Get Creative competition in 2023

We know many enjoy the creative side of botany and are budding with artistic talents. We held a competition for photographs, fine art and multimedia with the themes ‘Pigments’, ‘Biodiversity’ and ‘Pioneering Botanists’. It was announced in BUC’s newsletter The Thymes’ . The judges were the competition’s originator Thomas McBride from the BUC 2022 winning Nottingham team, Dr Chris Thorogood (renowned botanist & artist) and Susan Gritton Medcalf (professional singer & botanist).

The winners were announced at the BUC Student Botany Festival on 5 July 2023. They were: Photograph, Gemma Brain University of York (Pink Plumeria Pigments), Fine Art Joint Winners, Emily Skinner University of Reading (Flowers from home) and Conor Haynes-Mannering University of Nottingham (Late Carboniferous biodiversity; Multimedia Ellen Baker University of Oxford (inspiring sources Marjorie Blamey)

Winning entries of the 2023 'Get Creative' competition.
Heading for the Final Rounds and BUC Student Botany Festival in July 2023

The BUC team are busy as the final rounds of #BUC2023 approach. This includes checking that the technology will be OK on the day, preparing for when everyone arrives at University of Nottingham and organising the BUC Student Botany Festival.

We have also found time to write about the history and aims of BUC for the member’s magazine of the British Ecological Society. You can read it here.

You can also read about the thinking behind Botanical University Challenge in Your starter for 10: How can a TV quiz format help course avoid extinction, written by one of its founders, John Warren for the Times Higher Education on-line ‘Campus’.

Round 2, Botanical University Challenge 2023

Round 2 started 14:00 GMT on Wednesday 22 February, with 9 teams at the start. There were 5 short rounds of multiple choice questions and then rounds where the teams will have to speak their answers! The questions were asked by Dr Tiina Sarkinen, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and Professor Paul Ashton, Edge Hill University.

The result was that teams from the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester Metropolitan, Oxford and the Eden Project had the highest scores and thus places in the semi-final on 5 July 2023. However, due to prior commitments the Stone Roses (Manchester Metropolitan University) were not able to be present. Therefore the Ptrinity Pteridophytes team that came fifth would take their place.

  • Darwin’s Diabolical Deuterstomes (University of Cambridge)
  • Malus Intent (The Eden Project)
  • The Ptrinity Pteridophytes (Trinity College, Dublin)
  • The Bad Birches (University of Oxford)

Round 1, Botanical University Challenge 2023

An afternoon of botanical questions on 15 February was posed by Leif Bersweden and Henry Ford to the 25 teams. Introduced by Jonathan Mitchley and John Warren, with the tech team working in the background so that signals through the internet involving at least 30 places all emerged as one YouTube stream for the audience.

The multiple-choice questions covered: British and Irish Plants; World Plants; Anatomy, Physiology, Plant Health and Molecular Biology; Plant Ecology; Botanical Terms; and finally a round of 10 questions designed by the chairs.

The chairs entertained and informed us with the answers to the questions. Between rounds, Jonathan chatted with several of the teams, who were remarkably composed. The teams scores gradually drifted upwards as each round ended, but many of them were so successful that by the end of the final round there were 9 with the top scores, and a further 14 within the next 10 points. The teams with the highest scores were from Manchester Metropolitan University and University of Cambridge.

A quarterfinal should start with 8 teams, but teams from University of Bristol and Trinity College, Dublin were in joint 8th place with identical scores. So there was a tie-breaker round to see which would be in the quarterfinal. However, after a further 10 questions – their scores were still identical! So, both will start in the quarterfinals.

Teams in the quarterfinals will therefore be:

  • The Bristol Pistils (University of Bristol)
  • Darwin’s Diabolical Deuterstomes (University of Cambridge)
  • Malus Intent (The Eden Project)
  • The Galway Ginkgos (University of Galway)
  • The Motley Kew (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew)
  • The Stone Roses (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • The Bad Birches (University of Oxford)
  • Ptrinity Pteridophytes (Trinity College, Dublin)
  • Warwick Willows (Warwick University)
Teams entering BUC2023

Following the deadline, we have 24 25 teams entering #BUC2023. We are delighted to welcome several universities to the competition for the first time – Bristol, Dundee, East Anglia, Exeter, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin – and University of Portsmouth!

