In this Academic Spotlight we asked Dr Issy Bray, Associate Professor in Public Health (Epidemiology) at UWE Bristol.
Tell us about your background and how you became interested in your research area?
My background is originally in statistics. A final year module in medical statistics was a light-bulb experience for me – I’d found what I wanted to do – so I went on to do a masters in medical statistics. That was nearly 30 years ago, and since then my work has become gradually more applied and I have moved into Public Health. One of the things that motivated me to do this was the first time I heard Sir Michael Marmot speak about social capital and inequalities. Although my early research was in cancer epidemiology, much of my work since then has focused on mental health and wellbeing. My interest in studying both cancer and mental health problems stems from the fact that they are common, they can affect anyone, and the risk factors are complex and difficult to untangle – in that sense they both represent a huge challenge to the science of epidemiology. Research into mental health is fascinating on so many levels, and I have had the opportunity to be involved in studies analysing risk factors for suicide and self-harm through to general wellbeing at the population level. One of the other things I find really interesting about mental health is the bi-directional relationship with physical health. Most recently my work has centred around the benefits of exposure to green and natural environments in terms of our mental health, particularly for young people and those living in urban environments. These issues were brought to the fore by the Covid pandemic and are not going away.
Tell us more about your research and research projects, are there any particular projects you want to highlight?
My research sits within the Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing, an inter-disciplinary research centre, but I also collaborate with other research centres at UWE. I have worked closely with psychology colleagues in the Centre for Appearance Research to study the relationships between body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, mental health outcomes (depression and anxiety) and other health-related behaviours (e.g. drinking and smoking) amongst adolescents. For me, the most important outcome of this collaboration was the realisation that health psychology and public health send out very different messages to the public about body size, which is counter-productive, and we worked together to call for a more unified approach to the dual problems of overweight/obesity and body dissatisfaction.
In 2020 I led a multi-disciplinary team to review the evidence on the potential benefits of exposure to green and natural environments in reducing anxiety and depression amongst young people living in urban areas. This was both challenging and exciting. Challenging because the topic is vast, time was limited, and as a multi-disciplinary team we all had different viewpoints. Exciting because the funder (The Wellcome Trust) clearly wanted something other than a standard systematic review of the literature, so we had free rein to take an unconventional approach. We combined evidence from many different disciplines and study designs but focused specifically on young people (as opposed to children or adults) to generate a conceptual model explaining the pathways linking exposure to green and natural environments with mental health outcomes for this age group.
Early analyses of Covid data highlighted important risk factors (e.g. age, ethnicity, co-morbidities, occupation) but considered each factor in isolation. So it was not possible to separate out the effects of deprivation and ethnicity, for example. This was a big problem, but it took some time for the data to become available for this level of analysis. In the mean time, Public Health England (as was) published rates of Covid mortality by Local Authority. This would allow a multivariate analysis of risk factors at a Local Authority level, so I set to work gathering data on age, ethnicity, pollution levels, over-crowding, obesity and deprivation for each Local Authority. This analysis, published in 2021 with Public Health colleagues, was the first evidence that was able to take deprivation and age into account when estimating the effects of pollution, or ethnicity, on Covid mortality rates.
Finally I am working closely with a PhD student and other colleagues using experiments to determine whether viewing green, blue and historic environments (on a flat screen television monitor or using virtual reality) can benefit mental health, which we are assessing through self-reported questionnaires and physiological measures in the psychology lab. A similar experiment with colleagues in ecology has examined different soundscapes (traffic versus birdsong) to estimate the effects of different levels of biodiversity on our mental wellbeing. The aim is not to replace real-life exposure with virtual reality, but to use it as a tool for researching the benefits of different environments on human health, and to bring those benefits to people who are not able to access them.
To connect with Dr Issy Bray, contact her through her LinkedIn profile.
