricultural practices result in an abundance of nutritious food in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
A bachelor's degree in plant biology is sufficient for some jobs in product development or for assisting in applied research, but a master's or doctoral degree (PhD) is generally required for basic research or for jobs directing applied research. A PhD in agricultural science or plant biology is usually needed for college teaching and for advancement to senior research positions as well. Degrees in related sciences, such as molecular biology, genetics, chemistry, or biochemistry may also qualify people for many plant science jobs.
The American Society of Agronomy certifies sub-specialists, such as crop advisers. These certifications require at least a bachelor's degree and several years of work experience. Applicants must also pass designated examinations and agree to adhere to a code of ethics. Each certification is maintained through continuing education.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for plant science jobs. Students preparing for careers as plant scientists should take college courses in plant pathology, entomology, plant physiology, and biochemistry, among others.
To conduct basic research or to advance to jobs directing applied research, a master's or doctoral degree is required. Advanced degree programs in plant science include classroom and fieldwork, laboratory research, and a thesis or dissertation based on independent research.
Plant scientists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Most of these scientists also need an understanding of basic business principles, the ability to apply statistical techniques, and the ability to use computers to analyze data and to control biological and chemical processing.
Watch this video to accompany a plant scientist student as she collects flower specimens.
Plant scientists plays an important role in maintaining the nation's food supply by ensuring agricultural productivity and food safety. These scientists study farm crops and develop ways to improve their quantity and quality. They look for ways to improve crop yield with less labor, control pests and weeds more safely and effectively, and to conserve soil and water. Some plant scientists look for ways to use agricultural products for fuels.
Plant scientists study plants in order to help producers of food, animal feed, and fiber crops to feed a growing population and conserve natural resources. These scientists not only help increase productivity, but also study ways to improve the nutritional value of crops and the quality of seed, often through biotechnology. Some plant scientists study the breeding, physiology, and management of crops and use genetic engineering to develop crops that are resistant to pests and to drought. They also develop new technologies to control or eliminate pests and prevent their spread in ways appropriate to the specific environment.
Plant scientists work in a variety of environments. Those involved in basic research seek to understand the biological and chemical processes by which crops grow, such as determining the role of a particular gene in plant growth. Scientists involved in applied research use this knowledge to discover mechanisms to improve the quality, quantity, or safety of agricultural products. Other plant scientists manage or administer research and development programs, or manage marketing or production operations in companies that produce agricultural chemicals, seeds, and machinery. Some plant scientists are consultants to business firms, private clients, or government.
Plant scientists involved in management or basic research tend to work regular hours in offices and laboratories. The work environment for those engaged in applied research or product development varies, depending on specialty and on type of employer. Many plant scientists also spend time outdoors conducting research on farms and agricultural research stations.
On the Job
Communicate research and project results to other professionals and the public, or teach related courses, seminars, or workshops.
Provide information and recommendations to farmers and other landowners regarding ways in which they can best use land and promote plant growth.
Conduct experiments to develop new or improved varieties of field crops, focusing on characteristics such as yield, quality, disease resistance, nutritional value, or adaptation to specific soils or climates.
Develop new or improved methods and products for controlling and eliminating weeds, crop diseases, and insect pests.
Conduct research to determine best methods of planting, spraying, cultivating, harvesting, storing, processing, or transporting horticultural products.
Study insect distribution and habitat and recommend methods to prevent importation and spread of injurious species.
Identify and classify species of insects and allied forms, such as mites and spiders.
Conduct experiments regarding causes of bee diseases, and factors affecting yields of nectar pollen.
Soil erosion can cost the world billions of dollars every year by washing pollutants into our streams and rivers and by causing the loss of farmland. What can you do about this problem? Help save the world (and some money!) with nothing more than a few plants!
What do plants need to grow? Most of us would answer that they need light, air, water, and soil. But by using a process called hydroponics, you can grow plants without soil! How does it work? Try this project and see for yourself!
To be able to live on Mars, humans need breathable air, clean water, and nutritious food. Spacesuits can provide oxygen to breathe, ice on Mars can be a source of water, but how could we get nutritious food? Today's astronauts bring food with them. But a manned trip to Mars would require food that was either successfully grown in space or on Mars, as taking the extra weight of food for such a long time—it takes 6–9 months one way—is just too costly. In this project, you will…
Have you ever seen a (non-carnivorous) plant eat? Probably not! Plants do not get the energy they need from food, but from the sunlight! In a process called photosynthesis, plants convert light energy, water, and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar. They can then use the sugar as an energy source to fuel their growth. Scientists have found an easy way to measure the rate of photosynthesis in plants. The procedure is called the floating leaf disk assay. In this plant biology project, you can…
You might not know it, but plants are able to sense their environment and actually respond appropriately. One of the key parameters that every plant must respond to is the direction of gravity: stems go up (opposite to the pull of gravity) and roots go down (in the same direction as the force of gravity). In this project, you will construct simple devices that hold several germinating seeds, which allow you to watch how growing rootlets respond as you rotate the devices, effectively altering…
Water is a valuable resource, and water shortages are a serious problem in many parts of the world. The problem can be made worse by people who waste water; for example, by watering a garden or using sprinklers on their lawn (or a farmer taking care of an entire field) when it has rained recently or the soil is already moist. How can you help conserve water and prevent such waste? One way is to build an electronic soil moisture sensor. This project will show you how to build a circuit that…
Fuzzy things are often cute, but not when that fuzziness is mold on your strawberry—yuck! Companies look for natural, plant-based ways to protect the berries from mold when they are in the store, waiting for you to purchase them. Would washing them in aloe vera juice protect strawberries from mold? Do this project and find out!
