Will and I are biologists working in the medical school but classified as environmental scientists by the University’s REF program. This week members of this group, including mathematicians, toxicologists, biologists, clinicians, geographers and mining scientists, went on a short retreat at Dartington Hall located inbetween the Exeter and Cornwall campuses. The aim was to discuss which strands of research could form a REF Impact Case study. The university puts forward Impact Cases, which when rated excellent (‘four star’), will result in a financial reward to the university. In order to be rated highly, projects need to be shown to have had significant societal, political or economic impact, and caused demonstrable changes in peoples behaviors. One previous Exeter success story was that by Tamara Galloway and colleagues, who showed a link between the ubiquitous plastic compound bisphenol A (BPA) and negative health effects caused by estrogen-like properties, subsequently resulting on a ban of its use in baby bottles (before BPA was used to make polycarbonate bottles and many other everyday products, it was actually used as a synthetic estrogen). See here for some nice background.
The retreat provided an excellent way to hear what our faraway (100 miles or so) colleagues at Exeter were up to. For example, there were presentations on climate change modelling, an airplane instrument to monitor volcanic ash clouds, noise pollution in the sea, a very cool ocean science education project, transgenic zebrafish that light up when a chemical is detected in water (which has the potential to greatly reduced toxicology monitoring cost and save the lives of warmblooded test animals) and a whole bunch of other projects as well. Hywel Williams showed a realtime twitter map that was able to track a storm crossing the US and talked about text mining social media to monitor changes in perception and opinions on climate change. ECEHH head professor Lora Fleming mentioned some of the centres success stories, one of which is led by Jess Tyrell. She explaines how her app is helping to tackle Meniere’s disease in the video below: