Research Round-up – July 2020

Welcome to the latest instalment of our monthly feature series throwing the spotlight on our research success stories.

Plastic strewn across a beach

The strength of our research is in making a real and telling difference to the world around us, by working across traditional boundaries to find innovative solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing society today. 

Here we highlight some of latest projects being pioneered by the expertise and efforts of the highly talented research community at Leeds. 

From grant awards to examples of outstanding interdisciplinary work and best practice, we’re keen to showcase your research achievements. See the foot of this article for details of how you can get involved. 

Featured in this month's round-up: 

Plastic crushedCaption: Leeds researchers modelled the stocks and flows of plastic waste around the world in a groundbreaking study

A world drowning in plastic  

More than 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic will be dumped on land and in the oceans between 2016 and 2040 unless the world acts. 

About 95 percent of aggregate plastic packaging is used just once before it becomes waste.  

Researchers – included Dr Costas Velis and his team in the School of Civil Engineering – have modelled the stocks and flows of plastic waste around the world – and identified waste systems unable to cope.  

They provided analysis of the role effective waste management plays in reducing pollution. That analysis showed the biggest source of plastic pollution was uncollected solid municipal waste – a lot of it from households.  

The study was part of the Breaking the Plastic Wave project, funded by the US philanthropic organisation, The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project is trying to identify ways of eliminating or significantly reducing plastic pollution in the oceans. 

The findings have been published in the journal Science, as well as in a separate report – entitled Breaking the Plastic Wave – on the Pew website. 

Although the quantities of plastic pollution are enormous, the experts say action by governments and industry can bring about significant reductions using existing technology and knowhow. 

You can read more about the project – and our contribution to the analysis – in our Research Spotlight

Tractor on farmCaption: New research reveals how adding rock dust to farmland can help to remove CO2 from the atmosphere

Rock dust could help combat climate change 

A major new study shows adding rock dust to farmland could remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the combined emissions from global aviation and shipping.  

The study, co-authored by Professor Steven Banwart from the School of Earth and Environment, reveals how spreading finely crushed basalt – a natural volcanic rock – on fields can boost the soil’s ability to extract CO2 from the air. 

In the first nation-by-nation assessment, published in Nature, scientists have demonstrated the method’s potential for carbon drawdown by major economies, and identified the costs and engineering challenges of scaling up the approach to help meet ambitious global CO2 removal targets. The research was led by experts at the University of Sheffield’s Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation

The analysis captures some of the uncertainties in enhanced weathering CO2 drawdown calculations and, at the same time, identifies the additional areas of uncertainty that future work needs to address, specifically through large-scale field trials. 

The study showed that China, the US and India – the highest fossil fuel CO2 emitters – have the highest potential for CO2 drawdown using rock dust on croplands. Together, these countries have the potential to remove approximately one billion tonnes of CO2 per year from the atmosphere, at a cost comparable to that of other proposed carbon dioxide removal strategies. 

Indonesia and Brazil, whose CO2 emissions are 10-20 times lower than the US and China, were also found to have relatively high CO2 removal potential due to their extensive agricultural lands together with climates accelerating the efficiency of rock weathering. 

Professor Banwart, Director of the Global Food and Environment Institute, said: “The practice of spreading crushed rock to improve soil pH is commonplace in many agricultural regions worldwide. 

"The technology and infrastructure already exist to adapt these practices to utilise basalt rock dust. This offers a potentially rapid transition in agricultural practices to help capture CO2 at large scale.” 

Read the full story 

Communicating the pandemic 

Congratulations to Professor Stephen Coleman and Dr Giles Moss – both from the School of Media and Communication – for successfully applying to the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Rapid Response covid-19 funding scheme. 

Their project is titled ‘Communicating the Pandemic: Improving Public Communication and Understanding’, which will explore how the public interprets and understands official sources of health information related to coronavirus. 

The academics will be working with the polling company, Savanta Comres, which will conduct weekly online surveys. Visiting Professor Bill Dutton is also named consultant on the project. 

Robot sanitising public area in Leeds Bradford airportCaption: Robots are being employed to help improve public safety during the pandemic

Employing robots in the fight against covid-19 

Field tests have begun using intelligent robots to prevent the spread of coronavirus in busy public spaces. 

The robots combine navigation, computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify objects that need regular cleaning, such as seating, bike stands and door handles.   

Once a target object is discovered, it is sprayed with a mist of diluted alcohol. The robots can map the area and are able to manoeuvre without bumping into either static or other mobile objects, such as people or animals.    