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose DNA have been manipulated to give them new traits. In genetically modified (GM) food crops traits like resistance to drought or pesticide might be added, or the crop may have been made more nutritious, or the taste may be altered to give you something like the impossible burger. Are there GMOs in your favorite foods? Many countries have implemented or are in the process of implementing GMO labeling on foods, but with a little bit of…
Have you ever wondered why a plant that grows well in one environment may not survive in a different environment? For example, plants that grow well in a wet jungle would probably not do so well in a dry desert, lacking enough water. This is because plants have adapted to their specific environment. Some plants have even adapted to tolerate chemicals that would usually be toxic, such as various heavy metals. In this plant biology science project, you will investigate whether different…
Plants need nitrogen to grow healthy stems and leaves. Although nitrogen is the most abundant element in the air we breathe, that form of nitrogen cannot be used by plants. Nitrogen contained in fertilizer, on the other hand, is readily taken up by plants. In this experiment, you will compare plants grown without nitrogen fertilizer to plants grown with nitrogen fertilizer.
Plants move—not very quickly compared to animals, but they do move. Their roots grow downward in response to gravity, and their stems grow upward toward the Sun. In this plant biology science fair project, you will investigate how young plants respond through movement to light.
Do you or your family have a lawn, garden, or potted plants that you water regularly? Irrigation—or the artificial application of water to plants and landscaping—accounts for over two-thirds of the world's freshwater consumption (U.S. Geological Survey, 2016)! While that total includes farms, in the United States landscape irrigation still accounts for almost one-third of residential water use. As much as half of that water is wasted due to inefficient watering methods (WaterSense,…
You have most likely witnessed the change that occurs as a banana ripens It changes from green and relatively hard to yellow and soft. The flavor also changes, from bitter to sweet. What happens during ripening? One big change is the increase in sugar content. In this food science fair project, you will measure how the sugar content of a banana changes as it ripens.
Hydrogen peroxide (often used as a disinfectant) has also been approved for use in pesticides. This science fair project investigates whether hydrogen peroxide has any effects on seed germination or on roots of plant cuttings.
One way to conserve water is to find safe ways to use it more than once. Here is a project to test whether greywater (water that has been used for washing or bathing) can be used for watering ornamental plants.
Have you ever heard someone say, "that plant is thirsty" or "give that plant a drink of water"? We know that plants, and even bouquets of cut flowers, need water to survive, but have you ever thought about how the water moves within the plant? In this science project, you will use colored water and carnations to figure out where the water goes.
Chlorophyll is a natural pigment found in green plants. It is the primary pigment that absorbs light energy from the sun for photosynthesis. This energy is then used by the plant to synthesize glucose from carbon dioxide and water. Chlorophyll in the leaves of plants can be extracted and separated using chromatography. A good source of chlorophyll for an extraction is a dark green leafy vegetable like spinach. Rub a fresh spinach leaf on the bottom of a strip of filter paper. You can get a…
Have you ever looked around and noticed the plants and animals that grow in your neighborhood? Have you ever visited friends in another part of your city, state, or even another part of the country? Have you noticed whether the plants and animals where they live are similar to those growing near you? What would it be like to live where they do? Why do certain plants and animals grow in one area, but not in another? In this science fair project you will learn about biomes and how different…
The conversion of forested to unforested areas has been occurring since humans began to impact and change their environments during the agricultural revolution. Recently deforestation has become a global problem, particularly for developing industrial countries and countries with very large populations. You can use satellite mapping resources to investigate the connection between urbanization, population growth and deforestation. You can also investigate the connection between deforestation…
Have you ever enjoyed eating a tasty sweet potato? They can be served as yummy mashed sweet potatoes with melted butter, turned into golden-brown sweet potato fries, or prepared in many other scrumptious ways. Did you know that you can make a sweet potato grow into a sweet potato plant, and grow several sweet potatoes this way? In this science project, you will grow your own sweet potato plants and investigate what part of the sweet potatoes is needed to grow the plants.
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