A Peterborough student has won a major award after developing a new lighting system to help improve plant growth.
Roland Christopher, 12, from the King’s School, was one of nine winners of the NFU’s Farmvention competition who exhibited ideas to aid climate-smart farming and food production at the House of Commons on 24 November 2021.
Children from the winning schools showed MPs how they utilised their Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills and knowledge to develop practical tools for sustainable farming.
The winning inventions were among hundreds of designs submitted by students for Farmvention, which teaches STEM subjects through the lens of agriculture and farming. For 2021 the focus was on the aim for British farming to be net zero by 2040.
As well as attending the House of Commons event, the winning schools received £1,000 to spend on STEM or outdoor learning equipment.
Lighting the way
For his winning entry, Roland investigated which combination of coloured lights would be best for growing crops, and then used his computer programming skills to develop an Arduino based lighting system. He came up with the results of 80% red and 20% blue as the optimum mix.
He then enhanced the model by incorporating a computer vision algorithm to recognise the stage of plant growth and automatically adjust the light settings, which he demonstrated at the event.
Roland said: “Plants require different coloured lights depending on the phase of their lifecycle. By producing the right-coloured light to match the plant growth stage, energy costs can be substantially reduced. This system would also be useful to monitor plants for diseases and stunt the growth of certain bugs.
“I was very excited when I heard that I had won and I’ve really enjoyed coming here to London and presenting my findings.”
Science teacher Dr Jane Combrink, who attended the event with Roland, said: “The school was so excited when this was announced, and we were delighted to be represented here in London with the other winners.
“Everyone is really proud of Roland. He has shown an amazing amount of maturity when putting the competition entry together.”
'The pioneers of the future'
At the event, NFU President Minette Batters awarded the students a trophy to mark their achievement, telling them: “You are the pioneers of the future.”
Minette said: “There has been a huge focus on climate change this year so it’s only right that we celebrate our Climate Superheroes – not just the farmers who deliver sustainable food for our plates every day, but the creatives and scientists who come up with the new technologies that enable us to do it.
“The ingenuity of the inventions showcased today is truly exciting and I hope this experience has inspired children about the possibilities within both farming and STEM careers.”
'Innovative and imaginative'
Peterborough MP Paul Bristow was among those who attended the Farmvention event. He said it was inspiring that Roland’s project had won an award.
“It’s really impressive and he makes me proud of Peterborough,” he said.
“I think the Farmvention competition is fantastic. The more we get young people thinking about farming, thinking about food and where it comes from, the better. This is a really innovative and imaginative way of doing that.”
Other winning projects included designing drones to help solve the problem of flooding in Lincolnshire, a vertical farming system to enable crops to be grown in salt marshes, and a carbon labelling system for British flowers.