EuroScience Open Forum Manchester 2016

esof2016

Manchester is a city of science ‘firsts’; where Ernest Rutherford first split the atom; where John Dalton developed modern atomic theory; where Alan Turing pioneered the concept of artificial intelligence; where Graphene was first isolated.

So it was fitting that this year Manchester became the first city in the United Kingdom to host the European Science Open Forum (ESOF). The event takes place biennially in a different European city and aims to be an open discussion forum for the latest advancements and discoveries in the sciences, humanities and social sciences.

ESOF is the largest cross-discipline scientific congress in Europe, and the week saw Manchester welcome in excess of 3,000 thought leaders, distinguished academics, policy-makers, and innovators, together with many leading scientific journalists and commentators.

CISCO’s model city was a big attraction; built as part of their involvement in the CityVerve Project, Manchester’s smart cities IoT demonstrator. ESOF asked CISCO if they could find a way to explain to the citizen of Manchester what is meant by a smart city and what the potential for CityVerve is as a project and as a model for other cities. The project itself aims to improve the lives of the people of Manchester in a range of areas from Health & Social Care, to transport and employment.

To convey this message CICSO built a Lego city with its own embedded sensors demonstrating how different uses could affect our day to day lives. Ian Kennedy, the company’s Vice President (UK & Ireland), outlined the city’s smart parking features and discussed how Manchester was the ideal location for the project.

Key note speakers included The University of Manchester’s Brian Cox. During this session Matthew Cob, Professor of Zoology (UoM) and the audience posed questions to Brian on everything from Cosmology to Brexit. There was a strong interest in how science can be used to reach out to the younger generation and encourage them to follow career paths in this vital subject area.

Aside from the main keynote addresses, there were a series of smaller talks and seminar sessions held throughout ESOF. For example, speakers from BT, IBM, The University of Manchester, The University of Malaga, and Airbus Group Innovations gathered to present on big data analytics. In particular they looked at how analytics can be used to create smart businesses in smart environments in projects like CityVerve and the obstacles and challenges private and public organisations may face. Such talks definitely provided some food for thought during and after ESOF, opening up many discussions across industry and academia.

Manchester Informatics’ Carmel Dickinson took part in a periscope interview with John Davies from BT on how big businesses can harness big data analytics to benefit from a smart future. Take a look at the full interview here!

Also covered by one of the many expert panels taking part in ESOF was the highly relevant, yet potentially contentious issue, of the use of data in healthcare. Researchers from the Farr Institute’s Health e-Research Centre, based at the University of Manchester, together with industry partner Merck Sharp Dohme, and UCL discussed a number of important elements of this debate in their session entitled ‘Trust me, I am data’. HeRCs Director Professor Iain Buchan spoke on the richness of healthcare data, from wearables and other consumer devices, and how these could potentially be used to deliver better more personalised healthcare, whilst Professor Tjeerd van Staa gave examples of how real world evidence was beneficial in delivering better clinical trials. The panel also discussed Electronic Healthcare records and the need to maintain public trust, as well as develop an understanding between healthcare practitioners and users, on the benefits of allowing data to be used for research.

In the Q&A forum afterwards, the session also touched upon exciting new developments in the space, including the potential for so called distributed ledger / Blockchain technology to be used to help record and share healthcare data in a more trusted way.

All in all the festival was a huge success, cementing Manchester’s reputation as a world class arena in which to ‘do’ science, with multiple partners from across academia, industry, and local and regional governance working together to ensure that this remains the case for many years.

You can find out more about the full range of ESOF activities here, as well as the next instalment of the festival which takes place in Toulouse in 2018.