Academics make pub pitches for charity

Researchers at University College London got a chance to raise money for a wide range of charitable projects this week - by pitching their ideas in a pub and getting the audience to vote for them.

November 4, 2012

The event, titled Focus on the Positive, was held at the Phoenix in central London on 30 October, and was described by its compère - stand-up comic Lloyd Langford - as "like MTV Unplugged with less music and more science".

He also encouraged the audience to come and take the empty seats at the front: "There are going to be six academic presentations. They are not going to start insulting you or your mother."

The event was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and organised by the UCL Public Engagement Unit, which also invented the Bright Club evenings where academics take to the stage to explain their research through stand-up routines.

The unit's head, Steve Cross, described the pub pitching system as "a new way of applying UCL's research to real-world problems" and "a radical way of opening up new avenues of participation in university research".

Among the ideas put forward, Claire McAndrew, a research associate in UCL's Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, envisaged an artwork and public event which would give the local community "a sense of collective ownership" when the Olympic Park re-opens next July.

Other researchers hoped to provide people with information about climate change that would stop them feeling guilty and help them take effective action, or to develop better "measurement of the 3D position of orthopaedic implants" so as to ensure hip replacements, for example, are correctly aligned.

When votes had been cast, the second prize of £1,000 went to Michael Fell, a PhD student at the UCL Energy Institute, who wants to bring pupils and teachers to a north London primary school with "an inspirational school gardening programme" in the hope of encouraging other inner city schools to follow suit.

However, the first prize of £2,000 was awarded to Kate Ricketts, a researcher in UCL's department of medical physics and bioengineering.

Though cancer was becoming an increasing scourge in Africa, she told the audience, Ghana had very limited facilities for radiotherapy and the machines they did have were inoperative around 40 per cent of the time, though their equivalents in London were 99 per cent reliable.

Many members of Dr Ricketts' team were ready to give their time to provide training and technical support. Even reducing the machines' downtime to 5 per cent would be enough to save 750 deaths a year, she said.

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