Interdisciplinary blog

MDR Vacation Bursary Project: Modelling Co-evolution of Transport and Land Use

July 30, 2013
by Rory Devonport

By Rory Devonport, undergraduate student (MEng Civil Engineering), Faculty of Engineering and the Environment.


As a third year civil engineering student, I am well aware of the major, on-going projects within the UK specific to the improvement of transportation networks (for example Crossrail and HS2). Whilst it is expected and observed that such projects spur economic growth, there is a lack of quantitative approaches which directly allow the prediction of the impact of transportation improvements on urban development and of urban land use on transportation networks simultaneously.

Rory Devonport Transport and Land UseThere is of course a profound relationship between functional land use (and land development), and the capability and geometry of the connecting transportation links. Strong transportation links supporting an area can facilitate growth through increasing the attractiveness of the land, providing incentives for further investment in transportation, resulting in a strong positive feedback loop. Furthermore, the converse is also true, where poor transport links or a reduction in land use or resources will result in a loop of negative growth for developed urban land.

The principle goal of this project is therefore to create a model which demonstrates and is able to provide understanding of this co-dependent relationship. The land use model will take the form of an array, each cell representing an area of discreet land use type (variants of residential, commercial, industrial are expected) which provide an influence over the land use of local cell to replicate the formation of land use clusters replicating real urban areas (CBD, Suburbs, Sub-centres etc.) These will be facilitated by and exert demand on an overlaying transportation network which, in adapting in parallel to support the land-use requirements, provides means for further growth and expansion of the land use clusters and the developed urban area.

In order to achieve this, relationships between areas of both differing and similar land use must be established to determine their spatial and transport requirements. This may be obtained from the rich array of existing literature dating back more than half a century, which establishes these relationships and provide quantitative procedures, such as those finding the accessibility of land use zones. The key difference between many of these previous models and approaches however is the attempt of this project to implement the co-evolution of the land-use transport system.

Naturally, the computational model produced from this project will provide a foundation for future projects contemplating and addressing specific questions and ideas which can be represented within the developed model. By creating the model as a framework to understand the consequences of the co-evolution, the model can then be continually improved through further research for example in either improved calibration of attraction-repulsion relationships between different land use types, the impact of physical constraints (e.g. a coastal city) on the co-evolution or long term consequences of the transport policies and investment decisions of the city authorities.


Supervisor: Dr Ben Waterson

MDR Vacation Bursary blog series available at:


Making Digital: Visual Approaches to the Digital Humanities

July 29, 2013
by Nicole Beale via Digital Humanities | Digital Humanities

Over the past few months Gareth and I have been lucky enough to be involved in a project working with artists from Winchester School of Art to develop a series of training events looking at the relationship between art and archaeology.  This project has been a fantastic experience. Later this week, we are all going to EVA London 2013 to …

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‘The Internship’ : Precarious Work Futures #2

July 25, 2013
by Pauline Leonard via Work Thought Blog

  The smiling faces of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson currently decorating the sides of many local buses are advertising a new film called ‘The Internship’. Their cheerful demeanor informs us that the film is a comedy-but the rising number of internships appearing in the UK and European youth labour markets is far from a […]

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MDR Vacation Bursary Project: Modelling forest growth to determine future sustainable forest harvest rates in Southern Malawi

July 25, 2013
by Luke Goater

By Emma Green, undergraduate student (Master of Environmental Science), Faculty of Engineering and the Environment.


I am about to start the fourth year of my degree in Masters of Environmental Science: Sustainable Management pathway. I have really enjoyed the multidisciplinary approach that my degree course has offered me so far and to further my experience I have always wanted to go abroad to carry out research for my dissertation in order to experience a different culture, whilst using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) as a mapping tool. I was fortunate to gain this opportunity in collaboration with the ESPA’s (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) ASSETS (Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems through Trade-off Scenarios) project which currently has research bases in Malawi, Columbia and Peru focussing on poverty – environment interactions and food security. I have chosen to carry out research into forest growth rates in Malawi, as this affects many aspects of people’s livelihoods.

Emma GreenWith a team of seven other Southampton students, I recently spent a month in Zomba, situated in Southern Malawi. I collected forest, settlement, cropland and grassland plot data within four villages across the region to gain a better understanding of the type and number of trees that occur in different land uses. I also undertook individual and group interviews with members of local communities, focussing on the management practices that occur and will support this with secondary data gained from household surveys.

This will provide me with the information I need to model the current and future growth and off-take rates of trees in the region, using three forest growth rate models – LPJ GUESS, SYMFOR and MYRLIN. I am then hoping to map the tree cover across the four villages and finally combining all of my findings to determine if the current off-take rates are sustainable.

