University of Leicester eBulletin

Celebratory Botanic Garden Lecture at University of Leicester

September 2002


One of Leicester’s most important naturalists is the subject of a celebratory Botanic Garden Lecture marking the 80th Anniversary of the University of Leicester and the presence of the British Association's Festival of Science at the University.

Dr Sandra Knapp, a botanist from the Natural History Museum, will deliver the free public lecture at 8pm on Thursday 12 September in Lecture Theatre 1, Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester. The title of the talk is "Alfred Russel Wallace in the Amazon, the making of a naturalist".

Dr Richard Gornall, Director of the University of Leicester Botanic Garden, said: “This year being the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Botanic Garden it seemed appropriate to have a historical flavour to our lecture and so a topic has been chosen that reflects Leicester's connection to one of the most important discoveries of all time: an explanation of how evolution works.

“Alfred Wallace taught school here in the city in 1844/5,after which he journeyed extensively in the tropics of the Amazon and Indonesia. As a result of his experiences he proposed, jointly with Charles Darwin, that the process of natural selection was the key mechanism behind evolution.

“Dr Sandra Knapp is an excellent and entertaining speaker and has written a book about Wallace's time in the Amazon, where she has done much travelling herself. She assures me that her talk will not be technical but will be aimed at providing some fascinating stories about the life and travels of one of Leicester's famous sons, and will highlight some of the botany as well as ‘some fun new things’.”

Sandra Knapp obtained her degree in Botany from Pomona College, in Claremont, California. Her interest in the subject was kindled on field trips to the California deserts, where the sheer excitement of discovering the flora made systematic botany seem the only sensible thing for her to do. She went on to do a PhD at Cornell University in New York, where she worked on the taxonomy of the potato family in the New World tropics. Half of her time as a doctoral student was spent in the field in Central and South America, collecting plants. She came to The Natural History Museum in 1992 to manage the international project Flora Mesoamericana -a synoptic inventory of the approximately 18,000 species of plants of the isthmus of Central America.

Her taxonomic work is focused on understanding diversity and evolution in the Solanaceae, the potato family. She also maintains an interest in the history of science and has recently written a book about Alfred Russel Wallace.

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact:
DR RICHARD GORNALL, Tel: (0)116 252 3394, email:

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Last updated: September 2002
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