Opening Remarks – Workshop on Clean Air Engineering for Cities – 10 April 2019

Welcome to the University of Surrey – a university with a proud history of conducting research that makes a difference to society. And one with current priority research themes in Urban Living and Sustainability. You can see you are in the right place to hold this workshop.

Congratulations to Professor Prashant Kumar and his team in the Global Centre for Clean Air Research on their leadership in hosting and organizing this event – we are all delighted to have you here at the Workshop on Clean Air Engineering for Cities (CArE-Cities).

A special welcome to our overseas participants from Egypt, Kurdistan Region, Iraq, India, China, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, and Ethiopia – what a wonderfully international cross-section, and what an honour for Surrey to have you here.

There is no doubting the global importance of addressing air pollution – and we are in something of a global hotspot historically. Poor urban air quality has been recorded in London through the ages: from the 16th century, to the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, to the The Great London Smog of 1952, which resulted in around 4,000 extra deaths, to the numerous clean air acts from the 1950s on, to the recent case of  the 2013 “pollution death” of Ella Kissi-Debrah – subject to so much recent publicity. Your global efforts are undoubtedly vital in securing clean air for all here and elsewhere.

On a somewhat “lighter” note, pun intended, I have a small personal connection with clean air research – stemming from Gustav Adolf Feodor Wilhelm Ludwig Mie, a German physicist who lived 1868-1957. Mie scattering has come to describe how light bounces off spherical particles – including those in the atmosphere. A white hazy sky is explained by Mie scattering – whitish because the dependence on wavelength is weak – inverse lambda to the power 1.1-1.3. (As an aside, Mie’s original work in the early 1900s dealt with metal spheres; whereas, atmospheric scatterers are dielectric particles, but now I digress!) If the scatterers are small enough, then they are described by Rayleigh scattering, named after Lord Rayleigh, and their wavelength dependence increases dramatically to inverse lambda to the 4th. And this strong dependence explains why the sky is blue – and the sunset is red.

My connection is that this same physics explains, in large measure, how light propagates in biological tissue – determining how we can use light to sense and image in living things, the field of my research.

So, you see, none of us are far way – these disparate scientific fields have cross-fertilised one another and will no doubt continue to do so.

But research into air pollution and how to reduce it requires more than physics. It draws from many disciplines and from the coming together of those disciplines to address multi-factorial challenges – in understanding the complex interactions between how pollution is generated, how it travels, and how it may be mitigated or eliminated – and how such solutions may be made accessible. It is the domain of public health practitioners to understand its effects, civil lawmakers to protect us against polluting behaviours, civic leaders to help implement solutions and scientists to measure its scale and how to reduce it.  And it spans national boundaries as many of its aspects present globally common traits.

The University of Surrey is an ideal place to pursue such a complex research landscape – as we have a strong focus on interdisciplinarity in a campus culture of cooperation and natural predisposition to work together. Disciplines across the science-engineering-business-social science-humanities continuum regularly cross fertilise with unexpected outcomes.  And as I mentioned at the outset – focal points for these interactions are Urban Living and Sustainability. And this natural willingness to collaborate among disciplines extends beyond Surrey’s borders – more than 75% of our publications contain a non-Surrey author.

And I am pleased to announce Surrey has just ranked 100 in the inaugural international THE University Impact Rankings assessing performance against a range of UN Sustainable Development Goals, notably ranking 44th in SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals, and 9th in SDG3: Good Health and Wellbeing. And I note that the CArE-Cities project directly supports 9 different SDGs – well done!

So, seeing so many collaborating partners in the field of air pollution under one roof is impressive. I am sure that your meeting will be productive. With the spirit of cooperation I can sense in the room, I am confident that today will sow the seeds of partnerships that will make inroads into the major problems we face worldwide in air pollution today.  I wish you well in your endeavours.