UWE Bristol Academic Spotlight: Professor in Unconventional Computing, Andrew Adamatzky

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Andrew Adamatzky is a Professor in Unconventional Computing in the Department of Computer Science and Director of the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at UWE Bristol. 

Professor Adamatzky founded the Unconventional Computing Laboratory in 2001 as a response to an urgent need to develop computers for the next century. They employ complex dynamics in physical, chemical and biological media to design novel computational techniques, architectures and working prototypes of non-linear media based computers.

Read more about the Unconvetional Computing Laboratory in our Blog.

Andrew’s research is focused on reaction-diffusion computing, cellular automata, physarum computing, massive parallel computation, applied mathematics, collective intelligence and robotics, bionics, computational psychology, non-linear science, novel hardware, and future and emergent computation. His research interests are in unconventional computing – developing of novel computing paradigms, architectures, implementations and prototypes of alternative computing devices made of living, physical and chemical systems.

Examples of unconventional computers he has developed include excitable chemical medium computers, slime mould computer, computers from plants and fungi.

In 2019 Andrew led the team of researchers from the  Centre of Unconventional Computing in the development of the construction of a smart home for the future using fungi, a carbon free material, as part of a £2.5 million project funded by the European Commission.

This revolutionary new type of intelligent building is made with green construction materials and capable of adaptively reacting to changes in light, temperature and air pollutants. The work was in collaboration with partners from Denmark (Centre for Information Technology and Architecture), Italy (MOGU) and the Netherlands (Utrecht University).

Read more about this work here

Business Interests:

  • Living architectures
  • Nanocomputers
  • Biosensors

Academic expertise:

1. Development of biosensors based on living fungi and slime moulds
2. Development of adaptive materials (to be used in construction industry and fashion industry) capable for sensing and computing
3. Development of nanocomputers based on cytoskeleton

For further information about Professor Adamatzky’s work click here

New Community STEM Club in Eastville launched

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A new Community STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) Club run by UWE Bristol academics has launched at the Old Library Community Hub in Eastville.

The first session was incredibly well attended, with around 60 children and their parents and carers getting involved in the various activities on offer.

The Bristol version of Minecraft was especially popular at the club. Developed by the DETI Inspire team, local design and engineering consultancy Atkins, and Science Hunters, it gives children the opportunity to digitally explore, build, re-design and re-engineer their city and the surrounding area.

The Thymio robots were also very well received during the session. The small androids are designed to introduce children to programming and coding through interactive play. There were also a range of “analogue” STEM themed activities available, including construction sets, games, craft and books.

Children taking part in the STEM club

The sessions take place every Thursday at 3.30 and are free of charge. They are run on a drop-in basis with no prior booking required. The activities vary from week to week, depending on volunteer and equipment availability.

The club is co-developed by Old Library volunteers and the DETI Inspire Team at UWE. It receives further support from the STEM Ambassador Hub for the West of England. For more information on how to get involved or how to support the club, please get in touch with hello@theoldlibrary.org.uk or deti@uwe.ac.uk.

UWE Bristol Academic Spotlight: Associate Professor Dr Emma Weitkamp

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As part of our focus on our Research Strength, Sustainability and Climate Change Resilience, we will be sharing spotlights on some of our academics working in that area.

Dr Emma Weitkamp, Associate Professor in Science Communication and Co-Director of the Science Communication Unit.

Emma teaches predominantly on UWE Bristol’s postgraduate science communication courses, and undertakes research and practice in science journalism, public relations and Sci-Art.

Her research interests explore narrative in science communication, considering both arts and media practice and the actors involved in science communication. Her current research explores the ways in which the digital media ecosystem is affecting science communication, quality indicators for science communication and motivations and deterrents for science communication practice through the Horizon 2020 funded RETHINK project.

She has been involved with the Science for Environment Policy since 2007, leading the team that delivers this policy-oriented environmental communications programme. Emma undertakes evaluation of science communication initiatives, including evaluating the impacts of training.

Emma also delivers continuing professional development training in science communication, recently running a programme for the British Council focusing on skills for early career researchers as well as providing training for the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative.

Emma is interested in barriers to engaging with climate risks and can undertake research to help you understand how these barriers affect you. She is also interested in research that explores the opportunities and barriers that researchers face in communicating research; to date much of this research has focused on research institutes, and she would be very interested in exploring these barriers in other contexts. Finally, she can provide training in practical skills in public engagement.

Click here for more information about Emma and her work.

