Conference Grows Interest in Plant Science

The first annual Plants Beyond Limits Conference was held Friday, Nov. 10, at the University of Central Florida.

Over 200 UCF students, alumni and visitors from the greater Orlando area attended. Tickets sold out online a week before the event making turnout a success. Many attendees expressed their excitement to be a part of the inaugural conference, and were eager to expand their knowledge on the significance of plants.

Assistant Professor Chase Mason, Ph.D., and Associate Lecturer Rani Vajravelu, Ph.D., both coordinators for the conference, hoped students would find it beneficial, as the Biology is introducing a new plant science track next fall.

“We had a great group of speakers. Attendance by students, faculty and the community was really great,” Mason said. “I think folks learned a lot from our diverse group of speakers and workshops. Hopefully it will increase interest in the plant sciences.”

Vajravelu noted it was gratifying to see that the conference served as an avenue for both our alumni and current students to reach out and learn from each other. It was one of the team’s goals as they started the planning process.

“We dedicated this conference to the wonderful world of plants that go far beyond our basic food and clothing needs, to bring an awareness to the value of plants in our lives and the planet we live in,” she said.

The conference primarily focused on the relationship between humans and plants. The three keynote speakers presented their research involving plants, different jobs in their field and how the community can be involved.

Ray Wheeler, Ph.D., a plant physiologist at NASA’S Kennedy Space Center, spoke about how plants could be used for human life support and space exploration. He has focused much of his research on using plants for food and bioregenerative life support systems for future space missions.

Stella Salvo, Ph.D., from Monsanto Company leads Asia-Africa Precision Breeding. Salvo has worked for the USDA in maize breeding and has served as a USAID volunteer. She talked about innovations in plant breeding, and how breeding and genetics in plants have rapidly changed plant science. Her focus was to inspire students and influence them to work in the field.

Director of the Florida School of Holistic Living, Emily Ruff, is a community herbalist who has practiced the art and science of plant healing. Founder of the Orlando Grief Care Project, and coordinator of the Herbal Action Network, Ruff shared her latest study on botanical science and plant consciousness. Ruff taught techniques to connect with local plant allies to capture their healing force, and their inspirational balance and wellness in our world.

Workshop speakers included UCF faculty from the College of Sciences and UCF alumni, who held talks to elaborate on plant conservation, history and research. Many students found the conference to be informative and recognized the significance that plants have in their lives.

Briana Welsh, a junior, said the conference enhanced her awareness about plants.

“The Plants Beyond Limits conference has brought into light many issues locally and globally that we should really take to heart and start making an impact on. It’s a great start to this revolution,” Welsh said.

Lauren Rogers, an alumna representative on the conference committee, said, “A really meaningful part of this conference was the fact that whenever possible students and alumni were given opportunities to be a part of the conference. That is so cool and very motivating.”

Camerin Welsh, a senior, said, “It was really interesting because my major isn’t botany or anything biology related. I am actually a nursing major and this conference has been very informative in a wide variety of different aspects. It’s good because it’s teaching us not only how other people are helping and making efforts to be involved in the research and conservation of plants, but how we individually can do that as well.”

Beginning in fall 2018 students can continue to engage with plant sciences through the new track. It will provide students a diverse knowledge of the plant world, and plants’ impact on humans and the environment. The plant sciences track will include classes such as Principles of Plant Science and courses on plant physiology, taxonomy, culinary uses and medicinal applications of plants. Students will have the right skills to find jobs in biotechnology labs, state parks, field technicians and teaching positions.

Learn more about the UCF Department of Biology.

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