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Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009
The Plant Professor

Professor Sue Hartley

"I can promise you some explosions,"

Professor Sue Hartley admits to being slightly daunted by the prospect of teaching science to the nation at Christmas in the Royal Institution lectures, but she has both a plan and a passion.

The University of Sussex academic will follow in the steps of science superstars like Michael Faraday when she takes to the podium in early December.

"It's very exciting, because of course there's such a long tradition associated with them. They started in 1825 with Michael Faraday, one of the most famous scientists that Britain has ever produced so there is a long and illustrious history that I am sort of struggling to live up to," said Prof. Hartley.

Professor Sue Hartley
Plants...look a little bit like sitting ducks that animals can just come along and take a bite out of, but they have a surprising arsenal of defences
Professor Sue Hartley

"It's slightly daunting, I have to say and I suppose the other thing that's a little bit challenging is that most people who have delivered the lectures before have been sort of elderly gentlemen. So I think that without a grey beard I'm going to be struggling to do it properly,"

The professor is a community ecologist whose special interest is the inter-action between plants and animals. She is an expert on the ways that plants defend themselves. The lectures will consider plant poisons, how animals use plants for their own defences and emerging environmental threats.

"Plants are certainly holding their own. They look a little bit like sitting ducks that animals can just come along and take a bite out of, but they have a surprising arsenal of defences that make life very difficult for animals that try and eat plants," she said.

But what about the explosions?

"One of the difficulties you have got if you eat plants is that often you need help from bacteria in your stomach and of course one thing that that does is produce a lot of methane which is really quite explosive, so we are going to have some fun with that," she said.






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