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Royal Visit 1999

The Prince of Wales brought an informal air to his visit to the University when he met staff and students and spent time learning about mosquitoes and rare snails. These were some of the exhibits which helped to illustrate some of the research work being undertaken by the University to improve the quality of our environment and to reduce global health problems.

His Royal Highness officially opened the new School of Biosciences. The new ‘super school’ has some 100 staff and more than 1,000 students, and will be led by Professor Martin Evans FRS, a world authority on mammalian genetics who is joining Cardiff from Cambridge University.

Prince Charles examines the work of postgraduate Hydrobiology students into river pollution.

Joining postgraduate Hydrobiology students for a practical class in assessing river pollution

The visit was hosted by University President, Neil Kinnock; Chair of Council, Sir Peter Phillips and Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor John King. The Vice-Chancellor was unavoidably away on University business. The Prince of Wales began his visit by joining students for a practical class in applied hydrobiology as they were examining insects collected as part of a field visit to the River Wye at Usk. The one-year MSc in Applied Hydrobiology prepares students for careers in pollution control and water management and updates the skills of those already working in these areas.

This was followed by an explanation of the "Sustaining Rivers" work of the Catchment Research Group which is led by Dr Steve Ormerod, who is well-known for his work on the effects of acid rain in the UK and overseas. His group is also developing methods for using aquatic organisms as cost-effective indicators of pollution. PhD student Alisa Watson is studying freshwater snails and talked to the Prince about the possible reasons for their decline in numbers. Alisa said, "He was particularly interested in my research into how methods of dredging rivers have changed, from using hand tools to sophisticated machinery, which was obviously of interest to him from an environmental point of view."

Environmentally friendly ways of disposing of unwanted explosives was explained by Research Fellow, Dr Samantha Marshall. She is working on the development of bacterial systems for the biodegradation of nitro-organic explosives. "The Prince was quite surprised that bacteria could eat explosives. It was good to discuss research with someone outside the scientific community who is genuinely interested in our reasons for doing environmental science." 

royal visit 1999 charles bacteria

Dr Samantha Marshall explains that bacteria really can help dispose of nitro-organic explosives

Air-borne particles, such as diesel exhaust particles, and their effect on health is the research theme, "Small particles, big problems" which Dr Kelly BeruBe explained to the Prince. Her demonstration included airborne particles from filters collected from various parts of the country. Pointing to a virtually clean sample she explained that this was taken from the Duchy of Cornwall; then pointing to a blackened, more polluted sample, she added, "and this is where your mother lives."

Malaria is the second largest killer in the world, with an estimated 500 million people a year becoming infected. Professor Janet Hemingway is developing new methods to help scientists detect mosquito resistance to insecticides using biochemical and molecular methods. Malaria is, of course, a serious problem but the Prince was able to see a lighter side to the research as he explained to the reception party afterwards, "I’ve learned a great deal today, including how to sex a mosquito, which has always intrigued me!"

royal visit 1999 charles mosquito

Learning about new methods to detect mosquito resistance to insecticides

His Royal Highness, said that in his "advancing years" he has more than a passing interest in research by PhD student Claire Curtis who is examining the link between dietary fish oils and arthritis. While surveys have shown that fish oil supplements can reduce inflammation in arthritis sufferers, she is the first to show how this works at a molecular level.

As much as 14 per cent of the world’s crops are lost as a result of insect pests. The Pest Management Centre aims to develop environmentally-friendly methods of pest control, to reduce damage and to reduce the use of chemical pesticides. Insect Investigations Ltd based in the School have developed a method of tackling pests using Lacewing larvae which are placed onto affected plants to hatch and grow and then eat their way through any aphids on the plant. The Prince was presented with a supply of Lacewing larvae for combating his crop pests.

royal visit 1999 charles student

Sharing a joke with staff and students of the University

His Royal Highness showed an obvious interest in the research of the new School but was also keen to meet and talk to students and members of staff. He apologised on several occasions for taking students away from their studies, but was assured that his visit was a welcome distraction. President of the Students Union, Paul McCarthy, introduced some of the University’s international students to the Prince and then introduced Elin Price, Student Union President Elect. "He congratulated me on my new post," said Elin, "and told me I must be a brave woman for taking on all these students."

In his address before unveiling the plaque Prince Charles praised students for their work in the community. He then called attention to the huge amount of investment into the genetic modification of food and expressed satisfaction that more natural solutions to environmental issues were also being investigated.