This last week I’ve been at an interdisciplinary Rank Prize Fund meeting on sensing and automation in crop production. Normally I am very careful about taking time out during the teaching term, but these meetings are so prestigious, and I managed to talk Roger into delivering one of my lectures, so I don’t think the students missed out much. The Rank Prize Fund is a trust set up by Lord Rank (J. Arthur Rank – he of the film company, with the gong) to support research into his two main interests: optoelectronics, and human nutrition. The Rank Prize Symposiums are meetings which invite a mixture of early career and senior people, getting them together in a nice hotel to listen to talks and discuss work on the topic of the day. This meeting aimed to bring together people working on technologies for improving crop production, and had roboticists, plant breeders, geneticists, botanists, chemists… and a bunch of computer vision people.
One of the cool things about these meetings is that everyone present talks – so you see what everyone’s interested in, and you hear about advances in all sorts of domains. I learned so much about plant science in the last few days – how they grow, root details, how they respond to stress, what happens with pathogens, and how people are trying to study them through breeding, imaging and other methods. People spoke about UAVs, massive installations for imaging, low cost methods and methods which cost billions.
The meeting was in Grasmere in the lake district in one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in for a long time, which certainly helped. The conviviality of the meeting was key to the success – everyone enjoyed the food, and the wine flowed. On the Tuesday they took us for a hike around Grasmere, so we even got to see some of the local scenery. Here’s a bunch of scientists standing outside a lovely hotel:
Unlike many guided hikes, this one featured a stop half way round where the guides unpacked their rucksacks and gave everyone a glass of bucks fizz.
I think I’ve had several good ideas and suggestions for furthering my work, and offers of datasets to share and collaborations to follow up. So in all, a very profitable meeting, with just the right balance of science and networking (over coffee and cake as well as wine).
It looks fun, and I am glad it was constructive. But a bit sad that crop production should field so few women so many years after botany achieved a 50:50 gender ratio at undergrad level, and when a female classmate of mine became a prof at Rothamsted.