From Kings Park to Kew Gardens, Professor Stephen Hopper’s career is as vast as the range of plants he has studied and discovered over the years.
Recently inducted into the prestigious Bragg Membership and recognised for his scientific achievement and commitment to science communication, it is a career that continues to go from strength to strength.
Now at UWA’s Albany campus leading a research and teaching program on sustainable living with biodiversity, Professor Hopper says the allure of WA’s vast biodiversity research opportunities was a key factor in his move home from London.
“Before I took the role at Kew Gardens, I’d spent the previous 40 years based in Perth. The opportunity to work and live on the south coast was exciting and an obvious next step for my career.
“There was always the pull to come back to WA, the research opportunities are outstanding, and with grandkids popping up the choice was fairly straightforward,” he says.
Since returning in 2012 Professor Hopper has been rigorously testing a body of work that he first developed when he managed Kings Park and subsequently published at Kew Gardens.
“My key focus is on old, climatically-buffered, infertile landscapes, such as granite outcrops of which there are an abundance of in the south west.
“Up to two-thirds of rare plants can be found in these conditions, and I want to find out why this is,” he says.
Professor Hopper isn’t doing this in isolation however and is working with his students to test his theories as well as engaging with the Aboriginal people who have lived in these landscapes for 50,000 years.
“The Noongar people understand this environment and over the years have adapted their hunting techniques and the way they live to suit the conditions.
“We can learn a lot from their interaction with the landscape and elders continue to teach me so much, it is a truly invaluable experience,” he says.
Professor Hopper’s passion for biodiversity is clearly evident and there is a very good reason for this.
“It has an enormous role to play in helping moderate the worst aspects of global warming.
“However as it stands efforts to slow the rate of loss of biodiversity have not been successful. There’s still a lot of work to do which is as exciting as it is challenging,” he says.