UWE Senior Lecturer Verity Jones promotes importance of sustainable fashion

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The first Sustainable Fashion Week is here! Across the UK activities are going on that bring a focus on the fashion supply chain and the social, economic and environmental impact it has. It’s hoped that the week will be filled with activities that are inspiring, empowering and begin to upskill the community; to equip people of all ages to have a more sustainable relationship with fashion and generate action for change.

Sustainable Fashion Week

Why do we need the change?

The fashion industry contributes around 10% of global carbon emissions, and makes up 20% of global waste water – polluting waterways with dyes and chemicals. It supports mono-agriculture and the wide scale use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers that see the ruination of soil structures and natural ecosystems. Add to this the often dangerous working conditions, excessively long hours of work for under the living wage and little by way of unionisation to protect the garment workers. Then there’s the cultural appropriation of ancient, often sacred textile designs incorporated into high street garments with no acknowledgment or compensation for communities. Once in the hands of the consumer, we have people washing nothing but a single item in a washing machine, wasting energy and water. The washing of synthetic fibres produces the most microplastics escaping into water ways and oceans. When an item becomes unwanted (many of which are never even worn!), then there is the impact of textile waste.  Up to 70% of clothing donated in Western countries ends up in a global clothing trade with tonnes of garments ending up in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some are sold while other are packed off to dumps out of the sight of western sensibilities. Destroying other people’s land, ruining their own local, traditional textile industries. 

The fashion industry can be a disaster from beginning to end, but fortunately there are things happening to improve it.

Advocates of Sustainable Fashion

With all of this doom and gloom, it’s often a relief to find that there are lots of people and organisations already working really hard to improve the situation. The Global Goals Centre has ‘Threads’ as one of its central themes and is bringing together organisations and resources to support people of all ages wanting to find out more and make a difference to the fashion supply chain. Working with them, I surveyed over 700, 7-18 year olds earlier this year and found that, fast fashion is a concept little known about. (see the report about the Hear Our Voice survey). We are working at developing a range of educational resources for children that will be available later this year and into 2022.

But, it’s not just children that don’t know much about fast fashion (Jones, 2021). A majority of adults too are unfamiliar with the issues too. So, where can you go for more information?  My work with Cymbrogi Learn and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has seen the development of some great resources focusing on a shift to a more circular, sustainable model of fashion for educators (information about these courses here). In addition to that there’s the work of the international charity Fashion Revolution that brings together designers, producers, makers, workers and consumers to demand a fairer fashion industry

Fashion Revolution

  • Fashion Revolution supports dignified work for all; that doesn’t enslave, endanger or exploit, abuse or discriminate anyone.
  • Ensures fair and equal pay for all its workers, from farm to shop floor.
  • Conserves and restores the environment from which our clothing comes from and travels through – safeguards our diverse ecosystem.
  • Works towards reducing the unnecessarily destruction and discarding of clothing; promoting.
  • Encouraging the fashion industry to be transparent and accountable 

Myself and Prof. Ian Cook worked with Fashion Revolution to develop the online course Who Made My Clothes? This free, three week course starts by asking participants to be curious about their clothing. Clothes are our second skin, they represent who we are, how we’re feeling. We have special clothes for celebrations and ceremonies – from birth to the grave. Then we ask people to find out more about an item of their own clothing and become a clothes detective, before bringing it back to thinking how we can do something to improve the situation, whether this be at the individual, local, national or international scale. Already we have had over 17,000 participants complete the course and we’d love to have you join us!

Top Tips to reduce your fashion impact

  1. Love the clothes you already own – wear them, repair them, make them last.
  2. Only buy clothes you love and will wear again and again.
  3. Instead of buying a piece for a one off celebration or special event consider hiring or borrowing clothes.
  4. If you want to know about the story of how your clothes were made ask! By raising your voice through social media and asking Who Made My Clothes? and What’s In My Clothes? brings brands to account. They will take notice.
  5. Always fill your washing machine and wash at 30 degrees.
  6. Try buying preloved and vintage items and give clothes a new home: E-bay, Depop, Oxfam and many more charities and independent stores are available on the high street and online.
  7. Learn to do simple mending – sewing on a button, darning and patching is a lot easier than you think!
  8. Organise a clothes swap at work or amongst friends.
  9. Set up a group viewing of the 2015 documentary The True Cost to raise awareness of the issues
  10. Join our community of learners on the Who Made My Clothes? course  

Blog written by Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer, Department of Arts and Creative Education.

