Splendor In The Dome

The last time someone tried to grow a lot of grass indoors was 1965 at the Houston Astrodome. The clear glass dome that let in enough sun for the blades to do their photosynthetic thing also shot a blinding glare into the eyes of outfielders. Houston painted the glass gray, and Monsanto rolled in the Astro-turf The Silverdome, in Pontiac, Mich., doesn't have that option. World Cup matches must be played on real turf. Against all odds they will be thanks to the grass gurus at Michigan State University.

The Silverdome lets in 10 to 15 percent of normal sunlight, most of it the far-red part of the spectrum. These long wavelengths elongate plant cells: the cell walls thin, and the blades become spindly and vulnerable to injury. In a warehouse, researchers tested grass varieties, synthetic chemicals and lighting schemes. "I had people living there 24 hours a day," says agronomist John Rogers. In California, nine samples were put through endurance trials-athletes ran over the sod. The winners: three varieties each of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. Most important, Rogers figured out that a spritz of chemical growth regulators, flurprimidol and paclobutrazol, keeps grass cells from elongating.

In April Rogers's team trucked the winning sod to Michigan and transplanted it into 2,000 steel trays in the dome's parking lot. Next week they move the trays inside. If the grass performs as expected, the ball should bounce true on the real thing.

Splendor In The Dome | News