The full list is:

  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of Aberystwyth
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Durham
  • University of East Anglia
  • Edge Hill University
  • The Eden Project Learning
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Galway
  • Imperial College, London
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • University of Lancaster
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Portsmouth
  • University of Reading
  • University of Southampton
  • Trinity College, Dublin
  • University College, Dublin
  • University of Warwick
January 2023: Team deadline now 23 January

So much is happening as we prepare for the first two days of Botanical University Challenge 2023 on 15 and 22 February, and the final along with the Student Botany Festival on 5-6 July. Another eminent plant scientist has accepted our invitation to chair the finals in July. She is Professor Beverley Glover, Director of Cambridge University Botanic Garden and Head of the Evolution and Development Group in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge. The questions are being prepared and scrutinised. All the IT for the two on-line rounds in February is being checked out. There has been an on-line briefing meeting for students members of #BUC2023 teams, with a recording available here.

December 2022: Towards #BUC2023

Lots has been happening in the last two months. Organisations and teams from the UK and Ireland have started to reply, with promises of teams, team names and questions. The next most important part, the questions for #BUC2023, are being designed, checked and re-checked by a team of scientists, with help including from the Royal Society of Biology.

Four eminent botanists have accepted invitations to ask the questions in February. They are Dr Leif Bersweden, Dr Henry Ford, Dr Tiina Sarkinen and Professor Paul Ashton.

The Thymes, the newsletter of #BUC appeared at the British and Irish Botanical Conference of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland in November, and also the Annual Meeting of the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting this month. The second issue is being edited ready for release in January.

October 2022: The Thymes

The first issue of The Thymes has finally been released to the world! This is a newsletter around Botanical University Challenge, proposed by students who had been in the competition. It has been designed and written by them with Jonathan Mitchley acting as editor-in-chief, along with input from some others in the BUC Team. Four issues a year are planned, to coincide with key times in the Botanical University Challenge cycle – October, January, April and June.

The content is all about the competition, botany and botanists. As well as information about the current BUC competition, it will profile past teams, the careers of students who competed in previous competition, information about botanical courses and careers, and features about the diverse careers of other botanists.

The idea is to highlight that modern botany is serious, and fun, across a surprising diversity of careers. In the office or the outdoors, practical or theoretical, working mainly with people or with plants, in the UK or abroad, as a member or leader of a team, as their main job or in leisure time, botanists are active in very many different roles during their careers.

October 2022

Getting plans for the 2023 competition firmer. There will be two days of on-line questions in February 2023. Wednesday 15 February will be the big day for all teams when they compete head-to-head with MCQ questions, starting at 14:00 GMT. The 8 with the highest scores will then be able to compete in pairs in the quarterfinals the following week, 22 February from 14:00 GMT. This time the questions will be free-form, needing a spoken answer.

The four winners in each contest will then compete in the next rounds on 5 July to find the overall winner of Botanical University Challenge 2023! This will be held live at the University of Nottingham but streamed around the world (thanks to Dr Suzie Lydon, the local organiser).

There will also be a student botany festival on 5 and 6 July at University of Nottingham after the contest. This will be open to all the 2023 BUC contestants. More about this after we finalise the details.

August 2022: Looking forward to #BUC2023

Planning for the next competition has started. It will again be two days of on-line competition. However in 2023 we will bring back live competition for the final rounds, as well as streaming them world-wide. The University of Nottingham, home of the 2022 winners, will host live semifinals and the final at the University Park campus. They will also be streamed.

23 February 2022: #BUC2022 Round 2

The final rounds of Botanical University Challenge in 2022 let us see and hear the 8 teams as they decided on their answers. There was tension as they talked around the topic until the chair asked for their final answer, and then revealed whether it was correct or not.

This time the chairs were Dr Sandy Knapp, Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London, Professor Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium at Rutgers University, USA and Dr Raj Whitlock, Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool, UK.

The event can be seen on YouTube.

At the end of the contest, the team from the Botanical Society at University of Nottingham Sutton Bonington campus were the overall winners, with Manchester Metropolitan University close runner-up. Both teams were given copies of The Green Planet book signed by Sir David Attenborough, along with gift tokens and more guides from the Field Studies Council.

Members of all the teams competing on Day 2 were given some additional guides from the Field Studies Council.

16 February 2022: #BUC2022 Round 1

It was so exciting! After months in preparation, the 18 teams faced questions from Professor Emerita Honor Prentice, Lund University, Sweden and Dr Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director and Head of Science at the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum. The questions were multiple-choice but the answers wern’t easy.

The questions ranged across botanical topics asking about identification of plants, their growth and nutrition habits, technical terminology and about their uses as foods. The entire event can be viewed on YouTube.

After 6 rounds of 10 questions 8 of the teams were ahead, although only by a few points. These went through to Round 2 on 23 February. They were from the Universities of Cambridge, Durham, Liverpool, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham Sutton Bonington, the Open University and RHS Wisley.

Souvenir t-shirts and some guides from the Field Studies Council were given to members of all the teams that entered.

14 February 2022: Radio interview about #BUC2022

Listen to this interview with Jonathan Mitchley on the Phil Kennedy show on BBC RADIO BERKS 14th Feb 2022 to hear about the excitement building for Botanical University Challenge. The first round is on Wednesday 16th February, with free tickets available through Eventbrite.

8 February 2022

The deadline for teams to enter the competition was 31 January 2022. There are a record number of teams, 18 from the UK and, for the first time, Ireland. The preparations of the technology needed continues as well as final checking of questions. Excitement about the event on social media is becoming greater as we introduce the teams to the world.

There will be five distinguished scientists asking the questions during the event this year. On Wednesday 16th February, in the multiple-choice knock-out round, they will be Professor Emerita Honor Prentice from the University of Lund, Sweden and Dr Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director and Head of Science at the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum. The following Wednesday, 23rd February, the remaining 8 teams will be questioned by Dr Raj Whitlock, Senior Lecturer University of Liverpool, Professor Lena Struwe, director of the Chrysler Herbarium at Rutgers University and Dr Sandy Knapp, Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London.

11 January 2022: More preparations for #BUC2022

Preparation for #BUC2022 is advancing! University teams have decided that they will compete. Questions are being written and checked. Invitations have been accepted to chair and ask the questions on 16 and 23 February. Social media is promoting the event, and plants in general. The Zoom and internet question platforms are being tested. Students have been recruited to help with preparations and events on the day. It is gradually coming together!

4 November 2021: At Botanical Society of America 2021

Guest blog by Dr Min Ya, Harvard University, about the Botanic Trivia quiz at the #Botany2021 annual meeting of the Botanical Society of America in July 2021.

The idea of hosting an American version of the Botanical University Challenge started when Prof. John Warren contacted me in 2020, while I was one of the Society’s student representatives. Following the success of the virtual annual meeting of the Botanical Society of America #Botany2020, despite taking it online at short notice, it became obvious that #Botany2021 would also have to be a completely virtual conference. This time, though, we would know what to do to host a good online conference. Also, the organizers had the time and energy for more events to improve the participants’ online experience, and so included a Botanic Trivia quiz.

John Warren, Dr. M (Jonathan Mitchley), and I had zoom meetings to finalize the plans. We agreed that they would be responsible for the questions and I would be responsible for the logistics. The #Botany2021 conference was in July and the Botanic Trivia was scheduled on the final Friday to give the conference a strong end. It was 12:00 to 13:30 US Eastern Time so participants from as many time zones as possible could join in. A call for participants was sent out after the conference program was out, so all participants could ensure that the Botanic Trivia would not conflict with their talks, or the academic sessions they were attending.

To capture the interest of participants from a variety of academic backgrounds, John Warren and Dr. M decided on six rounds of questions, three picture question rounds and three verbal question rounds.  I also discussed with the conference organizers about the prizes and we decided: 3rd prize – free conference T-shirts, 2nd prize – free one-year membership from any of the participating professional societies for all team members (this annual Botany conference is joint between several societies), and the grand 1st prize for the champions – a delicious 50% discount off #Botany2022 registration in Alaska!

I made a poster for the trivia and the call for participants went out on Twitter with special encouragement for professors to team up with their students. I imagined that students might be interested but also intimidated, since it would be easy to think “I do not know enough Botany to not make a fool out of myself”. Teaming up with their advisors would boost the students’ confidence as well as increasing the bond between them. By the sign-up date we had 55 participants in a total of 20 teams.

It came as no surprise that the most challenging part was how to host the quiz in a virtual environment because we wanted:

1) available to all conference participants so that they could watch, be entertained by the questions, and root for the teams;

2) hosts to be able to communicate with all the participants; and

3) the participating teams to be able to communicate amongst themselves.

To solve the first issue, since the conference platform was on Zoom, we used an external platform from www.socialpoint.io to run the trivia, and then the screen sharing function on Zoom to show all the conference and quiz participants the progress of the game.

The second and the third points turned out to be more difficult to solve. After considering all possibilities, I told the teams about the communication options, and most teams chose to use their own ways to communicate amongst themselves since they already knew each other.

Finally, the last day of the conference arrived and it was time for the quiz. John Warren and Dr. M made a short introduction about Botanical University Challenge and the idea of this Botanical Trivia. I did a quick welcome to everyone and an introduction to the rounds, teams, and prizes. Then I opened breakout rooms for teams to enter, shared my screen, and the game started.

Of course, who would really think that our first ever virtual trivia game would run perfectly without any hiccup? We already knew there would be unanticipated challenges during the game, and we soon discovered the first one, which was probably also the biggest challenge.  The questions were set to run automatically with a fixed time for the answer. Good though the platform was, there was no timer or count down for each question so teams missed their opportunity for the answers! Noticing that, I stopped the “automatic run” function and started to manually count the time on my phone, then spoke “beep-beep” as a 10s reminder.

Once I started to say “beep-beep”, I saw the number of chat notifications go crazy. I ended up multi-tasking between keeping the time, “beep-beep”, and transitioning between the more than 50 questions and answers. John and Dr. M did fantastic commentaries on each question and answer. I wished that I had been able to just sit down and do nothing but listen to them talk. On my side screen, I could see a few participants with serious faces when discussing with their teammates, and their reactions when they got the answer right or wrong. The excitement showing through the little zoom windows was encouraging, and I then knew that the game was going well.

A few rounds into the game, the 10 teams with the highest scores were neck and neck with each other. By the end of the 4th round, although team Chrysler Herbarium was clearly in the lead, the competition between the top 5 teams was fierce. By the end of the last round, team Let’s Botanize seized the second place with a narrow lead over team Auropurpurea. Chrysler Herbarium was only a two-people team: Prof. Lena Struwe and her student, Megan Ryan. Let’s Botanize was a team of junior scientists, including graduate students Benjamin Goulet-Scott and Jacob Suissa from Harvard University, and Ellie Mendelson, who is a technician at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The third-place team, Auropurpurea, consisted of Prof. Laura Frost, Prof. Laura Lagomarisno and Laura’s students, Janet Mansaray and Laymon Ball.

Despite the minor technical hiccups, I was glad to hear that people had fun in the first trivia game at the #Botany conference! Without a doubt, it would be more fun if held in person, and it’s already on the agenda of the organizers for future #Botany conferences.

I would like to acknowledge the support from the Botanical Society of America, especially Heather Cacanindin, Johanne Stogran, Melanie Link-Perez, and to Steven Bornhoeft for all the technical support. I really appreciate all the people who helped to promote this event via social media and all the people who tweeted about it during and after the event. Of course, it would not have happened without John and Dr. M, who are fun, professional, easy to communicate with, and made the quiz so enjoyable for all the participants.  It was such a pleasure to work with them. This was a fantastic start to bring the Botanical University Challenge to the US and go global!

18 October 2021: New logo, old name

Plans for #BUC2022 are starting to come together! Writing questions, inviting distinguished scientists to ask them in the contest, getting the word out to UK and Irish universities, students becoming involved ….

Two developments – a new logo thanks to Mica FI. See it now on this site and the video below (about the topics in the 2022 contest). It will also be in the design for the souvenir t-shirts given to all the student teams.

Also – the contest is back to the name Botanical University Challenge!

3 September 2021: In Spain for LBULE 2021

Guest blog by Professor Carmen Acedo Casado, Universidad de León, Spain

In May 2021, my research group and I organised LBULE 2021 – La Liga Botánica de la Universidad de León, España at our university in Spain.  We wanted to disseminate and share our love for botany with our students. The contest was inspired by Botanical University Challenge in the UK so was a way to link with botanists around the world. The name La Liga, of course, came from sports like football. We were delighted that many more students participated in the first LBULE than we expected.  It was really exciting that some 70 students from Universidad de León formed 12 teams in response to our call.

The LBULE 2021 organisers at Universidad de León

We were able to hold the competition in person but we had to adhere to Covid-19 health precautions, as well as schedule the event to avoid teaching times. It was held over three weeks with an initial elimination round and then a semi-final and final. We streamed the question rounds on our YouTube and Facebook channels since the student audience had to be very small due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The semi-finalist team leaders in LBULE 2021

The questions set were about plants, fungi, lichens and algae, including their names, parts, foods and medicinal uses as well as conservation, history and famous botanists. The students are regularly taught these topics so the competition gave them an opportunity for revision as well as for fun! The students were excited and happy with the contest. Most described the experience as very enjoyable, allowing them to avoid the usual final stress of the end of the academic year and to build relationships with their instructors. They also liked the fact that LBULE 2021 was a way to discover more about botany.

Some of the student contestants in LBULE 2021 at Universidad de León in Spain.

We now planning LBULE 2022, which will be held in May 2022. The final schedule will be decided nearer to the time, but it will be similar to LBULE 2021.

Winners of LBULE 2021 – teams (1) Alazar (2) The Botanic Crew (3) Strezlitchia
14 August 2021: First announcement of #BUC2022

We’ve started contacting people about competing in #BUC2022. Several have already said that their institution plans to enter a team in February 2022, including University of Edinburgh, University of Lancaster, University of Liverpool and University of Reading (of course!). If you are a student and want to be in your university’s team next year, or want to organise a team,https://twitter.com/0_minyaaa why not make contact email Jonathan Mitchley (j.mitchley@reading.ac.uk) for more information?

22 July 2021: #BUC goes to USA!

Two of the people behind Botanical University Challenge, John Warren and Jonathan Mitchley, have taken the #BUC concept to the Botanical Society of America annual meeting. Through the wonders of the internet, and Min Ya, a student representative from the American society, they are hosting a botany trivia quiz for the conference delegates on 23rd July. They promise to report back on how it went!

2 June 2021: Meet #wildflowerhour

Botanical University Challenge 2022 will certainly include questions about the names of flowers that can be found in the wild around the UK. How to learn them? So many different ways! Sometimes starting from parents in childhood; teachers at school; friends during walks in the town or countryside; courses at university or other organisations; books about plants. The internet has opened up so many more ways. Many, many pictures; videos of plant-filled landscapes; apps that aim to identify plants from pictures for you automatically; websites and social media where volunteers will try to identify plants.

One social media site that takes you through the year with gorgeous pictures is #wildflowerhour on Twitter. From 8 – 9 pm every Sunday there is a stream of hundreds, even thousands, of named photos of flowers seen the previous week. If you are into social media, it is well worth following to see the changing common and rare plants that bloom through the seasons around the UK.

21 May 2021: #BUC inspires LEBULE 2021 in Spain

Inspired by Botanical University Contest 2021, Carmen Casado and the University of León in Spain have been organising their own botanical challenge among their students. It began in early May and reached the semi-final on 20 May 2021.

30 April 2021: After #BUC2021, meet #BUC2022!

So, after the success of #BUC2021, what’s happening about #BUC2022? Well, the team that brought you #BUC is already working on the 2022 contest. It will be held using Zoom, which lets university teams from everywhere in the UK compete without having to arrange travel.

The dates are fixed: Wednesday 16th February 2022 for the heats to decide the teams for the quarter-finals. Then Wednesday 23rd February 2022 for contests up to the final. Save the dates!