The University of Southampton

Southampton researchers shortlisted for national public engagement award

Published: 9 June 2014

Three University of Southampton research projects have been shortlisted for a national award, which recognises their public engagement work.

The projects are all nominated for awards in the Engage Competition 2014 run by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE). The projects, which were chosen from over 230 entries, include ECS' Erica the Rhino.

Led by a team in Electronics and Computer Science including Dr Kirk Martinez and Dr Reena Pau, Erica the Rhino was created in 2013 as part of Marwell Wildlife’s Go! Rhinos campaign, which aimed to highlight the conservation threat facing rhinos. Erica was one of a series of rhinos created by local artists that appeared around Southampton throughout the summer. Using small low-power computers, she was unique in her interactivity: among other digital functions, she tweeted, changed colour and could learn about her environment with both short and long term memory. The technology formed the basis for regular workshops held in the Marlands shopping centre throughout the school holidays.

Other University of Southampton projects which have also been shortlisted are:

• The Marine Engineering Connections project, led by Dr Steve Dorney, turned routine 40-minute sea crossings across the Solent into exciting engineering journeys. During the summer of 2013, marine engineers from the University and industrial partners were trained in the skills of science-busking, to showcase their engineering expertise on a popular ferry-route in the peak tourist season. Holiday passengers traveling to and from the Isle of Wight on board WightLink’s flagship ferry, the St.Clair, were able to meet the engineers and explore the impact of marine and maritime engineering in a fun, engaging and educational manner.

• Celestial Sirens, led by Dr Laurie Stras, is an amateur female-voice choir, which recreates the musical world of sixteenth-century convents. With a membership drawn from across the South – from Dorchester to Eastbourne – the choir has been active since 2002 and has participated in two award-winning recordings. The choir also participated in a tour of the UK and Ireland in a dramatisation of Sarah Dunant’s novel, Sacred Hearts, which starred Niamh Cusack and Deborah Findlay.

Professor Judith Petts, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Southampton, says: “We are delighted to have three finalists in the NCCPE competition. We believe that it is really important for researchers to engage with the public in a host of innovative and effective ways, and these projects exemplify why it matters.

“From inspiring young people with new advances in knowledge, to encouraging members of the public to contribute to research, it is clear that public engagement at the University is thriving.”

Winners will be announced at the national Engage Competition Awards ceremony on Wednesday 11 June at the Natural History Museum. The competition forms part of Universities Week, a week-long celebration of public engagement with research, which is taking place across the UK from 9 to 15 June. As part of the week, some of the finalists will be showcasing their work at a free event at the Natural History Museum on Wednesday 11 June from 6-10pm.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Universities UK, says: “The NCCPE competition has provided an excellent vehicle for universities’ engagement with the public to be recognised during Universities Week, which this year aims to inspire the public about world-leading research taking place in higher education. The standard and sheer volume of entries received is a reflection of the increasing trend for UK researchers and the public to work together. Public engagement is important to the success of the higher education sector and as part of that the NCCPE plays a pivotal role in supporting universities to engage with the public.”

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