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A Discussion was held in the Council Room. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Cliff was presiding, with the Senior Proctor, the Junior Proctor, two Pro-Proctors, the Registrary's deputy, and seven other persons present.
The following Report was discussed:
Second-stage Report of the Council, dated 26 November 2007, on the construction of a new building for the study of plant diversity and development (p. 293).
Professor A. C. MINSON:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it gives me great pleasure to speak in support of construction of this new research institute. I began my research career working on diseases of plants and it has dismayed me to watch the relative decline of plant biology as an academic subject over the past three decades. Plants form more than 90% of the biomass. They are the primary food source, they are an important energy source, and they have a substantial impact on climate. Yet for a variety of reasons there has been a relative decline in funding for plant science research and a fall in the number of students wishing to study the subject to the point where there are almost no departments of Botany or Plant Science remaining in UK universities. Cambridge has fought hard against this trend. The School of Biological Sciences should be congratulated for its support of plant science during the last twenty years, and the Department of Plant Science should be commended for its successful efforts to attract increasing numbers of undergraduates in recent years.
The proposals outlined in this Second-stage Report are possible because of the vision and generosity of the Gatsby Foundation in supporting the study of plants. The Foundation will provide the funds to construct the new research institute, and have guaranteed to fund the full costs of the research for a minimum of ten years. Together with support that the Gatsby Foundation has provided to strengthen the Department of Plant Sciences, the construction of the new Institute will ensure that Cambridge becomes a world centre for plant science research and can attract the very best science students into the study of plant biology. We should be proud that the Gatsby Foundation has chosen Cambridge for this new institute. This is a wonderful opportunity for the University.
Professor J. S. PARKER:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Botanic Garden, planned initially in 1831, was opened in 1846 to hold the University research and teaching collection of plants. Professor John Henslow laid out the Garden by intermingling highly systematic plantings with specimens representing his own research programme, developed in the 1820s, concerning the nature of species - exemplifying patterns of plant variation, sudden changes of form, and the role of hybridization in nature. This research programme is exactly paralleled by Henslow's herbarium collections begun in 1821, and provided the intellectual context for the education of Charles Darwin at Cambridge. Thus Henslow's herbarium and his Botanic Garden both foreshadow modern evolutionary theory; the construction of the Sainsbury Laboratory within the Botanic Garden will unite these two remarkable plant collections.
Since its foundation, the Botanic Garden has continuously responded to developments in science and the attendant needs of scientists. Thus glasshouses, which extended the range of available environments, were constructed in 1868, and subsequently rebuilt in 1884 and 1934; experimental plots and a group of experimental glasshouses for the 'new' sciences of genetics and ecology (under the influences of Bateson and Tansley) were added at the turn of the 20th century; laboratories, comparative cultivation beds, and growth facilities were provided for the 'new taxonomy' of the 1940s and 1950s; the requirements of ever more exacting environmental control of plant growth over the last 20 years led to the construction of the Plant Growth Facility in 2004. Alongside this, plant provision similarly has been in continuous flux, clearly demonstrated by the mixed-age tree collection, and the Garden's landscapes also show dynamic and constant evolution.
The University has supported the Botanic Garden with continuous core funding over the past 160 years, whilst periods of major development have resulted from significant donations through the 19th and more particularly the 20th century - for the superb teak glasshouse range in 1934 (recently renovated); for the Laboratory, experimental glasshouses, and nursery from the Cory Bequest since the 1950s; for the Plant Growth Facility from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation in 2004. These developments have all taken place adjacent to the northern boundary of the Garden within its working area, comprising three hectares of developed land to which the public are not normally admitted.
This magnificent donation to the University from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation will ensure the next evolutionary transition of the Botanic Garden. It will enable the University to create a world-class Laboratory dedicated to the understanding of plant evolution and diversity, whose science will examine the origins and nature of plant diversity, as expressed all around it in the Botanic Garden. The Laboratory's scientists will address the mechanisms of plant growth, differentiation, and development and so provide fundamental knowledge to enable us to comprehend diversity, increasingly under human pressure. The Sainsbury Laboratory will focus on the questions for which Henslow founded the Botanic Garden 160 years ago - what is the nature of heredity?; how does plant development come about?; how is variation in nature distributed?; what is the significance of diversity? The University has been given a remarkable opportunity to investigate these issues by placing the Sainsbury Laboratory at the centre of the Garden and embedded within its historic tradition.
