Towards a sustainable Earth

The Sustainable Earth Institute is about promoting a new way of thinking about the future of our world. We bring researchers together with businesses, community groups and individuals to develop cutting-edge research and innovative approaches that build resilience to global challenges. We link diverse research areas across the University including science, engineering, arts, humanities, health and business.

The SEI is one of Plymouth University’s Research Institutes which identify key strengths and fully reflect our excellence and interdisciplinary research. They support and encourage collaborative research of the highest quality that engages with international, national and regional needs to provide underpinning knowledge for specific research programmes and a high quality environment for our researchers.

The presentation seeks to map the key research initiatives and engage in a dialogue about international and interdisciplinary research and engagement.


For more information see:


Mobile Air Quality Monitors (digital creative agency, Plymouth, Devon, UK). Controlled Frenzy (Creative Prototyping Consultancy, Plymouth, UK). : :

Air Quality Monitors: Elixel and Controlled Frenzy worked together to create low-cost air quality monitors with a vision to run a pilot in schools to raise awareness of poor air quality in the city.

It’s no news that air pollution can affect the health of the public – exposure to poor air quality can be attributed to more than 5% of deaths in England alone. Towards the end of January it was reported that London hit level 10 on the Daily Air Quality Index, which caused widespread discussions and concerns about the air we breathe.

During this time, we were already underway working on a not-so-secret project for Plymouth City Council’s very own DATA Playinitiative. DATA Play is all about opening up Plymouth’s data and creating an environment where people are encouraged to play and experiment with this data to benefit Plymouth and its residents. The 5th installment was held back in December 2016 and focused on Health and Wellbeing challenges.

The prototype and companion app

The hardware itself is made up from a couple of key components including an Arduino 101 programmable board with bluetooth enabled, a sensor capable of recording fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in near real time and a rechargeable USB battery.

The companion app is equally simple, but has to reliably transmit the sensor data to a remote server – even when the app is not running in the foreground. In addition to this, it also provides the user’s geolocation with the PM data so a location can be attributed to a particular reading. We used the Ionic framework to quickly prototype the app together and the Mapbox mapping libraries to visualise the dataset.

The online visualisation of air quality readings in Plymouth and beyond

This allows us to have hyper-local air quality readings and provide us with all of the data we need to start visualising an approximate air quality index for areas within Plymouth. To visualise the air quality index, we adopted a portion of the UK Daily Air Quality Index scheme, excluding the other four pollutants not being collected.

As DATA Play is all about open data and providing useful data to others, the data collected is automatically published to as an anonymous open dataset. This will allow anybody else to work with the data in their own way and provide for the open data community.

So, exactly how accurate is the data we are providing? Existing air quality monitor equipment costs in the hundreds and thousands, so how can we construct a prototype for a fraction of that cost?

To answer these questions we ran tests against an industry standard tool for measuring PM2.5 around a fixed circuit (You can see the results of this from our dataset around the Union Street region). Whilst the readings we have been receiving on our prototype are not completely matching up with the comparison equipment, there is a very clear and visible trend as to the spikes and fluctuations in particulate matter.

What we have produced isn’t a full-on replacement for high grade equipment, but creates opportunities for community based data collection on a mass scale. Hopefully by crowdsourcing and relaying this information, we will allow people in the future to adjust their habits not only by the routes they take, but also in the methods of how they do so.


Elixel is a digital creative agency based in Plymouth, Devon. They specialise in website design, mobile app development and branding.

Controlled Frenzy is the creative prototyping, software development and research consultancy of Christopher Hunt . Chris works with clients to develop engaging audience-focussed technology prototypes, products, and installations to explore their data and ideas so they can grow and adapt to new ways of working, communicating and doing business.

Data Play Presentation

Thomas Westrope (Plymouth City Council, UK). :


The presentation discusses the recent Data Play event hosted at the Balance-Unbalance Conference on the Friday 18 and Saturday 19th. DATA Play 7 Data Visualisation had a focus on liberating ecological data from the City and the surrounding environment to create prototypes, solutions, tools and experiences. The event will built on previous DATA Play projects such as:

The Balance-Unbalance Data Visualisation DATA Play event was delivered through a collaboration with Plymouth City Council,  TheData.Place and collaborating organisations. It was the seventh event in the DATA Play series of data-hackathons which feed off Plymouth’s open data as a resource being developed over the period of more than a year to support the development of Plymouth’s digital economy and provide a resource for all of Plymouth’s communities to find, publish and use data.

