A Rain Forest in the Desert?! Explore the Science at Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Arizona

One of the most unique places in Tucson, Arizona, is the Biosphere 2.

The Biosphere 2 is located to the north of Tucson, about 35 miles (or nearly an hour) from downtown. It’s one of the spots that nearly every Tucsonan has visited and recommends to anyone who comes to town.


It’s operated and funded primarily by the University of Arizona, my alma matter, along with several other universities and research organizations. It’s been around for about 30+ years now and originally, had a very different mission.

In the 1990’s, the primary mission of the Biosphere 2 was to be a closed facility that could simulate what it would be like if humans lived and colonized another planet, like Mars. In 1991, four men and four women lived inside the Biosphere 2. They grew their own food, sustained their own oxygen, and lived completely separated from the outside world. The mission was a great engineering success, however, it didn’t succeed as a simulation for what it would be like if humans lived on another planet (mainly because there are too many unknowns). If you want to know more information on the history of this project, read here!

One of the rooms where the people lived in the Biosphere 2 habitat.

Today, the Biosphere 2 is a research facility dedicated to “understanding global scientific issues.”

Its mission is to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching and life-long learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe; to catalyze interdisciplinary thinking and understanding about Earth and its future; to be an adaptive tool for Earth education and outreach to industry, government, and the public; and to distill issues related to Earth systems planning and management for use by policymakers, students and the public.” – Biosphere 2 website

Essentially, there are three giant conservatories that house three different biomes.

One conservatory houses a sustainable rain forest, where researchers study things like how drought affects the forest (critical information for our future).

The second conservatory houses a beach-like environment and test the effect of tides on coral growth,

and the third is home to a more tropical desert.


Along with the conservatories, there is tons of other research and engineering feats happening at the Biosphere 2. I won’t name it all and will let you experience it all for yourself but… one example is the LEO experiment, where researchers are trying to simulate how the first plants were created on Earth billions of years ago. I wrote a story about this experiment for my internship at Arizona Public Media, so if you want to know more about it, check it out!


The Biosphere 2 is such a fun place to visit, especially if you’re a science nerd, like me! But even if you’re not, it’s still a fascinating place. It’s very kid-friendly and school tours visit the Biosphere 2 all of the time.


Tickets are $21 for adults, and cheaper for kids, seniors and students. It might seem kind of expensive, but the price of the tickets goes towards supporting science, so, to me, it’s justified.

Along with exploring the biomes and various scientific experiments, the tour takes you all over the grounds and… underground! There is a very elaborate system underground that brings fresh air into the biomes called “the lungs.” It’s so cool, and you’ll just have to see it to believe it! I could never do the amazing science that happens at the Biosphere 2 justice.

One of the underground tunnels

I hope that if you’re ever in Tucson, you stop by for a visit at the Biosphere 2! There is no other place like it in the entire world!



Thank you for reading! Have you ever explored the science at Biosphere 2? Let me know in the comments below and like this post if you want more like it!




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