The Neurodivergence in Criminal Justice Network (NICJN) is a research and knowledge exchange group, created and jointly co-ordinated by Dr Tom Smith (Associate Professor in Law). Founded in 2021, the NICJN is primarily focused on promoting an evidence-led approach to the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals in criminal justice systems. Tom is supported by Joint Co-ordinator Dr Nicole Renehan (Durham University); an Advisory Group, consisting of network members; and a Lived Experience Group (consisting of members with direct experience of neurodivergence and criminal justice).
‘Neurodivergent’ commonly describes cognitive and neurological development which is different or atypical. This relates primarily to communication, learning, attention, sensory processing, and mood regulation. Forms of neurodivergence include Autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia, among numerous others in this expanding category. Individuals drawn into the criminal justice system (CJS) – as suspects, defendants, victims or witnesses – generally face significant challenges due to the stressful, complex and specialised nature of criminal proceedings. The environment and routines of criminal justice settings – including police stations, courts and prisons – can be isolating, confusing and traumatic. These challenges are acute for vulnerable persons generally, including those with physical and mental health issues (see, for example, the conclusions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2020).
However, engagement with criminal proceedings and the institutions and figures involved (such as lawyers and police officers) can be particularly challenging for neurodivergent individuals, due to the nature of neurodivergence and the manner in which criminal justice generally operates (for example, the emphasis placed on personal interaction). Evidence suggests that not only is neurodivergence prevalent within criminal justice (a recent estimate suggests half of prisoners are neurodivergent), but that significant barriers to a positive and effective experience remain at all stages.
Since 2020, there has been a significant increase in interest and attention paid to these issues. As part of this, the NICJN brings together key voices in the area, including researchers (from varied disciplines including forensic science, psychology, and law); clinical and legal practice; and community members who are neurodivergent (or have a personal connection to neurodivergent individuals) and have been involved in criminal proceedings, and are therefore experts by experience. There are currently more than 150 members of the network from across the UK and internationally.
A key aspect of the NICJN is facilitating communication between different but related communities by providing a platform for sharing their work, interests, activities and voice. It aims to act as a ‘switchboard’, connecting interested people to a single ‘hub’ for knowledge and expertise. For example, the NICJN resource collection is a ‘one stop shop’ for literature, information, and specialist knowledge on this area, with the goal that the collection will enable anyone to easily locate useful information and specialist insight on neurodivergence and criminal justice.
In the long-term, the NICJN aims to be part of a drive to embed research evidence into everyday criminal justice practice; to raise awareness and understanding of the issues in this area; to promote reform by pursuing positive changes through exchange within and beyond the network; and advance knowledge through collaborative publication, presentation, evidence-gathering and funded research.
Since its creation the network has been active in a variety of ways. The network was launched in July 2021, with a themed conference focusing on Autism in Criminal Justice. It included presentations by a range of experts on autism and policing, courts, and prisons; and the accounts of individuals with lived experience. The network sends out regular updates to members on developments in the field, including new publications; events; funding opportunities; and calls for participants in research studies. The network recently contributed to a lecture for criminal barristers on neurodivergence in criminal proceedings. The network is currently involved in the early stages of two projects – one working with a Government-sponsored criminal justice agency in developing its neurodivergence strategy; and the other working with a criminal justice NGO looking to develop a better approach to screening for neurodivergence in the criminal justice system.
The last few years have been exciting for the network – it has grown quickly, and forms part of a broad chorus of voices calling for a new approach to criminal justice in this context – to which institutions are responding. As a research and knowledge-exchange group focused on impact in the real world, this represents a ‘golden moment’ to genuinely re-shape public policy and professional practice for good, with the potential for a major positive impact on the health and wellbeing of neurodivergent people.
In this Academic Spotlight we asked Dr Emmanuel Adukwu, Deputy Head of Department for Applied Sciences, a few questions about the research he is involved with at UWE Bristol.
Tell us about your background and how you became interested in your research area?
I graduated with a degree in Biomedical Sciences at Coventry University. During my final year, I chose a project which started my interest in the role nature plays in modulating and promoting health. This subsequently led to my postgraduate study at Manchester Metropolitan University working with Professor Valerie Edwards-Jones (emeritus) where I carried out an industry-funded masters by research (MRes) investigating the role of essential oils as antimicrobial agents and a research assistantship project working on a human volunteer trial to develop a novel topical antimicrobial agent.
After my MRes, I moved into industry working with ICON Plc, the world’s leader in clinical research. I worked as a clinical trials coordinator, setting up and running several high-profile large-scale studies for the major global biopharma organisations. I decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Northampton funded by Northamptonshire NHS Trust working with Professor Carol Phillips. My PhD project was informed by the experiences I had during my BSc (final year project) and MRes degrees considering I had several offers and needed to make a firm decision.. My project investigated community acquired infections which was a significant health conundrum at the time and continues to contribute to the infection burden in health settings globally.
Tell us more about your research and research projects, are there any particular projects you want to highlight?
My research explores the role that natural compounds can play in preventing or controlling infections caused by pathogenic bacteria and fungi. In my group, we have carried out investigations into the potential of plant-based compounds in reducing significant healthcare pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus (associated with many infections in humans), Acinetobacter baumannii which is considered by the CDC as a serious public health threat as it is known to be resistant to multiple antibiotics and is an organism linked with major amputations.
Recently we have focused a lot of work on a newly discovered fungus called Candida auris. This is a particularly interesting organism as it is also known to be resistant to current antifungal treatments, spreads easily in hospital settings and can cause serious infections. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 patients who are affected with invasive Candida auris infection die. We have shown that using plant-based compounds, we can limit the growth and spread of this emerging threat and hope to develop innovative strategies that can be utilised in healthcare settings.
Some ongoing projects worth mentioning include two PhD research projects with my students Obiageli Okolie and Uzoma Igwe who are carrying out research focused on preventing the spread of antimicrobial resistance, preventing and controlling infections at national level with a focus on the healthcare system in Nigeria. These two projects have involved leading KOLs and health experts across the country and would go a long way in informing policy.
If you are a fan of or connoisseur of teas, keep an eye out on our recently commenced project funded via the partnership PhD scheme between Pukka Herbs and UWE bristol where we aim to explore some of the benefits of some herbal tea blends on human health and wellbeing.
Give us a brief description of how your academic expertise could be practically applied for a business partner or for external collaboration?
In terms of research, my work would interest organisations and potential collaborators interested in developing antimicrobials products or therapies (antibacterial, antifungals, disinfectants etc) to reduce infections in humans and animals. We have previously carried out work investigating survival of clinical pathogens on medical devices in particular swab transport systems. The knowledge and expertise developed this these projects can be of benefit to companies interested in developing special media for these important transport systems for healthcare and other relevant settings e.g. food, animal etc.
In addition, I have extensive expertise developing initiatives and solutions to address/embed inclusivity within teams and organisations. With many forward-looking organisations, inclusivity and diversity is key to growth and I am happy to collaborate or engage with organisations looking at meaningful organisational change in this area.
Written by Linda Pengelly (MSc Student for Environmental Management)
In the early to mid-1900s, the hangover from Britain’s Industrial Revolution of the previous two centuries (when emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) were at their peak) was still raging (Ritchie, 2017a). Between 1900-1920, Bronchitis attributed to atmospheric coal smoke was the second-leading cause of death in England and Wales (Widdicombe, 2020). Cold winters and gung-ho coal combustion combined to form the deadly spectre that is ‘Smog’ (a portmanteau of smoke and fog) and earned London the dubious nickname of the ‘Big Smoke’, even inspiring Monet to paint the city between 1899-1903 (Fuller, 2019). With everything happening in the world right now (the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, the looming threat of war…) it’s easy to overlook the (invisible) elephant in the room: air pollution. No-one wants to think about the ultrafine particles (PM2.5 to use the technical term) having a party in their lungs when they’re walking down the street or curling up in front of the fire. But should we be concerned? Well, yes, actually. The biggest contributors to air pollution may have changed over the years, but the bottom line is this: respiratory diseases have consistently remained one of the top 5 causes of death in the UK in our lifetime (ONS, 2017; Ritchie and Roser, 2019).