Data sources are available at The Data Place Ltd which provides low cost open data infrastructure: find out more (and get your own open data portal) at

The Data Place uses CKAN a ‘powerful data management system that makes data accessible – by providing tools to streamline publishing, sharing, finding and using data.’


DATA Play:

DATA Play Booklet

DATA Play Day 1 was an experiment to test whether the Council opening up data could help understand the city, better support innovation and new ideas and create opportunities for the Council to work with the local tech community.

DATA Play 2 developed these opportunities further by offering financial rewards for ideas, the support of a panel of experts and leaders in the city and a range of workshops to build skills and great ideas.

DATA Play 3 focused on Communities and the three prizes awarded were for the benefit of communities, using communities based data.

DATA Play 4 took a look at Environmental Challenges and resulted in an amazing response with loads of great ideas, from collecting better information about greenspaces to using Minecraft to engage young people and their families with their environment.

DATA Play 5 focused on Health and Wellbeing challenges which resulted in us funding three projects now in their early stages. It was an amazing turn out with people from multiple sectors coming along and sharing expertise alongside the TedMedX conference which was happening at the same time.

DATA Play 6 is here and we will be focusing on Arts & Culture Challenges. It will be taking place at Ocean Studies, Royal William Yard.


This work is supported by the Department for Communities and Local Government through Delivering Differently in Neighbourhoods funding and Local Planning Reform funding.




Placing the Self in an alien Territory as Design Act

Tommaso Maggio (Planetary Collegium, Plymouth University, UK/Italy/Thailand)


In a continuum quest to fulfil the cultural gap between his homeland and the host territory of formal Siam, this paper aims to illustrate the journey of the author who as practitioner trough scholarly activities in the discipline of design had become a participant observer in the new context. While merging the ethnographic approach with design thinking a hybrid method has been moulded. Nostalgia intertwined with dream, and, on the other hand ambiguity from a source of uncertainty is as suggested from Professor Bill Gaver, “a resource for designer”. What it started as personal exploration, a sort of search for the inner self, it later became while engaging with the framework of design practice and education a way to decrease preconceptions and furthermore a process to merge the participation with the learning. By engaging in projects with local artists and entrepreneurs the author of this paper has embedded the value of participation as locus of his investigation. Experiments conducted while teaching to freshmen and sophomore design principle have been shifted from the use of the traditional roots of the Bauhaus school as main heritage, to the integration of physical theatre elements.

Keywords: Southeast Asia, Design pedagogy, Emerging Design Practice, Ethnography, Body Consciousness.


Tommaso Maggio is a design practitioner and researcher. His investigation merge eighteen years of design practice and eleven on scholarly activity. A PhDc at Planetary Collegium, Plymouth University, his research integrate cultural studies to Human Centered Design; the social and moral aspect of human body are the locus of his investigation. Design artefacts as immersive experiences, from physical to digital though an extensive conversation with users and experts. Publishing, interface design, graphic, branding, interior, apparel, jewellery and theatre are the area were he operated since graduated. Moreover, by working with diplomatic institutions, universities and companies across Asia, he has combined Italian design heritage and lifestyle with Eastern Asian cultural influence. He has presented papers at TTT2017, Corfu, CUMULUS HK 2016, Consciousness Reframed, Shanghai (2015-2016), ISEA 22′ International Electronic Art Symposium, Hong Kong 2016, the 9′ International Conference on Design Principles and Practices, Chicago (2015).

Full Paper:

Hidden Histories of North Devon: Art, Memory, and Environmental Change

Sophie McCormack (Project Coordinator of Hidden Histories for Beaford Arts) and Mark Wallace (Director of Beaford Arts and Vice Chair of North Devon’s UNESCO World Biosphere Partnership).

The Beaford Archive is a remarkable collection of photographic materials documenting rural north Devon between 1870 and 1990.  For seventeen years (1972-1989) James Ravilious documented the people and places of northern Devon, amassing a collection of over 70,000 images.  James Ravilious lived in the community he photographed, and was trusted to photograph all aspects of local life:

Ashreigney, Bridge Reeve 08/1987

In addition, he built what is known as the ‘Old Archive’: over 5,000 copy photographs dated between 1870 and 1940, borrowed from local people:

According to the Royal Photographic Society, it is ” … a unique body of work, unparalleled, at least in this country, for its scale and quality”.

James Ravilious’s dual role as artist/photographer and local curator gave him privileged access to an environment and community on the brink of change. Importantly, the area documented in the Archive, rural north Devon, is based in England’s first new-style UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The UNESCO Biosphere’s dual role of expert conservation and local environmental engagement provides a unique opportunity to bring together diverse narratives. In this context, it is vital to use the Archive to inspire public environmental awareness and action.

