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The University of Southampton

Future Leaders Fellow investigates impact of buildings on urban air pollution

Published: 24 September 2019
Dr Christina Vanderwel
Dr Christina Vanderwel

Dr Christina Vanderwel will simulate wind patterns around buildings and their impact on the air quality of cities in a new Future Leaders Fellowship at the University of Southampton.

The engineering research is one of two fellowships awarded this month to the Russell Group University by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) scheme, which enables talented early career researchers to work on difficult and novel challenges.

Christina, a Lecturer and Research Fellow in the Aerodynamics and Flight Mechanics Research Group, will exploit her knowledge in experimental fluid mechanics, turbulence and dispersion to imitate urban pollution in the lab.

Her project, which has been awarded £943,000, will print 3D scale models of suburban and urban landscapes, then inject dye into a water tunnel to observe how pollution spreads.

“We will do most experiments in the eight-metre water tunnel,” Christina explains. “The water flow will be set up so that it’s dynamically similar to the wind, so the patterns the dye makes represent the paths pollution would take in the air. Through this, we will be able to answer questions around the impact of pollution from a ship in the dock across the city, or what happens to air quality if you put a high rise building in the middle of a suburban area.”

The research will inform computer models that are used to determine the potential of buildings creating pollution hotspots.

Christina will recruit a post-doctorate researcher and work with three PhD students over the course of the project.

“The fellowship really has perfect timing for me as I have just returned to work from maternity leave,” she adds. “It’s a chance for me to develop my own research ideas, grow my team, and really get stuck into the research.”

Dr Matt Ryan, a Lecturer in Governance and Public Policy at Southampton, has been awarded £1.197 million for his project entitled Rebooting Democracy. The research will fuse politics with machine learning to address polarisation and disengagement with politics.

“We have huge problems with democracy because people are polarising and the compromise that is essential to politics is becoming harder to reach,” he says. “How can we engage people in the right ways? How can we avoid violence, hate speech and so on?

“Brexit is a symptom of this – the discourse it’s created is much more polarised than before. There are many other examples in everyday life – issues such as climate change or intergenerational fairness create polarisation.”

The two fellowships are among around 70 to be awarded across the country. Earlier this year, Dr Sarah Lewthwaite won a Future Leaders Fellowship in the scheme’s first round for her research into digital accessibility education.

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