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The University of Southampton
Centre for Risk Research

Centre for Risk Research uses an interactive 3D model to engage the public with the topic of environmental risk

Published: 23 November 2019

The Director of the Centre for Risk Research (CRR), Dr Ian Dawson, recently attended the Hands on Humanities event in Southampton City Centre where he used a 3D model to engage the public in discussions about the factors that drive contemporary risks to the natural environment.

The 3D model was based on a simple mathematical formula, known as IPAT. The formula was created in the 1970s to give a rough estimation of how humanity’s impact (I) on the natural environment is affected by growth in the human population (P), global affluence (A) and technological developments (T). Ian developed the 3D model in order to bring the IPAT formula to life in a physical space so that it could help people better understand how environmental risks can stem from interactions between population growth, wealth and technology.

During the Hands on Humanities event, which took place on Saturday 23rd November 2019 in the John Hansard Gallery, numerous visitors of all ages used the model and engaged in discussions about what drives humanity’s impact on the environment and what might be done in the future to reduce the impact. Many visitors commented on how they found the 3D model interesting, informative and easy to understand.

Ian was able to build the model, which was made from 100% recycled and recyclable materials, with support from the University Of Southampton’s Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu) and extensive assistance from Dr Tim Woolman, a Design Service Experimental Officer in the School of Engineering. In the model, the three ‘PAT’ factor were represented on the axis of a three-sided transparent ‘half-cube’, within which 64 smaller ‘impact cubes’ could be placed to represent the varying accumulative effects of the three factors on the natural environment over time.


Ian commented, “It was great to use the model as a medium for helping people to engage with this important topic, to help them understand better what might drive our impact on the environment, and to discuss what we might all do to address these issues. I am pleased that this 3D version of the IPAT formula proved to be engaging and effective, and I am very grateful to the PERu staff, Dr Woolman and Danni Zhang (one of the CRR’s PhD students) for all the work and support they provided to produce and present the model.”

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