March 10, 2021, by Ruth Musson

Meet Alex Burgess Our “Exceptional Researcher”

Alexandra Burgess is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Nottingham. Alex has recently won a Gatsby Foundation Grant to Exceptional Researchers.

What is your background?

I completed a Biology degree at Oxford from 2013 – 2016. Whilst I was there, I got the opportunity to attend a summer school programme with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. This was really helpful. I met lots of similarly minded people from all over the country with whom I stayed in touch. It took place in York and we attended a variety of lectures and practical sessions about different aspects of plants.
My first contact with Nottingham came when I applied for an internship during the summer following the first year of my degree. I worked with Tim Robbins and Erik Murchie, which led me to apply for a PhD at Nottingham. The PhD, Variable Light Environment in Complex 3D canopies, relates to how the canopy light environment determines photosynthesis in crops. This eventually led me on to a Fellowship in the same subject and introduced me to my current collaborators in the School of Computer science.

Leverhulme Fellowship

I held two post doc positions, first in London in a biophysics and biochemistry lab. Then a post back in Nottingham on the effect of wind movement through crop canopies before applying for a Leverhulme Fellowship. I started in September and my topic is how architectural traits of crop plants influence light and photosynthesis. There is also a social component looking at whether farmers have an architectural preference ie do they like their crops to be tall or green for example and does this coincide with scientific evidence for how productive the canopies are. We will also be looking to the future – how will the light change for instance with climate change we are expecting the crops to move further north and this may have implications for the crops that are most suitable.

Gatsby Grant to Exceptional Researchers

I knew about the grant from my previous connection with the Gatsby Foundation. In order to apply you have to be a fellow so the first time I applied was in September of last year; that time I was unsuccessful but was invited to apply again, which I did in December. I developed the proposal with the help of Erik Murchie and the research support office for the costings. Funding was granted for a 9.5 month project, working with a post doc in Computer science who will develop a new tool which will model light in the canopy. It will be the first tool that looks at spectral quality of the light, so falls under the category of developing community resources.



What would you say to someone who wanted to apply for an Gatsby Grant?

I would say go for it, but I would talk to Roxaana Clayton first who gives great advice and would be able to tell you whether your project is likely to qualify. And for undergraduates out there I would definitely recommend the summer school!

If you want to learn more about the Gatsby Foundation see here

If you are interested in applying for a grant please contact Sb-Research

Alex has her own website and will be guest editing a special edition of a journal later this year. 

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