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08 June 2009

Do engineering advances in sport threaten fair play?

An engineer who analyses football free kicks and how to build cricket pitches is to become the Royal Academy of Engineering's first Fellow in Public Engagement in Engineering. Dr David James is Senior Sports Engineer at Sheffield Hallam University, where he uses cutting edge techniques to engineer gains in athletic performance for sports equipment manufacturers and elite performers. Now he will spend a year exploring the societal impact of his work, examining the ethics of engineering athletic performance and gathering public opinion on these issues. His work will be funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering through its Ingenious grants programme for public engagement with engineering.

Engineers have shaped the sporting world - from tennis rackets to bicycles, football boots to swimsuits, scientists and engineers have played a critical role in pushing the boundaries of athletic performance and allowing mass participation. The development of any sport is inextricably linked to the equipment used by its enthusiasts and engineers sit at the forefront of modern sport, ever searching for a technological advantage to increase performance, enhance enjoyment or reduce the risk of injury.

"Sports engineering has made a significant impact on society and we will see it more and more in the UK as we approach the Olympics in London 2012," says Dr James. "However, it's not a field that is free of criticism and people have strong views on the role of the sports engineer - and on whether technology is actually improving sport. As we strive to provide the best results for national teams or multinational companies, some people think it promotes unfair play, that it detracts from sporting tradition and that it's becoming exclusive to the wealthy."

"I think these are really important questions, especially for the future," he says. "How should we allow for digital systems that will over-rule referees and umpires - will they reduce their authority? What will happen to the notion of disability when advances in prosthetics will allow Paralympians to outperform even our very best able-bodied athletes?"

During his Fellowship, Dr James will develop an ethics case study in sports engineering, with advice from some of the UK's leading ethicists and philosophers, and he hopes to include this work later in teaching sports engineering. The Academy's funding will also give him time to enhance his own knowledge of ethics and consult widely with the public on how to balance technical advances with the need to keep sport fair and accessible for all. He has previously organised several highly innovative public engagement projects including a schools programme in 2007 called 'Lighting the Flame for learning through sport' funded by the European Social Fund. Over 2,500 South Yorkshire secondary school students took part in the programme, whose centrepiece was a 'lab in a van' that encouraged over 100 teachers to use sport as an entry point for physics lessons.

The Academy has also funded 13 other programmes across the UK to facilitate public engagement with engineering over the next year. The Ingenious funding programme encourages engineers to be proactive in taking part in public engagement on engineering and its impact.

Round 3 Grants: Ingenious - engaging citizens; engaging engineers

Public Engagement Fellowship

DR DAVID JAMES, Sheffield Hallam University
"Is Engineering improving sport? Engaging the public in the ethics of advancing sports technology"
£30,000

Dr James' work has mainly concentrated on communicating the science of his subject rather than engaging the public in a meaningful dialogue about the issues he presents. The fellowship will allow Dr James to explore the societal impact of his work in sports engineering, to examine the ethics of engineering athletic performance and to gauge public opinion. The fellowship will also allow the applicant to train in ethics and to enhance his skills in communicating the implications, as well as the applications of his work.

Public Engagement Activities and Development Awards

MS SHARON BISHOP, Cheltenham Festivals
"Finding the answers: contemporary issues in engineering and technology"
£17,777

In a series of wide-ranging events, the Cheltenham Science Festival will offer a high profile platform for engineers to talk about and discuss their work with the public. From the nascent, controversial field of synthetic biology to the potential of carbon capture and storage, we will invite the general public to join some of the UK's foremost engineers, to find out more about their cutting edge work and role in addressing the big issues of today.

PROFESSOR WILLIAM GALE, University of Leeds
"Risky business? Public engagement on protection versus practicality and the acceptability of risk in engineering"
£29,978

The project aims to create a dialogue between engineers and the public over the nature, acceptability and mitigation of risk in advanced engineering. The project will use an exhibit at the Royal Armouries, illustrating the tradeoffs between protection and practicality, to initiate risk themed in-depth unscripted dialogues between engineers and public audiences (including both adults and adolescents).

MRS JUDITH HARVEY, WhoWhatWhereWhenWhy (W5), Belfast
"Engineering challenges of the future"
£20,855

Engineers from Queen's University, leading the charge for future technologies, will join engineers from Bombardier to deliver workshops to Key Stage 3 pupils on the engineering skills needed to find solutions to the climate change problem. The project will provide engineers with practical experience in engaging with young people and adults by working in close partnership with the W5 team and opportunities to develop their mentoring skills and how to communicate problem solving techniques.

