September 2017

Summer interning: digital technology and flooding

Computer Science can offer a lot to facilitate the work of environmental science; most apparent being the enhancement of tools and sensors used by environmental scientists. However, the focus on my internship has taken the perhaps less considered route of enhancing the reach and application of environmental science through Computer Science via the consideration of psychological and sociological factors.

For example, it is vital to promote positive trends in people’s behaviours that are related to the environment, such as successfully performing proactive resilience strategies prior to flood in at risk areas. Compared with the traditional approach of publishing papers and broadcasting information, interactive technologies can be a hugely effective and efficient means of illustrating new perspectives, and delivering resonating, actionable messages to those who can make a difference to their own lives and those around them. Utilising said technologies in the interest of flooding was the focus of my internship.

During my time working with the Ensemble team, I’ve worked on a series of features for the Manchester Science and Technology exhibition designed to communicate the prevalence of flooding in the area to the local people, but most importantly to emphasise what they can do to adapt to a life of resilience in the face of flood risk.

I began in the first week by familiarising myself through studies surrounding recent flooding events in the North West, including those caused by storms Desmond, Franklin, and Eva. This allowed me to empathise and appreciate the struggles of the victims of flood events before I approached designing features for the exhibit. I had a lot of freedom in coming up with ideas for these designs, which prompted a lot of great, formative feedback from everyone.

Once we had a good idea of the ideas we as a team felt would be best to feature, the core of my work began – namely, implementing these ideas. Here I gained ample experience using Python, Arduino, and Processing programming languages, as well as an introduction to basic electronics and soldering. Having come from a social-science background prior to taking on a Computer Science as an undergraduate, this was a fantastic opportunity for me to develop skills which complement my degree nicely (for which I am now entering my third year).

Overall, I am extremely thankful to have had the pleasure of meeting so many great people and the opportunity to gain such invaluable skills and experience in working amongst the team. I’m especially pleased with the feedback from several of Ensemble’s partners and affiliates commending my work. It has given me a great sense of fulfilment having been told the things I’ve been working on will make a significant impact; not only within the goals of the team, but in the real world through the wider implications the project has.

Author: Edward Thompson