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Australia: First ever Agricultural Science Tasmanian Rhodes Scholar

Everyone loves a beautiful, sweet raspberry. And Rhodes Scholar and Agricultural Science honours student Oliver Gales is doing his part to help the industry get better berries. Oliver was recently awarded the 2020 Rhodes Scholarship for Tasmania, which he describes as a “massive honour and privilege”. He is also the first ever Agricultural Science Tasmanian Rhodes Scholar.

The Rhodes Scholarship is a globally-prestigious award that recognises academic excellence as well as the recipient’s extracurricular pursuits.

With the scholarship, Oliver will travel to the UK to do a masters in development studies at the famed University of Oxford, investigating policy and governance in developing countries.

“Combining international development studies with ag science is unique, and it’s a huge opportunity to contribute to global food security,” Oliver said.

Oliver was also the recipient of the Fruit Growers Tasmania Honours Scholarship, which gave him the opportunity to work at Westerway Raspberry Farm over the summer when he investigated a way to increase productivity through the mechanisation of raspberry harvesting.

How, you ask? Using big machines to shake the berries off their canes.

Machines have been used before to harvest raspberries, but because they can be destructive to the fruit, they’re only berries destined for processing and not for the fresh berries we buy in shops.

"I really enjoyed it there (Westerway Raspberry Farm). They are an innovative and forward-thinking farm that uses technology and modern practical methods of agriculture. It was really interesting," he said.

Oliver said that the scholarship let him expand the scope of his research so that he could investigate new ways of testing the quality of raspberries, and how freezing raspberries with liquid nitrogen effects the quality of berry.

"In this project I broadened it past mechanisation of raspberry harvesting. We looked into using near infra-red spectroscopy which uses light wave lengths to determine the quality of the raspberry,” Oliver said.

Oliver's project aimed to create an instantaneous measurement of anthocyanin and sugar which contributes to the bright red colour of raspberries and their health properties. Measuring anthocyanin may impact on when raspberries are harvested and allow the sorting of raspberries to be automated.

This research is relatively new for raspberries and Oliver said that: "it's very much trial and error".

"Agriculture has lots of opportunities. I was interested in science and its applicability to agriculture, I was also interested in the opportunities for careers and employment, not only through industry, but also research. and the opportunity to work and research internationally."

And when he starts his Rhodes Scholarship, Oliver can continue to work towards making a difference towards innovation and sustainability in the agricultural industry.

“I want to be a great ambassador for UTAS and for Tasmania,” he said.

Source: University of Tasmania

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