DR JOAN HEGGIE, University of Teeside
"Engineering new partnerships in public engagement: bridging the past and the present through school projects"
£26,658

The British Steel Archive project aims to engage engineers with local communities across Teesside. In total, 36 engineers will work with 360 school children to develop exciting activities that educate the pupils in an aspect of engineering. The engineers will be trained beforehand to increase their public engagement skills and be allocated a secondary school to mentor. The understanding of the topic will be further enhanced by tasking the secondary school groups to deliver their activities to primary school children. Materials from The British Steel Collection will be used to inspire creativity and increase learning throughout the project.

MS SUE HORDIJENKO, British Association for the Advancement of Science
"A series of engineering events at the British Science Festival"
£28,412

This project will comprise a series of talks, workshops, exhibitions and panel discussions that will take place in Guildford during September 2009. All events will focus on aspects of the science, practice, and impact of engineering in society, and will enable engineers to engage with a variety of public audiences via discussion and debate.

DR VINAY KATHOTIA, Royal Institution of Great Britain
"Royal Institution engineering in the community"
£30,000

The project aims to develop a collaborative community of engineers, learners and STEM communicators to engage school and general audiences with modern-day engineering. The project will build on the successful Ri initiatives including Engineering Masterclasses (funded in Ingenious round 2); the celebrated Christmas Lectures, Science For Schools demonstration-lectures, Family Fun Days and more. The activities will take place in schools, universities and in the recently reinvigorated iconic interactive spaces at the Ri. The project will enable engineers to develop their communication skills and share their knowledge.

DR SUE CAVELL, Techniquest Science Centre, Cardiff
"Public engagement and evaluation training for engineers"
£5,573

This project will develop and deliver a two-day workshop in public engagement and evaluation training for 10-12 engineers. Participants will be given 'hands-on' experience during the workshop, and will develop an activity that they will present to visitors in Techniquest during National Science and Engineering Week, March 2010.

9. MR TUDOR GWYNN, The National Children's Museum, Halifax
"Robots explore the universe"
£29,650

This project provides an opportunity for recent graduate engineers and more established engineers from academia and industry to engage with families visiting Eureka!, the National Children's Museum, in issues relating to space exploration. The engineers involved will enhance their skills in communicating with the public, will gain confidence from the experience and gain an understanding of how Eureka!'s own staff provide learning to the visitors in a playful manner.

10. PROFESSOR NIGEL LINGE, University of Salford
"So what do engineers actually do?"
£22,080

The project will provide engineers with the opportunities to become actively involved in public and schools. Some engineers will be required to develop an interactive exhibition on telecommunications for family days and will interact with the visitors and others will engage with young people through school visits.

11. PROFESSOR JON OBERLANDER, University of Edinburgh
"Robotics @ InSpace"
£29,852

This project aims to provide a varied programme of talks and events on robotics at the new InSpace gallery in Edinburgh. The programme will include engineers taking part in more traditional public lectures and debates and explore more creative forms of engagement such as dance performance and interactive workshops. Some of the events will take place at the Edinburgh Festival.

12. MS HELEN PENNY, At-Bristol
"Engineering encounters"
£28,610

This project aims to provide 20 early-career engineers with an opportunity to work intensively on developing their public engagement skills. By working closely with recognised experts in the field and peers, these engineers will be supported to develop and deliver engagement activities and foster a network through which to share best practice in the future.

13. MR MICHAEL RIDLER, By Design
"Enterprising engineering and a greener future"
£29,707

Nine graduate level, or above, engineers will engage with the 6th form students and teachers by giving presentations, mentoring and helping to develop and run several workshops. The project will also aim to raise awareness of climate change technology to the target audience, and introduce the concept of enterprise. The project will enable three schools to learn about, create and then manage their own mini enterprises centred on producing biofuel (biodiesel) from used cooking oil.

14. MR BEN JOHNSON, Graphic Science Ltd
"Ambassadors for the Engineering Diploma"
£28,923

A bespoke training course along with a set of specially devised classroom activities and resources will be developed for engineers who wish to support the delivery of the 14-19 Engineering Diplomas in schools. The engineers will be primarily Science and Engineering Ambassadors based in the South West and will be recruited and trained by the SEAs scheme contract holders across the region.

ends

Notes for editors

  1. Engineering has a profound impact on the health, wealth and wellbeing of the nation. Yet, all too often, the voice of engineers is too quiet in policy discussions, public debates and other public engagement activities.

    The Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious grants programme, funded by the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, provides support for engineers to take part in debate with the public and other stakeholders on engineering and its impact on society. Two streams of funding are available:

    Public Engagement Fellowships are open to engineers (from academia or industry) to:
    • explore the implications of engineering for society
    • build dialogue with the public, policy makers and other stakeholders
    • gain knowledge and skills in engaging with the public and the public policy process.

    Public Engagement Activities and Development Awards

    These Awards offer funding for projects that enhance the public engagement skills of engineers and provide opportunities to engage in debate with the public (both young people and adults) on engineering and its impact on society:

  2. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK's most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain's engineering community.

For more information please contact:

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0636; email: jane...@...org.uk

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