By Dr Joseph Buhagiar FSB, lecturer at the University of Malta. He received the first overseas award of the Royal Society of Biology’s Regional Grant Scheme.
It all started with an email from David Urry on 6th January pertaining to the Regional Grant Scheme for 2015. Not that I am usually idle but the title for this year really caught my attention – Biology: Changing the World.
I wrote to David and asked if a member from outside of UK would be eligible for the call and he said that I was more than welcome to apply. So in the few remaining days to the deadline (12th January) we came up with a great application entitled: ‘How Plants Can Change the World’ since we wanted to use our Argotti Botanic Gardens as a backdrop to our own open day. Well, imagine our surprise when we were informed that we actually got the grant.
In the few months left before the opening we had to get everything together, bought and ready. Not an easy task considering that from an open day it became an open weekend, and from initially only having the Royal Society of Biology on board, we got others involved, including the Department of Biology at University of Malta, the Faculty of Science (which this year is celebrating the centenary of its foundation), the Ministry of Education, the University Science Students’ Society and even the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology.
A small team of four people worked full-time to prepare materials for the open weekend, from banners, flyers and brochures to press releases and school circulars. There was also hundreds of phone calls made to local schools, press, etc. on the very last days to ensure a good turnout. The planning of stand contents also took time and information boards were made to display information on our five chosen themes:
- Plant Diversity for Multiple Uses
- Plants and Climate Change
- Herbs and Medicine
- Plants and Waste Water
- Plants and Engineering
The day before the opening was very hectic but thankfully, HSBC bank provided us with 33 employees to volunteer a day helping us to set up six tents. With five gardeners, two technical officers and office staff we managed to get everything set up for Friday 17th April. The day started off with last-minute changes but by 09:15 I was relaxed enough to sit down and wait for the Hon. Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Education and Employment to arrive for the official opening. The Minister spent about an hour touring the different stands, speaking to visitors and students from local schools, showing appreciation for the open learning activity and the time spent to organize it. His last word was that the event should become an annual occasion, and so we hope it will be. Over the three days (Friday to Sunday) we welcomed a very encouraging number of visitors and we hope that everyone had the chance to appreciate how studying biology can make things happen and indeed change the world!