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Education

Llandeilo pupils behind drive to make school carbon neutral

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Pupils at a Carmarthenshire secondary school vying to become the first carbon neutral school in Wales have met with Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for climate change.

Students at Ysgol Bro Dinefwr showed Cllr Ann Davies around their school building and grounds to highlight their efforts as part of the council’s Prosiect Zero Sir Gâr campaign.

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The school is one of many the council is investing in to become more energy efficient with renewable and energy saving technology to minimise its impact on the environment.

Pupils have been wholly involved in their school’s bid to tackle climate change, not only coming up with their own ideas but helping to manage resources such as its outdoor learning area where they plant, tend to and pick fruit and vegetables to be used as part of school meals.

School leaders say giving the pupils practical tasks helps them ‘feel’ the change they are making, putting words into action and encouraging them to think more widely about the climate change agenda.

Cllr Ann Davies said she was impressed by the school’s dedication and enthusiasm.

“As a council we are committed to tackling climate change, indeed we were the first in Wales to declare our intention to become net zero carbon by 2030,” she said. “For us that means we have to get everybody involved, and most certainly our future generations on whom climate change will have the biggest impact.

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“It was a pleasure to visit Ysgol Bro Dinefwr and speak with the pupils. We spoke about their concerns for the future, and why they feel they need to take action now to help make a change.

“As well as the practical things they are doing, like harvesting rainwater, growing food, and planting trees and flowers to attract wildlife and offset carbon emissions, they are talking about the issue too – not just in school, but out in their communities and even taking the cause to the Houses of Parliament.”

Assistant headteacher Ian Chriswick said pupils have fully embraced the school’s efforts, even giving up their free time during breaks to get involved in the outside spaces.

“They have been very passionate about this since day one,” he said. “They clearly have anxieties about what is happening to the climate and they feel that they want to be able to do something about it. This gives them a chance to do that.”

Through Prosiect Zero Sir Gâr Carmarthenshire County Council is shining a spotlight on efforts that are being made as the authority works towards being net zero carbon by 2030.

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The campaign encourages everyone to play their part in tackling climate change by reducing Carmarthenshire’s carbon footprint, and by having conversations with people about reducing energy use.

In February 2019, Carmarthenshire County Council was one of the first local authorities to declare a climate emergency, and made a commitment to becoming a net zero carbon local authority by 2030. It has since been the first local authority in Wales to publish a net zero carbon action plan, which was endorsed by full council in February 2020.

Cllr Davies, said everyone should get involved.

“We must all take action now – climate change is already having an impact in Carmarthenshire,” she said. “Every one of us can make a difference. It could be as simple as turning our thermostats down a degree, switching off our lights when they’re not needed, or recycling as much as we possibly can.

“We want Prosiect Zero Sir Gâr to inspire collective action. The smallest of actions will build together to make a big difference.”

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Carmarthenshire County Council’s action towards net carbon zero covers every area of its services.

It involves everything from ensuring that all new major build projects such as homes and schools are energy efficient and incorporate renewable energy, to retro-fitting older buildings with an extensive range of energy conservation measures, including solar PV panels, LED lighting replacement, lighting controls, pipework insulation, building fabric improvements, boiler upgrades and water and heat saving technology.

As well as procuring all its electricity from renewable energy sources, the council has made other efforts to reduce carbon emissions including converting street lights to low energy LED and upgrading its fleet to include electric cars and more energy efficient refuse and gritting vehicles.

The authority is also working with other public bodies to deliver wider change, and is exploring opportunities for tree planting and renewable energy generation on council-owned land.

Lead image: Cllr Ann Davies, Cabinet Member for climate change, with Ysgol Bro Dinefwr pupils (Image: Carmarthenshire Council)

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Education

“Stuck in a catch-22”: parents drive their children to school because they are concerned about traffic

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New polling data released for Living Streets’ Walk to School Week (16-20 May 2022) finds that traffic is one of the biggest barriers to children walking to school, with 17 per cent of parents in Wales naming it as a reason their child doesn’t walk.

With over 460,000 pupils in Wales, it would mean tens of thousands of them are being denied the physical and social health benefits of being more active.

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Schools being too far away from home (18%) and cars parked on pavements (17%) were also barriers for Welsh parents.

The latest data suggests just 50 per cent of primary school aged children in Wales walk to school.

Stephen Edwards, Chief Executive, Living Streets said: “We’re stuck in a catch-22 where families see driving to school as the safest way to protect their children from traffic.

“Leaving the car at home will reduce chaos and road danger around the school gates. It’s also a great way for children to learn about road safety in a real life setting and build their confidence in managing risk.

