Astro, particle and nuclear physicists set to tackle global food challenges
The STFC Food Network+ (SFN) launches today, bringing together hundreds of people to bring new capabilities to bear on the challenges of providing a safe, sustainable, nutritious and affordable supply of food for all. The launch is marked by a meeting today and tomorrow in Manchester. The SFN will catalyse and fund collaborations between food researchers and research and facilities funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
“Food contributes over 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and will likely be the main way most people experience climate change” says Prof. Katherine Denby, of the University of York and SFN co-lead, “We need to produce safe and nutritious food in a sustainable way without depleting natural resources, and ensure the accessibility and resilience of food supply. The UK’s STFC can play a major role in helping to address these challenges, by bringing access and expertise in the UK’s biggest facilities as well as big data and precision instrumentation expertise from fundamental research in astro, particle and nuclear physics.”
Prof. Sarah Bridle, of the University of Manchester and lead of the SFN, is optimistic about the potential for STFC researchers to contribute to solving food challenges “For example, in my astronomy research I analyse images of galaxies from multiple observations of large areas of sky taken at different light wavelengths from optical through to infra-red. I’m now using the same tools to cut out observations of fields of wheat and look for signs of weed infestation.”
STFC is always looking to explore the existing and potential capability of the whole STFC research community in food research, with the aim of broadening the impact of STFC’s science and technology into areas that are strategically important to the UK. STFC is able to contribute key capabilities in a number of important areas including in high performance computing, in particular in modelling and optimising large data sets; utilising our major facilities that include the UK’s key ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility, the Central Laser Facility and access to Diamond Light Source Ltd. These facilities offer researchers the ability to research processes and materials in detail. STFC also has access to robotics and autonomous systems.
An editorial piece in Physics World last year ended with “Particle theorists achieve many things, but tackling the world’s obesity crisis is not something they can ever hope to address’', but Bridle disagrees “I think we’re going to be surprised at the new connections that get made. One project to count pollinators in a field produces images of white dots moving across a dark background - show this to a particle physicist and they get excited about the potential to use tools they already developed to analyse particle tracks at CERN!”
Prof. Mark Reed of the University of Newcastle is an expert in trans-disciplinary research and research impact in food systems, and co-lead of the SFN “There definitely seems to be an appetite for these two communities to engage with each other, with over 600 responses to the pre-launch survey that ran last month. We set ourselves the target of getting 300 people on our mailing list by the end of the 3 year project, but there are already over 400 people signed up” says Reed.
The SFN Launch meeting today will present food challenges from agriculture, food supply and safety, through to consumer food waste. The STFC participants will showcase their capabilities today, culminating in a presentation of STFC-funded project Zooniverse which brings hundreds of thousands of people from around the world to assist professional researchers. Says Prof. Chris Lintott, Zooniverse PI and Co-founder. “I’m looking forward to understanding what bottlenecks occur in supplying the world with safe food, and how our community can help”.
The STFC Food Network+ runs for 3 years and will fund proof of concept studies, visits between researchers, small focussed meetings, and annual network meetings like the one today.
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About The STFC Food Network+
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Food Network+ (SFN) aims to bring together STFC researchers and facilities with research and industry in the agri-food sector. The SFN will build an interdisciplinary community working to provide a sustainable, secure supply of safe, nutritious, and affordable high-quality food using less land, with reduced inputs, and in the context of global climate change and declining natural resources. The SFN will highlight and develop key opportunities for the STFC community to make a meaningful contribution to the food system - from sustainable intensification, through building resilience in supply chains to novel technologies to engage consumers and help change behaviour and improve nutrition.
The STFC Food Network+ is led by:
Sarah Bridle, Principal Investigator (University of Manchester) 07932 395 210
Alison Fletcher, Project Manager (University of Manchester)
Professor Katherine Denby, Co-Investigator (University of York)
Dr Kieran Flanagan, Co-Investigator (University of York)
Professor Bruce Grieve, Co-Investigator (University of York)
Professor Jason Halford, Co-Investigator (University of Liverpool)
Professor Lenny Koh, Co-Investigator (University of Sheffield)
Professor Mark Reed, Co-Investigator (Newcastle University)
Alastair Taylor, Steering Committee Chair (CEO at Institution of Agricultural Engineers)
About the Science and Technology Facilities Council
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.
STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including in the UK the ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR, and is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd. It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils. It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
September 2022 - Caroline Wood, Freelance Science Writer