Living in an airtight chamber
Iain Stewart lives inside a sealed, airtight chamber for 48 hours. The oxygen in the chamber is reduced to almost half the normal level and Iain is entirely dependent on the plants inside the box to produce enough oxygen to keep him alive.
The chamber is intended to be a powerful demonstration of how plants act as the lungs of planet Earth, providing all the oxygen that sustains us. Iain Stewart lived in the 12 cubic metres custom-built clear perspex chamber. Amongst the jungle of plants he had a hammock to sleep in, a laptop to entertain him and plenty of water to keep the plants alive. Temperature and humidity were kept at an optimum level for the plants and specialist lights both inside and outside the chamber ensured the plants were continuously lit throughout the day and night, providing the energy for photosynthesis to take place. Iain was attached to various medical sensors to record his vital signs and specialist doctors from UCL’s Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine and the Royal Free Hospital were on site at all times. They carried out various tests on Iain to explore the effects of reduced oxygen.
'The Bell Jar' echoes the experiment first tried by the pioneering scientist Joseph Priestly. In 1772, he showed that a mouse could survive in an airtight chamber full of plants, yet could only live a short time in a box without them. It was an early demonstration of the importance of plants in creating the oxygen essential for life on earth.