Sussex professor plants scientific thoughts for Christmas

Posted On 23 Dec 2009 at 12:56 pm

Sussex University ecologist Sue Hartley is a star turn in the Christmas television schedule.
Professor Hartley gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures this year and they are being screened on More 4 all this week.
The annual lecture series began in 1825 and Professor Hartley is only the fourth woman to deliver the lectures.
They are renowned for being fun-filled and demonstration-packed events for young people.
The theme of the lectures changes every year. Professor Hartley was chosen to share her knowledge of and passion for plants in a series of five lectures under the title The 300 Million Year War.
The lectures deal with the epic battle between plants and animals and how that conflict has shaped us and the world we live in.
Professor Hartley is a member of faculty in the School of Life Sciences at Sussex University’s Falmer campus.
She follows in the footsteps of science luminaries such as Michael Faraday, Desmond Morris, Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins.
She said: “Doing the lectures is a lot of fun. It’s great to see the kids so excited by cutting-edge science.”
The Royal Institution, London, is a charity dedicated to making science accessible to the public.
Sussex University vice-chancellor Professor Michael Farthing said: “The invitation to deliver the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures was a fitting accolade for Professor Hartley, her success as a scientist and her obvious talent as a communicator.
“The University of Sussex is delighted for her and we will all watch with pride.”
The director of the Royal Institution, Baroness Greenfield, who as Susan Greenfield was the first woman to deliver the lectures, said: “I am happy that we have such a charismatic and engaging lecturer delivering on a topic of immediate interest to so many people.”
Professor Hartley is a world-leading authority on how plants and herbivores interact. She has served as vice-president of the British Ecological Society (2004-07) and has advised the Government and European Union on environmental issues.
She has also worked extensively with schools and young people in promoting the public understanding of science, and was one of four University of Sussex lecturers who took part in an Art of Science event for this year’s Adur Arts Festival in June.
The lectures have already proved a huge hit with the live audiences. Science writer Ed Yong described the reaction of the junior audience to the first lecture on his blog, which is called Not Exactly Rocket Science.
He said: “So well-judged is Hartley’s talk that they lap up every word with rapt attention. When she asks for volunteers, the kids go mental. The talk was beautifully delivered, wonderfully interactive and incredibly informative.”
The first of The Christmas Lectures was broadcast on Monday. The last of the five goes out on Christmas Day at 7pm.

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