I am now in my first week of second year and seeing all the freshers around campus it has just dawned on me that I’m not one anymore, and that this year actually counts towards my degree (AHHH). To take my mind off this year counting I thought I would remind myself of the summer, so I’m going to write about the summer school I went on at the start of the summer.
I went to the Gatsby Plant Science Summer School which was based at The Hawkhills in York, which was such a lovely place. Its amazing that there is actually a summer school for plant science, and I must admit it was one of the best weeks of my life (if that isn’t super sad and cheesy). Below is a photo of all the people that came, they were all really great, and I feel privileged to spend a week with them. It’s great to see so many people into plants all in one place, and to see people actually realise how great plants are during the course of the week.
The week was jam packed of loads of activities, we had lectures and practicals every day. There were some great lectures from uses of photoreceptors in crops for optogenetics, how a molecule in Madagascan Periwinkle can be used as an anti-cancer drug and using computer modelling to predict the role of plants in the biosphere. All the lectures were really interesting, my favourite was probably a lecture entitled: “Thinking like a vegetable – how plants decide what to do”. It was all about developmental plant biology, it challenged preconceptions that plants don’t really do much. One example was how plants can invest more energy in elongating roots when the soil nitrate levels are low because it will give a greater return for growth in the long run (clever, right?).
After each lecture in the morning throughout the week we had a tutorial about the lecture. We were in groups of about 10 students and each group had a different plant science academic. The whole point of these tutorials was to talk through difficult parts of lecture and to come up with questions to ask the speaker. At uni, I’ve always found it difficult to think of questions to ask the lecturer, these tutorials really helped me to question science things more, which is a really useful skill I’ve taken away from the week.
There were 5 different practicals we did over the course of the week. Including an ecology practical we had to design ourselves, a plant identification practical and a practical on plant pathology. There were two practicals I really enjoyed over the others, one was a practical on plant development. This practical used computers to try to model phyllotaxis in plants. Phyllotaxis is a super interesting topic that looks at the arrangement of organs in plants. It has been observed that the arrangement of florets on a sunflower are in spirals so that the number of clockwise and anticlockwise spirals are members of the Fibonacci sequence (see links at the end). The other practical I loved was about cell biology, we had the chance to use a confocal microscope, which was so cool. Confocal microscopes fire lasers at plant (or other) material, when used with biological tags like green fluorescent protein (GFP) they can produce really beautiful and useful images. Confocal microscopes are so useful because the sample can be living (unlike in electron microscopes which use a vacuum), so they can be analysed at various points in their life cycle. They can also take images in 3D, as confocal microscopes take images all the way through the sample. Below is an image I took using a confocal microscope, there are some really cool images that you can find on the internet.
As well as learning lots about plants (yay!), there was a lot of useful sessions on careers. We had a networking session, in which there were various academics that we had to talk to try and get their business card, all whilst trying to eat a buffet. Before we did the networking, I was so nervous about it, and it was pretty scary, but at the same time it was also pretty useful and a good practice for these sort of events in the future. All the academics were so helpful and were researching some interesting topics. One warning though: although you often get free food at networking events, it is near impossible to talk and eat at the same time.
Every night we had a social programme. This included things like a pub quiz (I could not have been worse at this), a treasure trail, but most importantly karaoke night. Karaoke was a super fun way to end the week it was also nice to see some of the guest speakers join in! The place we were staying in was just lovely and the food (which was free, and basically all you can eat) was amazing (mmmm, breakfast). If you ever have a chance to go on the summer school I could not recommend it more, you meet some lovely people, get to learn amazing things about plants and just feel truly inspired by it all (and, er, free food).
More information about the summer school:
More information about phyllotaxis and Fibonacci: