A packed house of scientists, students, and community members were treated to an entertaining and enlightening presentation as Dr. James Elser delivered the 2015 Schindler Professorship in Aquatic Science lecture on June 24 at Trent's Peter Gzowski College. Entitled Phosphorous, Food and Our Future, Dr. Elser's thought-provoking lecture was also the keynote address for the Conference on Biological Stoichiometry 2015 being held at Trent University from June 23 to 26.
Dr. Elser, a renowned researcher from Arizona State University, expressed his delight at delivering this year's Schindler Professorship in Aquatic Science lecture. "This is a tremendous honour. David Schindler has been my ultimate superhero of science ever since I started my career," Dr. Elser said.
Dr. Elser's presentation traced the story of phosphorous from its accidental discovery by an alchemist in search of the Philosopher's Stone to its current situation as a fertilizer with emerging problems for long-term sustainability.
Joking that "phosphorous holds your genes up," he pointed out that the chemical element is essential for all life on earth, but warned that reserves could be depleted within the next 50 to 100 years. With most of the world's reserves held by Morocco he explained that geological availability and geopolitical volatility would become major issues, leading to concerns about how much phosphorous will be available for whom and at what price.
"Phosphorous is important for food security and its availability will impact the world's poor and hungry," Dr. Elser said.
Noting that the global phosphorous sustainability movement has been growing since 2003,
Dr. Elser expressed hope that collectively we can address the limited quantity of phosphorus. He proposed Five R's as solutions: Researching the problem, Reducing demand, Recycling waste, Re-imagining and Re-engineering the issue.
"We're lucky to have free public lectures offered by Trent," said Kim Zippel a Peterborough resident and former Trent student who attended the lecture. "It's a great way for citizens to become more informed.
For me it's part of my continuing education. I can add to my own knowledge base and find out about issues that are topical."
Established in 2008, the David Schindler Endowed Professorship in Aquatic Science is the first-ever endowed professorship at Trent University. The endowment was given to the University to honour the work of Dr. David Schindler, a former Trent professor and one of the world’s leading environmental scientists. For more information, visit www.trentu.ca/aquaticscience