“Walk to School Week is an excellent opportunity for families to give walking to school a go and reap the health and social benefits of moving more.”

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Living Streets works with schools, local authorities and parent groups to help improve the walk to school.

Stephen Edwards continues: “We want to enable as well as encourage more families to walk to school. We’re here to help parents who are worried about safety around their child’s school. Car-free zones, 20mph limits and better crossings can all help make the walk to school safer and we’re here to help people campaign for them in their area.”

For more information on Living Streets’ walk to school campaign, visit livingstreets.org.uk/WalkToSchool

(Lead image: Shutterstock)

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Health

Swansea scientists develop new method to detect viruses in a pinprick

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Scientists at Swansea University, Biovici Ltd and the National Physical Laboratory have developed a method to detect viruses in very small volumes.

The work, published in Advanced NanoBiomed Research, follows a successful Innovate UK project developing graphene for use in biosensors – devices that can detect tiny levels of disease markers.

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For many parts of the world that do not have access to high-tech labs found in hospitals, detecting viruses such as hepatitis C (HCV) – could save millions of preventable deaths worldwide. In addition, biosensors such as this could be used at the point-of-care – opening effective healthcare in difficult-to-reach settings.

What makes the detection of viruses in such small volumes possible is the use of a material called graphene. Graphene is extremely thin – only one atom thick – making it very sensitive to anything that attaches to it.

By carefully controlling its surface, scientists at Swansea University were able to make the surface of graphene sensitive to the HCV virus. These measurements were done with graphene specialists at the National Physical Laboratory.

In the future, it is hoped that multiple biosensors can be developed onto a single chip – this could be used to detect different types of dangerous viruses or disease markers from a single measurement.  

Ffion Walters, Innovation Technologist at Swansea University’s Healthcare Technology Centre said: “Highly sensitive and simplistic sensors have never been more in demand with regards point-of-care applications. 

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“This collaborative project has allowed us to realise proof-of-concept real-time sensors for HCV,  which could be especially beneficial in resource-limited settings or for difficult-to-reach populations.”

Professor Owen Guy, Head of Chemistry at Swansea University, said: “At Swansea University, we have now developed graphene-based biosensors for both Hepatitis B and C. This is a major step forward to a future single point of care test”

Dr Olga Kazakova, NPL Fellow Quantum Materials & Sensors added: “NPL was delighted to be part of this multidisciplinary team. Participation in this project allowed us to further develop our metrological validation facilities and apply them to the characterisation of graphene biosensors and aid in solving an important challenge in the health sector.”

Lead image: Graphene device chip attached to an electrical connector, with two 5 μL HCVcAg samples (one applied on each graphene resistor). (Image: Swansea University)

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Science

Public health professor becomes Fellow of Academy of Medical Sciences

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A Swansea University public health expert has been honoured by the prestigious Academy of Medical Sciences

Professor Ronan Lyons, Clinical Professor of Public Health at Swansea University Medical School and one of the two Directors at Population Data Science, is one of 60 outstanding biomedical and health scientists admitted to the Academy’s influential Fellowship.

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The new Fellows have all been recognised for their remarkable contributions to biomedical and health science and their ability to generate new knowledge and improve the health of people everywhere.

Professor Lyons’s research focuses on the use of health information to support the targeting and evaluation of health and non-health service interventions to improve prevention, care and rehabilitation.

During the pandemic, his team have used insights from the rich health data in SAIL Databank to support policy decisions to protect the public, including providing intelligence to the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group and subsequently feeding into the UK’s SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).

Professor Lyons said: “I am delighted and honoured to be selected as a Fellow by the Academy of Medical Sciences.

“This undoubtedly reflects the widespread appreciation of the contribution research conducted using the SAIL Databank make to individuals and society. 

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“It is also recognition of the fantastic team science approach in Population Data Science at Swansea University and our dedication to the advancement of health research through our many collaborations across the UK and around the world.”

The Academy of Medical Sciences is the independent body in the UK representing the diversity of medical science. Selected from 366 candidates from across the UK, the 60 scientists chosen marks the highest number of new Fellows ever elected.

Academy President Professor Dame Anne Johnson said: “It gives me great pleasure to welcome these 60 experts to the Fellowship to help to address the major health challenges facing society.

“The diversity of biomedical and health expertise within our Fellowship is a formidable asset that in the past year has informed our work on critical issues such as tackling the Covid19 pandemic, understanding the health impacts of climate change, addressing health inequalities, and making the case for funding science. The new Fellows of 2022 will be critical to helping us deliver our ambitious 10-year strategy that we will launch later this year.”

The new Fellows will be formally admitted to the Academy next month.

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(Lead image: Swansea University)

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