UWE Bristol has partnered with TechSpark to showcase some of our most innovative technology projects and research.
In the latest guest blog, we look at Dr Tom Mitchell’s electronic gloves that can be programmed for performing musicians to trigger sounds and virtual instruments using hand and arm movements.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we look at Anita Gulati’s research on mindfulness and its role in enabling creative, sustainable leadership and re-enforcing resilience. Gulati works at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and is Associate Director of its Bristol Business Engagement Centre (BBEC). She says her grandfather’s story has served as inspiration in her work.
Harbans Lall Gulati came to the UK as an Indian immigrant in the 1920s and hearing about his life has helped Anita Gulati understand why she is so interested in mindfulness and meditation. “Despite working as a doctor in a busy practice in London, every day my grandfather used to close his consultation room door for 20 minutes to meditate. I discovered this recently and it gave me a very strong sense of connection to my ancestors,” says Ms Gulati.
Her aunt, Dr Meira Chand, who recently took up yoga aged 75 - three years after completing a PhD – is now writing a novel about Harbans. Ms Gulati believes that if there were ever an example of resilience in the face of adversity, it is to be found in the story of his life.
After completing his medical training in the land of his birth, Harbans emigrated to England with the intention of working as a doctor. On arrival, he walked all the way from Liverpool Docks to London and slept in Hyde Park, only to discover that his medical qualifications were not recognised in the UK. He repeated his training at Charing Cross Hospital, and eventually requalified. The colour of his skin, however, resulted in him being shunned when looking for premises in which to practise medicine. This challenge was overcome thanks to a Jewish jeweller in Battersea Rise who let him use part of his shop as a consultation room.
Throughout the Second World War Harbans served the local community, treating the injured and assisting the poor, eventually helping to set up Meals on Wheels (the service that today still delivers meals to those who cannot cook for themselves). He also became involved in local politics, becoming a councillor for Battersea South – a rare occurrence for someone from South Asia in those days.
Inspiration from her grandfather and her experience as a sociologist and psychologist has ignited in Ms Gulati an interest to know more about mindfulness, a form of meditation involving focusing on the present moment. “It is perhaps my grandfather’s tale that inspired my passion for the human mind,” says the researcher. Gulati and her colleagues are now exploring why mindfulness seems to help people deal with life’s stresses, how it can sometimes make us more resilient, especially as leaders, and why alongside the notion of leadership, it has become an increasingly important concept.
Three years ago, Ms Gulati attended a conference on the neuroscience of mindfulness and scientific impact, where she met Dr Peter Malinowski after he gave a talk on the mind and meditation. “I have since been collaborating with him and Dr Carol Jarvis (UWE Bristol) to explore the role of mindfulness in compassionate and resilient leadership,” says Ms Gulati.
The three researchers have found that, in today’s uncertain world, the fastest does not always win the race (as shown in Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, believed to date back some 2.5 millennia). This idea seems to have lost currency in contemporary organisations and their research explores the challenge of learning from, and injecting some ancient wisdom into, contemporary organisational settings. “As my grandfather perhaps discovered, stopping to ‘smell the roses’ rather than rushing to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ can impact organisational sustainability and resilient leadership,” says Gulati. “We are exploring how this works and assessing the creative tension that may emerge from this juxtaposition,” she adds.
Professor Jonathan Benger wears many hats and works long hours. He is a consultant in the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of a Bristol hospital, overseeing junior doctors and attending to patients. He also works for the South Western Ambulance Service (he helped to found the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity), and is involved with policy and strategy for NHS England. The rest of his seven-day working week involves one and a half days’ research at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).
Over the past decade, Benger has helped establish UWE Bristol as a focus for emergency and critical care research, particularly around pre-hospital care. As a result, his and his colleagues’ academic work has a genuine impact on what is going on in the real world and improves the health of individuals.
Managing a patient’s airway after a cardiac arrest
What work is he most proud of so far? The research study Airways-2, a collaboration with UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol’s Clinical Trials & Evaluation Unit, on how to manage a patient’s airway in the early stages of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Some 60,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating suddenly) outside of hospital in the UK every year, and one of the internationally recognised unanswered questions about this condition is how best to manage the patient’s airway. “Historically we’ve put a breathing tube in the patient’s windpipe, but some data suggests it might be harmful to do so at an early stage, and it is unclear why,” says Professor Benger. Newer devices sit at the back of the throat and provide oxygen, so he and his colleagues are testing the two alternatives to see which approach works best.
