CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to EDP Norfolk today CLICK HERE

New fields of interest for UEA vice chancellor

PUBLISHED: 13:22 03 May 2016 | UPDATED: 13:22 03 May 2016

UEA vice chancellor David Richardson, who is the new Royal Norfolk Show president.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

UEA vice chancellor David Richardson, who is the new Royal Norfolk Show president. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

ARCHANT NORFOLK

David Richardson, vice chancellor of the University of East Anglia and this year’s president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association combines academia and agriculture, writes Rowan Mantell

In a university laboratory, bacteria are multiplying in bioreactors, and the observations of the scientists monitoring them could one day help farmers grow more food, cut climate change gases and generate electricity.

It’s just one of many hundreds of experiments going on at the University of East Anglia – but the man in charge of these particular bacteria is also in charge of the entire university.

Professor David Richardson, vice chancellor of UEA, has not let his role as chief executive of the university extinguish his love of science. This year he is also president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association – an honour offered to him as vice chancellor, which turns out to be a remarkable fit for a scientist at the forefront of soil research.

David does not plan to be a figurehead president, but to combine agriculture and science across the county to spark new initiatives. “I think I’m in a unique position at this moment of history to bring the agricultural community together with the science community and light the blue touch paper and begin to do things,” he says. “We’re in one of the most important agricultural regions in the country and we have a rich heritage of agricultural innovation. People like Coke of Holkham and Townshend of Raynham were genius researchers. They didn’t know their innovations were going to work, but they researched and experimented and made an impact on agriculture that is still felt all around the world.

“I think this could be a new era of pushing back the boundaries of agricultural innovation.”

His specialism is bacterial biochemistry, studying the micro bacteria which live in soil. Wearing his official Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association tie dotted with cartoon pictures of happy roosters, pigs and cows, he explains the research which could lead to better soil fertility, a reduction in climate change gases and a new source of electricity.

He is eloquent and persuasive on the subjects of photosynthesis, photosynthetic bacteria and the way soil bacteria consume nitrates to produce potent greenhouse gases. In a nearby laboratory his bioreactors of bacteria are revealing how to disrupt this process. And there are breakaway experiments too, where bacteria are transforming plant and animal waste into electricity. Electrode-consuming bacteria are already making enough electricity to power a calculator. One day it could be a home.

He is now head of the world-class university he arrived at 25 years ago for his first job. Rising through the ranks of management and scientific research he is enthused by the possibilities almost literally within sight.

“On Norwich Research Park, which we are part of, there is crop science, genome analysis, food research . . . And it’s all here in Norfolk, which was itself the driving force for agricultural innovation 200 years ago. How exciting is all of this? And how exciting to have the chance to be vice chancellor and president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association at just this moment!”

David believes the Royal Norfolk Show, run by the RNAA on June 29 and 30 this year, could be the ideal place to win over today’s teenagers. “We see thousands of young Norfolk children, very excited, at the Norfolk Show. Now we need to capture the enthusiasm of 13 and 14-year-olds. We need a new generation of innovators, in farming, agricultural engineering, understanding soil, plant breeding, computer science, agricultural economics, engineering, biology.”

He grew up near Newcastle and studied at Keele, Birmingham and Oxford universities before moving to UEA, adding a love of Norwich and Norfolk to his passion for science. He and his wife, who also works at UEA, have two children in their twenties, particularly love the north Norfolk coast, and collect pictures by local artists. “I have always liked art and one of the most wonderful things about being vice chancellor of this university is the fact that UEA has one of the best art collections of any university in the world, in the Sainsbury Centre. I was there when they were unpacking priceless paintings from the Hermitage in St Petersburg. You don’t think you are going to do that in your life!”

And the vice chancellor also admits to joining students (and other members of staff) at UEA gigs. “It’s not unusual for me to go to see a band,” he says. “My favourites here have been Joe Strummer, Stiff Little Fingers, The Damned, Elvis Costello . . .”

A keen football fan, he is torn between his boyhood and adopted cities when the Magpies play the Canaries. But there are no divided loyalties between his roles in management and academia, UEA and RNAA. As agriculture and science combine, he believes Norfolk could be a crucible of innovation, with our scientists and farmers both rooted in the region and reaching out around the globe.

More from People

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The battlefields of the Somme contain many thousands of graves for those who fell in the Great War. But only one cemetery bears the name of our county. As we prepare to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, Stacia Briggs visits Norfolk Cemetery for a very personal pilgrimage

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A bomb blast changed Dan Majid’s life for ever. Now the Norfolk PE teacher is ready to represent his country again

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

As he prepares for the auction of the fabulous Break hares, the charity’s patron Jake Humphrey reveals he is hoping to add to his own collection of GoGo creatures

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Humans and Other Animals exhibition will mark 25 years since the artist’s death

Read more
October 2018

Whatever your age, whatever your ambition, whatever your ability, Total Ensemble creates inclusive theatre with extraordinary results both on stage and off it

Read more
October 2018
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The new novel by Sarah Perry is out this month. It’s frighteningly good, writes Rowan Mantell

Read more
October 2018
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Explorer, adventurer and UEA graduate Benedict Allen is set to reveal all about his controversial Papua New Guinea expedition when he appears in Norwich this month

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

If your child has recently finished their studies and is considering what to do next, teaching English abroad can be a fantastic experience, both professionally and personally

Read more
September 2018

Tucked away in a small village, a trust is working hard to preserve a unique part of our shopping history

Read more
September 2018
Monday, September 10, 2018

We discover the story behind a beautiful pedal boat being built in Norfolk and meet the craft’s remarkable creator

Read more
September 2018

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search