The Arthur Willis Environment Centre
This unit (the result of a £4.5 million investment by the University of Sheffield) was officially opened in May 2009. Named after Arthur Willis, the late Emeritus Professor of Botany, AWEC provides a state-of-the-art ‘GroDome’. The 16 discrete units can be used to simulate plant growth conditions for different regions around the globe, as well as future climate scenarios. It contains dedicated laboratory, office and meeting room space to enable researchers to investigate the wide variety of environmental challenges facing the planet.
The greenhouse is designed to be energy efficient, storing heat during the day and recycling this energy during the night to run the facility. The cooling/heating system allows the creation and maintenance of specific environmental conditions, which enables researchers to investigate the impact of present and future climate change.
A wide range of topics are studied at AWEC. These include investigations aimed at understanding social insect behaviour and pathology, the role of symbiotic fungi in plant interactions and research into improving crop plants. For example, researchers are collaborating with groups in Africa to improve the resistance of rice and maize to Striga, a major hinderance to crops in many developing nations. Other groups are working on an international project (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) to improve the yield of rice. Such work has the potential to have a major impact on world food security.