“This is a huge trial that people said couldn’t be done because it’s so hard to deliver,” he says, but the researchers first secured a quarter of a million pounds to carry out a feasibility study, before receiving a further £2m to conduct the full trial. This means that as many as half of all patients who have a cardiac arrest out of hospital in some areas of England are likely to end up in the study. The researchers will publish results in 2018, and these could have a huge impact internationally. The Professor believes his team will answer the question of how best to treat cardiac arrest victims at the scene in a way that is likely to change the guidelines for resuscitation worldwide.
Redesigning ambulances for greater efficiency
Another research project close to Benger’s heart is his involvement in the redesign of the interior of ambulances currently used in the UK. Over the years, paramedics have gradually needed more material in the emergency vehicle, with treatment frequently taking place in the ambulance itself. When paramedics are providing care in situ, time can be at a premium and an efficient configuration of medical instruments and drugs can save time, and reduce the risk of an infection spreading.
Professor Benger and his colleagues therefore teamed up with the Royal College of Art to design a new ambulance from scratch. The challenge was to create something within limited space that maximises capacity for treatment and optimises layout. To do this, the researchers ran scenarios in the ambulance to observe how paramedics treated patients (who for this study, were actors). “We redesigned the ambulance and then got another set of paramedics to come in and see how they used the space differently,” says Benger. The team also looked at the spread of contamination around the vehicle using a dye and showed how an efficient layout with dressings and other equipment close at hand, could reduce the spread of bacteria.
Building an ambulance demonstrator provided the team with a springboard to secure funding from the EU to work on a European-wide project. The aim now is to feed this into ambulance design across Europe, encourage mass production and, therefore, bring unit cost down (in England each ambulance currently costs the NHS up to £60,000). Thanks to this ongoing research, the service has already seen some improvements in joint procurement of ambulances in the UK. Other incorporated suggestions from the team’s work include ambulance services placing stretcher trolleys in the middle of their vehicles, which means greater paramedic mobility and access to the patient. “Fewer people going to hospital because you have delivered more treatment at the scene is good for the system,” says Professor Benger. “If it’s a safer ambulance, then there are lower risks of picking up infections too.”
In 2013 Bob Griffin was ushered through the gates of Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. The entrepreneur who set up Tomcat, a company in the south west, was there to collect his Queen’s award for Enterprise in Innovation. The company manufactures trikes for children and adults with mild to severe disabilities, whether learning, visual or physical.
Based near Gloucester, Tomcat is known for its bespoke trikes, the unique design of which means carers accompanying the rider can control the vehicle from behind using a steering and braking lever.
Just a year after shaking hands with the monarch, Bob was looking to design a new wheelchair product called ‘Sunfly’ and was successful in receiving a grant through the University of the West of England’s (UWE Bristol) Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) scheme, which supports SMEs in the South West to develop innovative products.
Inspired by families whose children sometimes became severely disabled because of illnesses like meningitis, Sunfly has multiple purposes. Due to launch in 2017, users can modulate it to allow a child to nap, eat, and sit in different positions. Its clever design means the structure can house various types of specialised seats and can be broken down into separate, easily transportable parts. Sunfly also doubles as a trailer to carry a child behind a bicycle.
The R&D took over a year, as there was an intense focus on safety. “Turning Sunfly into reality was a real challenge, but without UWE Bristol’s I4G funding, it would have been even more difficult and perhaps unachievable,” says Bob.
The story of Tomcat goes back 20 years. Bob’s stepson, Tom, had severe learning difficulties and was keeping the adults awake at night because of surplus energy he was unable to expend during the day. Although Tom had a trike, it was hard to control and so it gathered dust in the shed.
Bob, at the time a Merchant Navy engineer, realised tricycles were very basic. “In terms of blindness, learning difficulties or spatial awareness, there was nothing out there,” says Bob. While on a posting, he used the ship’s workshop to build a system to add onto Tom’s existing trike. Tom and his mother, Anne, were delighted.
