Environment

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What will Reading look like in 30 years‘ time? How can we ensure there will be jobs, living spaces and facilities that we can enjoy in a sustainable way? The Reading 2050 project, including Professor Tim Dixon from the School of the Built Environment, has led development of a vision for Reading 2050 in consultation with local communities, organisations and businesses. Tim is hosting a series of public lectures to encourage debate on delivering the vision.  On 28 June, he will welcome Natalie Ganpatsingh, from Reading-based Nature Nurture and on 18 July, Dr Eugene Mohareb and Dr Daniela Perrotti from the School of the Built Environment, University of Reading will be speaking. Tim explains more.

The Reading 2050 project was established in 2013 to deliver a strategic, long-term vision that will support growth and prosperity, and help ensure that a truly smart and sustainable city can be delivered by 2050. The project was ‘co-created’ as a partnership between the University of Reading (School of the Built Environment), local construction company Barton Willmore and Reading UK.

The vision was developed through a series of workshops and activities with a wide range of organisations and residents from across Reading and the Thames Valley region and was launched in October 2017.  It has been cited in the Government Office of Science Future of Cities Foresight Programme and final report (2014-16) and directly supports Reading Borough Council’s statutory Local Plan and Corporate Plan. The project was also recently shortlisted for an award in the University of Reading’s Research Engagement and Impact Awards 2018.

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Research that is helping to save children’s lives in rural India, protecting endangered species in Africa, and opening children’s eyes to science in the UK are among those shortlisted for the University of Reading’s Research Engagement and Impact Awards 2018.

Two of last year’s Impact and Engagement Award finalists, Dr Teresa Murjas and Dr Kate Allen.

The awards, which are in their second year, aim to recognise staff at the University of Reading who have achieved extraordinary things by interacting with people in the real world to drive better understanding of research and bring about change.

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Wind turbines in the Seychelles – picture: IEA

Researchers working across national borders feature prominently in the latest group of University of Reading academics to be awarded research funding.

In total, £12.5 million of funds were awarded during the third quarter of 2017-18, to 80 projects across all five research themes at Reading: Environment, Food, Health, Heritage & Creativity and Prosperity & Resilience.

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Global warming is accelerating as time passes. Models predict that trend is set to continue even if we manage to rein in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – but why? On World Oceans Day, Dr Paulo Ceppi explains that it’s all down to increasingly cloudless skies over the Pacific Ocean.

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The vast numbers and diversity of living things that populate our planet are in catastrophic decline – referred to by many scientists as Earth’s sixth mass extinction. But as Matthew Greenwell and Tom Oliver explain, it’s not only declining biodiversity we need to worry about but also genetic diversity within species.

A dark green fritillary butterfly

Biodiversity loss (the decline of both the number of individuals and species from our landscapes) is happening at an alarming rate and it’s happening now.

This is a view expressed by countless environmentalists, green campaigners and scientists at ever increasing volumes. At a glance though it is hard to see what all the fuss is about. England still appears to be a green and pleasant land, with vast areas still covered in fields.

But therein lies the fundamental problem. Our current views and understanding of what the countryside should be are a far cry from what they once were and what our wildlife requires to survive into the future.

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Academics have a duty to speak to the media, especially in tragic and complex cases, argues Tom Sheldon, Senior Press Manager at the Science Media Centre.

“How many more Charlies and Alfies must be paraded in front of us before we realise that keeping quiet only makes things worse?”

In July 2017 the story of Charlie Gard, a baby with incurable mitochondrial disease, played out across the media. By April 2018 we all knew the name Alfie Evans, another little boy with another untreatable condition. In both cases the medical teams and the courts agreed nothing could be done.  Both children have since died. There’s nothing enjoyable or satisfying about these stories. They are profoundly sad.

Nine months after Charlie Gard, and the rest of us watched as Alfie’s Army demonstrated outside Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and his parents were locked in bitter dispute with the medical team. For a second time, a battle over the life of a child none of us knew had become major news, and the need for expert voices to be heard in the media and by the public was as strong as ever. Yet with a few notable exceptions, the rest of the medical profession once again failed to show up, allowing misinformation around Alfie Evans to take hold. Nine months after Charlie Gard, and we have dismally failed to learn any lessons.

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Records have been tumbling this year at the University of Reading’s weather station. Just days after the coldest March day since records began, a new record hottest recorded temperature was set for an April day. With the sun beating down on the UK over the Early May Bank Holiday weekend, the question was whether it could break yet more records. Stephen Burt from the Department of Meteorology explains.

Bank holiday weather is normally a cause for national despair, but not this last weekend I’m sure you’ll agree.

Monday was the warmest Early May Bank Holiday on record – and also the sunniest

Monday’s maximum of 27.6 °C (from the automatic weather station) made hotter than any previous Early May Bank Holiday day since the national holiday was introduced in 1978 – the previous highest temperature for the bank holiday weekend being 25.9 °C, set on the Saturday, 6 May, in 1990. It was also the warmest day in the month of May since 2005.

Additionally, unbroken sunshine on all three days this year – Saturday 14.2 hours, Sunday and Monday 14.1 each (total 42.4 hours) – recorded by the electronic sunshine sensor, made this by far our sunniest early Early May Bank Holiday ever.

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Professor Howard Colquhoun tells the story of how an infinitely repeating pattern discovered in a plastic molecule relates to obscure 19th century maths – and Romanesco broccoli.

In 1874, Henry J. S. Smith, Professor of Geometry in the University of Oxford, had an interesting thought. “What would happen,” he wondered, “if you took a line, divided it into four, and then threw away the end quarter?”

Well, obviously, you would be left with a line three-quarters as long as the original.

But Smith’s next question was more subtle. “What would happen if you repeated this operation on the line that was left, and then continued to do this indefinitely?”

When Smith worked through the problem, it turned out that he had discovered the first ever example of a fractal, a mathematical structure that is made up of an infinite number of progressively smaller copies of itself.

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