Favourite Thing: Probably the best thing about science is that we are paid to think and make discoveries. If you’re enjoying your science then each day is completely different from the next, particularly as discoveries are made and questions are answered. Being the first to describe or identify something is a great reward.
Thetis Island Primary (one room school 6-9 kids), BC Canada, Chemainus Secondary School, BC Canada, Mt Douglas Secondary School, BC Canada
Camosun College (86-87), general science; University of Victoria, Canada (87-88), general science; University of Guelph, Canada (88-94) Agricultural Science – Major in Horticulture, MSc. Plant Physiology; Australian National University, Australia (1995-1999) PhD Plant Science
Nice France, Vancouver Canada, Wageningen The Netherlands, Canberra Australia, Adelaide, Australia
University of Adelaide
Teacher and Scientist
Me and my work
I’m a teacher and research scientist in the plant sciences.
I’m an Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide where I teach students how plants grow.
I teach mostly about how to grow grapes in order to make wine but I also teach subjects covering plant genetics.
When I’m not teaching I run a research laboratory where I have a group of scientists including PhD students conducting research on how plants access nitrogen (a plant food) through their roots. This can be nitrogen present in the soil from fertilisers used by farmers or from nitrogen that comes from the air we breath through a special symbiotic partnership with soil bacteria.
I guess the questions we are trying to answer are:
1) Can we develop plants that require less nitrogen fertilisers but continue to grow well?
This will save farmers spending money on nitrogen fertilisers and help reduce pollution when nitrogen isn’t used efficiently.
2) How do some plants allow bacteria to enter root cells to form a symbiotic partnership that improves plant growth.
A symbiosis basically describes when two partners share and exchange something so they can both grow and live. For this research we study how legumes, your beans and peas, communicate with bacteria that live within their root cells. The plant receives nitrogen produced by the bacteria in exchange for sugars supplied by the plant. Both are happy campers!
My Typical Day
I teach a class of undergraduate students and then return to my lab and office where I read, think and conduct experiments.
Most days I spend time either reading about recent research findings, analysing data from my lab or preparing the data so that others can see what we did or discovered. This is usually reported as a research paper or journal that others will read and comment on.
As part of the job, we travel quite a bit to present our research at Australian and international conferences. This is a fun part of the job as we get to visit exciting cities and locations around the globe.
Another important component of my day is drinking coffee with my students and staff – great science is often discussed over coffee.
When I teach it will be for 1-2 hours for a lecture on a topic which is generally followed with a hands on practical class for the students.
I then head home and try some the wine my students have made.
What I'd do with the money
I would use the money to help support an apprenticeship program for high school students to work in my lab over the summer holidays.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Honest, hardworking, fun.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I grew up listening to Elvis Presley- would have to go with the King.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
White water rafting on the Kicking Horse River in the Canadian Rocky Mountains
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) Learn to sing. 2) Learn to paint. 3) Learn to play the guitar.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I had no idea except I liked plants and liked being outdoors. I guess that steered me to where I am now.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Yes. I really didn’t do that well in school academically – socially I had a good time. Unfortunately I didn’t study when I should of.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Identified a number of different genes that control nutrient transport in plants.
Tell us a joke.
I tried telling someone a plant joke the other day and it was met with just a shrub of the shoulders