UWE Bristol Professor contributes to United Nations report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

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Professor Jona Razzaque (Professor of Environmental Law; Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group at UWE Bristol) has recently completed a ground-breaking report for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Professor Razzaque acted as a Coordinating Lead Author of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.  Funded by the United Nations, this landmark report presents a wide range of policy responses to promote transformative change, and contributes to post-2030 Agenda of the United Nations for biodiversity governance. The report involved:

  • 30 Coordinating Lead Authors
  • 150 experts from 50 countries
  • 350 contributing authors
  • 6 chapters. 

The report warns about the danger of the global decline of nature and the acceleration of species extinction at unprecedented rates. The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, more than ever before in human history. Amongst the species that are at risk that are highlighted by the Report include frogs and other amphibians (a 40% decline), reef-forming corals (a 33% decline), marine mammals, insects and at least 680 vertebrates.

IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson, states “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Professor Razzaque adds that “While international biodiversity law has evolved over the years, progress to meet Aichi Biodiversity Targets and Sustainable Development Goals is not satisfactory. Our chapter on ‘Options for Decision makers’ demonstrates that the implementation of 2050 Vision for Biodiversity will require concerted efforts in relation to target setting and policy responses that foster transformative change. Along with existing policy instruments and regulations, additional measures and transformative governance approaches are necessary to address the root causes of the deterioration of nature.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws on indigenous and local knowledge.

The impact of the Global Assessment has been far-reaching, as it tracks all global, regional, national and local impacts. Find out more about impacts from the IPBES Impact Tracking Database (TRACK).

Some of the Coordinating Lead Authors at the annual meeting

Globally, for example, between 2019-2021, the Global Assessment Report has influenced:

  • 11 new/changed laws or regulations
  • 6 new/changed policies
  • 5 new/changed investment decisions.

In the UK, the following examples highlight the influence of the Global Assessment Report on various decisions and measures:

  • UK government draws on the findings of the Global Assessment in the Green Finance Strategy
  • Welsh Government cancels plans to build £1.6bn highway
  • Members of the Welsh Parliament propose Bill on non-carbon emission public vehicles
  • British Natural History Museum declares Planetary Emergency
  • UK government launches a Call for Evidence on safeguarding biodiversity in the UK Overseas Territories
  • Cambridge City Council declares Biodiversity Emergency.

Professor Razzaque acted as the Coordinating Lead Author and contributed to the following four key outputs; these are available in UWE Bristol Research Repository:

Further reading:

UWE Bristol Lecturer in Psychology Dr Trang Mai Tran part of a research team seeking to develop and evaluate staff training around the mental health of autistic students at universities

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UWE Bristol Lecturer in Psychology Dr Trang Mai Tran part of research team seeking to develop and evaluate staff training around the mental health of autistic students at universities.

Dr Trang Mai Tran is part of a research team along with colleagues from the University of Bristol, University of York, National Autistic Society, and Spectrum York. They are working on a research project funded by the Office for Students, which seeks to develop and evaluate staff training around the mental health of autistic students at universities.

Of 2.38 million UK university students, 2.4 per cent are autistic. Of those nearly 60,000, around 80 per cent will have clinical anxiety, up to 70 per cent clinical depression and a third will attempt suicide. This project seeks to address this problem by developing, delivering and evaluating the first Autistic Mental Health training programme for university staff in the UK.

  • Phase one will involve the team working with autistic students to design online training, then delivering that training to staff at several universities, with evaluation and refinement processes.
  • Phase two will evaluate the medium-term impact across an academic year, looking at changes in staff practices and investigating student experiences with staff who have completed the training.

The funding for the project comes from the Office for Students Mental Health Funding Competition that aims to support innovation and intersectional approaches to target mental health support for students.

The research team are currently looking to invite a UWE student who is on the autism spectrum or identifies as autistic to join the research panel. They particularly welcome interest from male students to ensure balance and diversity of experience in the advisory panel.

For further information please contact Trang Mai Tran at trang.tran@uwe.ac.uk

UWE Bristol Academic Spotlight: Graham Parkhurst

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As part of our focus on our Research Strength, Sustainability and Climate Change Resilience, we will be sharing spotlights on some of our academics working in that area. First up:

Professor Graham Parkhurst, Director, Centre for Transport and Society Department of Geography and Environmental Management

Graham Parkhurst has degrees in psychology (BA University of Warwick), biological anthropology (MSc University of Oxford) and transport geography (PhD University of Oxford), and has undertaken research and taught academic transport and mobility studies since 1991.

Past research interests include urban and subregional transport policy, modal interchange policy, air quality policy, mobility of the ageing population, transport policy instruments, and the evaluation of urban transport policy implementations (specific infrastructure interventions, mobility services, and vehicle technologies).

