Friday, 2 August 2013

Introducing David Alderson

One of our favourite things about this project has been the chance to share big ideas that don't normally reach younger audiences. Everything's Connected, drawn by Terry Wiley, with science from David Alderson is a huge idea. From flushing the loo or turning on a light to whether your train arrives on time, it's all connected, with all the disruptions possible I'm surprised any of this works at all. So let's have David introduce himself and tell us a bit about what he does...

My name is David Alderson, and I have been working as a researcher in GeoInformatics at Newcastle University since 2005. Geomatics, geoinformatics and many derivatives thereof in general refers to the study, measurement, and management of earth-related things. Think Google Earth, and you are nearly there. It could include monitoring biodiversity by collecting crowd-sourced data on species sightings, developing models of infrastructure networks for failure analysis, to delivering web sites and web services for people to get access to spatial data. This data comes in many forms, from GPS positions, detailed land and building surveys, satellite imagery and aerial photography – with the one thing they have in common being that they are all related to the Earth, and position on the Earth.

In the past I have worked largely to manage, store and then deliver, mainly via geospatially-enabled websites, spatial data of all kinds. A couple of projects that I have been involved in involve crowd-sourcing data to help validate flood models and collect experiences of flood events, to collecting species sightings around the North East of England. I have worked with the Met Office, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC) and many others to help deliver the latest climate change projections, back in 2009. As climate change is largely accepted by all in the scientific community as a genuine challenge facing mankind over the next 10, 20, 50, 100 years and beyond, the tools and websites that I have been involved in developing, help to disseminate data that can aid decision makers to make better informed decisions. This is particularly important, for example, when considering what types of energy-generation technologies to invest in, or what carbon reduction strategies to employ. My current research, and largely the inspiration for getting involved in the comic, is focussed on the modelling, study and analysis of traditional infrastructure networks including roads, rail, energy, water and solid waste. We are trying to understand how infrastructure networks are affected by climate-related hazards, such as flooding, but then also understand how the supply and demand for infrastructure services will change over the next 100 years as the economy and population changes.

Comics excite me both because they are so much fun to read but can feasibly by focussed around any topic imaginable. When speaking with the artists and writers during the production of the comic, the alternative ways of portraying a specific idea seemed endless, and often presenting information in such different ways can lead to a better understanding of patterns, or identification of other interesting artefacts. I think the idea of joining up science and research within the comic medium for communication offers a completely different mechanism for disseminating concepts, ideas, research, data to the general public and other researchers. Scientists in academia are largely judged by their ability to, and frequency with which they, publish in peer-reviewed journals about their specific subject. However these are not necessarily easily-accessible to the general public or children alike, despite the proliferation of open access publishing and the accessibility offered by web-based publishing. The use of a comic as an alternative method brings in an element of fun to scientific research, and ultimately that is probably the best way to attract children and teenagers to becoming interested in science – BY MAKING IT FUN!


More information about some of the work that I have been involved in at Newcastle University, and also some of the work that the Geospatial Engineering, Geodesy and School of Civil Engineering at Newcastle have undertaken and are currently involved in can be found from the following links: - Geospatial Engineering Blog - Geospatial Engineering Research Website - David Alderson, University Profile – School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Newcastle University
Specific websites related to my work: - Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (motivation behind comic) - UK Climate Change Projections ‘09 - User Interface to UK Climate Change Projections ‘09 - MorpethFlood / ToonFlood crowd-sourcing - Species sightings crowd-sourcing

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