Usually Tom would walk for 100 yards and get bored but, thanks to the trike, Anne could control it from behind and he was able to ride up to three miles. “To see him achieve that was quite emotional,” recalls Bob. After a subsequent visit to the school Tom attended, other parents asked Bob to build trikes for their own children.
Two decades later Tomcat products (the firm’s name is derived from his stepson’s name) are as popular as ever. Bob is now developing new products thanks in part to a second round of funding from UWE Bristol’s I4G. The grant is helping with the development of both an adult trike and a semi-recumbent tricycle. The products will target those with mild sight, balance and age-related difficulties, as well as people with profound and multiple disabilities. A major feature of the new machines will be the way they enable users to get on and off more easily.
The semi-recumbent trike, due for release in February 2017, will be more upright, with higher seating and a straighter back than competitors’ products. Another objective will be to incorporate a swivel, or height-adjustable saddle, on the pedal vehicles.
Of course developing these products has once again presented Bob with a number of challenges, like how to achieve greater transportability with such a large machine. Again, support through UWE Bristol’s I4G programme will help him overcome those issues.
To find out more about Tomcat please visit their website: http://tomcatspecialneeds.co.uk/
The collaboration between West Technology and UWE Bristol is a fantastic example of the University’s involvement in the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme. Since West Technology recruited a graduate through the programme, sales of its fingerprint-detection machines have gone through the roof. Managing Director Ian Harris also says the KTP further boosted the company’s credibility in the forensics world.
This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP). KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base. This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.
Today social media, especially Facebook, plays a big part in many of our lives. As well as providing a platform for online interaction with others, reading news and seeing an odd video about kittens, it is also shown to affect how we view ourselves – often in a negative way.
Senior Research Fellow Dr Amy Slater works at UWE Bristol’s Centre for Appearance Research (CAR), the world’s largest group of psychologists working on appearance and body image. One area Amy looks at is how social media and the internet can affect body image concerns, especially for adolescents and young girls.
Social media: taking peer pressure beyond the classroom
With regard to older age groups, Amy has investigated what it is about social media that is detrimental to self-image in young adults by observing what they do online. By setting up a research page on Facebook and asking the 200 participating 18 and 19-year-olds to ‘friend’ her, she was able to monitor their online behaviour.
Interestingly, the research gave rise to both expected and unexpected conclusions. For Amy, it is unsurprising that young people spend so much time on social media – often two to three hours per day. What surprises her is the extent users are invested in social media like Facebook.
Before the advent of user-generated content, it was traditional media, press and parents that influenced adolescents. However, social media appears to combine a traditional media element (with advertisements and idealised images of celebrities) with a peer-driven environment (with the opportunity for interaction and feedback). This could go towards explaining why it may be damaging for body image.
The problem is that while adolescents certainly take heed of comments at school, this environment used to end when they left the classroom. Now, young adults are on social media out of school hours and this perpetuates a forum for potentially harming conversations to continue. The researcher says her suspicion is that this continual access could potentially heighten damage to self-image.
The positive side of social media
Of course there are some positives in social media, says Amy. It has transformed what we traditionally perceive as media, except that we generate it ourselves. The media has often presented a very narrow view of what it considers as ‘ideal’ in life, with this ideal unrealistic and unattainable for most. Social media, on the other hand, offers the opportunity for increased diversity in what we see. Vloggers (video bloggers), for instance, have become hugely popular especially as these are ordinary people, and users appear to like this authenticity.
Even very young affected
Amy, who is a practising child psychologist, explains that poor body image can lead to reduced self-esteem, depression, poorer eating habits and unhealthy practices. Research shows the age at which females experience body image concerns has steadily lowered since the 1980s, when initial findings found it was mostly adult women who were discontent with their bodies. Later on, this negative body image was shown to exist among adolescents then, worryingly, in some girls as young as six.
Another part of Amy’s research looks at the sexualisation of females in online games. Along with UWE Bristol’s Dr Emma Halliwell, she has conducted a study on the impact of playing internet games on young girls’ body image and career aspirations. They have found that some easily-available games on the web, such as Dream Date Dress-Up often made girls aged eight to nine express a desire to be thinner immediately after playing.
The Centre for Appearance Research strives to make a real difference to the lives of people with appearance-related concerns both in the UK and across the world. Click here to find out more about its activities and events.