What do mini-buses in Mozambique, medical crutches, scientific animations, urban gardens, and zero waste areas in London have in common? The five passionate researchers with five minutes each to explain their dream for making the world a better place all on the same bill at this event.
The premise behind Focus on the Positive is simple: there is fantastic research going on, but the public often doesn’t know about it and many scientists and engineers find it difficult to secure the funding that will allow them to bring their ideas to reality. Focus on the Positive offers the audience a chance to listen to and actively engage with researchers, and to vote for the most feasible and worthwhile project. The winner takes away a £2000 prize to help get their idea off the ground.
The event took place last Tuesday at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre. First to take the stage was Clemence Cavoli (UCL Engineering) who shared her dream of creating less congested and polluted cities by changing transport and mobility. She and her colleague Joaquín have been working in Maputo, capital of Mozambique. Maputo is a developing city where the number of private vehicles is increasing rapidly, but where public minibuses, called Chapas, still remain the main form of transportation. The problem: Chapas are unreliable, chaotic and unappealing to the people who can afford a car. Their idea is to GPS-track and geolocalise all the existing minibus routes, collaborate with local actors and stakeholders and create a ready-to-use convenient map of Chapas. This will hopefully improve the utilisation of collective public transport in the city by making it more efficient, attractive and easy to use.
Next up was Nikos Papadosifos (UCL Engineering) whose wish is to relieve pain. Currently there are two types of crutches provided by the NHS: a basic and an adapted model for people with arthritis. But long-term patients of both can suffer from dermatological conditions and sore shoulders and elbows. Support from the audience, he said, would allow him to organise focus group discussions with interest groups, such as the England Amputee Football Association, in order to understand the problems they experience with crutches. He is also working with modified gloves containing pressure sensors to analyse handgrips and, hopefully, create a series of testable prototypes.
Marina Chang (also UCL Engineering) confessed she overcame her fear of public speaking to talk to us about a project close to her heart. The Calthorpe Project, located at the heart of Kings Cross, is one of the UK’s oldest community gardens and one of the most productive per m2 in London. Marina asked for our help to increase the garden’s productivity even further. A biodigester was recently installed in site, but they need to expand the vegetable patch to take advantage of the clean fuel and organic fertiliser produced from biodegradable waste. Kings Cross is under tremendous transformation and they want to take this opportunity to challenge and to rethink what a more sustainable food system would look like. This idea represents a small step towards building a localised system that connects distribution, consumption and waste, and creates small-scale synergies with potentially large impacts.
After Marina came Tia Kansara (UCL Bartlett) to explain the 2050 City project she is working on at the moment. The goal is turn Primrose Hill into a zero waste area, meaning that none of the waste produced goes to landfill. Their pilot has shown that local people have many ideas and the council has all the necessary resources. The prize money would play a part in making sure each person is empowered to help each other out and to facilitate the use and application of these resources.
Presentations ended with Isabel Christie (UCL Medical Physics and Bioengineering). As a neuroscientist she often comes across scientific ideas and concepts that are difficult to describe or explain. At the same time, young people today see sophisticated visual animations everywhere they turn, and so the stuff we are using in science today doesn’t really sell it anymore. For this reason, she wants to launch a graduate degree in a very specific niche: science animation. She would use the money to organise workshops with leading science and arts academics to bash out whether a programme with the potential of enabling brilliant science communication and education, could become a reality in the future.
It was time for the audience to cast their vote. We then clapped our hands and stomped our feet in drumroll as presenter Hannah Fry announced Clemence and Joaquín as the night’s winners. The £2000 will help them materialise their map for the Maputo’s public transport. Marina won the second place prize of £1000 that will go towards the Calthorpe Project.
The event ‘Focus on the Positive’ was organised by UCL and the British Science Association and took place on 13 May 2014 at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre.