New green centre is a beehive of activity

The University of Sheffield has unveiled its innovative Arthur Willis Environment Centre, which will house specialist research teams studying the biology of plants and social insects, such as ants and bees, in order to understand the ecological effects of climate change and to improve crop production in developing countries.

The £4.4 million facility, named after the late Emeritus Professor of Botany, started life as an old reservoir in the middle of Sheffield, and has now become one of the most advanced centres for studying global environmental change in the country.

Designed by Bond Bryan Architects and built by William Birch & Sons Ltd, the Centre has been planned specifically to allow scientists to carry out experiments in controlled environmental conditions, simulating temperatures from different regions around the globe, as well as future climate scenarios.

The exterior of the building contains 'bee holes' that will allow bees to pass through the building and be observed on their way to nearby hives. Internally, the laboratory is fitted out with very high specification equipment, fume cupboards and gas exchange manifolds.

Central to the facility is a £1 million bespoke 'Grodome' (greenhouse), which is able to control temperatures from +15oC to +35oC within 16 discrete units. The greenhouse is designed to be energy efficient, storing heat during the day and recycling energy throughout the night. The energy saved and recycled will then be used to run the facility.

Professor Lorraine Maltby, Head of the University's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: "The University's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences is renowned for its world-leading research into the study of organisms and their interactions with the environment. We are delighted to have expanded our facilities which will enable the city and the University be placed at the forefront of global environmental issues.

"As well as taking great strides to help solve some of the world's most pressing environmental concerns, the Centre will also help improve the city's biodiversity, with plants and beneficial insects being protected in the surrounding woodland."

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