How Aeroponics Works

The History of Aeroponics

Aeroponics on display (in the cylinders at left and right) at Epcot Center.
Aeroponics on display (in the cylinders at left and right) at Epcot Center.
Visions of America/Joe Sohm/Getty Images

­Simply put, aeroponics is a method of growing plants in a soilless environment with very little water. Basically, it's growing without earth. Despite this leap in advancement, aeroponics actually had a fairly slow start. Techniques for growing plants without soil were first developed in the 1920s by botanists who used primitive aeroponi­cs to study plant root structure [source: Barak, et al]. This absence of soil made study much easier: In aeroponics, plants' roots dangle in midair, with only the plants' stems held in place. However, the leap in logic that led to growing plants in this way for recreation rather than academic study didn't occur until the 1970s. Hydroponics, a similar technology where plants' roots are grown in nutrient-rich water rather than soil, emerged and overtook aeroponic development.

Hydroponics (growing roots in a nutrient rich, water-based medium instead of soil) came into popular use in the West in the 1970s. Research and use of aeroponic systems continued behind the scenes, however, and the technique made its big public debut when "The Land" pavilion at Disney's Epcot Center opened in 1982.

It would take the interest of NASA to push aeroponics further into the limelight. In the 1990s, study and refinement of these techniques took off after NASA funded a project by a small aeroponics operation. NASA's involvement would give the growing aeroponics movement a decidedly futuristic image.

Despite this image, the concept behind aeroponics system is actually fairly simple. Find out how simple it is on the next page.