I, Science issue 32 (Autumn 2015)

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I,SCIENCE THE Science magazine of imperial college



Editors-in-Chief Greta Phyllis Keenan Harry Pettit Magazine Editor Alexandra Cauvi Web Editor Zoe öhman Deputy Web Editor Neil Stoker Pictures Editor Eva Spielvogel Business Manager Olivia Philipps Marketing and social Media Marianne Guenot Radio Editor Àngels Codina News Manager Sarah Cowen-Rivers Online Features Manager Sophie Walsh Events Manager Abigail Skinner Interviews Manager Samuel Lickiss TV Editor James Bowers Deputy TV Editor Natasha Khaleeq Sub-Editors Erin Frick Hilary Lamb Katie Miles Daniel Silva Cathy Wong Cover Illustration by Jay Kural I, Science, c/o Liam Watson, Level 3, Sherfield Building, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ Email: i.science@imperial.ac.uk Printed by: Bishops Printers, Walton Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO6 1TR


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hilst still a relatively new field of study, urban science is today more demanding and important than it has ever been. With more and more of us cramming into our already burgeoning cities, the need for technological innovation is pushing the boundaries of our greatest minds and inventors. Governments around the world are turning to science for help with pressing issues such as climate change, overpopulation and food shortages – and scientists have taken up the challenge with great enthusiasm. In this term’s issue we tackle these global concerns head on and discuss some of the ways that our increasingly urbanised lives are changing - for better and for worse. Joanna Wolstenholme opens the issue with a fascinating insight into the food of the future by exploring what technologies we may be turning to for food production over the next 50 years. Just remember to hold onto your stomachs…

On page 7, Andy McMahon takes a fascinating look at how - using the tools of physics - treating cities like biological organisms can provide a new insight into how they develop and grow. Samuel Lickiss and Marianne Guenot interview panellists from Imperial Fringe’s latest debate - ‘Cities of the Future’. They grill three key experts on how they foresee new technologies shaping the future of London. In this issue we also revisit some of I, Science’s regular features: on pages 25 and 26 a fiery debate rages on the future of nuclear power, and in ‘Science Behind the Photo’ we take a look at the life of our most elusive and furry neighbour, the urban fox. We hope you enjoy I,Science’s 32nd issue and our take on urban science! Until the next issue,

Greta and Harry

Find more great content on our website: www.isciencemag.co.uk


We’re always on the lookout for new contributors for both the magazine and the website. If you would like to get involved as a writer, editor or illustrator please don’t hesitate to get in contact. You can email us at i.science@imperial.ac.uk, tweet us @i_science_mag or contact us directly through our website www.isciencemag.co.uk.


Contents News | 4 Sarah Cowen-Rivers covers the latest news, including all the low-down on the ‘Oscars of Science’.

Physics in the City | 7 How the growth of cities can be described using the tools of biophysics.

6 | The Future of Your Food Joanna Wolstenholme takes us through a potential three-course menu of the future.

8 | There is no Planet B Shane Morris explores the ways in which three cities around the world are tackling climate change.

Green Giants | 10 12 | Science Behind The Photo Sophie Walsh, Erin Frick and Cheyenne McCray investigate the importance of green spaces in our cities.

Co Editor-In-Chief Harry Pettit takes a walk on the wild side and explores the elegant and mysterious urban fox.

A letter from the Townships | 14 15 | I’m Afraid I can’t Do That, Dave Tim Ellis examines the devastating spread of Tuberculosis in urban South Africa.

Yick Hong Leung provides an intriguing glimpse into the world of our pervasively connected future.

City Suffocation | 16 18 | TOP six innovative cities Charlotte Mykura asks whether vehicle emissions spell the end for good health.

Samuel Lickiss explores cities throughout history that made profound contributions to science and society.

Timber ! | 20 21 | City Talk Celia Robins shines light on the future of urban architecture.

Samuel Lickiss investigates how urbanisation and technology are changing the English language.

A Crazy horse Called Smart | 22 24 | Apocalyptic city Marianne Guenot and Samuel Lickiss interview panelists from the Imperial Fringe ‘Cities of the Future’ debate.

Bentley Crudgington examines how densely populated cities would cope with a widespread epidemic.

The Great Debate 26 28 | Speedy Science Does nuclear power have a place in the future of our energy? Harry Pettit and Andrew McMahon debate.

Co Editor-In-Chief Greta Keenan answers your quickfire urban science questions in under 120 words.

reviews | 30 Our latest book, event, film, and radio reviews


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News Designing objects for long-duration space flights


Freezing Under the Spotlight


cientists at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Canada have invented a method that allows drugs to harmlessly pass through the previously impenetrable blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB has been a challenging obstacle for drug development because it not only prevents drugs from accessing the brain, but is also vital for protecting the brain from toxins - so can’t be damaged. The method created by the team involves administering drugs along with microbubbles, which vibrate when stimulated by ultrasound. This allows the drug to sneak in through the gaps in the barrier created by the rapidly vibrating bubbles - a technique the team hope to apply to brain tumor treatment.

esearchers at Cornell University have proven that particles get stage fright too. More accurately described as the ‘Zeno Effect’, a term used in quantum theory to describe the bizarre phenomenon in which an observed system doesn’t change - essentially ‘freezing’ – during observations. The scientists found that when the Rubidium atoms used in the experiment were illuminated using a novel imaging technique (which allows the atoms to remain in the same quantum state), the atoms’ movement reduced significantly. When the atoms weren’t under observation, they moved freely. Turns out your Gran was right when she said “a watched pot never boils”.

End to China’s One Child Policy may not affect birth rates

‘Oscars of Science’ Breakthrough Prize awards £13.8 million


espite the obvious victory for human rights, demographers at the UN Population Division are sceptical as to whether the end of China’s one child policy will lead to an increase in national birth rates. This is because many Chinese woman are now more concerned with their careers than having additional children. They also believe that problems with competition for places at quality schools, as well as restrictions on space due to expensive housing, need to be addressed if China want to tackle their ageing population.


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even scientists from a variety of fields in the life sciences, mathematics and fundamental physics were handed £13.8 million in prize money at a star-studded award show last month in an attempt to celebrate science and encourage future generations of scientists. With backers such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin, the prize money is almost three times the sum awarded for the Nobel Prize. This may be enticing, but at the Nobel ceremony scientists don’t have to make awkward small talk with Christina Aguilera and Pharrell Williams, so it’s give and take…


Sarah Cowen-Rivers covers the latest news, including all the low-down on the ‘Oscars of Science’

Imperial Fellowship Rejected for Wrong Font


rial or Calibri? The question we often ask ourselves when procrastinating does make a difference after all. Imperial Paleontologist Dr Susannah Maidment was understandably shocked to find that her fellowship application was rejected by The UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) as she had used Calibri font instead of Arial. We suggest Comic Sans for the complaint letter.

Picture: www.laurent-geslin.com


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The Future of Your Food

Joanna Wolstenholme takes us through a potential three-course menu of the future.


ou may be vaguely aware of the issues we are facing as the ‘perfect storm’ of climate change and population boom gathers, but likely not that much of the ingenious ideas devised to lessen the impacts on food production. So what can you expect to eat in the future? Here is a hypothetical futuristic three course meal, encapsulating the many weird and wonderful new ideas for food production.

Starter – Prawn Salad Tank-grown prawns; anthocyanin-enriched indigo tomatoes; and rocket and microgreens from an LED vertical farm

pathway for the formation of anthocyanins, blue pigments known to reduce heart disease and slow the progression of cancers. These intensely blue tomatoes are part-way between a food and a medicine – true superfoods! Such prawns and tomatoes deserve only the most high-tech salad leaves to go with them – enter vertically farmed greens. In vertical farming, plants are stacked on shelves and illuminated with LED lights, which are perfectly tuned to emit only the wavelengths that plants use for photosynthesis. Farming in ‘tower blocks’ within our ever-expanding urban areas has long been a facet of science fiction, but now, with advances in LED technology, it is fast becoming mainstream. In a controlled environment that caters to their every need, the plants are grown in a fraction of the time it would take in a field, and with 95% less water.

Our mash will be made with the most futuristic potatoes – blight resistant and anti-bruising. Potatoes are currently one of the most sprayed crops in the UK. In our wonderfully damp weather they are highly susceptible to potato blight, requiring spraying up to 12 times per season to prevent the pesky pathogen from taking hold. The wonders of GM, however, have allowed us to create a variety of potato that is immune to this pathogen, hugely reducing the amount of chemicals needed in conventional potato farming. Scientists are also working on how to grow potatoes that don’t bruise to reduce food waste. Perhaps we’ll see the two varieties combined in the future to form a super spud?