The Hidden Histories project

The Hidden Histories project is a three year Heritage Lottery funded exploration of the materials within the archive, seeking to improve our understanding of, and accessibility to, the photographs. Through modern day digitisation techniques, we are able to interrogate the negatives in the collection with a new level of detail – uncovering social and environmental change through a medium that is simultaneously evocative and deeply relevant to the communities of north Devon.

A key focus of this ongoing work is a new digital archive:  an online platform bringing art and technology together, to enhance the way that the inhabitants of the North Devon Biosphere experience their environment. will launch in November of this year, and by bringing together the themes of heritage, art, memory and environment in a virtual space, we will enable users to explore photography that documents the environmental change of their land. Interactive areas of the website will also empower them to contribute their own knowledge of this change to the Archive.

Through this, we expect to uncover unheard narratives about the landscape that draw directly from a visual social history created by an artist (James Ravilious). We intend to use this user generated content as source material from which to commission new creative work, reflecting on present-day versions of the same concerns documented in the Archive.

Presented by Sophie McCormack, Project Coordinator of Hidden Histories for Beaford Arts; with Mark Wallace, Director of Beaford Arts and Vice Chair of North Devon’s UNESCO World Biosphere Partnership.




Design Uncertain

Pete Davis (Plymouth University, UK)


The aim of this paper is to explore the idea that design can be a catalyst for fundamental/sustainable change and that designers can provide imaginative solutions to the questions surrounding sustainability and the integration of business and the corporate world. Every day new solutions are being found to ensure our survival; but it is more than survival it is about evolution and growth not only in terms of economy but also in terms of us as human beings understanding our development. 
Design, inventions, realisations, how ever you describe it, are endeavouring to benefit all humanity, this paper will seek to show a few alternative ideas while focusing more on root and branch change for our communities, in education, business and design. Design Matters: Good design works on many levels, functionally, rationally, and aesthetically. It is pleasing to use, to look at and at its best, it makes life easier, safer, slower, faster, it can be amusing, it enhances the experience of the built environment, we all take this as a given in the developed world.

Our failure to realise and appreciate that our planet as a fantastic design, or to act on this thought, is why our efforts are now so concentrated on its survival. It is also our failure to understand ourselves, which has thrown our very existence into jeopardy. Designers have always dealt with conflict, ambiguity, difficulties and diverging requirements. Their job is not to ignore certain aspects or compromise, but to be innovative risk takers in their quest to find solutions. Design has the power to convert difficulties into improvements; 
good design has the power to connect people emotionally, rationally, and scientifically. That is why it is ideally placed to play a leading role in reshaping our understanding of why and how we need to move forward realistically into the 21st century. Several themes have emerged over the last five years that as Design Educators, Designers and Design Entrepreneurs we have to take into the future, this paper charts these envisaged solutions and offers some alternatives to the status quo.

Keywords: Transition, Sustainability, Environment, History, Design


Peter Quinn Davis is Director of the MA Postgraduate programmes in Design, incorporating, Design, Maker and Materials, Product Design, Spatial Design and Sustainable Futures. MA Post Graduate teaching Thinking/Sustainable Futures, within the School of Arts. Design and and Architecture: Programme Leader for MRes Design Thinking and the coordinator for Design Knowledge Research.

Research interests are art, design, architecture and the creative disciplines. Focused interests include, notions of place, in terms of transformation, object making, identity and memory.  The research concerns reflect the multiple contexts of art and design as it has evolved through the twentieth century and into the twentieth first century. The research reflects a high level of relativism, contextualization and pragmatism.  I am interested in ideas of personal identity/how this contributes to place-making, artefact manufacture and the understanding of heritage, through the industrial and post-industrial ages. I also work outside the university in other sectors, schools, forums, councils and institutions and artist’s studios.

Creative practice & artistic projects: Audi Design Foundation ‘Sustain our Nation‘ (national campaign 2009) Through 2009 and 2010 I have worked in partnership with South West Design Programme.Teach-In 2012: ‘Eco-literacy in Design Education‘ at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. October 2009. Curating and organising a major project and exhibition with Plymouth City Museum and UOP School of Architecture and Design, detailing the responses of twelve architects and designers to the museums collections, 2012; Envelope a major exhibition featuring 50 of the worlds best designers, responding to the idea of Value. 2015: Pen Arts Plymouth. Showing work in Milan and Dutch Design fairs -2014-15-16: Exhibition: Design Latitudes – Alberta, Canada 2016.