Leverhulme Research Fellow, University of Nottingham

Category: General

Research and Poetry

Prize winning Nottingham poet, Gail Webb, was inspired by my research described in my blog article for COP 26. is This poem, “ Harvesting The Light” came out of a collaborative project designed to start conversations between poets and scientists to combat or change the effects of climate change.

To find out more visit the Hot Poets.

Harvesting The Light

Plants. I know about these.
They grow in my garden,
in planters on city streets,
sneak into verges,
never discreet. They thrust and sow
through cracks in pavements, or
around the front door,
wherever we go, they grow.

Remember school? We plant seeds,
one each in a paper cup,
press in with a finger,
into damp earth where nature
lingers. Watch it reach for the bright
touch of sun’s honey drips.
Some water, some time,
shoots peek out, thirsty for light.

We cultivate tomatoes, herbs,
on a windowsill. We try
to connect to food sources,
see magic before our eyes.
Nature’s forces form leaves, buds glow,
flourish into the next Spring;
we wait for a taste of summer,
crops sing as they grow, they grow.

In patterns plants reveal mysteries,
capillaries pump in life,
sinews stretch towards sun
blackberries ripen on vines,
ducking heads in broad-leafed shade;
apple trees live side by side
with wheat crops nodding in fields
ready to feed us. The future is made.

We dash from work to home,
want new growth, new ways,
aware of struggles to feed families.
Earth still warms up by degrees
heats farms, factories. Food in forests
is what we need. Almonds, apricots,
cherries let’s get them on our plates.
Farmers, governments unite with scientists.

Plants. They turn to us now.
Will we allow them room
to spread, to photosynthesise,
to arch upwards,
to rise like a cathedral roof
towards skies? Is there a plan
mapped out in their veins,
to reverse effects of climate change?

Something clever, seasonal, waterproof.
Plants are their own design, formed
in wind, by wavelengths red, blue, green,
into curly, upright, varied shapes
between canopies which absorb pollution.
They coexist with trees, multiply fruit,
cereals, vegetables, all we need.
At last, a peaceful revolution.

The interview experience

I recently attended an interview for the Rank Prize Nutrition New Lecturer Award in London. I have to admit that I have been relatively lucky so far in that I have not had to attend many interviews, but that makes the process even more nerve wracking! As one who suffers from nerves, I was surprised at how much the whole process effected me- both before and after with the wait to hear the result [I won!]!

Public speaking is one of those things that I expect to bother me greatly but then you do grow accustomed to. My first conference presentation as a PhD student was scary, but the more you do them the easier it is. Sometimes you just need to remember that this is your area of research and therefore you are the expert. However, that same kind of logic does not seem to carry over to interviews. In these the panel are expected to challenge you, to push you beyond your comfort zone and see how you cope. In my limited interview experience I have always thought that my responses have been poor and I have not expressed myself well. But what is the measure of success? and what are panel members really looking for? maybe one day I will find out!

COP-26: why we should worry about climate change

With COP-26 happening this week in Glasgow, it is a key time to think about the effect of climate change on our planet and what we can do about it. Extensive use of fossil fuels, land use change and deforestation combined with a rising population are all putting pressures on the delicate balance on Earth and we must act now to limit and reverse any damage.

Agriculture is intimately linked with the health of our environment. 50% of all habitable land on Earth is used for agriculture with 26% of greenhouse gases emitted through agricultural production. Yet risks associated with poor diets are the leading cause of death worldwide. With global populations due to excerd 9 billion by 2050, how can we provide enough food whilst also limiting and reversing the impact on the environment?

As part of my research at the University of Nottingham, some of the work I undertake has direct implications for a future under climate change. I am particularly interested in the sustainability and resilience of our agricultural systems to climate change and how we can adapt to reduce their susceptibility. This includes the selection of crop varieties that are better adapted to the environment in which they are grown or the conversion from industrial agriculture dominated by large-scale cultivation of a single crop (known as monocropping) to alternative systems incorporating multiple crops or trees such as intercropping or agroforestry.

You can read more about my research in this blog.

How do we feed our astronauts on space missions?

As part of a new project, we will be looking at ways in which we can feed our astronauts on long-term space missions. A mission to Mars is expected to take 3 years, with 1-tonne of food required per year, per astronaut! With an 8 month trip required to send further provisions, space missions of the future will need to be self-sufficient. With many of the constraints of Earth-bound agricultural systems lacking is this our chance to rethink how we can grow our plants?

Joint with researchers including Professor Volker Hessel and Dr Matthew Knowling at the University of Adelaide and Professor Dov Stekel at the University of Nottingham we will be supervising a new PhD student starting in July 2021 to model closed-loop agricultural systems to simulate potential growing conditions in space.

The first UKRI ECR Forum

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is calling on postdoctoral researchers, research associates and other early career researchers to join its new Early Career Researcher Forum.


Following the recent call for ECRs to join their new pilot forum, last week saw the first Induction week; a week long schedule of talks, networking and Q&A sessions aimed specifically at ECRs. Problems with the virtual conference platform, Whova, put a bit of a downer on the week but the ability to meet, network and exchange ideas with ECRs from a wide range of institutions more than made up for it. Finally a place for the voice of ECRs to be heard- more of this please!

To find out more and apply to the forum click here.

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