Dessert – 3D printed sweet creations

Main – bangers and mash

In landlocked Indiana, prawns are farmed in re-purposed swimming pools to provide fresh seafood to a community 800 miles from the coast. The tanks are filled with a seawater mimic, and a special culture of bacteria takes care of any waste produced by the prawns. The bacteria also keep the prawns healthy – meaning they haven’t had to change the tank water in the five years since they started! Not only does this system reduce food miles, but the producers also take pride in never using antibiotics, which are often overused in traditional farms. Pair the prawns with indigo tomatoes. How on earth do you make a tomato that colour I hear you ask, and why? Scientists at the John Innes Centre have upregulated genes in the


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Sausages from cultured meat, with GM antiblight and anti-bruise mashed potatoes

Cultured meat is far from a fan of Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, but rather has been grown ‘cultured’ - in a lab, instead of reared on a farm. After the first taste test of a lab grown burger last year (the verdict – “too lean”), scientists are now working to refine their processes and cultivate the perfect mix of muscle fibres and fat cells to satisfy our meat cravings.

The possibilities really are endless when it comes to 3D printing food. Starting with just sugar and chocolate, now pastry, pasta and bread dough can all be printed. Imagine a day, in the not-sodistant future, when you can design and print your dream dessert at the press of a button! Ornate chocolate polygon, anyone?

Joanna Wolstenholme is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

Illustrations: James Marno


Physics in the City How the growth of cities can be described using the tools of biophysics.


ities are complicated. They are large, sprawling messes of buildings, streets, people, cars, trains and even animals, all interacting and affecting one another’s behaviour. This mess is dynamic – new buildings and roads are constantly being added. There are changes in population as demographics shift, not to mention changes in levels of crime, economic output, employment and traffic. Despite this complexity, it turns out cities can be described using tools from Physics. Throughout nature we find examples of what are known as ‘power laws’. These are basically rules that describe how some behaviour changes, often with the size of the system. These laws are expressed in terms of a number to the power of another. For example, the size and distribution of earthquakes over time can be linked by a power law – larger earthquakes happen exponentially less frequently. Power laws can also be applied to biological systems. For example, metabolic rate scales predictably with certain power laws across a huge array of species. Consider an organism that has double the mass of another. The metabolic rate per unit of mass of the larger organism should be around 84% that of the smaller one – meaning larger organisms use up less energy per unit mass and are thus more energy efficient. Power laws are an excellent tool for making predictions in nature, but this begs the question, can we make similar predictions about cities? The idea of treating a city like a biological organism may at first seem crazy, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Both cities and biological organisms require energy to ‘survive’, both use up resources or ‘food’ and both produce waste. Could it be then that cities - these complicated and human-made messes - also display power


law behaviour? To answer this question, a research team led by Geoffrey West from the Santa Fe Institute in California tried to apply the same tools they had used in biophysics to cities and this out-of-the-box thinking led to some very exciting results. The team took a large set of data from cities in the US, the EU and China and studied how their characteristics varied with size. Variables such as the number of new patents filed, the number of inventors, the total size of bank deposits and total employment, among several others, were all found to scale according to respective city sizes. The form of the scaling however, was not exactly like that of biological systems. Specifically, different characteristics can be grouped into three different ‘classes’ of scaling behaviour. First, variables dependent upon specific human needs, such as those relating to employment, housing and water consumption are scaled in a linear fashion with city size. So for example,

a city that is double the size of another city consumes double the amount of water. Second, variables related to ‘social currencies’ such as information, innovation and wealth, were found to scale in a ‘superlinear’ or a strictly exponential fashion, with larger cities giving far larger returns than you may expect. Finally, variables associated with infrastructure, such as the total surface area of roads or the length of electrical cable present, are scaled ‘sublinearly’ in a similar way to metabolic rate in biological organisms – small cities are mice and big cities are elephants. The research team were even able to summarise this data in a single equation: the ‘Urban Growth Equation’. Plug in the ‘power’ for the city characteristic you are looking at and it tells you how the quantity of your choice scales for a particular city as time goes by. The team suggest that these results could be used in formulating and evaluating local policy within cities. All in all, this group of scientists have accomplished something pretty amazing. Who would have known that the predictive power of physics could be used to study cities in the same way as biological organisms? It seem cities are not so complicated after all.

Andrew McMahon is studying for a PhD in physics

Picture: Thomas Brault - https://unsplash.com/photos/BnYkT95oHHg

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There is no Planet B 9,700 tonnes of plastic – the weight of over four London Eyes. England has recently seen the introduction of a 5p levy on plastic bags, which will hopefully alleviate much of this waste problem. Londoners are also increasingly subscribing to vegetarian and vegan diets. This may not sound like much, but animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse emissions, which is more than all transport exhaust emissions combined (13%).

Picture: www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/index.html NASA image visualising CO2 emission hotspots and how weather events spread greenhouse gases around the globe


limate change is one of our planet’s biggest threats. Occurring at an ever-increasing rate, there is an urgent need to act now, before it’s too late. As French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius put it ahead of the Paris limate negotiations: “we are the first generation to become aware of the problem, and yet the last generation that can deal with it.” Many approaches have been suggested to reduce the global temperature of the Earth. One option is to launch flexible space reflectors into orbit to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface. Another involves releasing stratospheric aerosols into the upper atmosphere to scatter incoming sunrays. We could alter the Earth’s albedo, a measure of its surface reflectivity, with earthbound reflectors. Some scientists have even suggested using algae to absorb excess carbon in the ocean. As the old saying goes, ‘prevention is far better than a cure’. All the ‘cures’ mentioned above would cost vast sums of money, and


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could trigger potential disasters within our delicate ecosystems. The best way to prevent climate change is instead to instate policies and encourage attitudes that reduce the production of greenhouse gases. Policy also needs to target waste, since recycling industrial materials such as copper and steel can reduce net carbon emissions by 400-500%. We should start by looking at urban areas, where 54% of the world’s population live - a figure expected to rise to 66% by 2050. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2010 that urban areas account for 71-76% of global CO2 emissions through energy use. This goes to show how much of an impact a more sustainable urban environment could have in fighting climate change. The following three cities have taken the initiative, and are excellent examples of how urban centres can tackle climate change head on.

London Last year, the average English person used 140 plastic bags. In a city the size of London, that equates to 1.2 billion bags, or approximately

Two other examples of carbon reduction in London are upcycling and supermarket food donation. Upcycling is the reuse of discarded objects to make objects with a higher function or value. For instance, some people are now upcycling wood that would otherwise be discarded to make household furniture. Supermarkets produce a lot of waste, but recent initiatives encourage donating this food to charities and the homeless, serving both the environment and people in need.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently claimed that New York “is a global leader when it comes to taking on climate change and reducing our environmental footprint. It’s time that our investments catch up – and divestment from coal is where we must start.” Divestment is the opposite of investment – in this case the selling of stocks due to ethical and sustainability concerns. De Blasio recently urged the city’s five pension funds, worth a collective US$160 billion, to sell their US$33 million exposure to coal. New York is taking a huge step in the right direction, and the trendsetting city could encourage other urban centres to follow suit. By 2050, New York aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of their 1990s levels.


With the Paris climate negotiations now drawing to a close, Shane Morris explores the ways in which three cities around the world are tackling climate change. Bogotá Bogotá is one of the largest cities in South America, with a rapidly growing population of 8 million. The city is already prone to flooding and landslides, generally due to La Niña, climatic events which bring increased regional precipitation. As a result, they face an urgent need to combat any further climate change. Many scientists believe that La Niña events will increase in frequency and intensity with further global warming. In 2000, Bogotá introduced TransMilenio, a bus rapid transit (BRT) system consisting of 850 buses that provides transport for 1.4 million passengers per day. Since its introduction, TransMilenio has reduced Bogotá’s greenhouse emissions by 40%, as well as cutting travelling time by 32%. BRT systems are a hugely effective way for cities in developing countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions, as it reduces traffic without the need for the large investments in infrastructure that tram and underground systems bring. Nevertheless, one lesson we may learn from Bogotá is that such schemes require hefty government subsidy. The current fare for TransMilenio is 1700 Colombian pesos (US$1), which is steep considering the average lowincome worker earns approximately US$3 a day. By the end of this year, these three cities will no longer be fighting climate change unaided. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference aims to oversee the first ever legally binding agreement among all countries of the world to fight climate change. The conference hopes to contain global warming to a 2°C increase from pre-industrial temperatures. Above this, serious and irreversible consequences are inevitable. It is hoped that over $100 billion can be raised from both public and private sources in developed countries


across the globe. This money will go towards helping the economies of developing countries grow in a sustainable manner, reducing the economic pressures of their new green initiatives and technology. Climate change is occurring whether we like it or not. It is up to us, particularly those in urban areas, to help combat it. This means doing whatever we can to help reduce our impact on the environment; be it eating less meat, upcycling, recycling or simply cycling more. A change in personal attitudes is essential for

combating climate change, but we should also put pressure on governments to recognise that we want to live in a sustainable environment. More of us should seize opportunities like last month’s Climate March on London to voice our concerns. Remember the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon: “There is no ‘Plan B’ for action, as there is no ‘Planet B’.”