They have been used in tests in Leeds city centre and in the lounges at Leeds Bradford Airport. 

Joanna Wild, Chief Commercial Officer at Leeds Bradford Airport, said: “As the airport safely re-opens, we will be seeing increasing numbers of people using our facilities. 

“Our staff are working hard to keep the terminal as clean as possible, and we will consider using robots and other technological solutions if that helps our cleaners and members of the public remain covid-19 safe. 

“So far, we have seen that the robots can provide valuable support to our continued efforts in restarting operations.” 

The robots have been developed by researchers involved in the Self-Repairing Cities project, a consortium involving researchers from Leeds, Birmingham and UCL. 

Read the full story 

Operation in hospitalCaption: Research led by Professor Chris Gale has revealed the pandemic’s impact on regular hospital procedures

Thousands missed heart attack treatments during pandemic 

A third of people with heart attacks may not have gone to hospital at the start of the covid-19 pandemic. 

New research shows only two thirds of the expected number of patients with heart attacks were admitted to hospital between the middle of February and the end of March this year.  

By the end of May, admission rates had partially recovered, but remained below expected levels.  

In total, by the end of May, there had been about 5,000 fewer admissions with heart attacks in 2020 than would be expected, suggesting many patients have missed out on lifesaving treatment. 

Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Honorary Consultant Cardiologist and Co-Director of the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics at Leeds, is one of the authors of the study. He said: “One of the unintended consequences of the ‘stay at home’ message during the peak of the pandemic is that fewer people were seeking help for medical emergencies, such as a heart attack.” 

Read the full story 

Solar panel farm in the UKCaption: Leeds research is the basis of a new programme designed to help tackle climate change locally

Tackling climate change through local investment 

A nationwide scheme has been launched to help tackle climate change by encouraging residents to invest in their local councils. 

The programme, based on Leeds research, aims to fund eco-friendly projects, generate jobs and create more appealing interest rates for savers. 

The first of six pilot projects for local government green bonds has been unveiled by West Berkshire Council, with others soon to follow, including in Warrington and Leeds. 

These pioneering bonds, known as a Community Municipal Investment (CMI), have been developed with ethical investment platform Abundance. 

With the potential to be rolled out across every local authority in the UK, CMIs could unlock £3 billion for councils to finance initiatives that neutralise or eliminate carbon emissions – known as net-zero strategies. 

Dr Mark Davis, Associate Professor in the School of Sociology and Social Policy, led the four-year research that underpins the initiative. 

He said: “We know that local authorities are on the frontline of some of the biggest social and environmental challenges our communities face. 

“Despite this, they have lost around 60% of central funding since 2010, have had their usual borrowing channels impacted by rate changes and now have to contend with the covid-19 pandemic. 

“The CMI we created in our research with Abundance is helping to finance local projects that help to tackle the climate emergency and related social crises. 

“And as interest rates for savers are cut to almost zero, the CMI should offer a better long-term return for people. It’s exciting to see our research having such a tangible impact.” 

Read the full story 

Police in LondonCaption: New research will explore what post-lockdown crime will look like in Britain

Predicting the future of crime in post-lockdown Britain  

Police may be able to predict changes in crime patterns as coronavirus lockdown rules are relaxed. 

New research led by Leeds examined how criminals reacted once movement was restricted in England after the pandemic was declared a global health crisis in March. 

As towns and cities were effectively shut down, police reported dramatic – but not unexpected – drops in crime rates nationally. 

Researchers have now linked crime rates with population movement. As lockdown restrictions are eased, or re-imposed in areas such as Leicester, crime patterns may become more predictable. 

Knowing how crime patterns are likely to fluctuate may help stop certain crimes returning to pre-lockdown levels. 

Professor Graham Farrell, of the School of Law, led the research. He said: “The pandemic has shown us a very different perspective on crime – it’s a natural experiment. 

“As we come out of lockdown, we expect crime to rise again. By looking at the link between crime and mobility, we are able to provide police with information about the likelihood of certain crimes reoccurring in certain locations. This in turn will enable police to better plan their resources. 

“It will be some time before lockdown and social distancing ends completely, so in the meantime we need to look at ways to stop crime returning to its previous levels.” 

Professor Farrell is working with colleagues at Leeds, University College London and three police forces on the 18-month project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council

Read the full story 

Leeds Creative Labs go virtual 

The Cultural Institute is inviting applications from academic staff from any discipline to join Leeds Creative Labs: Virtual Edition and collaborate with artists. 

