Friday, 29 August 2014

Think Corner

Today I did my first session volunteering at the University of Birmingham's research pop-up shop Think Corner. It is a shop in the Pavillions shopping centre in Birmingham city centre that is full of different activities showcasing the research that happens at the university. It is running from the 25th August to the 13th September 10-6 and is free for anyone to pop in and have a look round. The idea is based on a think corner from the University of Helsinki where the same thing is done permanently.

This morning there were activities involving Bob the robot (@BobStrands, right), gravitational space, proteins, the brain and many more! @jonwoodscience was also doing some science busking (below). All the activities were really engaging for the public - especially the kids, and it was great to see so many people getting involved. @DrAliceRoberts's tree of life is a great activity - this involves painting an image of an animal, which then gets put onto the tree of life on the wall of the shop. 

My job was to go out and encourage people to come inside (Bob took a photo of me while I was flyering which you can see below).  The phrases "free activities for kids" and "robots" usually went down pretty well at drawing attention!

I have another few shifts coming up during the period that the shop is open, and I'm looking forward to seeing the range of research being showcased in different activities and the tree of life becoming more populated. I would encourage everyone to come down and have a look - most activities are for a limited time only. 
It's next to H&M in the Pavillions shopping centre, just off the High Street: see you there!!


Thursday, 7 August 2014

A visit from Climate KIC's "The Journey"

Last night I went to an event held at the Birmingham Innovation campus organised by Climate KIC. Before then, I had never come across the organisation or what it did. they are currently in the middle of running a summer school for PhD and Masters students across Europe called "The Journey" (#Journey2014). This involves them travelling around Europe for 5 weeks: first learning about the challenges faced by going low carbon, then about business and economics with the aim to come up with a business idea at the end. 

The event last night was a networking session followed by some talks for the students on "The Journey" to meet with local entrepreneurs and those working in low carbon technologies, as part of the beginning of their summer school. 

During the networking, I spoke to a few of the students on the scheme about what they were doing and what they are studying outside of the programme. One of them was very keen on hearing about my placement with POST (see previous blog posts) and so I happily gave her one of my POST business cards so she could find out some more information. I also spoke to another researcher from the University of Birmingham who was just starting a project working on smart cities. 

The first talk was from Clifford Hill, the regeneration manager for Birmingham city council. He spoke about how the city is trying to deal with the 3.2 million tonnes of waste it produces each year, as currently a large portion of it is incinerated. The city's Total Waste Strategy aims to work towards a zero waste economy, where waste is recycled for a productive economic use. He stressed the importance of looking not only locally, but regionally and nationally when considering planning. There are a number of challenges preventing a zero waste economy including were imperfect information (cause by a lack of communication between those producing the waste and those who could use it) and product design (making products that cannot be easily fixed, but easily replaced). If a zero waste economy is to actually happen, there is a need for a societal re-think on how we deal with and perceive waste, combined with a strong political will. However, I believe this is possible - I always think about how if you had told people a few years ago that they would be sorting their rubbish into different bins, they would have said that would never happen, but yet now almost everyone does. The presence of the Birmingham Green Commission is evidence that there is the political will in the city, although in the questions afterwards someone questioned whether this was enough to influence business will. 

The second speaker was David Cole from Smart Innovations Grid. He spoke about the process of developing a new product, getting funding and taking it to market. He built up the back story before revealing the product: a device for controlling and monitoring the consumption of energy. When I was working at POST,  there was another fellow writing a note on Smart Meters and so we had discussed them a few times. It seems to me like the kind of technology that will be taken on board as soon as people realise how useful they can be! Although a Daily Mail headline that I spotted almost two years ago ("They can turn your fridges off!") always reminds me of the need to be careful when dealing with public perception. 

It was a really interesting evening, and I have come away wanting to learn more about the city's low carbon aims (and how they plan to meet them!) and also about Climate KIC. Who knows, maybe next year I'll apply for "The Journey"...