Shane Morris is studying for an MRes in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation

Picture: www.flickr.com/photos/martinhernandez/6983091900/in/dateposted

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Green Giants Green Spaces


verybody loves green spaces; they are good for our health, our communities, and the environment. Until recently, they have never been associated with megacities. Today, there are 35 megacities worldwide - loosely described as those with over ten million inhabitants. This is a number that will continue to rise, with Asia expected to host 28 alone within the next decade. Overshadowed by the pressures of climate change, government think tanks are placing more value on green spaces. Considering two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, how will they cope with maintaining, let alone increasing, the already diminishing green space? A challenge awaits us, and it is quickly becoming apparent that it will take more than just creative flair to find ways of packing green space into cities already bursting at the seams. The world’s megacities are paving the way, in some cases literally. Inspired by Paris’ ‘Promenade Plantée’, a tree-lined walkway built in 1933, New York’s feted ‘High Line’ in Lower Manhattan opened to the public in 2009. ‘The High Line’ is the successful brainchild of Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who campaigned for the re-purposing of 1.45 miles of derelict rail track 25 feet above Manhattan into a lush green public walkway. The park has reanimated the district of Chelsea, attracting five million visitors a year and increasing local revenue. It supports over 210 species of plants and functions as a ‘green roof’, reducing both rainwater run-off and solar heat gains during hot periods. In many ways, New York’s green space


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integration has been a great success. A major problem cited in initiatives such as these, however, is ‘environmental gentrification’: rising property values in the wake of a large-scale urban greening project. In the case of ‘The High Line’, this phenomenon has led to many smallscale businesses and middle-income residents forced out by increasing property prices. Our London equivalent, Thomas Heatherwick’s ‘London Garden Bridge’ (a proposed £175 million pedestrian bridge from London’s Southbank to Temple) initially garnered enthusiasm but is now losing political and public support as the suggested social and environmental benefits are called into question. We are left wondering whether large scale projects such as these are really addressing the problem of green space in the most sustainable and effective way possible. What, then, is the solution? We know that green spaces bring benefits to our cities: better air quality, more carbon capture, more biodiversity, increased physical and mental health and better social cohesion to name just a few. We live in a city with 35,000 acres of public green spacealmost 40% of its surface area - making London one of the greenest cities in the world. This is a good starting point for sure, but the battle is not yet won, and it draws into stark light the urgent need for expansion of green spaces into the world’s other megacities. In the planet’s most populous city, Shanghai, less than 3% of its surface area comprised of green space in 2013. Are large-scale, one-off models the right way to introduce green spaces to these densely populated cities? Singapore is one of the few countries taking a different path. Its government recently agreed to a comprehensive program promoting ‘rooftop greening’. Green roofs are based on waterproof

membranes that capture water for irrigation, allow drainage, support the growing medium and resist root invasion. The Park Royal Hotel and the Nanyang Technological University use green roofs to create open space, insulate the buildings and cool the surrounding area. There are more green roofs in the pipeline. In some cities, including Portland in the US, green roof installation is motivated by financial incentives. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, those with a suitable pitch on their roof are legally required to grow plant life on them. In the future, we may look towards both green space integration and green roofing to meet the needs of an increasingly urbanised population. Large-scale projects will continue to attract the attention of both the public and policy makers - but developing local initiatives and small-scale projects within communities will best maintain momentum in our quest for urban greenery.

Sophie Walsh is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

Wild Thing


or city dwellers, wildlife encounters are rare. Perhaps confined to tripping over a pigeon as it pecks at a pizza crust, or being jolted awake by a pair of foxes in the throes of a territorial dispute. It’s easy for urbanites to lose sight of the importance of maintaining wildlife habitats in highly-developed zones, which present a unique and increasingly vital conservation opportunity. When wildlife must compete with people for resources, humankind never loses. Habitat destruction and fragmentation, obstructed migration corridors, and vehicular collisions

www.isciencemag.co.uk Picture: Zac Sturgeon

Sophie Walsh, Erin Frick and Cheyenne McCray investigate the importance of green spaces in our cities.

are among the most obvious impediments that make cities inhospitable to wildlife. More insidious impacts, such as noise and light pollution and exposure to toxic runoff, amplify the declining numbers and diversity in existing wildlife populations. Rapid spread of disease and competition for essential resources limit mating potential, preventing new populations from colonising cities. The result? Shrinking regional biodiversity catalysed by a weakening connection between humans and nature. If city parks bereft of birdsong are not reason enough to bolster urban wildlife habitats, consider the ecosystem services animals perform in our cities. While raccoons rummaging through your bins might make a mess, these, as well as other scavenging animals, serve as a means of ‘green’ waste management. Working up the food chain, birds and snakes prey on insects and rodents, controlling populations which could transmit disease to humans. Maintaining these natural systems of waste, pest, and disease control requires suitable habitats, especially in areas of high population density and development. ‘Wildlife gardening’cultivating indigenous plant species in order to replicate an area’s natural structure and resources - attracts native birds and insects, promoting ecosystem health and development through pollination. The London Wildlife Trust (LWT) aims to promote the development of wildlife-friendly green spaces at the ‘grassroots’ level. Its current initiatives are numerous, with projects underway in boroughs across London. LWT members created the Cressingham Rain Gardens, a ‘green corridor’ consisting of three connected gardens designed to support habitat

for birds and insects. ‘Depaving’ initiatives, such as the one at Rosendale Allotments, encourage people to replace impermeable surfaces such as paved driveways with native vegetation. The LWT also runs green roof workshops, demonstrating how easy it is to transform the rooftop of a shed into a micro-habitat. The benefits of expanding and sustaining urban wildlife habitats are not merely a matter of aesthetics - continued liveability of our cities depends on it.

Erin Frick is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

Down with the Sickness


aking up in your compact studio, you feel a slight headache. Your nose is congested and your eyes irritated. You assume it must be an allergy, but as you walk to work, you feel significantly better. Your symptoms seem to vanish—until you reach your office building, where all your discomforts redevelop. You begin to wonder if it is all in your head.

compact, energy saving buildings such as New York, Tokyo, and London. While a definite link to SBS has yet to be attributed, a report from the Journal of Building Appraisal postulates that the condition could be a consequence of poor internal ventilation systems. The potential risk of prolonged exposure to mechanical ventilation is one of many reasons why city green spaces are so vital. City green spaces provide city dwellers a healthy alternative environment; free to enjoy and easy to access, while mitigating their time spent indoors. Aside from their beauty, these open air reprieves help improve the mental and physical health of city residents who experience stress and agitation due to spending the majority of their lives confined within buildings. While certain aspects of SBS can be alleviated, these repairs are left to the discretion of the building owner. City green spaces empower individuals with a choice to improve their wellbeing by simply appreciating the outdoors.

Cheyenne McCray is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

It is not in your head, but it could be your indoor environment causing Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). SBS is a phenomenon first observed in the 1970s, when inhabitants of certain urban buildings began suffering from complaints, such as sensory irritation, harsh breathing, and lethargy. Unlike other environment-related illnesses, the symptoms of SBS disappear within days, or even hours, of leaving the building. SBS is prevalent in cities with post-energy crisis Illustration: Alessandro Princigalli


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Science Behind


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the Photo

Image by Laurent Geslin, words by Harry Pettit


rbanisation is rapidly altering the natural habitats of the UK. This frequently leads to a sharp decline in biodiversity, but some species flourish in these artificial landscapes - including the urban fox.

Urban foxes first colonised our towns and cities back in 1940, with their national population now at an estimated 33,000. Roughly 10,000 alone reside in London, almost 16 per square mile! A single fox’s territory can cover up to 400 gardens. Several calls for a culling of our furry neighbours have come over the past decade, but what is an ‘urban fox’, and how much of a problem are they? As it turns out, ‘urban fox’ is a rather misleading term. Foxes regularly commute between town and country, and so most are in fact ‘suburban’. Contrary to popular belief, urban foxes are no bigger than those found in the countryside – the only thing truly separating the two is their relative postcodes.


Urban foxes are actually no more violent than their rural counterparts. They will only attack if cornered, and stories of foxes ‘killing for fun’ are in fact an urban myth. Cutting down urban fox populations is extremely difficult due to a series of wildlife laws protecting them. Experts are trying to find new ways to control numbers that don’t harm the animal, including motion-sensor sprinkler systems. Killing foxes is ineffectual, they argue, as the animals are territorial, and so removing one simply leads to another taking its place. Having adapted to life in the city, foxes have found their niche and are now part of our urbanised ecosystems. Not only do they help keep rodent and pigeon numbers down, but many locals quite enjoy their company in the garden. It seems urban foxes are here to stay for the time being. Perhaps the more we try to understand these graceful creatures, the easier we’ll find it to coexist.

Harry Pettit is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

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A letter from the townships

Tim Ellis examines the devastating spread of Tuberculosis in urban South Africa . completely untreatable. Furthermore, patients in the waiting room will often be HIV-positive, a virus renowned for its ability to cripple the sufferer’s immune system. This provides the ideal environment for further spread of TB within these vulnerable communities.


