Festival of Research celebrates excellence

A week-long showcase of research excellence at Swansea University gets underway on Monday, February 25. The Festival of Research, coordinated by the University’s Bridging the Gaps programme (BTG), runs until Friday, March 1, and features a stimulating programme of events, promoting the best of Swansea University’s globally significant research advances.

The festival’s public events are free of charge and all are welcome – undergraduate and postgraduate students, University support and academic staff, visitors, guests, and interested members of the public.

Public lectures…

Professor Andrew Blake, Microsoft Distinguished Scientist and Laboratory Director, Microsoft Research Cambridge, will open the festival with a keynote public lecture, Building a Machine that Sees, on the morning of Monday, February 25.

Professor Blake’s lecture will incorporate illustrations and demonstrations of machine vision systems – machines with the gift of sight, albeit to a degree which is primitive compared to human or animal ability – which contribute to our understanding of intelligence.

These systems include, for example, face detection in consumer cameras; self-driving cars; systems that can recognise up to 1,000 different kinds of objects; and the Kinect camera that recognises gestures – partly developed in Professor Blake’s laboratory in Cambridge.

Other festival highlights include an additional opportunity to hear Professor Dave Worsley, Research Director of the Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings (SPECIFIC) project, give his sell-out Cheltenham Science Festival presentation on Future Buildings: Delivering clean, renewable, energy from the built environment, on the evening of Monday, February 25.

Professor Worsley and his team are developing game-changing materials (tinyurl.com/SPECIFICvideo) to transform our buildings into mini power stations, forcing us to think very differently about harvesting solar energy to cut carbon emissions, create jobs and, not least, help address global concerns about the future security of our energy supplies.

Their research is directly changing how future buildings will be constructed and will have a direct influence upon modern and future societies.

Another public lecture, Unsafe in Any Bed, will be given by Professor Harold Thimbleby, Director of the Future Interaction Technology Lab (FitLab) at Swansea University’s Department of Computer Science and Professor Ross Koppel of the University of Pennsylvania’s Sociology Department and School of Medicine, on Tuesday, February 26.

Professor Koppel, globally recognised as a leading scholar in his field, will present examples of Healthcare IT and explore why so much of it fails to respond to the needs of clinicians and patients. Professor Thimbleby, a leading specialist in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), will show how many of these problems arise from design failings that remain invisible until it is often too late.

In discussion with the audience, they will consider how these problems can be avoided, so patients are safer, and respond to ideas for improved healthcare in our increasingly computer-dominated hospitals.

A special public event, Researching the Industrial and Post-Industrial Communities of the Swansea Valley, will take place on Wednesday, February 27, to mark the next stage in the Cymunedau Cysylltiedig project.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and working closely with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and other partners, the bilingual project, which is led by Professor Huw Bowen of the University’s College of Arts and Humanities, has built sustainable links between the University and local community groups and continues to support and develop local community research.

It will also considerably enhance the Cu@Swansea Project, the exciting initiative led by the University in partnership with the City and County of Swansea, to develop the 12½ acre site of the former Hafod and Morfa Copperworks in the Lower Swansea Valley.

The event will include an introductory talk on the future of the Swansea Valley’s industrial past given by Professor Bowen, followed by several presentations from six local Heritage Lottery Fund community projects that, as part of the Cymunedau Cysylltiedig project, are producing community-focused heritage research.  The event will conclude with a screening of several short films about the project.

Chris Marshall, a doctoral research student in the University’s College of Arts and Humanities, will give a lunchtime lecture on Thursday, February 26, entitled The Promised Land? Barack Obama and Martin Luther King’s “Dream”.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech. As Barack Obama, the US’ first African-American president, embarks upon his second term of office, this lecture explores how President Obama has positioned himself as heir to the “Dream”, how he wrote himself into the narrative of the civil rights movement, and what his election has really meant for race relations in America.

Mr Marshall, who works in the University’s Planning and Strategic Projects Unit, is a doctoral research student in English. His research is focussed on how Obama presented his biracial ancestry as a metaphor for an idealised, post-racial America that could be realised with his election as President, and how the 2007/2008 election campaign provides a foundation for a new theory of guilt redemption rhetoric.


Among the exhibitions and displays running throughout the festival week are:

Bridging the Gaps (BTG): Creating impact through interdisciplinary research, in the Wallace Building Foyer, which will feature some of the 50 inter and cross-disciplinary projects from across the University which BTG has funded. Many of these projects have brought together national and international collaborators and have given researchers invaluable experience of working across discipline and cultural boundaries

The Best of SURF Research as Art Competition, in the Digital Technium Atrium, including many of the images recently displayed at the Royal Institution in London, which attracted media interest from as far afield as the USA, China, and Greece.  Organised by Dr Richard Johnston, Lecturer in the College of Engineering’s Materials Research Centre, the Research as Art competition continues to develop, providing astonishing insights into the world of academic research.

The Postgraduate Research Poster Competition, in the James Callaghan Building Foyer (ground level). This year, expert training and coaching through the Academic and Professional Enhancement Centre Swansea (APECS) and the University’s academic Colleges has delivered an exciting, diverse range, some of which will be on show at the Postgraduate Research Poster Competition Exhibition, which demonstrates not only the quality of work being undertaken at Swansea, but its breadth and impact.

Professor Richard B Davies, Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University, said: “This Festival of Research showcases Swansea’s leading-edge work and celebrates the vitality of the research environment now firmly established at the University. 

“The festival, which is currently the only one of its kind in Wales, has engaged and attracted contributions not only from our own early career and world-class researchers, but has also brought other renowned scholars to Swansea.  These include, in particular, Professor Andrew Blake and Professor Ross Koppel – two of the most prominent figures in the fields of computer science and medical informatics respectively, who we are delighted to welcome.

“In an increasingly technological and culturally rich world, we all need to understand the benefits and potential concerns around research developments which may affect us.  This impressive and diverse week-long programme of events will enable a wide audience to access, debate, and discuss these globally significant advances and issues that surround ‘research’.”

Professor Harold Thimbleby, the Bridging the Gaps’ Principal Investigator and one of the festival’s speakers, said: “Our Festival of Research publicly celebrates the great variety of the University’s research, with its connections to the local community and to the world and beyond.

“There are competitions, exhibitions, public talks, art, history, science, sport, theology... the festival’s superb programme samples right across everything the University does. There is everything, fun and serious, to intrigue and stimulate."

For more information about Swansea University’s Festival of Research, including the full programme of events, visit http://www.swan.ac.uk/festival-of-research/, email: btg@swansea.ac.uk, or call 01792 606669.