The residents of Radix Nova, part 2: Paul Struik

Directly behind Radix is a new building, Radix Nova, into which four chair groups have quietly moved during the pandemic. As part of a series of articles meeting the new occupants we talk to Paul Struik, Professor of Crop Physiology: “The Nova is still quite difficult to find.”

A nice, old-fashioned building to work in

Paul Struik, Professor of Crop Physiology
Paul Struik, Professor of Crop Physiology

“Having been mainly working from home for quite a while, many of our university colleagues have no idea that I left Radix in 2020. Even people I lecture with still think I’m based in my previous office,” says Paul Struik, who moved from Radix to Nova with his Crop Physiology chair group. In reality of course he’s only there one day a week max currently as – like most of us – Paul is still mostly working from home.

There have, however, been enough days to realise how pleasant it is to work in the new building with other cultivation groups. “I’ve already seen how this benefits relationships as we now work more closely together than when spread throughout Radix. I think this is partly due to the fact that we have to establish various rules about how Nova should be used. It is an easy step to then start talking about how to approach projects together, or how we can continue our educational activities while COVID measures are in place. We see ourselves as more of a logical entity now.”

From photosynthesis to potato agronomy

Paul and his chair group are currently performing lots of research into photosynthesis. “Translating basic photosynthesis processes into processes relevant to farmers is where our strength lies. This involves issues such as light distribution of the crop and nitrogen distribution over leaves. We are also studying how to make crop photosynthesis more efficient.”

Together with the Plant Production Systems chair group led by Ken Giller, Paul’s group is also focusing on the agronomy of the Dutch potato. One of the key subjects is whether potato varieties can be improved more quickly with hybrid breeding than is currently the case. Elsewhere in the world, both chair groups are working on better cultivation systems for seed and propagating material. Last but not least, there is research in the field of micronutrients in West and East Africa and China.

Paul: “An alarming article in Nature several years ago seemed to indicate that the nutritional value of crops would severely decline due to climate change, especially the zinc levels. While this would further increase the issue of ‘hidden hunger’ our measurements don’t show such a clear effect. It appears that the negative impact of more CO2 in the air is compensated for by the temperature rise taking place at the same time.”

Much quieter

This is a good example of how Paul’s chair group is working on the major issues currently at play. From home, for as long as necessary, with the hope that the situation will soon become more hybrid and Nova serve as the office location. “It’s a spacious and light building. Perhaps a little old-fashioned but I like working there. Radix is wonderfully open but if, like me, your workplace is near the cafeteria and the rest rooms, it can be tough to keep focused. Now we’re across from Uniform I sometimes see a tractor driving by, but overall my new workplace is much quieter.”

Heavy construction

Any downsides to Nova? “The yellow floors are a bit too hospital-like for me. And we’re quite hard to find, especially with the construction underway behind Radix of the new centre for phenotyping and the insect greenhouse. This isn’t making the routes to get here much easier to follow and clear signage would help, including from Radix.”

Top tip for those coming by car or bike: drive toward the small car park northwest of Radix. “There are always spaces available, and you’re right on Nova’s doorstep.”