Imperial College London

Sustainable growth and energy insights: News from the College

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A Brazilian rainforest, looking from the floor up to the canopy

Here’s a batch of fresh news and announcements from across Imperial.

From new models of Brazilian investment without ecological destruction, to fresh insights into photosynthesis, here is some quick-read news from across the College.

Brazil's (and the world's) climate conundrum

A Brazilian rainforestAs one of the world's ten largest economies, Brazil has the potential for a unique model of economic progress. But with the recent wave of deforestation and fire in the Amazon, this potential is under threat and Brazil must find a new recipe for sustainable growth.  

In a recent article for IB Knowledge, Dr Charles Donovan, Director of the Centre for Climate Finance & Investment, and his co-authors Janaina Stewart-Richardson and Alexandre Koberle, explain how Brazil has become an important testing ground for global investment which does not further increase the probability of ecological destruction. Read the full article: Brazil’s (and the world’s) climate conundrum

Farming and infectious disease

A man working with palm oil fruit in Thailand
Oil palm farmers are among those with the greatest risk

Living and working on a farm can drive up your risk of infectious diseases, according to analysis from Imperial’s School of Public Health.

Using data from more than 30 studies, the team found that people who live or work in agricultural land in Southeast Asia are on average around twice as likely to be infected with pathogens like hookworm, malaria, Scrub typhus and Spotted fever, compared to people who don’t. The type of farmland was also important, with oil palm, rubber, and non-poultry based livestock farming carrying the greatest risk.

Hiral Shah, first author on the paper, said the work provides “critical additional evidence” for the impact on human health to be included when looking how to make agriculture more sustainable.

Read the full paper in Nature Communications.

Best paper award

Dr Ileana Stigliani stands in her office
Dr Ileana Stigliani

Business School academic Dr Ileana Stigliani has been awarded the Journal of Management Studies Best Paper 2018 for a paper about how organisations are harnessing the emerging area of “Service Design” to make themselves stand out from their competitors. “Service Design” is the process that companies use to design their products and services to match the needs of their customers. It can be used to either transform an existing service or create a new one.

Dr Stigliani’s paper sets out how, by using the label “Service Design”, company founders have enhanced their reputation by creating distinctive brands for their organisations, as well as a new identity for their whole industry.

Dr Stigliani is an expert in Design Thinking, which she teaches on Imperial’s MBA, MSc and Executive programmes. She said: “I’m delighted to receive this prize from the Academy of Management and I hope this award helps raise visibility of the great work Imperial is doing within Design Thinking and Service Design.”

Sickle cell history

A young African child getting examined by a doctorNew research led by Professor Tom Williams, Chair in Haemoglobinopathy Research, has revealed the natural history of sickle cell disease, a major cause of illness and death among children in sub-Saharan Africa. Conducted in Kilifi, Kenya, this work is the most detailed of its kind to be conducted in a low-income African setting.

Published in Lancet Global Health, the research found that even with the most basic of medical interventions, including early diagnosis and simple treatments to prevent common complications, up to 90% of those affected can survive to the age of 5. This highlights the need for further studies to investigate the best methods to prevent longer-term complications of the disease.

Read the full paper at The Lancet: The epidemiology of sickle cell disease in children recruited in infancy in Kilifi, Kenya: a prospective cohort study

Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow

Dr Thomas Haworth in front of a telescopeDr Thomas Haworth, from the Department of Physics, has been appointed a Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow by the Royal Society.

The scheme is for outstanding scientists and engineers in the UK at an early stage of their research career who require a flexible working pattern due to personal circumstances such as parenting or caring responsibilities.

Dr Haworth, one of eight new Fellows for 2019, researches how planets are born in flat discs of material orbiting young stars. Using simulations and observations, he investigates how different environments can affect planet-forming discs and their resulting number and type of planets.

Dr Haworth said: “Being awarded this fellowship makes a huge difference to my career. I’m very excited about the science that lies ahead and extremely grateful to the Royal Society for selecting me.”

New Admissions Pilots

Pathways to Medicine StudentsImperial is to pilot changes to its admissions system, as part of its ambitious plans to widen access and boost diversity. 

From 2020 entry, various academic departments will trial changes such as offering guaranteed interviews, guaranteed offers, and guaranteed standard minimum offers to widening participation applicants who meet minimum entry standards. The School of Medicine will also be piloting contextual offers to widening participation students. 

The pilots form part of Imperial’s wider five year plan to attract the best and brightest students, taking into account factors such as the economic and social background of applicants. 

Read more about Imperial’s Access and Participation Plan.

Energy accounting in photosynthesis

Close-up of a leafResearchers have discovered how energy is used during a key part of photosynthesis.

In photosynthesis, light splits water and removes electrons from it, before transporting the electrons to where sugar is made with the addition of CO2.

Quinone, a molecule that carries electrons in this process, picks up two electrons when in a special pocket in the membrane of the water-splitting enzyme and moves them to the next enzyme in the sequence.

For decades, key aspects of how this quinone works have remained a mystery. Researchers at Imperial have now monitored the quinone while loading it with electrons. They found that the pocket controls the reactivity of the quinone, preventing wasteful and damaging reactions with oxygen and controlling its binding and release, ensuring optimum function.

Read more in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Ryan O'Hare

Ryan O'Hare
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Priscilla Owusu

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Andrew Youngson

Andrew Youngson
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