A series of London Smog incidents followed, most notably the ‘Great Smog’ between 5-9th December 1952, which Bell and Davis (2001) estimate led to the deaths of 12,000 people. The younger generations of the Great British public were given a lesson in history when Queen Elizabeth II was portrayed stubbornly navigating the Great Smog on foot to visit her grandmother in an episode of The Crown (2016), but it begs the question: are we destined to repeat it?
Not necessarily. Granted, today’s developing cities appear to be following in the UK’s footsteps by way of initial ‘dirty’ industrialisation, as shown in Delhi:
There is hope, however. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, Ritchie (2017a) maintains that as India and other developing countries increase their GDP per capita, they must aim to keep air pollution below London’s 19th century levels by developing in a ‘cleaner way’ than we did; i.e., by adopting renewable energy early. The Clean Air Act of 1956 partly tackled the issue of air pollution in the UK through the introduction of smoke control areas, but as Fuller (2019) argues, the most effective change came from the adoption of alternative fuels and heating systems.
An ‘An awareness that the burden from energy consumption on the wider society has been very high in the past and can get much worse may help concentrate minds a little more towards finding solutions, and not simply accepting that climate change is the price to pay for economic growth and development’
The 1950s-1970s saw high growth in car ownership, accompanied by an increase in emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and PM2.5 (Newman and Kenworthy, 2011). Although car ownership has continued to rise, NOx and PM2.5 levels have decreased since the 1970s due to a combination of technological advances and further political progress.
There have been a few bumps in the road, however. In 2015, the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal broke, in which Volkswagen and other car manufacturers were revealed to have programmed on-board computers to cheat emissions tests (Fuller, 2019). Following this, sales of diesel cars in the UK nosedived, yet, frustratingly, sales of new electric/hybrid cars remain low (Ritchie and Roser, 2021), mainly due to their high initial costs and lack of charging infrastructure (ONS, 2021):
Looking at the overall picture of air quality in the UK, data shows that there has been a steady decline in emissions of most air pollutants since the 1970s, but ammonia (NH3) levels persist (Ritchie and Roser, 2022):
The culprit? Agriculture. According to Defra (2020; 2018), approximately 88% of ammonia emissions in the UK can be attributed to agriculture, and with 71% of UK land classed as agricultural, the scale of the issue is clear. Defra’s 2018 Code of Good Agricultural Practice (COGAP) for reducing ammonia emissions attempted to address this but given that observance of the Code is voluntary rather than mandated, its potential effectiveness is questionable.
But what about closer to home? According to Carrington (2021), the oh-so-hygge solid fuel burners in 8% of UK lounges account for, shockingly, 38% of PM2.5 emissions (26% more than road traffic, to put it into perspective). Although there are already smoke control areas in the UK, and the implementation of the 2019 Clean Air Strategy will ‘outlaw the sale of the most polluting fuels’ and ‘ensure that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022’ (Defra, 2019, p.59-60), the post-pandemic surge in energy prices and overall cost of living will likely mean that many homes continue to light up. Compounding this problem is the long lifespan of solid fuel burners, meaning few people will ever buy a new, ‘cleaner’ one (Fuller 2019).
The top sources of air pollution may have changed over time, but the common denominator is human activity. Will we look back on the past with fog-tinted glasses, and allow history to repeat itself, or will we learn from our mistakes? It is down to every one of us to play a role in fighting the threat of air pollution, but crucially, the UK government must empower us to do so. We may hold the matches, but technological innovation and strong policies are the (seasoned) kindling we need to light the fire in our bellies.
Bell, M.L. & Davis, D.L. (2001) Reassessment of the Lethal London Fog of 1952: Novel Indicators of Acute and Chronic Consequences of Acute Exposure to Air Pollution. Environmental Health Perspectives [online]. 109 (3), pp. 389-394. [Accessed 30 March 2022].
BUND Bundesverband (2017) Protest vor dem Dieselgate-Untersuchungsausschuss in Berlin [photograph]. In: Flickr [online]. Available from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/110742978@N08/33323423825 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Carrington, D. (2021) Wood burning at home now biggest cause of UK particle pollution. The Guardian [online]. 16 February. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/16/home-wood-burning-biggest-cause-particle-pollution-fires [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2020) Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2020 [online]. London: Defra. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1056618/AUK2020_22feb22.pdf [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2019) Clean Air Strategy 2019 [online]. London: Defra. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/770715/clean-air-strategy-2019.pdf [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2018) Code of Good Agricultural Practice (COGAP) for Reducing Ammonia Emissions [online]. London: Defra. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/729646/code-good-agricultural-practice-ammonia.pdf [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Farrow, A. (2018) London Smog, 1952 [photograph]. In: Flickr [online]. Available from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/116071498@N08/32506838248 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Fouquet, R. (2011) Long run trends in energy-related external costs. Ecological Economics [online] 70 (12), pp. 2380-2389. [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Fuller, G. (2018) The invisible killer: the rising global threat of air pollution – and how we can fight back. London: Melville House.
Love Clean Air (2014) History of Air Quality. Available from: https://lovecleanair.org/about-air-quality/history-of-air-quality/#.YkS6pSjMK5d [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Monet, C. (c. 1903-4) The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog) [oil on canvas]. At: New York: The Met [online]. Available from: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/110001576 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Office for National Statistics (2021) Over half of younger drivers likely to switch to electric in next decade. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/overhalfofyoungerdriverslikelytoswitchtoelectricinnextdecade/2021-10-25 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Office for National Statistics (2017) Causes of death over 100 years. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/causesofdeathover100years/2017-09-18 [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Newman, P., and Kenworthy, J. (2011). Peak Car Use: Understanding the Demise of Automobile Dependence. World Transport, Policy & Practice [online]. 17 (2), pp. 1-42. [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Phelps, S. (2019) Opinion: Wood burning stoves are deadly, not trendy. The Bristol Cable [online]. 1 February. Available from: https://thebristolcable.org/2019/02/opinion-wood-burning-stoves-are-deadly-not-trendy/ [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H. (2017a) What the history of London’s air pollution can tell us about the future of today’s growing megacities. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/london-air-pollution [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H. (2017b) Air Pollution, London vs. Delhi, 1700 to 2016. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/air-pollution-london-vs-delhi [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H., and Roser, M. (2022) Emissions of air pollutants, United Kingdom, 1970 to 2016. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/emissions-of-air-pollutants?time=1970..2016&country=~GBR [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H., and Roser, M. (2021) New passenger vehicles by type, United Kingdom. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/transport [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Ritchie, H., and Roser, M. (2019) Number of deaths by cause, United Kingdom, 2019. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/annual-number-of-deaths-by-cause?country=~GBR [Accessed 30 March 2022].
The Crown (2016) Series 1, Episode 4, Act of God [online]. Netflix, 4 November. Available from: http://www.netflix.com/gb [Accessed 30 March 2022].
Widdicombe, J.H. (2020) A Brief History of Bronchitis in England and Wales. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases [online]. 7 (4), pp. 303-314. [Accessed 30 March 2022].
UWE Bristol has recently announced another application round of its successful Partnership PhD programme.
A Partnership PhD bridges the gap between external organisations and university. It enables an organisation to gain access to cutting-edge real-world research that can help transform it.
The Partnership establishes a relationship between an organisation and UWE Bristol, based on a specific project that is mutually beneficial.
Organisations have the opportunity to choose a relevant research area and gain access to cutting-edge research. The researcher will work extensively with the organisation to provide a tailored piece of research.
In turn, the researcher will gain an opportunity to pursue their research in a real-world setting, developing transferable and interdisciplinary skills whilst gaining cross-sector experience.
Over the past two years, the Graduate School, part of the Research, Business and Innovation team at UWE Bristol, has been developing the Partnership PhD scheme. Through it, UWE’s investment in Post Graduate Research has been matched by over £1.5m from 40+ partner organisations.