On the ground: A township north of Johannesburg. “As a medical student, we would often be sent to rural clinics on the outskirts of the city to help out the nurses. The clinics always seemed to be small square buildings surrounded by dusty land and ringed by old wire fences. When we arrived at the start of the day, people would already be patiently queuing on benches circling all around the square building. Old gogos (grandmothers) with swollen legs, young men, painfully skinny with deep sunken eyes and faded t-shirts draped over bony collarbones, would be seated next to each other passing the time. There would often be a sign saying ‘waiting time six hours’ at the entrance to the nurse’s office.” Ashley Jacobs


lobal urbanisation is not a single-species phenomenon. Today, more than half of the global human population resides within cities, and this population is growing. This provides a unique environment for the urbanisation of other species that will also take full advantage of the urban resources available to them. The media continues to apprise its audience with reports of emerging epidemics, outbreaks driven by increased proximity and poor sanitation. The post-earthquake cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2013 was marked as one of the worst in modern history. The recent Ebola outbreak vividly demonstrated the speed at which such a disease can spread. Confusingly however, the presence of the world’s biggest single pathogen killer, Tuberculosis, gets off lightly when considering its media coverage, despite the 9 million new cases that arise each year. No place feels the weight of these numbers more acutely than TB-stricken regions of South


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Africa. The urban environment of South Africa is ground-zero for the inoculation and transmission of Tuberculosis on the African continent, with incidence rates stoked by HIV co-infection and poor patient compliance. The townships and more remote areas of South Africa provide an ideal landscape for the bacterial pathogen to replicate, leading to an estimated 390,000 new cases each year. A number of factors lead to this disproportionate incidence of TB, many of which are socioeconomic in their origin. Crowded and unsanitary living conditions, coupled with poor nutrition, provide the ideal milieu for infection to take hold. It is the treatment of this demographic that is pivotal in managing the disease on a global scale. Not only do the townships of South Africa have some of the highest rates of TB in the world, they are rapidly becoming an epicenter for TB drug resistance, with some strains close to being

Although most of the media’s emphasis on antibiotic resistance focuses on medical provision and continued research, many argue that the heart of the problem stems from socioeconomic factors. With ten-strong families living in cramped single rooms, high levels of air pollution and restricted access to clean water, the townships of South Africa are a huge catalyst to the spread of disease throughout the country. Crowded living spaces bring increased contact with infected individuals. Poor diet and air pollution bring compromised immunity. This poses the question: why is funding targeting the treatment of these urban diseases focusing solely on treatment? Not only would patients’ health and quality of life vastly improve by funding clean living conditions, but so too would the prosperity of the area and the underlying economy. Urbanisation is the next stage of civilization for our species. This presents new challenges to our healthcare. With the growth of our cities, we must also grow in the way we combine disease management with a sustainable city expansion. Our new environment will no doubt facilitate sweeping new developments for our species, but it should not come at the expense of leaving healthcare in the green belt. After all, this is not just our concrete jungle.

Tim Ellis is studying for a PhD in pulmonary nanomedicine


I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave

Yick Hong Leung provides an intriguing glimpse into the world of our pervasively connected future.


n Inside the Body of a Resilient City, Julia Havens describes the city as “a network of interdependent systems, not unlike the human body; each one depends on the next to function properly”. In order to advance our cities into ‘smart cities’ – a concept of cities connected and enhanced by digital technology – we need rapid communication and data transfer between their respective systems. The Internet of Things (IoT) is an emerging global infrastructure for information transfer. It is created by embedding physical devices such as phones, fridges and radiators with a variety of sensors and network connections so they may freely communicate with each other. These devices could learn from our living patterns and anticipate our needs – even before we do – allowing greater efficiency and comfort in our lives. The Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group estimates that by 2020, the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects. This technology could deliver practical benefit to our everyday lives in areas that vary from healthcare to transportation. Today in San Carlos, California, embedded networked sensors in parking spaces inform drivers where the nearest available parking space is, helping reduce congestion, pollution and fuel consumption. Imagine stepping out of your smart-door in the morning without your smart-keys. Your smartdoor detects your mistake, buzzes to notify you, and delays locking the door to give you a chance to dash back and grab them. Imagine you have a history of heart disease. Your GP suggests injecting a small heart monitor into your arm. At the slightest sign of arrhythmia, it sends a warning to your phone: proceed to a hospital


Picture: www.flickr.com/photos/renespitz/

The all-seeing eye of HAL 9000, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

immediately. Imagine your new neighbours are throwing a house party and playing obnoxiously loud music all night. Your in-built sleep monitor sends a message to your alarm to give you an extra hour of sleep. IoT devices can provide major benefits and improve our day-to-day efficiency, but to ensure fluid data transfer between different devices, our IoT devices will require constant internet access. This could be provided by mobile networks, mesh networks, or citywide Wi-Fi networks. The development of citywide Wi-Fi networks could transform entire cities into a Wireless Access Zones, making access to the internet ubiquitous. This could be achieved through a wireless mesh grid network, with broadband services provided by local government, implemented by placing thousands of wireless routers mounted on poles outdoors. With ubiquitous internet access, IoT devices could function to their maximum potential, with the ability to seamlessly upload and download information wherever you are. The advent of IoT will result in an enormous amount of data being continuously generated and sent by our devices - data that has been labelled as valuable as gold by the World Economic Forum. How will we collect, analyse and use this data? Advances in artificial intelligence, such as cognitive computing technologies, have already proved useful in

bookkeeping our mountains of data to generate useful statistics, and could be used in the IoT to search our data for insights into human behaviours. But with our personal data flying around our cities, a problem will arise: how can we secure our private information? Much of the advancement of the IoT has been hampered by these security concerns, with the impending ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ doing little to quell such fears. In order to move towards ‘smart cities’, a watertight framework regarding the secure transfer of data is needed. Until this framework is built, we will have to wait patiently for our hyper-connected future.

Yick Hong Leung (Eric) is studying for an MEng in Civil Engineering

Picture: http://nikolasbrummer.deviantart.com/art/ technology-296635892

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City Suffocation Illustration: James Marno


his September, a shattering discovery was made by the Environmental Protection Agency in the US. It was discovered that many Volkswagen cars being sold in the US contained a ‘defeat device’ which enabled engines to detect when they were being tested under lab conditions and alter their functional settings accordingly. This software effectively allowed VW to cheat the system and poison consumers in the process.

on the road. Under normal driving conditions, these VW engines pumped pollutants into our atmosphere at concentrations up to 40 times higher than the legal limit.

The devices were cleverly engineered such that under controlled laboratory settings, the engine would switch into a ‘safety mode,’ running with much less power than it would

The principal pollutant emissions from petrol, diesel, and alternative-fuel engines are carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx), leftover hydrocarbons and particulate matter (Box 1).


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The negative impact of vehicle emissions on our health cannot be underestimated. Whether you notice it or not, on a daily basis many of the components of vehicle emissions are creeping into your lungs, causing inflammation and increasing your risk of developing cancer, suffering a cardiac arrest or stroke.

Effects of these chemicals on our health span a full range of ailments, from lung irritation to long-term lung and heart disease as well as cancer. There is a particular effect on the delicate lungs of children and exposure has been linked with premature mortality and reduced life expectancy. Given the associated health problems, how can we reach safe levels of vehicle emissions in an urbanising world? Europe sets standards of vehicle emissions that must be met by all vehicles sold. From September 2015, all new cars were forced to meet the new ‘Euro 6’ standard, which alongside other emissions targets makes it compulsory for diesel vehicles to reduce NOx emissions from a maximum of 180mg/km to


Charlotte Mykura asks whether vehicle emissions spell the end for good health.

Box 1


arbon monoxide is incredibly poisonous. It reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of haemoglobin in the blood thereby reducing the availability of oxygen to key organs. Heart disease sufferers are particularly at risk from the effects of carbon monoxide, as their cardiovascular system is already under strain.

High levels of nitrogen oxides harm individuals with respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Studies have shown that exposure is linked to increased hospital admissions. Particulate matter is formed of fine particles that become lodged in the lungs causing inflammation. Like many other types of emissions, it is associated with respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Strikingly, 29,000 deaths a year in the UK are attributable to fine particulate pollution. Tests on hydrocarbons released in fumes have indicated that they can cause cancer and lead to ground-level formation of ozone, which is incredibly reactive and therefore toxic. 80mg/km. Many vehicles can now be fitted with devices to specifically reduce the levels of some pollutants. Selective catalytic reducers (SCR) allow NOx to be converted into harmless gaseous nitrogen, water and a small amount of carbon dioxide. This process makes use of a catalyst, often ammonia or urea, which is added to the exhaust gas. Car manufacturers are adopting SCR technology in growing numbers, which is a step in the right direction toward reducing the cardiovascular and respiratory health risks to city dwellers. Despite the tightening of the EU’s pollutant regulations, the fact that VW were able to evade regulations undetected suggests that companies might need to be monitored from within to ensure that these occurrences are not repeated. Strict adherence to the Euro 6 regulations is one of many steps that need to be taken in order to have a chance of reducing emissions in the foreseeable future.

