Young Researcher Aids Bluetongue Control Policy
Northern Ireland’s fight against the spread of bluetongue is attracting the best minds from all tiers of agri-science – and a young FE student can claim to have played a key role in developing pioneering research into the disease. As a result of going through the Sentinus Nuffield Bursary Scheme, Stuart Watson from Bangor spent 6 weeks on placement at Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) headquarters investigating the emergence and feeding activity of biting midges which act as transmitters of the bluetongue virus.
Pictured at AFBI NEwforge are (L-R) Sentinus Project Manager, Evelyn Heaslip, student, Stuart Watson and Senior Scientific Officer, Stephen Jess.
Sentinus is a not-for-profit education charity which aims to promote sciences and life skills in young people. The research was part of an examination into Bluetongue control policy for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Stuart, who is a HND Biology with Chemistry student, said: “This was an extremely useful and practical piece of research into one of the major challenges facing the Northern Ireland dairy industry. It was great to work alongside AFBI scientists and to see for myself how much effort is going into researching bluetongue and how to limit its transmission.”
He added: “The Nuffield scheme has allowed me to gain valuable experience in the agri-science industry. Before this I didn’t know what I wanted to study next year, now I have narrowed my career path down to either zoology or ecology. I can definitely see myself working in a similar career as the scientists at AFBI. Working in a lab situation is both challenging and rewarding and I thoroughly enjoyed studying the Bluetongue virus.”
The Nuffield Bursary Scheme allows science and technology students to take part in research and development projects in industry or research institutions during the summer holidays. This paid placement offers an opportunity for students to gain four to six weeks of hands-on experience culminating with an industrial report which on completion is accredited with a British Science Association CREST Gold Award.
AFBI Senior Scientific Officer, Dr Stephen Jess, added: “AFBI have come on board with Nuffield Bursary Scheme to allow students to experience the day-to-day work of scientists in the field of agri-food research. We believe that in order to maintain the necessary skill base in Northern Ireland, we need enthusiastic and dedicated young people to take an interest in agricultural science and participation in the scheme is a great way to achieve just that.”
He added: “In order to ensure a thriving livestock industry we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to mitigate the risk of bluetongue, so we are very grateful for Stuart’s contribution. Introduction of the virus could have devastating effects on the industry so it’s important to investigate bluetongue thoroughly and take steps to prevent any further outbreaks.”
Sentinus Projects Manager, Evelyn Heaslip, said that their aim is to help develop young scientists so they can contribute to a sustainable science industry – which includes sectors such as agri-food.
“The Nuffield Bursary Scheme is a great way for students to gain insight into the sciences and gives them exposure to real-world problems such as bluetongue. Organisations such as AFBI are essential to Sentinus’s work – and they often benefit from young students bringing in fresh ideas and an extra pair of hands to help with research,” she said.
Students can now apply for the 2010 Nuffield Bursary Scheme online at www.sentinus.co.uk. Completed application forms should be returned to Sentinus by 1st February 2010.