Application deadline 1 July 2022 for Partnership PhD’s starting in 1 January 2023.
In this Academic Spotlight we asked Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers, Associate Professor for Engineering in Society a few questions about the research she is involved with at UWE Bristol.
Tell us about your background and how you became interested in your area of research
I originally did a Biomedical Sciences degree, and then trained as a science journalist under the BBC News Sponsorship Scheme. I worked at BBC TV Centre, then as a radio and TV journalist and presenter. I then moved into making TV programmes with BBC Countryfile. After that I travelled around Asia and worked on environmental projects in rainforests. This led me to New Zealand, where I changed careers to work as the Communications and Liaison Manager for the Centre for Brain Research, a neuroscience research and engagement centre at The University of Auckland in New Zealand. While working there I set up the CeleBRation Choir, a choir which provides music therapy for people with communication difficulties through neurological disease. This led me to do a MSc in Psychology with a thesis exploring participation in the choir, which led to my first published papers. From there, I moved to the UK to work at UWE Bristol as a Research Fellow in the Science Communication Unit. I brought my choir research back with me, and this led to the development of the UWE Bristol ReVoice Choir for people with aphasia.
Tell us more about your research and research interests. Are there any particular projects you want to highlight?
I have been promoted twice while at UWE and I’m now an Associate Professor for Engineering in Society, where I teach about the Sustainable Development Goals to student engineers and scientists. While at UWE I did my DPhil in Social Psychology, compiling 9 journal papers about representation and communication at live science events. I now have extensive experience leading communications work packages as part of the UWE SCU. I as the Communications Lead for the H2020 ClairCity project (Ref No: 689289) from the Air Quality Resource Management Centre, which reached over 8000 citizens to raise awareness of air quality and carbon emissions. The project evaluated the factors that influenced their day-to-day behaviours / practices / activities and how they contribute to the generation of air pollution and carbon emissions while also enabling citizens to voice the enabling factors that can influence policy and define their preferred future city. I also played a leading role in the H2020 WeCount, (Ref No: 872743) which worked with citizen scientists to use low cost sensors to quantify road transport in their communities and then co-design communication /policy actions to implement. I have also led international evaluations of science festivals, including Science Live (Wellcome Trust), UK Science Festival Network (British Science Association), the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures and the Unkindest Cut (Arts Council/Wellcome Trust). I now manage the School of Engineering SCU team leading regional science outreach for primary schools by running the Curiosity Connections network, and is the Inspire Skills lead for the initiative or Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation in the West of England.
The Inspire Sustainability programme has established an extended network of engineering and primary STEM outreach in the West of England and is at the heart of several regional collaborative projects. The programme is operated by UWE Bristol on behalf of the initiative for Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation (DETI), in partnership with the West of England STEM Ambassadors Hub. We have developed the Digital Trailblazers (secondary schools) and Curiosity Connections (primary schools) networks. The team has directly engaged 6832 children and 221 teachers from 73 schools and community groups in the West of England, with an estimated 96,303 children reached altogether through wider dissemination efforts. Using curriculum-linked engineering outreach and careers support, we connect children with real-life, diverse engineering role models to widen participation and aspirations for STEM careers. The programme has pioneered outreach activities designed to be more appealing to the needs, values, and issues of relevance for under-represented groups in the physical sciences (9). The outreach builds on research about recruiting and retaining women in engineering (10,11), by showing how STEM industries can contribute to societal goals, helping people and planet. Representation and diversity of presenters is critical (12), and the programme has built a network of Diversity Demonstrators, including women, people from Black and Asian backgrounds, neurodiversity, and non-traditional education routes. 42% of total direct engagements (2,515 children) came through in-person sessions, all five developed and launched by DETI Inspire in 2021: The West in Minecraft, We Make Our Future, Engineering Curiosity, WeCount Schools, and the Sustainability Solutions Summit. 42% of all the schools engaged in these BoxED sessions came from areas within the most deprived 20% of the country, and a further 17% came from the most deprived 30%.
