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senior scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre


As a youth, I ended up doing science A-levels, because science seemed more intelligible than history. In history, one can speculate and argue about why what happened, happened. In science, one can find out more profound truths.

For me, the first revelation of this power of science was when I understood the Periodic Table of the chemical elements. It was amazing that the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev could make sense of the properties of known elements, and so accurately predict the properties of unknown elements. I was also inspired into science by a love of nature that I learned from my mother, and it is still a delight to make sense of something that previously did not make sense.

This love of nature, and a feeling that we need science and technology to reduce our impact on the planet, took me from physics and chemistry into biology. Plants are amazing – they use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugar. The last 100 years of human life have been fuelled by fossilised photosynthesis. For the next 100 years, we need to figure out how to get what we need from current photosynthesis. Otherwise, if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, we are in deep trouble.

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