His current research is examining the wider implications of the trends to greater automation, electrification, flexibility and use of digital technologies in the transport sector, taking a critical lens to the discourse and practices of ‘smart mobility’ and smart cities’. Electric mobility was the focus of a European Commission-funded project (Replicate) which sought to pilot and ‘upscale’ electric car and cycle sharing.

Graham is currently co-editing a book taking an interdisciplinary perspective on the transition to the electric car. He is also working with colleagues at UWE and UCL on an Economic and Social Research Council-funded study ‘Driverless Futures?‘ which is considering the wider social and cultural implications of the adoption of automated technologies on public roads, such as what a ‘digital highway code’ should be like to reflect all interests.

Most of Graham’s research has been collaborative with business and government. Notably, in recent years, Graham has provided social and behavioural research leadership in respect of UK-Government-funded (Innovate UK) research consortia examining connected and automated vehicles (Venturer, Flourish, CAPRI, and MultiCAV) and flexible collective transport solutions (Mobility on Demand Laboratory Environment). He has found these collaborations rewarding and insightful and hopes his research has assisted in taking forward commercial and public sector priorities. Whilst the collaborations have tended to involve transport service providers, digital and automation technology companies, and local authorities in the West of England area, the partner list is extensive and with broad relevance.

My expertise covers three types of activity:

  1. Deep and wide transport and mobility sector knowledge, relevant for advisory roles or leading literature and knowledge review activities.
  2. Mixed-methods people-oriented research to understand attitudes to potential technology or policy changes, and how their behaviour might change in the event those changes are implemented. The remit here includes research with people in experimental contexts, large-sample quantitative data collection and analysis (such as survey instruments) and qualitative research including interviews, focus groups and observational methods. 
  3. Evaluative research, providing independent and as far as possible objective research about the effects of a technology or policy change, with a view to providing confidence to a wider audience about the achievements of commercial or policy innovation.”

Click here for more information about Graham and his work.

Introducing our research strength focus: Sustainability and Climate Change Resilience

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At UWE Bristol we are proud of our active and collaborative research community of bold and innovative thinkers that are breaking research boundaries.

Our four key research strengths are:  

  • Creative industries and technologies
  • Digital Futures
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Sustainability and Climate Change Resilience

We want to highlight some of our amazing research to you, so this year we will be focusing on one strength at a time.  For the next few months, we will be sharing with you lots of curated content around our research strength, Sustainability and Climate Change Resilience.

The challenges of global warming, finite resources and shrinking biodiversity could not be clearer – the future of the planet and our world is at stake, and we won’t get a second chance. Net-zero carbon buildings, sustainable mobility, green agriculture, emissions and air quality are just some of the critical issues we are tackling.

Our research focus in this area include:

  • transforming construction, infrastructure and design
  • food security, water management and air quality
  • future mobility, connectivity and place.

To introduce this research strength we are going to share with you two of our Sustainability and Climate Change Resilience research case studies:

Air Quality: Putting people at the heart of environmental changeProfessor Enda Hayes, Professor of Air Quality and Carbon Management

We can’t calculate our way out of environmental disaster. Numbers matter, but more than that, it’s the people who cause the figures to rise or fall that will lead the way. A Europe-wide initiative proves as much, with thousands of citizens having their say and acting on it.

“We’ve become too obsessed with the numbers and we’ve forgotten about the fact that it’s about protecting people,” says Professor Enda Hayes, Professor of Air Quality and Carbon Management and Director of UWE Bristol’s Air Quality Management Resource Centre (AQMRC), and Technical Director of ClairCity.

He refers to the predominant approach to tackling the world’s air pollution crisis, which is linked to seven million premature deaths each year. “We need to think differently about the way we manage pollution, how we monitor it and how we create interventions that can maximise the public health outcome.”

The answer, as evidenced by the Centre’s work, lies in bottom-up democracy – enabling citizens to be part of the conversation.

“People are realising that technology alone will not resolve the problem, we need societal change where we collectively do things differently. It will take time, but we will get there.”

One of the greatest challenges – and most pressing needs – is engaging with hard-to-reach communities, who are often the most adversely affected by poor air quality.

Read the full case study here .

Cycling infrastructure: Changing the way we moveProfessor John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering

We all know that cycling is good for us. It improves our physical and mental health, and it’s better for the environment than most other forms of transport. So why don’t more people do it and what might encourage them to take it up? This is where social behaviour meets science, and delivers on sustainable change.

“A key part of what we do is to develop evidence that influences policy, educates and informs the transport profession, and contributes to design practice,” says John Parkin, Professor of Transport Engineering and Deputy Director of UWE Bristol’s Centre for Transport and Society (CTS).

