As the light shines, a device called a chlorophyll fluorometer measures the plant’s energy use efficiency and sends that information to a computer. The computer runs a mathematical algorithm, which determines if the plants need more light, less light or even light of different wavelengths, and then it turns the appropriate LEDs on or off.

This process takes place in real time, and it ensures the plants receive optimum lighting conditions without wasting power on traditional bulbs that burn constantly for set periods of time.

“It is like the plants and the lights are talking,” he said.

“If the plant is not using the light, the chlorophyll fluorometer can feel this and send a message to the computer.” Mattos discovered the usefulness of this system while working on the production of algae at the UGA Bioconversion Research and Education Center, where researchers study and test biomass fuel sources.

He is presently testing the efficacy of the LED system as a method of increasing algae biomass. Because it is currently not economically practical to implement vertical farms on a large scale, Mattos and his collaborators are working to reduce the cost and boost production of a system that may prove useful in the event of a global food crisis.

“You have to replace the sun, which is free,” Mattos said. “It is a very hard competition.”

As one of 80 students selected worldwide to attend Singularity University’s program, Mattos will have the opportunity to meet with other researchers, entrepreneurs and inventors who will help him further develop his plan.

His adviser, K.C. Das, a UGA professor of biological and agricultural engineering and member of UGA’s bioenergy Systems Research Institute, praised his drive and determination.

“Erico is a very energetic, hard-working and innovative person,” Das said. “He has been quite successful both in his research and taking his ideas to the next level.”

UGA is one of only two U.S. universities to hold competitions for the SU program. Mattos is the third UGA graduate student to attend the program; Kausar Samli, graduate student at the UGA Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, and Brinkley Warren, a graduate of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and recent Fulbright Scholar, were SU scholarship winners the previous two years.

“When all these people from different areas try to solve problems and combine all their knowledge, it is a huge experience for everybody,” Mattos said. “I can come back to UGA with a lot of new ideas, new point of views and new approaches, and hopefully I can share these with faculty members and students to improve the community.”