Leeds Creative Labs is an innovative programme, which since 2012 has matched creative and academic partners in a playful, open collaboration that encourages discussion and exploration, with no brief other than to see what happens. 

This ‘virtual’ edition aims to inspire and challenge researchers and academics to work with collaborative partners in order to develop new ideas, without physically requiring participants to meet. Applicants are asked to dedicate three days (at their mutual convenience) to the programme.  

The Cultural Institute matches each successful applicant or team to an artist selected by an expert panel from an open call. Matches are based not only on areas of professional interest, but also on a shared sense of curiosity and ambition.  

Working in multi-disciplinary teams is a great opportunity to gain collaborative experience, insight into communicating research and time to reflect on one’s own research methods.  

Past participants have produced an extraordinary diversity of results, including large research grants; cross-disciplinary research partnerships; monographs and journals; prototypes of products; awards for public engagement; new pedagogies for student education; performances and artistic installations.  

Upon completing the Leeds Creative Labs, participants join Leeds Creative Labs Alumni, a community of previous participants from arts, HE and business. Through this network, participants receive ongoing opportunities to continue their work and support to take collaborations forward from the initial idea stage to the creation of new work, activity and material.  

The deadline for applications is midnight on Sunday 23 August. Download the application pack for further information. 

Water@Leeds logoCaption: water@leeds’ confluence goes virtual this year!

Register for the water@leeds Virtual Confluence 2020 

Colleagues can now register to take part in the annual water@leeds Virtual Confluence on Thursday 10 September. 

Using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, the event provides an opportunity to network and develop new collaborations. 

Register via Eventbrite to talk about all things related to water. 

New members and attendees will be welcome as this event is a chance to share new ideas, ongoing work and expertise, and look for potential new collaborations across all disciplines. 

There will be an opportunity for you to share your research or project ideas with other colleagues during the ‘lightning talk’ session. Register via this form if you would like to give a lightning talk. 

Plan S to allow publishing in any journal 

Plan S funded researchers can publish in any journal they wish – including subscription journals.  

Plan S funders will change their grant requirements so that a CC-BY license is applied to all author-accepted manuscripts by default.  

Researchers must inform their publisher the submission is already licensed under CC-BY and make the author-accepted manuscript available in a compliant repository at the point of publication.  

Funders will change their grant conditions from 2021 onwards, overriding any journal policy. However, it is hoped that publishers will align their agreements to allow zero embargoes for author-accepted manuscripts. Publishers including Sage and Emerald have already adopted such policies. 

Plan S seeks to transfer sufficient intellectual ownership rights to the author instead of the publisher, to ensure that authors can publish where they want to while still satisfying the requirement for full and immediate open access. 

Plan S funded researchers can also publish in journals that have signed up to a transformative agreement, whereby costs for both subscriptions and publishing have been paid upfront so that researchers can publish without an article processing charge. Or they can publish in a transformative journal – a hybrid journal that has committed to becoming fully open access for an article processing charge. 

Be Curious 2020Caption: Be Curious 2020 takes to the web to deliver world-leading research to your homes

Get involved with Be Curious 2020 

Following the success of #BeCuriousGoesVirtual earlier this year, preparations are underway to ensure you can enjoy even more world-leading research from the comfort of your own home. 

The latest physical instalment of the hugely popular open day, which is designed to engage the public in the pioneering studies undertaken at Leeds by showcasing some of our world-leading research in an easily accessible format, was due to be held on campus on Saturday 10 October. 

But with ongoing social distancing measures in place across campus to protect the health of staff, students and visitors, Be Curious 2020 will go online instead. Launching on Saturday 10 October with a full day of live events, the virtual version will run until Friday 23 October. 

To register your interest in showcasing your research, read the guidelines for taking part and complete the online form by 5pm on Friday 21 August. 

Planning and communications for the event will take place in the Engaged Research Microsoft Team. Colleagues will be added to the Team after making a submission. 

Please contact the Public Engagement team for further information. 

August break 

Research Round-up will be taking a short break for August and will return in September. 

We know that there are still lots of great things happening across the University in these testing times, and we still want to hear about them. 

Please follow the staff Twitter account to see the latest updates and copy in our @UniLeedsStaff handle when posting success stories, so we can share them with colleagues. 

You can also contact Internal Communications directly if you or one of your colleagues would like to appear in this monthly feature. This is open to all staff – professional and academic. 

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