“Our core activity is gathering and interpreting empirical data to identify changes in transport provision that will encourage pro-social behaviour change,” says John, who along with his colleagues, is helping to bridge the gap between social priorities and transport infrastructure.

CTS has studied the motivations of travellers in 18 towns and cities in England, which revealed that they are more likely to take up cycling where there is greater investment in providing safe, comfortable and attractive routes.

Further studies into the travel choices of the over 50s, as part of the CycleBOOM study, echoed these findings, as does research that shows the need for cycle routes separated from both pedestrians and motor traffic.

Read the full case study here.

Find out more about our Sustainability and Climate Change Resilience research strength here.

UWE Bristol Researchers work with National Allotment Society to share knowledge about water and drought

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A group of UWE Bristol researchers, Dr Neil Phillips, Dr Sarah Ayling and Professor Lindsey McEwen have been been working with the National Allotment Society (NAS) to promote water efficient behaviours and drought resilience on allotments.

Professor McEwen leads on the NERC DRY (Drought Risk and You) project which explores how droughts and water shortage can impact on the environment, agriculture, infrastructure, society and culture.

The DRY project was founded in April 2014, with the aim to develop an easy-to-use, evidence-based resource to inform decision-making for drought risk management in the UK. They draw together information from multiple perspectives on drought science, stakeholder engagement, citizen science and narrative storytelling to better understand drought risks, while other studies have focused on mathematical modelling of drought risk.  They gather data, stories and deliver events and provide workshops to support their mission.

During the DRY project they started to appreciate the potential of growers to act as harbingers of drought in their communities – being sensitive to available water for plants and hence periods without rainfall and to dry soils. They concluded that growers and allotment holders are therefore great potential contributors to ‘drought thinking’ in their communities, which is important in building local resilience to future drought and water scarcity.

As a result of this DRY and the National Allotment Society have co-produced a set of seven fliers that share knowledge about water and drought. These were launched by NAS in National Allotments Week 2021 (9-15 August).

The titles are:

Neil Phillips also took part in a webinar “Water Harvesting on Allotments, with Climate Change in mind” as part of the National Allotment Week , which was well attended by keen growers from across the country.

He said:  

“The presentation and subsequent discussion supported new thinking and debate around rainwater collection and use on allotments. Attendees expressed particular concerns over the use of sprinklers on some allotment sites (sprinklers can waste up to 90% of the mains water) and the likelihood of water companies increasing water charges in the near future. The importance of encouraging water efficient growing methods and considering local conditions was emphasized. The potential to extract water from other sources such as wells, rivers and lakes via solar-powered pumps was considered. There was considerable interest in optimised rainwater collection, storage and distribution structures as a novel solution with requests for detailed costings and evaluation via an onsite trial. “

UWE Bristol academics explore if a new concept: “SAILL” (Struggles Around Independent Learning and Living) could help us understand more about student mental health issues.

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Publishing with a UWE graduate, Dr Miles Thompson (co-lead of the Psychological Sciences Research Group, PSRG) and Dr Chris Pawson Associate Head of Department for Psychology) present a new study about how students navigate their entry into higher education, making the transition to independent learning and living.

Student mental health issues are of increasing concern both inside and outside of the higher education (HE) sector. This qualitative study explores contemporary students’ experiences of their transition into HE to try and gain an up-to-date picture of the multiple, potential sources of distress they may be experiencing.

Focus groups and interviews were held with a total of 10 participants. The results clustered around three themes:

(1) Challenges of independent living

(2) Challenges of independent learning

(3) Social support and pressure

In the discussion, the authors note how the existing literature generally supports these new findings. Indeed, they explain how many of these issues have been studied for many years, even decades. As such they wonder what, if anything, has changed such that student distress appears to be on the increase?

The authors go on to consider why the challenges of learning and living independently – “a consistent and longstanding part of university life” – is possibly causing more problems now than previously. The authors provisionally introduce a new concept and potential focus for future work in this area: SAILL (Struggles Around Independent Learning and Living). They consider whether such a focus might help open up new pathways for researchers.

Simon Phillips, Deputy Director Student and Academic Services at UWE Bristol who is thanked by the authors comments:

“Mental health problems in students are rising across the sector. We are grateful for all research that can help us understand more about why and improve the services that we offer to our students. Anecdotally, we recognise this new notion of SAILL in our student well-being caseload. With that in mind, we look forward to working with the researchers to try and understand more about SAILL issues in order to better serve our students throughout their time in Higher Education.”

The full publication is freely accessible to all both online and to download here