Charlotte Mykura is studying for a PhD in epigenetics


Picture: https://unsplash.com/photos/YUnN0Z-1mcY

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Innovative Cities Babylon, Iraq

Picture: www.flickr.com/photos/hauntedpalace


Ancient Era

The foundations of civilisation were built in the Middle East. Rivers such as the Euphrates brought life to the harsh deserts and great cultures emerged. Of these, few have captured the modern imagination like Babylon. While time has muddled legend with fact, today it remains a symbol of cultural progress; an icon of innovation. Most famous of all are the Hanging Gardens. While they may not have been located in Babylon itself, they represent a fantastic achievement of ancient engineering. Drawing water up from the river below, perhaps using a device like an Archimedes screw, the supporting structure of the Gardens would have required special compound materials to prevent the mud bricks from eroding away. Under the Persians, Babylon flourished as a centre of arts and sciences: it is thought that the seeds of Pythagoras’ theorem were sown here too, forever changing the field of mathematics.

Florence, Italy

The Dark Ages gripped Europe for centuries. The Black Death swept through the continent, killing up to 50 million people while quelling cultural and technological development. Remarkably, out of this period of decimation came the Renaissance, the ‘rebirth’. Starting in the late 14th Century in Florence, art flourished. Polymaths like Leonardo da Vinci secured wealthy patrons who financed their burgeoning creativity. Others, like Galileo in nearby Pisa, played a major role in the scientific revolution. After the invention of the Gutenberg Press in Germany in 1440, dissemination of knowledge became quick and easy, allowing other ravaged states in Europe to rise from the ashes of the Black Death.

Picture: www.flickr.com/photos/16516058@N03

Jaipur, India

Early Modern

India’s famous pink city is the gateway to the hot deserts of Rajasthan. In 1799, Sawai Pratap Singh built the ingenious Hawa Mahal, or Wind Palace, in which the 953 small windows suck air in to cool the rooms. Sawai Jai Singh continued Jaipur’s growing reputation for scientific architecture by building the Jantar Mantar. This observatory complex features the world’s largest sundial alongside 19 other instruments. Innovative and accurate, the Jantar Mantar represents a long history of Indian contributions to science and mathematics. In 1876, the whole city was painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales after experimentation found that rose pink reduced the glare from the sun most effectively.



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Samuel Lickiss is studying for an MSc in Science Communication


Samuel Lickiss explores cities throughout history that made profound contributions to science and society.

Industrial Age

Manchester, UK

The Industrial Revolution changed society worldwide. Sparked by the invention of the Watt and Boulton steam engine, this period marked the transition from an agricultural economy defined by the seasons, to one dominated by manufacturing. While the exact location and start of the Industrial Revolution are debatable, Manchester was one of the first cities to fully embrace it. Fittingly nicknamed ‘Cottonopolis’ during this era, Manchester became the world’s leading textiles producer and equipped Britain for its expansion around the world. Canals and railways snaked out of Manchester to efficiently connect it to other cities, facilitating Britain’s shift to an urban, industrialised economy. Picture:www.flickr.com/photos/staceycav

New York City, USA




Centre of capitalism, gateway to America, embodiment of the American Dream. New York City owes its position as a leading global metropolis to a number of factors. Greeted by the Statue of Liberty, immigrants flocked to New York with the dream of a better life. For the thousands of people escaping the Irish Potato Famine, the reality was quite different. Squalor and exploitative landlords forced people to live in densely packed housing while they sought work in the factories of New York’s industrialised heart. Epidemics of yellow fever, typhus and cholera easily swept through the filthy tenement buildings and threatened the city with collapse. This led to the establishment of the American Public Health Association by Stephen Smith. Smith trained as a doctor and by mapping the progress of epidemics, was able to target parts of the city for cleaning. He campaigned for new sanitation laws and was tasked with preventing future epidemics. Smith’s revolutionary work allowed New York to quickly become one of the world’s great cities.

Masdar City, UAE

Faced with rapidly depleting oil reserves and concerns about the impacts of climate change, the UAE are exploring alternative means of economic sustainability. Masdar City, currently being built on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, is a vision of the future. Driverless cars- in the form of personal rapid transit pods- are available for visitors to get around. All its electricity comes from solar and other renewable sources. Light switches and taps are banned, instead relying on motion sensors in order to reduce electricity and water usage. With the city’s goal to be ‘zero carbon’ and ‘zero waste’, greywater is recycled into local agriculture. The newly established Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, developed in cooperation with MIT, is the first of what the Government aims to be a hub of clean technology organisations. The cutting-edge technologies used in Masdar City could well find their way into other cities around the world in the future.


Picture: www.flickr.com/photos/eager

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Timber ! Celia Robins shines light on the future of urban architecture.


rom the Gherkin to the Cheese Grater, London’s skyline is being transformed by a spate of controversial high-rise towers. The latest proposal from Shard architect Renzo Piano is for a 65 storey ‘Skinny Shard’ at Paddington, bringing the skyscrapers further west and closer to Imperial’s South Kensington neighbourhood.

High-rises – looking to the future or recycling the past? So are these giants the future, or just investment vehicles rehashing old models of development? As cutting edge engineering helps architects create ever more extreme shapes, London’s high-rise buildings look increasingly futuristic. But beneath their glitzy skins, most rely on old-fashioned steel and concrete, pretty much the same technology as the first skyscrapers in 1880s Chicago. More radical is the technology behind multistorey wooden buildings. It sounds unlikely, but the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) is booming and looks set to challenge traditional materials. CLT comes in panels built up from multiple layers of softwood bonded by adhesives. Cross-lamination is the key – with the grain of each panel being perpendicular to the next, resulting in structural strength to rival steel.

Building tall with timber Stadthaus in Shoreditch led the way for CLT in London. This nine floor apartment block was completed in 2009, with structural elementsincluding the stairs and lift shafts- made of wood. The next big step for CLT could be set to take place in Paris, where the Eiffel Tower


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pushed the boundaries of construction 126 years ago. Designed by the Canadian firm Michael Green Architecture Inc., Baobab is a 35 storey CLT building including flats, a bus station and urban agriculture proposed for the Réinventer Paris competition. Architects are looking to stretch the possibilities, but timber high-rises are more than a gimmick. CLT is a renewable, lowcarbon, precision-engineered material that can cut the carbon footprint of a building by up to 70%. Contrast this with the fossil fuel hungry production of steel and those blingy towers in the City start to look a bit dated. It is counterintuitive, but wood even performs better than steel in the event of fire. Fires burn at up to 1000°C and steel will warp at a mere 600°C, hence it needs to be surrounded by protective layers within a building. A recent report by the engineering consulting group, Arup, shows that when sheets of engineered wood start to burn on the outside, the resulting charcoal forms an insulating layer which stops the fire from penetrating and prevents further damage. The structural qualities aren’t affected – much like charred trees standing tall in the wake of a forest fire.

ΐΐ Floating sea cities running on solar and wave power ΐΐ High-rise urban farms ΐΐ 3D-printed homes ΐΐ Buildings with their own micro-climates to make harsh environments habitable

What is the reality? It might be fun to gaze into the future and imagine where technology can take us over the next century, but a hard look at where we are in 2015 will bring us back to earth with a crash. This year, the UK government abandoned two flagship green building policies. In July, the government scrapped a commitment to make all new homes zero-carbon by 2016. The Green Deal - designed to make existing homes energy efficient - was abandoned the same month. New Scientist drew attention to the resulting policy vacuum in October. Is there another plan? Will the UK government save face in time for the UN Climate Conference in Paris this month? The truth is that at the moment, we don’t know. In the meantime, using more timber in our buildings looks like a good place to start.

Celia Robins is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

What will future cities look like? Architects from the University of Westminster, alongside Dr Rhys Morgan, Director of Engineering and Education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, and urbanist Linda Aitken, recently set out their predictions for cities over the next 100 years. Top of the list were: ΐΐ Super-deep basements to save space in high-value, high-density locations

Picture: www.independent.co.uk


City Talk Samuel Lickiss investigates how urbanisation and technology are changing the English language.


n Singapore, an Indian man sells samosas to customers in rapid Tamil. The radio perched on his cart blares Mandarin pop songs while he updates his Facebook status in English. With four official languages crammed onto this little island, communication in Singapore could be a challenge. However, it is not Singapore’s official languages that are most interesting. The linguistic cocktail that is ‘Singlish’ has an English base flavoured with Mandarin and Malay, Tamil and Teochew. Repeatedly discouraged by the Government in favour of Standard English, Singlish has its own grammar and idioms. Music and poetry are also written in Singlish; it is a rich language everyone in Singapore can call their own. This is what happens when people with different languages come together. Creoles emerge, taking elements from two or more languages to create a new one. English itself has Germanic roots but a vocabulary largely taken from the Romance languages such as Latin, French and Italian. British globetrotting has also brought in bungalows from Gujarati, admirals from Arabic and robots from Czech. We can say sayonara to any semblance of a ‘standard’ English, an idiom bizarrely adopted from the Japanese. The future of language is difficult to predict, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. “You have assaulted me, you scoundrel!” laments a 22nd century Londoner. H G Wells wrote A Story of Days to Come in 1897 at a time when Britain was busy expanding its borders. Wells had the romantic idea that inventions like the phonograph would put Victorian English in a state of stasis. Mass media would make everyone speak the same, and the “pure high English of Victoria the Good” would reign supreme.


