Irish FameLab winner throws light on food solution

Plants turn light into food. So if we could get crops to do that more efficiently, we would get more food, right?

So goes the thinking behind a talk by Irish scientist Pádraic Flood, which won him the international FameLab competition at the Cheltenham Science Festival last week, in which researchers present a scientific concept to a general audience in just three minutes.

"My talk was about global population growth and the challenge this poses for agriculture, " he says. "I went back in time to the 1950s to remind the audience that we have actually faced such a challenge before and managed to overcome it. I then suggested that, for future yield increases, we will need to improve the photosynthetic productivity of our crops."

The competition is run by the British Council in more than 25 countries and by Nasa in the US. Although he is from Dublin, Flood represented Benelux because he is doing a PhD in plant genetics at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“In my research I am looking at variation in the natural efficiency of many plants at converting light to life and seeing if we can relate these differences to genes,” he says. “The ultimate goal would be to use the knowledge to improve the photosynthetic efficiency of our crops and thus the yield.”

Flood, who is in the process of writing up his doctoral thesis, entered FameLab “on a whim” as a “semi-legitimate excuse” to take a break from writing.

He was shocked when his name was called out as the winner. Flood is the second Irish scientist in a row to win the annual competition – PhD student Fergus McAuliffe from University College Cork took the title last year.

Claire O'Connell

Claire O'Connell

Claire O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times who writes about health, science and innovation

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