Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J. (June 9, 2020) – Rutgers University–New Brunswick faculty are available to discuss the late William Roberts, who had a 41-year career at Rutgers and invented the air-inflated greenhouse covering system that revolutionized agriculture worldwide.

Roberts, a Distinguished Professor who served as an extension specialist in bioresource engineering at Rutgers, died May 21 at age 88. He developed the first air-inflated, double-layer polyethylene greenhouse covering system, which revolutionized the use of greenhouses worldwide and became a boon to the agricultural industry. Today, about 65 percent of commercial greenhouses in the United States and globally use this air-inflated, double-glazing system.

Roberts’ discovery began Christmas Day in 1964 when he used an aquarium air pump to separate two layers of plastic film in a model greenhouse he was building in his basement. His concept was successfully applied to a greenhouse on Rutgers’ Cook College campus. It was the first prototype structure of its kind and was designated in 2004 as a Historic Landmark by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

“Bill Roberts was graced with humility, humor and a deep commitment to service,” said Brian J. Schilling, director of Rutgers Cooperative Extension in the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. “His impact across the world is often defined by his revolutionary innovations in the greenhouse industry, but it is also defined by the lasting influence he has on countless students, farm businesses and colleagues.”

“Bill’s career as an extension specialist truly embodied the concept of the land grant university in agriculture,” said David Mears, professor emeritus and former associate director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and dean of research. “His interactions and relationships with leading greenhouse growers was one key to the development and adaptation of a number of improvements in controlled environment agriculture. While he is primarily recognized for his invention of the air-inflated double film greenhouse, other advances such as moving curtain insulation and floor heating systems have provided additional tools for climate control and substantial energy savings for the industry.”

Full story with photos:

To interview Schilling or Mears, contact Todd Bates at [email protected]


Broadcast interviews: Rutgers University has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews with Rutgers experts. For more information, contact Neal Buccino at [email protected]

Rutgers University–New Brunswick is where Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, began more than 250 years ago. Ranked among the world’s top 60 universities, Rutgers’s flagship is a leading public research institution and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It has an internationally acclaimed faculty, 12 degree-granting schools and the Big Ten Conference’s most diverse student body.