Please give us a brief description of how your academic expertise could be practically applied for a business partner or for external collaborations.
Inspire brings together outreach and education for STEM inspiration to broaden the diversity of entrants to the engineering profession. I lead a team of 6 staff members, who are developing a suite of digital engineering education outreach activities for young people from Key Stage 1-5. The primary school activities are disseminated through Curiosity Connections, a network I designed and developed from 2015 onwards, to inspire and influence primary STEM outreach in the West of England. I run the Advisory Board for this network, which brings together stakeholders from Future Quest, Bristol City Council, WECA Careers, University of Bristol, Engineering UK, Primary Engineer, Bristol Museum, Aerospace Bristol, NCC, Airbus, Renishaw, MOD, and GKN.
Our recent successes included developing the Engineering Curiosity diversity resource, which reached 3500 children online during the Big Beam In which we ran in British Science Week 2021. We are currently coordinating activities for South West STEM Fest with STEM Ambassadors (Graphic Science) for June, where we are the regional champions for National Robotics Week, the Great Science Share, IET Lego League, and the Leaders Award. These are all national programmes of outreach which I have developed relationships with and secured UWE Bristol as the regional host.
Informing and consulting public groups has long been recognised as vital for good quality research, which is why academics are encouraged to engage communities and seek their input and opinion. To do so, it is essential to ensure that the population groups included are as diverse and as representative of a wide range of society as possible.
The move online – opportunities and challenges
Public Engagement events have traditionally been held in person, making them accessible to a wide range of people from various backgrounds. However, the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 meant that ‘face to face’ engagement activities had to widely cease, and much of it has since moved, and remained, online. Whilst this offers opportunities to reach more people geographically, and can also have benefits in terms of inclusion, there is a risk that certain groups may be excluded on a more local level.
The ongoing issue of inclusivity in public engagement
The Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities (WEH) is a Wellcome Trust funded research centre at the University of Oxford. Its staff specialise in a range of fields, including medical history, medical ethics, psychology, philosophy, and mental health. As part of their work, they investigate some of the big ethical questions of our time, a major theme being rapid technological change.
The WEH seeks to include a broad discussion on its research from a range of demographics, attempting to be as inclusive as possible in its engagement work. The key audiences for its engagement programme were initially identified in the Centre’s public engagement strategy as local Oxfordshire residents, artists and arts communities, research participants and patient groups. However, ensuring the involvement of all these groups can be challenging, as reflected in three pre- and mid-pandemic case studies assessing participants’ views on public health issues. Evidence suggests that inclusivity in public engagement is an ongoing issue, where pre-engaged audiences are often repeatedly involved in events and activities, either through use of existing networks or ineffective reach in terms of advertising.
A shift in the public engagement demographic since the start of the pandemic
Clare and Milly found a distinctive demographic shift in engagement work since the start of the pandemic. Their research has highlighted that there are a range of barriers and complications involved in solely online engagement: children and young people, for example, may not have access to devices from a home setting. Whilst health professionals understandably had time constraints during the pandemic and may not have had opportunities to get involved.
Broadly speaking, online public engagement activities are reliant on access to a digital device with a reliable internet connection and the ability to use this device and supporting technology, but also rest on the assumption that there will be the desire, interest, energy, or time to participate.
The conclusion is that any future online work must address issues around exclusion of some groups. Recognising that a diversity in demographics is key to supporting a diversity of viewpoints, Clare and Milly also assess how and if engagement activities would work in a post-pandemic world, and whether public engagement has the potential to become more inclusive as a result.
A variety of people with a diversity of viewpoints
Moving engagement to a solely online format can create benefits in terms of inclusivity, for example in avoiding the need to travel. Further exploration of potential barriers is crucial to raise public awareness of healthcare research, and to help enable people from all backgrounds to contribute. When engaging online it is also vital to ensure that such research is responsible, relevant, and transparent, and that engagement takes place not only with a variety of people, but also with a diversity of viewpoints.
