Plants & lighting


Another means of measuring light quantity for plant growth involves the understanding that light is always emitted or absorbed in discrete packets called "photons." These packets or photons are the minimum units of energy transactions involving light. For example, if a certain photosynthetic reaction occurs through absorption of one photon of light, then it is sensible to determine how many photons are falling on the plant each second. Also, since only photons in the PAR region of the spectrum are active in creating photosynthesis, it makes sense to limit the count to PAR photons. A lamp could be rated on how many actual tiny photons it is emitting each second. At present no lamp manufacturer does this rating.

Instead, plant biologists and researchers prefer to talk of the flux of photons falling each second on a surface. This is the basis of PPF PAR with PPF standing for Photosynthetic Photon Flux, a process which actually counts the number of photons falling per second on one square meter of surface. Since photons are very small, the count represents a great number of photons per second, but the number does provide a meaningful comparison.

Another measure appropriate for plant growth, called YPF PAR or Yield Photon Flux, takes into account not only the photons but also how effectively they are used by the plant. Since red light (or red photons) are used more effectively to induce a photosynthesis reaction, YPF PAR gives more weight to red photons based on the plant sensitivity curve.

Since photons are very small packets of energy, rather than referring to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 photons, scientists conventionally use the figure "1.7 micro moles of photons" designated by the symbol "µmol." A µmol stands for 6 x 1017 photons; 1 mole stands for 6 x 1023 photons. Irradiance (or illumination) is therefore measured in watts per square meter or in micro moles (of photons) per square meter per second, abbreviated as µmol.m-2.s-1

The unit "einstein" is sometimes used to refer to one mole per square meter per second. It means that each second a 1 square meter of surface has 6 x 1023 photons falling on it. Irradiance levels for plant growth can therefore be measured in micro-einsteins or in PAR watts/sq. meter.

These three measures of photosynthetically active radiation, PAR watts per square meter, PPF PAR and YPF PAR are all legitimate, although different, ways of measuring the light output of lamps for plant growth. They do not involve the human eye response curve which is irrelevant for plants. Since plant response does "spill out" beyond the 400 nanometer and 700 nanometer boundaries, some researchers refer to the 350 – 750 nanometer region as the PAR region. Using this expanded region will lead to mildly inflated PAR ratings compared to the more conservative approach in this discussion. However, the difference is small.


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