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Cambridge Algal Innovation Centre Visit

Cambridge AgriFoRwArdS CDT students were treated to a tour of the Algal Innovation Centre (AIC) at the heart of the Cambridge Botanic Gardens on Friday 10th June. The AIC is a Centre for Excellence for algal research from strain selection and improvement, through harvesting and processing, to development of underpinning technology and engineering solutions.

The tour was part of a seminar series for the Observatory for Human Machine Collaboration (OMHC) where students who are part of the Bio Inspired Robotics Laboratory (BIRL) get together for a keynote speech and to share ideas and lunch. Professor Fumiya Lida, AgriFoRwArdS Co-Director is the principal Investor for BIRL and was the host for the day. The seminar series try to bring together everybody involved in OHMC and/or AgriFoRwArdS CDT projects, to learn ongoing projects, discuss challenges, and explore collaboration possibilities. This event was special as the cohort 3 AgriFoRwArdS CDT students who will be arriving in Cambridge this October, were invited to attend and participate in the activities.

Bethan Moncur, Garry Clawson and Vijja Wichitwechkarn had travelled from Lincoln to attend the day and started their journey around 08:00, arriving at Cambridge around 11:30. Other CDT students from within Cambridge arrived a little later and upon arrival everyone was treated to lunch! This generally ensures a great turn out, and in the same tradition, this session was very well attended. It was particularly nice to meet Narges Khadem Hosseini, who has recently joined as technical (mechatronics/electronics) support for the Cambridge AgriFoRwArdS CDT students. Once everyone had greeted one another and finished their lunch it was time to start the event.

Prof Ioannis Brilakis was the keynote speaker and started the session with a talk about the Digital Roads for the Future project. This was particularly relevant as the systems and collaborations that will be developed as part of this project will be directly relevant in the agri-tech sector.

Once Prof Ioannis Brilakis had finished his keynote and completed taking questions, the tour of the AIC was ready to start. The OHMC is only a short 5 minute stroll from the AIC, and with the sun shining it was a nice opportunity to get some fresh air. The group was met at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens by Dr Payam Mehrshahi, the manager of the AIC and principal researcher. Dr Mehrshahi was our guide for the visit.

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Introduction to the AIC by Dr Payam Mehrshahi at the entrance to the Cambridge Botanic Gardens.

Once the group was briefed about the work that takes place in the AIC, they were invited to enter the lab and see it for themselves. Due to the temperature of the day and the lab being situated in the centre of the beautiful and open Botanic Gardens (as well as being made of glass), the AIC building was extremely warm!

The first part of the presentation was discussing the importance of the work that algae enables as well as its current and future uses. From Spirilla in health foods to dyes in clothing, algae offers a vast range of applications.

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Dr Payam Mehrshahi introducing the group to the AIC lab and the work and associated research it carries out.

This second stage of the tour was kindly presented by fourth year Plant Science PhD student, Nhan-An Tran. Nhan-An took the group through each of the stages that were required to grow the samples and the complexities of harvesting them. Particularly the complexities of scaling from a small milligram sample to multi-litre systems while ensuring that conditions and health of the algae were maintained.

Plant Science's PhD student Nhan-An Tran presenting the Algal vertical tubes for growth specimens.
Plant Science’s PhD student Nhan-An Tran presenting the Algal vertical tubes for growth specimens.

Seeing the work that took place within the AIC was inspiring. The applications and use cases presented seemed endless, and its interconnection into agri-tech, via potential future uses of robotics to automate, measure and monitor, and ensure improved standards within the lab was evident.

Once the tour had come to a close, the team gathered outside of the Sainsbury Laboratory to share ideas for collaboration, discuss the forward looking work of using algae as food for space travel, as well as reflect and share thoughts on what had just been presented. At the close of the session the group was treated to a drink and meal at the Emperor Tapas bar arranged by fellow CDT student (Cohort 1)  Grzegorz Sochacki. Thank you Grzegorz!

A huge thank you to Veronica Egorova for arranging the day. Thank you also to Prof Fumiya Lida for hosting the session in the OHMC. Additionally, a huge thank you to the AIC lab, Dr Payam Mehrshahi, and Nhan-An Tran for sharing their work. Thank you also to Narges and Dr Matt Davey from SAMS (previous manager at the AIC) for the taking them!

If you are interested in taking part in activities like this, and share a passion for agriculture and technology then go to our AgriFoRwArdS CDT website to see more about the research we do, how you can be involved and how to apply.

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