The group were on a Sutton Trust Summer School, a week-long event designed to give bright students from non-privileged homes a taste of life at a leading university. The aim is to demystify elite universities, and our visitors attended an undergraduate-style lecture on ‘Plants: The Great Poisoners’, before chatting to the lecturer, current undergraduates, and research scientists over a cup of tea. Dr Beverley Glover’s lecture, in the amazing surroundings of the Sainsbury Lab looking out over the Botanic Garden, made the students see plants in a whole new light – not as vulnerable, static organisms, but as heavily fortified castles prepared to fight off all invaders.
Science and Plants for Schools, based at the Botanic Garden, then led the students in a hands-on practical, looking at the effects of one particular plant poison – caffeine – on tiny transparent water fleas. The students were some of the first people to work in that particular lab, and they certainly appreciated the gleaming surroundings and high-tech equipment around them.
Putting their new knowledge into context, the teenagers finished the morning with a ‘trip to the rainforest’ to visit some of the world’s most poisonous plants in the benign setting of the garden’s Tropical House.
No surprise, then, that so many of the students reported that they now see plants through different eyes, and are thinking hard about studying plant science at University.