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Have your say - Is harnessing the power of photosynthesis a way to cheap, pollution-free power?

18 July 2007

What? Making light of energy – Free public discussion event with leading scientists
When? Tuesday 24 July, 6.30pm – 9pm
Where? Glasgow Science Centre, 50 Pacific Quay, Glasgow, G51 1EA

Some scientists think that harnessing the power of photosynthesis – the system plants use to turn light into energy – could provide us with cheap, clean energy. But should we be putting public money into research that may not pay off for decades, if ever? What are the wider social implications of using this technology? The public has the chance to talk to photosynthesis experts and social scientists and discuss these issues at a free event chaired by the broadcaster Quentin Cooper in Glasgow next week (24 July).

Top UK photosynthesis researchers will be joined at the event at Glasgow Science Centre by two Scotland-based renewable energy experts to discuss how carbon-free, cheap energy could come about and what the implications could be.

Professor Jim Barber from Imperial College London will be on the discussion panel. He says: “More solar energy strikes the earth in one hour than all the global fossil fuels provide in a whole year. Early on in the history of life on earth, plants developed mechanisms that took advantage of this immense energy resource and captured it in the process that we now call photosynthesis.”

“We do not fully understand how photosynthesis works, but recent key advances in plant research mean that the time is right to consider this science as a basis for future sustainable energy sourcing.”

With oil supplies set to run out and with climate change a real challenge some scientists think that photosynthesis could provide the basis for some of the solutions we will need in the future. However, as with any new technology, there may be far-reaching effects on society which need to be assessed at an early stage by both scientists and the public.

Quentin Cooper, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Material World and chair of the discussion event, said: “New research and technology is always exciting, even more so when the research offers the potential of cheap, clean energy. But we must remember that applications from this research could be years into the future. How much effort should we put into this now, what concerns should we take into account? The public have a unique chance to meet with leading scientists and discuss the future of this cutting-edge science.”

The discussion event, organised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the UK’s main public funder of life science research, will give the public the chance to learn more about the possibilities of photosynthesis research, to discuss their thoughts with experts and social scientists and to contribute their views on the future direction of photosynthesis-derived energy research.

The event is free and refreshments will be provided. To register to attend or for more information contact Patrick Middleton, Tel: 01793 413368, e-mail:

Confirmed speakers at the discussion are plant scientists Prof Jim Barber from Imperial College London and Prof Christine Raynes from the University of Essex, who will explain just what we understand about photosynthesis. Renewable energy expert Prof Paul Mitchell from the University of Aberdeen will look at how this technology might fit in with other energy sources, including biofuels. Sociologist Prof Steve Yearley of the University of Edinburgh will consider the social implications and potential risks of this new technology. Presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Material World, Quentin Cooper, will chair the debate.

Members of the media are welcome to attend this event – please register in advance. Contact 01793 414694.


Notes to editors

‘Making Light of Energy’ is a public discussion at the Glasgow Science Centre, 24 July 2007, 6.30-9pm. Talk to leading scientists about how understanding plants use of solar energy could help us harness the sun’s power and discuss with social scientists the ethical implications of this technology.

The event is free and refreshments will be provided. To register to attend or for more information contact Patrick Middleton, Tel: 01793 413368, e-mail:

The public discussion is running alongside the Society for Experimental Biology’s Photosynthesis 2007 conference in Glasgow.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382