I now have until May next year to insert the data I have collected into forest growth models in order to attain if the current rate of wood off-take is sustainable. I am hoping that my research will enable the villagers to manage their resources in a more sustainable way, which will improve their livelihoods in the future.  I have really enjoyed the experience of researching in another country and hopefully the experience I have gained will help me with whatever I would like to do after I have completed my degree!


Supervisor: Simon Willcock.


MDR Vacation Bursary blog series available at:


Further details about Ecosystem Services research carried out by the University of Southampton can be found on the Sustainability Science at Southampton website:


MDR Vacation Bursary Project: Graphene Oxide – Gold Nanoparticle Assemblies for Use in Plasmonic Solar Cells

July 24, 2013
by Liam Kiessling

By Liam Kiessling, undergraduate student (Physics (MPhys)), Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering.

As a third year physicist, learning to work in a chemistry lab and all the techniques involved in this environment is a challenge but an enjoyable one. What I find most appealing about research into nanotechnology is the ability to take new materials from concepts, to synthesis and eventually into applications for these new materials. Most things in this area are thought up by a physicist, made by a chemist and used by a biologist or doctor. When given the opportunity to work in such a hot area of research, I had to take it.

Liam Kiessling University of SouthamptonI will be working with a graphene derivative, graphene oxide, as the base for nanoscale assemblies of DNA and gold nanoparticles. Once we have confirmed that we have created these structures, with UV-Vis spectroscopy and TEM imaging, we will send samples off to get them blended into a solar cell, with the hope that the combination of all three things will increase the energy conversion efficiency over a cell without these structures. If successful, we could see these solar cells in use in mobile phones and other portable electronics so that they would require little or no charging from mains power sources; easing our dependence on fossil fuels for electricity generation.


I will be continuing this project into my master’s year where I will be looking to make ever more complex structures. Future structures could include: sandwiches of graphene with nanospheres between; paired nanospheres attached to the graphene; exchanging the nanospheres for other shapes (nanorods, nanostars, etc.); and possibly exchanging the gold for other materials (platinum, copper selenide, iron oxide, etc.). We will be running multiple tests on these structures as well to see if there are other potential applications for these which may include: biosensors, batteries, capacitors or display devices.


Supervisor: Dr. Antonios Kanaras.


MDR Vacation Bursary blog series available at:


MDR Vacation Bursary Project: Assessing the cultural values of land uses in Malawi: An ecosystem services approach.

July 23, 2013
by Luke Goater


By Sophie Van Eetvelt, undergraduate student (Master of Environmental Science), Faculty of Engineering and the Environment.

I’m just about to start the fourth and final year of a Master of Environmental Science in the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment. I’ve chosen the sustainable management pathway and enjoy the breadth of topics that my degree covers, however I never thought I’d end up researching cultural ecosystem services! Ecosystem services are a rapidly emerging area of research and it’s exciting to be part of such a new and dynamic field. I’d already decided that I wanted to conduct my dissertation research broadly around poverty-environment interactions and then the opportunity to work with ESPA’s (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) ASSETS (Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems through Trade-off Scenarios) project in Malawi came up.


Malawi ASSETS project. Sophie Van EetveltWorking with a field team of six other Southampton students, I’ve spent a month in the Zomba region of southern Malawi. I conducted group interviews and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercises in four villages in order to gain a better understanding of cultural ecosystem services, a generally neglected part of ecosystem service research.  I am looking to understand the spatial distribution of such services, their current status and how they have changed in the past and may change in the future, and finally to critically analyse the methodology behind assessing cultural ecosystem services. I’m particularly interested in critiquing the use of a rapid appraisal approach for such a qualitative and spatially variable subject.

I now have just under a year to compile my data and produce a journal article-style dissertation. I’ve really enjoyed working in the field conducting PRA’s and it has definitely made me more aware of the possibilities for further research in this area after graduation. ESPA ASSETS has established research bases in Malawi, Colombia and now Peru – so who knows where this area of expertise will take me in the future!


Supervisors: Kate Schrekenberg, Kelvin Peh, Simon Willcock.


MDR Vacation Bursary blog series available at:


Further details about Ecosystem Services research carried out by the University of Southampton can be found on the Sustainability Science at Southampton website:


Gender and Digital Culture

July 22, 2013
by Jim Osborne via Digital Humanities | Digital Humanities

The Gender and Digital Culture Project is currently running its inaugural survey, and we need your help to enable us to understand how gender informs the ways people use digital communication in their professional lives. You can go to the survey right away by clicking here, or continue reading to find out more about the project itself. Part of the …

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Monday’s DE lunch postponed

July 19, 2013
by Lisa Harris via Digital Economy USRG

Please note that Ben Mawson’s talk advertised for Monday 22nd July has been postponed until 14th October. A full list of Digital Economy Autumn events will be available from this site shortly. On Monday you may wish to attend this Web Science DTC event instead: Our next guest lecture is on Monday (22nd July) in […]

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MDR Vacation Bursary Project: Investigating visual search behaviour during the monitoring of heat maps

July 18, 2013
by Florence Greber


By Florence Greber, undergraduate student (BSc Psychology), School of Psychology, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences.

After being a Volunteer Research Assistant during my second year in the field of eye tracking and visual cognition, I am now working on a project linking Ship Science with this area of Psychology. Eye tracking is a method of measuring eye movements, which consist of fixations and saccades. Fixation locations and durations can be measured using an eye tracker which uses a video camera to measure the movements of the eye while participants are engaged with a visual task. The data gathered can tell us about how we process visual scenes, especially during visual tasks. I will be using a specific type of task, called visual search, to study behaviour. Visual search typically involves asking participants to search for a specific target amongst a set of non-target objects.

copyright BIS.govControl centres in ships and nuclear power stations create the need for humans to monitor and respond to a vast number of changing dials and control boards which are in a state of constant change. Within my interdisciplinary project, I will be examining eye movements made during a visual search task that is designed to mimic these types of complex monitoring environments. The key question that I will be addressing is how do we choose where to look and when to shift our gaze when engaged with complex monitoring tasks?

We are unable to process the visual information from all of the control panels simultaneously, so we make eye movements to focus on specific segments within them. These eye movements differ in duration and location. In a task where the displays are constantly changing and need to be monitored, a balance needs to be struck between spending time in one area monitoring the information without missing important information being presented elsewhere. This is vitally important in control centres as failing to notice a change or warning could have serious consequences.

I will be using a simplified version of these complex displays in my experiment. I will be presenting participants with a ‘heat map’ display. They will be asked to imagine they are in a power station control room, and that they must keep the system cool. The heat map will change in temperature over time, and participants will be asked to locate and click on hotspots to cool them down. Their eye movements will be measured while they complete the task. The key variables that will be manipulated experimentally will be the rate of change in the displays and the number of targets presented.

In the future, the heat map paradigm will be developed to explore the influences of individual differences and anxiety on visual search behaviour. A new PhD student will begin in the School of Psychology in October 2013 using this paradigm so a large number of experiments will follow the foundational work conducted as part of this bursary.

This Vacation Bursary project is supervised by Dr. Hayward Godwin.


MDR Vacation Bursary blog series available at:


MDR Vacation Bursary Project: Heterogeneous catalysts

July 18, 2013
by Jamie Purkis


Design of single-site, heterogeneous catalysts for the energy efficient production of nylon precursors from renewable and biomass sources

By Jamie Purkis, undergraduate student, Chemistry, Faculty of Natural and the Environmental Sciences

I am a second year chemistry student currently studying for a Master of Science in Chemistry (MSc); part of which involves weekly undergraduate laboratory practicals.

After completing a practical on the synthesis of an ‘aluminophosphate’ catalyst (solid-state materials that can increase the rate of chemical reactions), I researched the field further and decided to apply for a summer project in the synthesis and characterisation of these materials.

jamie purkis copyrightWorking under the supervision of Dr. Robert Raja and his research group, the project involves the careful design and testing of porous, heterogeneous catalysts made from aluminium and phosphorous precursors. Creating a reaction of these in water under high temperature and pressure, aluminophosphate catalysts can be synthesised. By subtly changing the composition of this reaction, the ratios of aluminium and phosphorous or even new elements, like cobalt and magnesium, can be incorporated into the catalyst framework, changing its properties.

Catalysts are then used in a variety of chemical transformations; for example, conversion of crude oil into petrol and diesel. Of particular interest to this project, however, is the industrial production of nylon, a very common polymer with a range of everyday applications (clothing, for example).

Traditionally, the production of nylon involves energy-intensive processes and environmentally-damaging reagents, some of which are harmful and can contribute to the emission of carbon dioxide by using lots of energy. The by-products from nylon production can also end up in landfill; not at all a ‘green’ process.

Nylon can be synthesised via intermediate chemicals, which can ultimately be derived from renewable plant sugars, like glucose and fructose. By designing and testing these catalysts, we aim to optimise its production from a range of possible renewable sources – so-called “green chemistry”. Using chemicals from plants obviously makes the process more renewable, and less energy-intensive, requiring less harmful reagents (the catalysis can even be done using oxygen from the air). Fewer non-renewable waste chemicals are produced and liberation of greenhouse gases can be mitigated.

Reducing waste and using less energy is clearly desirable for industry, making this area an ever-expanding field with a wide scope for development on the research done on this project. The synthesis, characterisation and screening of a range of aluminophosphate catalysts may also be developed further, with each one being tested for the efficiency of transformation processes. Therefore, industrial catalysis represents a possible avenue for my final year project or even a PhD research project.

MDR Vacation Bursary blog series available at: