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Cambridge Science Festival 2012

last modified Aug 02, 2013 02:07 PM

'Plants for the Future', Monday 19 March, 2012

As part of the Science Festival, Ottoline Leyser gave a free talk to over 100 people at the Sainsbury Laboratory. Her talk highlighted the importance of understanding how plants manage their own resources to regulate their growth and development as we increasingly turning to plants to replace fossil fuels and increase food security.

Science on Saturday, Saturday 17 March, 2012

Are you smart enough to survive as a plant or will you become extinct?

This was the challenge facing people visiting the Sainsbury Laboratory's stand at the UK's largest free science festival. A computer game asked players to make the same sorts of decisions plants do: choosing between growing more leaves or more roots, when to grow flowers, coping with insect attacks and ultimately trying to disperse seeds in the most advantageous manner. Players could choose to be either a wild or domesticated plant, and learned quickly that a successful strategy for one type of plant did not necessarily work for another. At the end of the game, each player was told whether their plant had succeeded in passing on its genes or was extinct. 'Extinct' players often felt compelled to try again!

Younger attendees were captivated by the Lab's 'build your own plant' activity. As they chose different sizes and textures of fabric leaves and stems, velcroed on roots and stuck on flowers, they were asked to ponder why a plant would have one sort leaf over another, or, in response to one improbable but extravagant creation, why a plant might or might not be able to produce a banana and onion at once!

This was the Sainsbury Laboratory's first attendance at the Science Festival, and along with other plant science based organisations, saw an estimated 2,500 people come to the Plant Sciences marquee. 'Great to see children learning about plant development through play' and 'rewarding and exhausting!' was the verdict from Lab's members participating in running the stand. Future plans include extending the 'build your own plant' kits and devising an activity around computational modeling.

To find out if you are smart enough to survive as a plant, play the Extinct game here.

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