Kyle is a Researcher with a desire to remain engaged with businesses on real-world challenges. His research and engagement projects examine the overlapping areas of management, new technologies, and coordinated supply chains. Kyles research goals target ways in which positive social impact can be maximised using innovative new technologies and approaches to managing operations.
He is currently researching technology-enhanced operational delivery systems, spanning from supply chains to customers, and how these new systems can support data-driven business models. Some of these approaches have been called Product-Service Systems, Servitisation, and Digitally-Enhanced Advanced Services.
His work tends to focus on the implementation of new approaches at the process level, effectively changing the way the organisation works. The potential impact of new technologies can be very tempting for an organisation, but generally there’s a need to understand the existing processes and measures in the business that will be affected. By better understanding how the organisation works prior to any change, new solutions can be better integrated into how the organisation works towards its strategic goals. This process-focused approach also helps to better understand key performance metrics and align the right choices of new technology to help deliver against those measures.
Every year for International Women’s Day, The Planner publishes a list of planning’s Women of Influence, as nominated by the readers of The Planner and assessed by a panel of judges that includes distinguished planners from across the UK.
One of the nominations stated:
“Hannah led the design quality study that won the RTPI’s Sir Peter Hall Award for Research Excellence this year. This explored the under-researched and poorly-understood area of post-consent. In particular it evidenced a worrying decline in design quality occurring at this point, identified some of the causes and considered what local authorities might do to address this decline. This is just the latest in her leading applied research work which exemplifies why she is the go-to researcher who delivers strong evidence and innovation in practice. In addition, Hannah is dedicated to supporting and teaching the next generation of planning professionals.”
Hannah is the only Academic to have been announced as a woman of influence this year.
Hannah commented: “I’m hugely honoured (if not a little surprised!) to be named “The Planner’s “Women of Influence 2022: Academia” and “a go-to researcher!” It’s great to be part of such a fantastic list, which shows how women are leading the way in the planning profession”.
Gary Atkinson, Associate Professor in Engineering at UWE Bristol and part of Lyndon Smith’s team in the Centre for Machine Vision, is developing the “Polarisation Vision for Composite Part Inspection” – a system to automatically detect defects in raw and processed composite materials and so reduce waste and huge expenses for composite industries.
The project, funded by Digital Engineering Technology Innovation (DETI), has potential to impact on industrial sustainability, where testing and subsequent discarding of materials is a big issue.
The Weakest Link
Composite material strength lies in the uniform pattern of either unidirectional or interwoven carbon fibres lying undisturbed in resin. But any composite component is only as strong as its weakest link, and weaknesses caused by fibre misalignment or gaps is a common problem in composite manufacture.
The dark, shiny nature of composite materials makes defects tricky to spot using visualisation techniques based on traditional camera technology. The current industry standard is to perform time consuming and eye straining manual inspections to ensure the safety of components, particularly those destined for applications in the aerospace industry.
Gary is utilising a different type of visualisation technique to identify the problem areas by using a specialised camera. The camera detects when light becomes linearly polarised – with its electric field confined to a single plane – on reflection from a surface. Instead of blocking glare from reflected light like polarised sunglasses, the camera detects the reflected polarised light and, with specially developed software, produces a “photo” of composite fibres – with each orientation of fibre shown in a different colour.
The images produced by the software highlight tiny, localised defects, but individual fibre orientation can also be computed to give an overall report on a material’s quality.
“There’s no way you’d consistently detect localised defects like that using standard manual inspection or traditional methods from machine vision,” said Gary, explaining how his instrumentation could provide rapid and detailed defect detection for composite manufacture.
In recent months, Gary and his team have painstakingly explored what type of defects his “Polarisation Vision” can detect. They’ve taken a huge range of lab-based scenarios, as well as composites in realistic factory conditions, and developed the detection algorithms to automatically find component flaws using the polarised images.
Now they’re ready to start real-world trials, collaborating with Airbus to feed more and more data into the machine learning algorithm, training it further in defect auto-detection.