The University Herbarium, comprising over 1 million specimens, will be positioned at the heart of the Laboratory. It will be moved from its current insecure location within the Department of Plant Sciences to a purpose-built facility combining working areas with a secure, controlled but easily accessible storage area. This will ensure the long-term survival of this historic but current research collection, and will enhance its value for scholarship by bringing it into an intimate relationship with the science and scientists of the Sainsbury Laboratory, in a manner unique amongst Europe's universities and institutions.
A major additional University benefit will be the re-provisioning of the Garden's ageing infrastructure, most of which developed piecemeal during the 20th century. The new, carefully planned, provision of experimental glasshouses, plant nursery, machinery barn, and recycling facilities will boost the Garden's capacity to carry out its research and teaching obligations. It will also reinforce its ability to carry out its important amenity functions and public engagement role.
The new Gilmour Wing will provide superb public facilities including a seminar room and café, within which the science of the Laboratory will be displayed and disseminated to the Garden's visitors, currently numbering over 140,000 a year. The beauty of the Laboratory building itself, at the heart of the Garden, will be manifest to all visitors, and will be a fitting complement to the magnificence of the Garden. Away from this central core of the Garden, a new western entrance, adjacent to 1 Brookside and opening towards Trumpington Road, will give added prominence to the Botanic Garden, exposing it much more than at present to the community of Cambridge and city visitors. These remarkable developments, precipitated by the Gatsby Foundation donation, will set the University Botanic Garden into a 21st-century context and confirm its position as a world centre of excellence for plant science research whilst reinforcing its historical roots in the development of evolution.
Professor J. C. GRAY:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Head of the Department of Plant Sciences, I fully support the recommendations of this Report to create a new Sainsbury Laboratory in the Botanic Garden. This is an extremely timely development that will place the University of Cambridge at the very forefront of plant science research in the UK and throughout the world. The world is waking up to the threat of climate change and demands for more food, land, and energy for a growing world population - and plants are at the very heart of sustainable solutions to all these problems. The fundamental research on plant diversity and development in the Sainsbury Laboratory will provide the underpinning information needed for progress in agriculture, for food and biofuels, and in the conservation of biodiversity. It will be a key component of the local plant science community.
The location of the Sainsbury Laboratory in the Botanic Garden, adjacent to our new Plant Growth Facility, is ideal. It will enable ready interactions among plant scientists in the Sainsbury Laboratory, the Botanic Garden, and the Department of Plant Sciences. The building has been designed by world-class architects, to the very highest specifications, with special emphasis on interaction space. Its immediate surroundings have been designed by one of the UK's leading landscape architects. It will be an extremely attractive place to work and a landmark addition to Cambridge architecture. It is a hugely exciting prospect for plant science in Cambridge.
Professor D. C. BAULCOMBE:
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am pleased and privileged to support the proposal for the Sainsbury Laboratory in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. I have been Professor of Botany here since September 2007 but, for the previous nineteen years, I was a group leader and periodically Head of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, so I fully understand the implications and the benefits of being supported by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The Gatsby funding in Norwich allowed me and the other group leaders in the Laboratory to realize our full potential as research scientists. Our combined output since 1988, when the Laboratory was established, includes some of the most highly cited papers in plant science research and many inventions that have been licensed extensively by industry, so it's not just a pure research exercise, it's a useful operation as well. Sainsbury Laboratory Norwich group leaders have received many awards and membership of National Academies including the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences.
The success of the Norwich Laboratory is due in a large part to the Gatsby approach, which provides adequate funding for research and encouragement to address big questions in plant science research. The approach also includes frequent and rigorous continuous assessment. This provides a model for support of scientific research. There is a level of stability and support that allows for academic freedom, but the continuous assessment means that this is not a sinecure. Indeed, over a period of years some of the scientists in Norwich did not meet the extreme criteria that were required. I know that there is already a queue of excellent plant scientists wishing to take advantage of the opportunities in the new Sainsbury Laboratory (Cambridge University). I am confident that these and other individuals with the combined benefit of Gatsby support and the excellent academic environment of Cambridge University will allow the Cambridge version of the Sainsbury Laboratory to surpass even the achievements of the Laboratory in Norwich. I say this in a spirit of friendly rivalry with my former institution. I'm confident that the outcome will be new basic discoveries relevant to life sciences generally - not only plant science research. I am also confident that there will be new inventions and discoveries with applications in various areas of life science including conservation science, agriculture, biotechnology, and biomedicine. I strongly support the Sainsbury Laboratory at Cambridge University.
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Cambridge University Reporter 09 January 2008
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.