REP Project

June 17, 2022

How do plant volatiles influence our perception of the environmental quality of a place?

Photo of a garden rose

Location: Lancaster University, Lancaster Environment Centre

Duration: 6-10 weeks

A funded opportunity is available for an undergraduate student in a quantitative discipline such as mathematics, computing, physical sciences or engineering (subject to the eligibility criteria below) to contribute to an ongoing interdisciplinary study to improve our understanding of how different people perceive and respond to the environmental quality of urban open space.

You will work within a team from Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), James Hutton Institute and Universities of Sussex, Southampton and Exeter, and have the opportunity to interact with partners from Eden Project North, Culture Probe, and Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Work can begin from 28th June and will run until September (approximately 8-10 weeks of flexible working, depending on age and experience). You will be supported by a student stipend of National Living Wage from the Envision NERC scheme. This paid research placement is an exciting opportunity to gain experience in environmental sampling, chemical identification, and advanced data analysis and visualisation, all while developing your CV.

Plants produce myriad volatile compounds. Some have clear roles as hormones, metabolites and antioxidants within the plant, while others are used to carry signals between cells and to communicate with other flora and fauna. For example, flowering plants release volatile compounds to attract pollinators but plants can also emit compounds to attract predators if they are attacked by parasitic or herbivorous insects. Humans are also attracted to or repelled by the scent of plant volatiles, and sensory gardens have long been associated with benefits to health and wellbeing. There is a growing body of research suggesting that the environmental quality of a place influences our response to and experience of that place – but it is not clear how we perceive “quality” in this context.

The aim of this project is to investigate whether specific plant volatiles determine our perception of environmental quality and influence our response to urban green spaces.

The objectives are: (1) to identify and quantify the plant volatiles found in ambient air across a range of green spaces in Lancaster-Morecambe;

(2) to observe differences in the level and purpose of use and how people interact with those green spaces;

(3) to determine whether the differences in the profile of volatiles in the air influences space use and apparent attractiveness.

This study will be conducted alongside and complementary to a pilot project investigating the wider bio-psycho-socio-spiritual factors that shape our perceptions of environmental quality and nature-connectedness, during which people’s response to different green spaces will be recorded.

Following training and initial supervision by Dr Ashworth and the Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions research group, you will be encouraged to work independently with regular discussions and guidance from the group. By the end of the placement, you would have gained:

  • laboratory and analysis skills and techniques fundamental to the environmental and chemical sciences, specifically headspace sample collection, and the application, analysis and interpretation of mass spectroscopy
  • experiential learning from current research students, leading to increased understanding of the wider skills involved in research
  • opportunity to make an important contribution to a key issue in environmental and public health research: the effects of plant volatiles in our perceptions of an urban green space
  • experience of the collaborative nature of research
  • opportunity to build and demonstrate independence and critical thinking.

The specific training and degree of independence offered will be guided by your needs.

We particularly welcome applications from students from under-represented backgrounds, those with non-traditional routes to university and those with particular support and accessibility needs. Enthusiasm, independence, self-motivation, curiosity and the ability to communicate to a range of audiences are all that is required.

To apply

Please check you meet the eligibility criteria before completing the online data collection form; this form is a mandatory part of the application process, but contains ‘prefer not to say’ options for all questions asked.

Once you have completed the online data collection form you will receive an email with the application form and details of how to apply to the supervisor. The application form should be completed and emailed to the lead supervisor along with a reference from your personal tutor.