Inclusive approach to dissemination results in new project
“To reach the medical profession, it would be ideal to have a paper in a medical journal, but I’m a civil engineer. How often does a civil engineer get a paper in a medical journal? So we have to make sure that we reach the medical profession in other ways such as sitting on panels or meeting specific groups.” – – Prof Nick Tyler, University College London
Nick Tyler’s research is all about how people interact with their environment. So it would seem obvious that he and his colleagues need to communicate and work with the general public.
But it was the challenging nature of this interaction that changed Tyler’s research and led him to set up the Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA). He found that members of the general public were actually not very accurate when assessing simple problems such as how high a curb on a pavement should be. “People either tell us what they think we want to hear or they are not able to properly assess how their body has reacted to a change in the environment,” says Tyler, a professor in civil engineering at University College London. “So we had to take a more scientific approach and measure their physiological, biomechanical and even neurological reactions to changes in the environment.”
PAMELA is now the only lab in the world where a pedestrian environment can be recreated and human interaction can be measured using sophisticated sensors and instrumentation.
This unique facility has led to some unique research into how and why people fall over, or how the pedestrian walkways should be lit. When disseminating results such as this, Tyler admits that journal publications are not necessarily the most effective method and he has had to put in a lot of effort to make sure his research users hear about his work and also understand its relevance.
“I give talks to user groups such as disabled groups, government officials, the infrastructure industry and medical professionals who need to understand why people fall over,” says Tyler. “To reach the medical profession, it would be ideal to have a paper in a medical journal, but I’m a civil engineer. How often does a civil engineer get a paper in a medical journal? So we have to make sure that we reach the medical profession in other ways such as sitting on panels or meeting specific groups.”
It was this dissemination work that resulted in Tyler and his colleagues getting involved in a project about trains and one that would have a lasting and far-reaching impact. “We were approached by a civil servant who had heard about us and needed our help to solve a problem with the Thameslink2000 train link in London,” explains Tyler. The developers of the new train link needed to maximise time savings and in order to do this they had to show that large numbers of people could be quickly moved on and off trains. “There is a limit to what computer models can do in situations like this,” says Tyler. “So we built a train in the PAMELA lab and analysed the movements of large amounts of people using cameras and sensors.”
This resulted in Tyler and his colleagues making several recommendations about train design, which were passed on to the manufacturers of the trains for Thameslink and any other train-building projects. “Now anyone designing a train for use in the UK must take our recommendations into account,” says Tyler. “This is an impact we could not have predicted when we set up PAMELA.”
Institution:University College London