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Student tests weight of the QuestUAV during E&S Day 2014

A student tests the weight of a QuestUAV. The device is one of a number that make up the ESI Unmanned Aerial Vehicle fleet used for remote environmental monitoring.

Image: David Edmonds

Cornish students help leading university research institute celebrate its first anniversary

Students from secondary schools across Cornwall joined researchers and postgraduate students from the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) to experience cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, and help celebrate the Institute’s highly successful first year.

Over 100 young people took part in Environment and Sustainability Day 2014, the second time the event has been run at the Institute, which is located at the Penryn Campus.

The students from nine local schools enjoyed four hands-on workshops, each demonstrating the ESI’s research in action.  They also experienced the Institute’s specialist facilities and chatted to leading researchers.  Topics explored during the day ranged from pioneering solar technologies and the challenges faced by pollinators including bumble bees, to the future of Cornwall and the dangers of plastic waste in marine environments.

During the day students also contributed to a new beach waste installation led by artists Claire Wallerstein and Liz Franklin from community project Rame Peninsula Beach Care. 

Inspiring the next generation from Cornwall to consider a career in research is an important aspect of the annual Environment and Sustainability Day, particularly because environmental change is likely to become increasingly difficult to manage in the future. 

Commenting on the day, students said:

“The most useful thing about the day was learning that women can get funding to become scientists.”

“The most surprising thing I learned was the number of methods of harnessing energy from the sun.”

“The best bit about the day was using the thermal imaging cameras.”

“The best thing about today so far is when we went into the four workshops and learnt about bees, badgers and dolphins.”

“The best bit of the day was making the giant picture out of plastics, visiting the gallery [in the ESI] and finding out about plastics and their impact on the environment.”

The culmination of the day saw the visitors vote in a special ‘ESI’s got talent’ showcase during which four researchers presented their current projects and vied for the student vote.   The acts featured Dr Clare Saunders, who with the help of fellow researchers, presented a sketch explaining the development of environmental protests; Dr Chris Guiver, who demonstrated the importance of mathematics in internet encryption; and Dr Matthew Witt, who illustrated the tremendous scale of basking sharks in relation to mammals such as seals and humans.  PhD student Adam Bates delivered the winning performance by presenting his work with the National Lobster Hatchery in a full lobster costume.

Professor Kevin Gaston, Director of the Environment and Sustainability Institute said: “A year after our official launch in 2013, it is fantastic to again host a group representing the young people of Cornwall.  The Environment and Sustainability Institute is committed to working with young people, schools and teachers in the county to ensure that the benefits of our cutting-edge research and knowledge are used not only to boost business in the region, but also inspire the next generation of researchers.”

The ESI is working with businesses and enterprises across all sectors of the economy in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and beyond to translate research and expertise into innovative business practices, products and services in order to respond to the challenges of environmental change.  It has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund Convergence Programme (£22.9M) and the South West Regional Development Agency (£6.6M), with significant support from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Date: 22 May 2014