Why should we take science to the City?

Science in the City 1edit

Following last month’s inaugural Science in the City event, Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute, reflects on why it is important to take academia beyond the walls of the universities.

Last month, I went to ING Bank’s London offices with Dr Tamaryn Napp, Research Mitigation Associate at the Grantham Institute. Dr Napp, pictured above, was giving a lecture to a room packed with ING staff about the future technologies required to achieve a low-carbon future. She covered everything from energy efficiency techniques like roof insulation, to negative emission technologies and hydrogen-based aviation.

It was the first event in our Science in the City lecture series, where different businesses host Imperial College London academics to give a short talk and answer questions on the science behind environmental challenges like climate change, and the potential solutions. And it was a great start, clearly showing the power of world-class research to open the minds of business people.

I heard some audible gasps from the audience as they heard about the scale of the challenges ahead, and the discussion that followed Dr Napp’s talk was fascinating too. We heard from bankers responsible for project financing and real estate about how they are trying to integrate sustainability into their decisions. Their questions showed an active interest in driving the financial sector to support solutions.

The two-way dialogue that this kind of event encourages is so important. Inhabiting the academic bubble, researchers can easily overlook how the findings of their work are applicable to those on the outside. Similarly, academic study is greatly enhanced  by learning more about the challenges people face when they actively try to solve environmental problems.

Gerald Walker, CEO at ING, touched on this in his opening address: “I am incredibly proud of our achievements in sustainable transitions lending, including our number one ranking of banks globally by Sustainalytics and our green bond being named Bond of the Year. We have high ambitions to take our sustainability credentials further within our organisation. The best place to start is with our people, sharing knowledge on sustainability in all areas of our firm and taking that message across the city.”

Dr Napp told me afterwards that it was “encouraging to see that ING bank is placing sustainability high on its agenda. Now we need more organisations from the financial sector to follow their lead. Support for the climate change agenda should no longer be confined to engineers and policy-makers. The banking and investment community have a huge role to play in driving forward investment in low carbon technologies by, for example, developing innovative financing solutions to overcome barriers.”

Translating Imperial research into information for audiences outside academia is core to our mission at the Grantham Institute, and it is for this reason that we are working with a number of companies to take science to their staff in and around London. Our next event takes place later today at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where Imperial physicists Dr Ned Ekins-Daukes and Grantham PhD student Philip Sandwell will talk about solar power and economic growth.

We hope to continue to grow and strengthen our connections with people working in businesses, so if you think your company might like to host Science in the City in the future, please do get in touch with me on a.gilbert@imperial.ac.uk.

For more information on today’s Science in the City talk, read the briefing papers written by Philip Sandwell and his colleagues – Supporting rural electrification in developing countries.

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