The Mancunion

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Massive uprooting of campus greenhouses

This summer, the University of Manchester’s botanical research facilities are set to undergo major renovations

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The university’s Botanical Experimental Grounds will soon be redeveloped, further establishing Manchester as a key institution for botanical studies. These state-of-the-art greenhouse facilities will better allow researchers to study plant and soil responses to various climates and conditions.

Construction, which will be financed by the University of Manchester’s endowment funds, will begin in summer 2018 and will take approximately one year to complete. The current facilities were erected in 1982, leaving renovation overdue for decades. The new Grounds will ensure that the site meets modern standards, “matching the best in the world,” according to project lead Dr. Giles Johnson from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The new greenhouses will allow researchers to grow plants in a range of conditions and temperatures, from subarctic to tropical. Additionally, scientists will be able to adjust the CO2 level of the growing facilities, which may predict plant responses to future climates. Drought and flooding effects will also be mimicked using precision watering systems. These controlled conditions should aid in understanding plants from the level of genes all the way up to their interactions as entire communities. “This will enable us to tackle research problems of food security and the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems,” states Dr. Johnson.

Additionally, the site will house a new air quality research “supersite.” Here, researchers will collect high-quality data on the effects and origins of urban air pollution. Alongside University endowment funding, this branch will be funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council.

In total, the facilities will allow up to 30 scientists to work at a time, with each greenhouse providing 14 square metres of growth space. The new greenhouses will be located on the Fallowfield campus site, an area in which the university’s botanical history is rooted. This new site will exist on what was formally Sir Joseph Whitworth’s country estate, which was gifted to the University in 1887.

In 1909, the university’s first botanical gardens were developed in Fallowfield’s Ashburne Hall before moving to the current site in 1923. Within this history, Grounds researcher studied everything from the plants used in antidotes for World War I gas attacks to the disease-causing bacteria in Sudanese crops.

With this rich past in plant and soil research, this building upgrade will only continue the University’s botanical innovation. Professor Martin Schroder, Vice President of the University of Manchester and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, says: “This announcement is very much in-keeping with those traditions, and these latest developments will put the University at the forefront of botanical-based research in the sector.”