Distinguished alumnus opens $6.3m greenhouse complex at UNE

Published 07 February 2010

plaqueOne of the first people to graduate from the University of New England with a Bachelor of Natural Resources degree has returned to the University to officially open its new, state-of-the-art greenhouse complex.

Mr Rory Gordon, who came to UNE in 1971 as one of the University’s first cohort of Natural Resources students, compared the new $6.3 million greenhouse complex with the greenhouses of his student years, saying that developments in this – and other campus facilities – had been “spectacular”. Mr Gordon is now the General Manager of Health, Safety and Environment for Rio Tinto Coal Australia.

Speaking at the opening ceremony last Friday (5 February), Mr Gordon said he was “delighted” to be opening such a “magnificent facility”. He spoke about the vision of the founding Professor of Natural Resources at UNE, John Burton, in establishing the first degree program of its kind in Australia 40 years ago, and the vision of Professor Caroline Gross, from UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science, in leading the campaign for the new greenhouse complex over the past two decades.

The Dean of UNE’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Professor Margaret Sedgley, confirmed that Professor Gross had “led the crusade” to achieve the new complex, and Professor Gross acknowledged Professor Sedgley’s committed support in securing funding for the project in 2006. She also acknowledged contributions to the project by many other UNE staff members – both past and present.

In outlining the structure and function of the greenhouse complex, Professor Gross said it included 25 separate rooms, in each of which temperature and watering could be controlled independently. “Such independent control gives us the ability to undertake research programs that tackle new and continuing environmental and horticultural problems,” she said. “Automatic monitoring systems and the capacity to modulate light intensity now make it possible to study the Australian flora and horticulturally important groups in precise detail.”

The complex also includes an area (known as “the potting shed”) that incorporates analytical facilities for soil and plant growth and offices and laboratories for staff and students.

“One of the first trials undertaken in the new facility involved screening of cereal lines such as wheat and triticale for frost tolerance,” Professor Gross said. “Mild to severe frosting of cereals is predicted to increase with climate change, and identifying varieties that are tolerant of more frequent, mild frosting is a national priority that UNE has been able to contribute to significantly in the few months that the complex has been fully operational.”

She mentioned other research projects under way in the greenhouse complex that also contribute to national programs (particularly in relation to climate change), and Mr Gordon emphasised the significance of the new facility in the context of climate change.

The new Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, who attended the opening ceremony, performed his first official function at the University in moving a vote of thanks. Professor Barber said the event celebrated two well-recognised attributes of UNE: its national and international reputation in plant sciences and agronomy, and its close working relationships with business and industry partners. In thanking Mr Gordon, he acknowledged the support of companies such as Rio Tinto Coal Australia in choosing UNE as a research partner for projects of regional and national significance.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of the plaque displayed here expands to show (from left) Professor Caroline Gross, Professor Jim Barber, Mr Rory Gordon, and Professor Margaret Sedgley.