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UCL events news and reviews


Social Physics in the Big City

By Clare S Ryan, on 12 December 2012

CASA’s ENFOLDing group used real data from the
London riots and contagion modelling principles to
create a riot model that could be used to identify
areas of high risk and predict the outcome of
police response.

So what the heck is “social physics” anyway? That’s probably the question that most people who rocked up to Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick’s Lunch Hour Lecture, Social Physics in the Big City, were thinking to themselves.

No offence, but physicists aren’t exactly famed for their social brilliance (as Martin is quick to point out). However, having met Martin before, I was slightly more optimistic.

It turns out that Martin (who describes himself as a social physicist FYI) has some fairly hefty academic forefathers including 19th century French philosopher Auguste Comte (sadly not related to the delicious French cheese) and his contemporary, the mathematician and sociologist Adolphe Quatelet.

These two had the idea of using maths to predict the future of society – an aim they had in common with later thinkers such as Karl Marx (big ideas, less successful when it came to undermining capitalism in the long run) and Isaac Asimov (great science fiction author, less great academic).


Smart Cities: exhibition and conference

By news editor, on 24 April 2012

Last Friday (April 20th), more than 350 members of the public attended the ‘Smart Cities: Bridging Physical and Digital’ open day, hosted by the Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA).

The full day of talks, accompanied by the ‘Smart Cities’ exhibition, was aimed at opening a discussion on the meaning behind the Smart City and, perhaps more importantly, how to make it a reality.

Four articles covering the day’s highlights and research announcements appeared in Wired with a further two in New Scientist and finally a mention in the Independent, helping to make the event one of the most successful in the history of CASA.


Night of nearly 1,000 stars

By news editor, on 18 November 2011

Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick, (UCL Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis) recounts his experience of taking to the stage at the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre.

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to be small glimmer amongst a constellation of researchers as Bright Club: Stars took to the stage of the Bloomsbury Theatre. For the uninitiated, Bright Club was originated by Steve Cross at UCL, and is a night where researchers and academics perform ten-minute ‘sets’ about their work.

The spots have to be funny, engaging and entertaining – Bright Club is not a conference, and the sets aren’t lectures – so not for nothing has it been called “research stand-up”. Of course, a researcher doing mother-in-law gags would be no funnier than any other new comedian doing mother-in-law gags – what makes it come alive for me is the way the researchers instead create stories, jokes and explorations of their subjects, with all the passion and absurdity that comes with them. (more…)

Talking jumpers and tweeting bus stops

By Clare S Ryan, on 14 September 2011

What if the room you’re sitting in right now could talk? Or your pen could tweet? Today at the British Science Festival UCL academic Dr Andy Hudson-Smith (UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis) presented his intriguing tales of things project which aims to create a social network of things and, ultimately, the geography of everything.

In a press conference to some (slightly confused) national science journalists Dr Hudson-Smith introduced us to a world where the things around us have their own online presence, where their movements are mapped and they can even talk. The tales of things project uses QR code technology to allow people to add information about things to an online profile. I’ve written up a press release for more information.

A nice example from the press conference was a stripey jumper in an Oxfam shop which, when scanned with the average smart phone, starts playing an audio file from its previous owner who describes how she wore the jumper the first time she met her ex-boyfriend.  There are also a series of bus stops in Norway, which have been tagged with the technology and can tweet the next bus times, and allow people to add their own information – for example a video about somebody losing their gloves!

Is this materialism gone mad (as one journalist called out in exasperation)? No, says Dr Hudson-Smith: “This project means that we can value things in a completely different way.  Imagine going into a charity shop and being able to find out who owned the suit that you bought.  People like provenance, in fact we’ve shown that they will even pay more for it.”

Dr Hudson-Smith describes it as like a mash-up between Facebook, the Antiques Roadshow and eBay.  And, of course, it’s another great example of innovative university research.

Image: Dr Andy Hudson-Smith brought Annie Lennox’s dress to the British Science Festival to help explain the tales of things project.