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The Winter Garden displays a diverse range of plants to dramatic visual and sensory effect.
The Winter Garden displays a diverse range of plants to dramatic visual and sensory effect.
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Student competition winners join us for an afternoon of plant science

Oxygen tanks powered by photosynthesis, cacti that pump pure water out of the desert, and flowers that kill malaria-carrying parasites - just a few of the inventions that pupils submitted to the first PlantPowerED Student Challenge.
Teenagers from across the UK sent in their entries to the student competition, run by Science and Plants for Schools, the schools’ programme based at the Sainsbury Lab and the Botanic Garden. They were challenged to design an innovation that would tackle one of the world’s problems, by combining plant abilities and technology.

The competition was inspired by the work of scientists like Dr Paolo Bombelli, of the University’s Department of Biochemistry, who was one of the competition judges. Dr Bombelli has designed a way of using plants to generate an electric current. So far, his prototypes power portable devices like radios and phones, but researchers around the world expect this to become a valuable topic for future electricity generation on a large scale. (The Botanic Garden will be hosting an experimental solar hub, working title P2P, using Dr Bombelli's technology and research from spring next year.)

The judges were taken aback to discover that the first and second prizes in the 16-18 age group were won by Jennifer and Rachel Thomson – identical twins from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Their entries focused on the issues of deforestation and illegal logging, and on the challenge of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition to a cash prize each, Jennifer and Rachel won the opportunity to spend an afternoon behind the scenes at the Botanic Garden and Sainsbury Lab. They visited the University’s Herbarium, and marvelled at some of the specimens collected by Darwin on his Beagle voyage. “It was an amazing experience!” said Jennifer, after joining Sandra Cortijo, one of the scientists working at the Lab, to find out more about the research going on.

We were delighted to welcome our winners, and look forward to next year’s PlantPowerED Student Challenge.

Harriet Truscott, Communications Officer, SAPS
Publication Date
24/10/2014