Wells, however, was wrong.

Illustration: Eva Spielvogel

“Okay Google,” a 21st century Londoner asks their phone, “find me pizza.” Their phone scans the Internet for local pizza places and provides a list, organised by distance. In order to do that, the phone has had to recognise the user’s voice and work out what they are requesting. For a computer, this is complicated, but Siri, Cortana, Google and other artificial intelligence personal assistants have become rather good at it. The developers have hard-coded rules into computer systems. They recognise keywords and respond to the request appropriately. Try asking your phone, “Do not find me pizza”, and the result will still be the same, because the words ‘find’ and ‘pizza’ are still there. It is not what you asked for but computers are not good at recognising this. This field is called natural language processing. Humans are good at recognising context and nuance in language and we are trying to get computers better at doing it. Over at IBM, developers have built Watson - a supercomputer capable of answering and asking questions naturally. Specifically designed for the gameshow Jeopardy!, Watson has been able to beat human opponents. It can recognise the subtleties in the host’s clues and scan it’s hard disks for a series of statistically plausible answers. Watson then ranks these answers and gives the one with the highest score by cross checking against a database before answering.

grammar tends to get ignored. For example, how many native speakers get the distinction between who and whom correct? With computers becoming more widespread, it is possible we will become more like the Singaporean samosa seller: able to switch between a computer-compatible language and a more colloquial version with friends. Perhaps computers will be able to learn from us, adopting our idioms and slang, thereby evolving creoles of their own. Regardless, as computers bring our cities closer together, the rise of artificial intelligence and sophisticated natural language processing will impact the way we speak, write and, quite possibly, think.

Samuel Lickiss is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

What does this mean for our language come the 22nd century? This is not an easily answerable question. What we do know is that the world is becoming an ever-closer place. Languages that have a high number of non-native speakers (e.g. English) tend to be simpler because the tricky

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A Crazy Horse Called Smart


ities change. The urban jungle is a rich, complex system with diverse needs and pressures that evolve over time. More and more people are attracted to the urban promise of culture and prosperity. By 2050, an estimated two-thirds of the global population will be moving to already cramped metropoles. Cities which refuse to adapt will become fossilised in time, while those which evolve will attract the best of human, social and financial capital. Smart technology has revolutionised modern industry. While some countries - such as China and the UAE - have embraced the cutting edge to build new smart cities, in the UK, city management and planning matters are of a different nature. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, modernity replaced London’s smouldering medieval heart. What was modern 400 years ago certainly isn’t today. How can we integrate the progress of the 21st century to an infrastructure that was designed to cope with the needs of a different time?

Automation and Virtualisation To stay at the forefront of the international stage, London must move with the latest technological revolution. We live in a world of increasing automation and virtualisation. Nowadays, networks allow us to control our central heating from our phones, or have smart fridges that text us when we are running low on food. Autonomous lorries are already plying Nevada’s highways, and we may soon see selfdriving cars in London. At the time, all of these systems are on different networks, but for Nick Chrissos, head of Innovation Technology at CISCO UK and


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Ireland, the real advances will happen within the next decade. “[Today], you have your phone in one network, your lights in a different one and your home security system in another” says Chrissos. But soon, “everything will be brought onto the same network, everything will be powered from this network like laptops or TVs. Going on holiday, you could just change your presence using your iPad that says, “I’m on holiday,” and that switches off your heating at home, switches off taps... so there won’t be any flooding, all because we converged everything onto one network.” With this convergence comes “an inherent automation” which will increase infrastructure efficiency.

Data - for a more efficient city If people are injecting more ‘smart’ into their individual lives, why not introduce it to the whole city? London is growing, authorities need to know how to effectively manage the infrastructure. These types of smart digital systems are a veritable goldmine of information. For instance, in 2015 digital payments overtook cash transactions, making it much easier to track buyers’ movements and spending habits. Andrew Collinge, assistant director of the Greater London Authority, understands the value of this information. “Citizens increasingly create data. That helps us understand how people move about in the physical sense, how they interact with public services.” “We can use that data to improve quality of life and the quality of services that they receive.”

A good example of this is London’s congested Tube network. Patricia Brown is the head of Central, a consultancy that develops partnerships, alliances and projects, which help build cities. “Too many people go to the South Kensington tube station to get to the Exhibition Road institutions [...] but don’t think of going to the High Street Kensington or Knightsbridge stations,” she says. According to her, data analysis could generate “a wider movement strategy to pull in visitors from different directions.” “In doing so, people will have a richer experience of London because they see different parts of the city. It might also help local shops and places away from the Tube to get a different type of customer.” Analysing comprehensive datasets will allow us to not change the infrastructure, but to use it in a better, more efficient, personalised manner. Harnessing the seemingly limitless power of open data is a must for any city that wants to remain a front-runner. But in London, upgrading the infrastructure is a challenging task.

‘The city is already here’ The demands of the 21st century are very different from the ideas Stuart and Victorian urban planners had in mind when they built most of the city’s current infrastructure. Collinge explains that while in some new development areas, such as the recently built Olympic Park, smart technology can be injected into the project from the onset. In a city like London, “it is an incredibly complex ecosystem, or indeed web of ecosystems [...] and by and large, we are in retrofitting territory.” Some endeavours are being made to smarten


Marianne Guenot and Samuel Lickiss interview panelists from the Imperial Fringe ‘Cities of the Future’ debate.

the city. In Bunhill, Islington, a project is underway to recycle heat from the Tube to generate energy. However, a complicating factor is that these smart systems cannot be integrated into one unified grid in London because, as Collinge explains, “[property] sits in the ownership of different people, like water companies, electricity companies, and major suppliers of infrastructure.”

Illustration: www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital

Consequently, improving London’s systems requires data to upgrade or embark on new initiatives. However, a lot of the data sits in the hands of private companies, who are often reluctant to share it. “The problems that we need to tackle sit firmly within their businesses,” says Collinge.

A balancing act For those involved in the planning process, this is a difficult equation to weigh. While we all value our privacy, our data is required for effective provision of public services. “It’s becoming increasingly recognised by government that data is an incredibly powerful thing”, says Collinge, who also recognises that “incidents like the recent TalkTalk affair mean that people won’t necessarily be very keen on [sharing data].” “People have to feel in control”, says Chrissos. The user has matured and is now wary of sharing personal information. For trust to be established, data sharing goes hand in hand with the considerable need for legislation around it. “We have to prove the value of our services […] and find means to make people feel safer around the secure sharing of their data”, acknowledges Collinge, “and that does imply that [...] we need to be more sophisticated in how we apply regulation to it.”


So the city grows smarter, more streamlined and efficient. But there’s a danger of removing London’s wild soul: that intangible quality that makes London, London. “We must make sure that growth doesn’t kill the golden goose of the wonderful city that is London”, says Brown.

Marianne Guenot and Samuel Lickiss are both studying for an MSc Science Communication

We’re like infants busy learning about this whole new world of data. For people in city planning like Collinge, “The city’s government needs to learn to ride this crazy horse called Smart.” For more information, visit www.iSciencemag.co.uk to read the extended interviews.

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Apocalyptic City


n the eve of Halloween 1938, a radio broadcast of War of the Worlds spread panic across American cities. Motorways were gridlocked as terrified inhabitants fled San Francisco and other cities. While this report of mass panic was subsequently proven to be a hoax, it provides insight to the challenges of mass evacuations. At the time of the broadcast, San Francisco had a population of around 630,000, which has steadily risen to 850,000. By global scales, San Francisco is not a big city compared to London at 8.6 million or Shanghai at 24 million. If a mass exodus seemed unfeasible in 1938, modern urban environments pose far greater challenges. Responding to epidemic outbreaks and biological attacks in densely populated areas is an increasing concern; something that future architects, urban designers and engineers will need to factor in. Biological warfare in cities is certainly not a new threat - there are numerous historical examples of how biological weapons have been used in conflict. In 600 BC, Solon of Athens used the purgative herb, hellebore (skunk cabbage), to assist his siege of Krissa. Around 500 years later, the Italian emperor, Barbarossa, poisoned the wells of Tortona with dead bodies. Meanwhile, Spanish forces supplied their French enemies with wine contaminated with the blood of leprosy patients. SantĂŠ! Modern cities no longer have walls over which to hurl plague-filled corpses or single wells to poison. Arguably however, the scientific revolution led to biological warfare becoming increasingly sophisticated. The development of modern microbiology allowed specific pathogens to be isolated and subsequently


