Student spotlight: Lucy Hotchkiss

Earlier in the year, Lucy Hotchkiss was awarded one of our 2023 Rank Prize Undergrad Vacation grants in Optoelectronics with mentors Professor Daniel Osorio and Dr Haruko Okamoto at the University of Sussex. The project sought to evaluate the feasibility of using the ColourWorker (CW) app to measure plant health.

Smart agriculture is evermore essential in the time of climate crisis. Fertilisers, which are applied to ensure crop productivity, is problematic, as they are expensive and cause environmental harm. Cheap and accessible via smartphone, ColourWorker technology could complement or replace other non-invasive tools like specialised colorimeters to help farmers make food production more efficient and sustainable.

Over the summer, Lucy conducted experiments to compare spectral data, chlorophyll concentration, and SPAD (Soil Plant Analysis Development) meter readings, and relate them to CW measurements of the colour of plant leaves. The strong correlation between the CW measurements, SPAD readings and chlorophyll concentrations that Lucy found suggests that the technology has real potential for application in the measurement of plant colour, nutrition and health. Along the way, Lucy learnt new skills, including Python coding, and gained an insight into what it is like to work in research.

By bringing developments in visual science to bear on crop science, the project at the University of Sussex is also an excellent example of how both sides of our charity’s activities relate to each other.

Find out more about our Undergrad vacation grants here

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This grant provided a valuable opportunity to develop some important skills, from collecting and managing large datasets, to learning how to plan experiments.

I was lucky to have supervisors that provided a framework with enough structure not to feel completely lost, but the freedom for me to learn at my own pace.

Overall, it was really wonderful to work on something that could make agriculture more sustainable.”

Lucy Hotchkiss Undergraduate student, University of Sussex