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to model anthrax, onto the subway tracks of midtown Manhattan. The bacteria spread for miles throughout the subway system and highlighted an effective exposure mechanism for potential biological attacks.

cultivated to produce stocks, ready for deployment in any city at any chosen time. Research concerning biological attacks on major cities has been conducted. However, many of these studies were conducted in secret and guided by questionable ethics. In 1950, for example, a classified research experiment involved releasing a fog of bacteria across San Francisco from an offshore Navy Vessel, infecting 800,000 people in the Bay area alone. The bacteria used, Serratia marcescens, is normally harmless to humans but Stanford University Hospital raised a public health concern after a reported outbreak of S. marcescens-related urinary tract infections. Undeterred, the government continued with its covert experiments across the US. Some years later - this time on the east coast military researchers dropped lightbulbs filled with Bacillus Subtilis, a harmless bacteria used

The reason that national security operators are so keen to conduct this sort of research is that biological warfare is an increasingly alarming and realistic concern. Given that biological reagents can be distributed anonymously and discreetly, they present multiple advantages for individuals looking to commit acts of terror. They also have a delayed onset, allowing an attacker to evacuate safely without the immediacy of an explosion. Another major benefit is self-propagation, also referred to as secondary spread, which magnifies the effect of the reagents. Wreaking widespread havoc requires nothing more than a free-mixing, dense population: making cities an ideal target. If there is one thing that can save a city from an outbreak, it is data. One of the biggest sources of data in a city is surveillance. While surveillance and population monitoring are nothing new, data generated by these mechanisms is now being applied in innovative ways. In the event of a disaster, rapid collection of reliable information is vital to coordinating an effective response. In emergency situations, the environment is typically changing rapidly and the pre-disaster information is no longer valid. Although cities are rich in data about their geography, infrastructure and population, collating these layers into a useful model is challenging. Models can project the development of an emergency situation a short time into the future to assess multiple outcomes over the


Bentley Crudgington examines how densely populated cities would cope with a widespread epidemic.

Image: www.nature.com/news/mapping-the-h7n9-avian-flu-outbreaks-1.12863

Using gridded population maps and global travel time data, this image reveals how human-transmissible viruses could rapidly spread from outbreak regions to large population centres�

coming hours, days or weeks. By combining tools such as Agent-Based Modelling (ABM) and Geographic Information System (GIS), researchers can explore how individuals behave within social and physical environments. ABM replicates diversity in the modelled population by attributing certain behaviours and interactions to individuals or groups. This more closely resembles the multicultural dynamic of a city and takes into account how different communities might react to the same situation. As satellites, CCTV and other surveillance methods have allowed us to map spaces in real time, advances in computational modelling will allow us to add social phenomena into that equation. Taking part in modern life without leaving a digital trace is all but impossible, but what about your biological record? Increasing the depth of surveillance in future cites from the digital to the molecular level could have significant


implications for healthcare in urban centres. Decades of research have shown that our genes hugely influence how susceptible we are to disease. Like ABM, advances in molecular biology such as next generation sequencing, help predict how an individual will respond to a pathogen and how effective a certain treatment will be. A future city falls victim to a biological attack. Within hours - before the first symptoms manifest - the agent has been identified from a routine saliva swab taken from a resident. Since her genome was sequenced at birth, it is already known that she carries a gene mutation linked with high susceptibility to this pathogen. The pathogen, sequenced at the same time, is identified as a strain resistant to three different antibiotics. The worker is informed and immediately begins treatment. Her travel is reviewed and those she came into contact with are sampled, sequenced and also receive

tailored treatments. Genetic counsellors speak directly to those with a history of failing to take medication, ensuring that they understand the risks. The sequence and movement data are used to identify the time and location of the release and a decontamination procedure is conducted. The attack is contained. This scenario may sound like science fiction, but all of these capabilities and technologies exist. However, they are not yet linked through a unified system of data compilation; which would fully integrate these technologies into our lives. Future cities are ideally placed to utilise current scientific advances to improve the health and wellbeing of their inhabitants, but how this will influence urban design and what public attitudes towards this will be, are as yet unknown.

Bentley Crudgington is studying for a PhD in virology

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The Great Debate


ecent heated public opposition to nuclear power has driven many to conclude it holds no place in the future of our power grids. On the contrary – nuclear power may well be down, but it is certainly not out.

the UK government is desperate to replace their generating capacity. With renewable sources a way off the full 22 million kilowatt capacity needed by 2020, nuclear power has been gifted an excellent opportunity to bridge the impending energy gap.

According to the World Nuclear Association, a whopping 70 new nuclear reactors are currently under construction around the world. This is the highest number in 25 years and current projections anticipate an additional 500 plants going up in the next 50 years. Nuclear power is the second largest source worldwide of lowcarbon electricity and is a critical element in limiting our greenhouse gas emissions.

On that front, China are now actively supporting Western nuclear development. Earlier this September the UK government with the help of Chinese investment - pledged over £2bn to the Hinkley nuclear project in Somerset. Hinkley will provide 7% of the UK’s power from 2023, and is a notable window to our potential nuclear future.

Clearly then, governments have far from given up the pursuit for a nuclear powered future. With gas and oil levels dwindling it is no surprise that we are once again turning to nuclear power. The world needs a well-established and reliable low-carbon solution and it needs it fast. This is where nuclear power steps in. If you need any more convincing, simply look to China. China boasts one of the world’s most successful and rapidly developing economies and is set to topple the US as the largest global superpower by the end of the century. China is currently assembling an impressive 27 new nuclear reactors and they don’t plan on stopping there. By 2020, they will enjoy a net 58 gigawatts in nuclear capacity, up from 17 gigawatts in 2014. With a further 200 reactors lined up for production, China are firmly placing their eggs in the nuclear basket. The question is - will the rest of the world follow suit? A number of the UK’s coal and oil-based power stations are approaching their use-by dates and


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So what of the elephant in the room, nuclear power’s biggest competitor - renewable energy? Limiting a zero-carbon future solely to renewable sources may actually not be the best way forward. Greater costs of energy storage, expensive discarding of nuclear plants, and the carpeting of the planet with panels and turbines are all glaring drawbacks to a purely renewable system.

Despite all of these clear advantages, nuclear power is not without its drawbacks. Initial setup costs along with public concerns over safety have recently clipped the technology’s wings and have put serious barriers in the path of re-instating ‘nuclear’ into the national debate. Nevertheless, new technological developments mean that nuclear power is safer, cheaper and more efficient than ever, and this will only improve in years to come. Governments must open up a public discussion to ease misguided concerns around safety and efficacy. Our political and thought leaders need to show citizens that the demonisation of nuclear power is unwarranted. Only then can we progress into a reliable, carbon-free future.

Harry Pettit is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

Nuclear power’s attractiveness to governments is that it allows them to build scalable, energy efficient, long-term power sources. Importantly, nuclear power offers a reliable source of energy, without the intermittency (and hence enormous storage costs) that hinder solar and wind power. Another important factor to consider is that nuclear reactors have an extremely high capacity factor, meaning they produce almost all of their potential energy. With recent technological advances in the field, nuclear reactors are hitting capacity factors of almost 92% - over double the highest values achieved by solar and wind power.


Does nuclear power have a place in the future of our energy? Harry Pettit and Andrew McMahon debate


s global climate change continues apace, the need for clean and renewable energy sources becomes ever more pressing. It is almost universally accepted now that in the long term, the world’s energy supply will not include fossil fuels. Not only are these finite, but the most recent estimates suggest that if we are to avoid ‘catastrophic climate change’ we cannot afford to use all of the fossil resources we have already excavated. So what is the future then? Nuclear power has frequently been touted as the solution to this problem. However it is at best an expensive stop-gap, and at worst a step in the completely wrong direction. Nuclear power plants are extremely expensive to build, costing anything between £1.5-2.25 bn each - and new plants take several years to become operational. Nuclear waste products are also toxic and have very long radioactive half-lives, so they can have a

negative environmental impact lasting thousands of years. This problem of nuclear waste is one that has still not been solved and will only worsen with increased nuclear capacity. There are also several concerns around the possibilities of catastrophic failure within nuclear plants. Such concerns have found validation in the form of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. In the wake of Fukushima, public disapproval in Germany became strong enough for the country to abandon nuclear power completely. Despite these various concerns many governments across the world including that of the UK - are determined to add to their nuclear capacity in the coming years as we transition away from fossil fuels. This zeal for nuclear in spite of its drawbacks does not mean there is no other option - far from it. Renewable energy sources are the only logical long-term solution to our energy needs. They have no toxic waste products, maintenance costs are extremely small when compared to nuclear power, and their power sources are effectively inexhaustible, whilst even fissile material is finite. Renewable technologies have undergone rapid expansion over the past few years both in terms of installed capacity and capital investment. Sources such as biomass, hydropower, geothermal and onshore wind have all shown exceptional growth and are now financially competitive with - or cheaper than - fossil fuels. This growth in capacity is only set to accelerate as improvements in technology take hold.

Painting: www.flickr.com/photos/ssoosay

Renewable energy production is also good value for money. An analysis published by the EU in 2014 showed that onshore wind was in fact the cheapest source of energy we have available,

costing around €105/MWh as compared to the €125/MWh cost of nuclear energy (nuclear energy was found to be on par with solar power). Another study performed this year by Bloomberg New Energy Finance showed similar results, with British wind power being valued at €80/MWh as compared to a far larger €180/ MWh for nuclear. Such value for money is being recognised all over the world. Even after taking capacity factors into account, China - one of the countries most aggressively expanding their nuclear capacity is currently adding more solar and wind energy capacity than it is nuclear. It added more solar and wind energy capacity than nuclear power in 2014 and this outpacing by renewables is set to continue until all of its proposed nuclear plants are completed in 2020. In the US, it has been estimated that over the next ten years, new renewable capacity will amount to the equivalent of 100 nuclear reactors, even though it is currently only planning to build five in that time frame. The fact that renewable sources can outpace nuclear power installation and also seemingly beat it on cost means it is very hard to defend favouring nuclear power over renewables. Although nuclear power may be better than current fossil fuels in terms of reduced pollution and higher energy density, it is clear they cannot be the ultimate future of our energy production. I believe that the negative effects of radioactive waste, the need for expensive fissile materials, which are still finite, and the extraordinary cost and time needed to create nuclear based infrastructure means that renewable energy sources have to be the future.

Andrew McMahon is studying for a PhD in physics Picture: www.flickr.com/photos/ivanhoe057


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Speedy Science How do cyclists’ air bag helmets work? A discreet neck collar that inflates into a head-protecting hood is clearly going to be a big hit with imageconscious cyclists. But the best part about these airbag helmets, produced in Sweden, is that they are three times safer than traditional hard helmets. Behind this super smart technology is an algorithm that can distinguish between movements generated in normal cycling versus those experienced during accidents. When the collar registers that an accident is occurring, the gas inflator rapidly fills the airbag with helium gas to inflate it.

Image: Joshuavr - commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hovding_Airbag_for_Cyclists.jpg

How long does it take to earn your money back from solar panels? Installing solar panels on your home is no easy decision. At around £4,000 to £6,000, they aren’t cheap, but claims that they dramatically cut your electricity bills and can even bring in money make them a tempting investment for many. But exactly how long would it take to earn back your money? Under the current government “Feed-in Tariff” where home-owners are paid for the spare electricity generated by their panels, it would take 9-10 years to make back the investment. However, new plans to reduce the “Feed-in Tariff” by 87% in January 2016 will increase this payback time to nearly 30 years.


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Co Editor-In-Chief Greta Keenan answers your quick-fire urban science questions in under 120 words

Why is my snot black? We’ve all done it - blown our nose and looked at the tissue. If you live in London you will probably have noticed that your snot is grey or black a lot of the time. This is caused by inhaled dirt and dust particles getting caught in the mucus that lines the inside of your nose. Sadly, this is a constant reminder of how polluted the air is in our urban areas. However, it’s not all bad news. This clear sticky mucus helps to keep our airways clean by catching pollutant particles – it’s better to have black snot than black lungs.

How can you make a light bulb that doesn’t require electricity? Take an old plastic bottle, fill it with water and a bit of bleach, stick it in your ceiling and hey presto you’ve got yourself a 55-watt solar bulb. This is the simple and affordable technology behind the MIT-initiative ‘A Litre of Light’, which aims to provide low cost lighting to communities that either can’t afford or have no access to electricity. It is much more effective than simply a hole in the ceiling because the water-filled bottle refracts light, sending it around the room. It is powerful enough to light up a home, is environmentally friendly, and is easy to make. These nifty skylights last up to five years because the bleach prevents algae from growing in the water.


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On the Origin of Species

The Bauer Brothers: Masters of Scientific Illustration (Natural History Museum)

“I think,” scribbled Charles Darwin in his 1837 notebook. After returning from a five-year voyage on the Beagle, Darwin was busy formulating the theory of evolution by natural selection. His scribble accompanied a simple sketch: a few diverging lines. Simple in execution, revolutionary in impact.

The Natural History Museum’s Images of Nature gallery is a haven of artistic delight, displaying items from the museum’s vast collection of images of the natural world as seen by artists and scientists over the past 350 years.

(Charles Darwin)

After spending a further twenty years building on his research from the Beagle expedition, Darwin’s now famous tree of life rooted itself in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Darwin’s book is surprisingly easy to read. He takes us on a walk through a garden, discussing selective breeding of plants and animals, before taking a quick trip to Ancient Egypt in order to demonstrate that artificial selection has produced a grand array of sheep and pigeon breeds. Before long, we’re well into the science behind Darwin’s landmark theory of natural selection. Darwin acknowledges flaws and holes in his theory, some of which have now been filled by modern science. “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history,” he speculatively writes. The book is a curious balance between scholarly and literary. Scholarly enough to be taken seriously by scientists, literary enough to be engaging. While dry and very Victorian, the richness comes from putting yourself in the historical context of the controversy it spawned. All of a sudden, the dramas of evolution and history awaken the imagination. Origins was voted the world’s most influential academic book in November 2015. Consequently, it must qualify as a must-read book for any science enthusiast.

Samuel Lickiss is studying for an MSc in Science Communication


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The gallery is currently home to the work of Franz and Ferdinand Bauer. The two brothers were prolific and talented artists, dedicating their lives to studying and drawing nature, and playing an important role in documenting newly discovered wildlife from around the world. Their scientific illustrations capture the vibrancy of the nature they saw in the late 18th century, and have preserved it through to today. The exhibition’s use of modern technology and interactive displays allow you to explore each illustration in far greater detail and marvel at their intricacies. When you tear yourself away from the Bauer brothers’ work, you’ll notice Roelandt Savery’s famous dodo painting, along with a more scientifically accurate interpretation beside it by artist and museum scientist Julian Pender Hume. Hume used the museum’s collection to research dodos and create a depiction that is more true to form. It is just one example of the exhibition revealing how contemporary scientists are using historical imagery to further our understanding of the natural world. The exhibition leaves you with a sense of the history and importance of the interwoven relationship between science and art, as well as a burning desire to explore it all further through the accompanying book – filled to the brim with fascinating botanical and zoological illustrations. The exhibition is open until 26th February 2017

Abigail Skinner is studying for an MSc in Science Media Production




How Scientifically Acurate is

City Limits

the Martian

(BBC Radio 4)


Ridley Scott may have released The Martian in tandem with the discovery of water on the Red Planet, but how scientifically accurate is the film? Whilst it mostly manages to stick to the facts, no Hollywood blockbuster comes without bending the truth for dramatic effect.

“There are, in reality, not only two alternatives — town life and country life — but also a third alternative, in which exists all the advantages of the most energetic and active town life, with all the beauty and delight of the country.” Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of Tomorrow, 1898.

The storm:

This two-part BBC Radio 4 podcast explores the fringes in which suburbia meets the countryside. Episode one focuses on the ancient town of Scadbury, which lies on the edge of south London. Extracts from influential writing - such as that of Ebenezer Howard - and thoughts from town planners across the world are interwoven with comments from urbanrural fringe residents to produce a well-rounded analysis of how these fringes are formed and what their benefits are.

Mars’s atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, so a 100mph gale on Mars is equivalent to a 10mph gust on Earth. Main character Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is oddly swept away by such a gust early on in the film…

Gravity: Mars’s gravity is 1/3 of Earth’s – a phenomenon which seems lost on Watney throughout the film.

Making water: Watney makes water using hydrazine from rocket fuel. A difficult process, but one which is at least plausible. However, it’s a pointless venture - Mars’s soil is an easy substitute considering that it is 5% - 60% water by weight!

Radiation: A 180 day trip to Mars would have exposed Watney to 15 times the annual permissible dosage of workers at a nuclear power plant. In the end, he spends over 500 days on Mars. Watney would have done well to survive such an ordeal… Whilst an exciting watch, The Martian inevitably distorts true science for the sake of drama and plot. Can we really expect Hollywood films to stick truthfully to science? Perhaps not, but that certainly won’t stop us calling them out!

Natasha Khaleeq is studying for an MSc in Science Communication


In an increasingly urbanised world, more people are living in cities than ever before. The program touches on the arguments against urban sprawl: aesthetic, economic, social and environmental. But according to Robert Breugmann, Professor of Architecture, Urban Planning and Art History at Chicago’s University of Illinois, cities won’t continue to sprawl: “At a certain point you lose all of the advantages of being close together.” This wholesome radio show is a perfect mix of informed academic opinion on the formation of rural-urban fringes, and personal insights from residents as to why they love living in Scadbury. It is seemingly the social factors that matter most - everyone exchanges friendly hello’s in the fringe, something that is often lost on us Londoners. Episode two focuses on the experiences of those living in the 1960s’ housing development of Ballymum, near Dublin. Both episodes are available now on BBC iPlayer.

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Greta Keenan is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

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