Creative Associates

Communicating research to those outside the subject area is important, but can be challenging - it is much more than disseminating results. It is about translating these results into the right language, format and context for the best accessibility and impact. 

The Sustainable Earth Institute's Creative Associates projects aim to explore novel and innovative ways of communicating research and develop a portfolio of case studies of the different creative approaches possible.


How have iconic lighthouses situated on precipitous reefs, survived for a century or more? Will they survive into the future?

To answer these questions the University of Plymouth has been conducting research into wave loading on rock lighthouses over the past few years. A pilot project on the Eddystone Lighthouse led to the multi-partner Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded STORMLAMP (STructural behaviour Of Rock Mounted Lighthouses At the Mercy of imPulsive waves) project.

The research team recently worked with the Filmbright video production company to produce a short film on the project to date. Context for the film was provided by the UK General Lighthouse Authorities, and the historic background to the lighthouses by the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery historian.

It never rains, but it pours: reading a desert landscape

The Atacama Desert (Northern Chile) is the driest, highest and oldest desert in the world. The lack of rain preserves ancient features within the landscape in exceptional detail.

This provides an excellent geomorphological and geological archive that spans some two million years that can be used to better understand current hazards that impact dryland areas. The particular focus of the research is understanding the potential causes and impacts of catastrophic flooding. In this project we aim to convey how geoscientists would explore and interpret such a landscape through the use of immersive Virtual Reality (VR). The challenges include communicating how geoscientists read a changing landscape and comprehending variable spatial and time-scales.

Read more about the project

What’s a mobile phone made of? (Towards sustainable recycling of mobile phones)

Every year, 1.4 billion mobile phones are produced around the world. Many of us have more than one, but what are they made of, where do those materials come from, and what is the best thing to do with our devices once we have no more use for them? The answers to all those questions are the focus of an eye-catching new project from scientists at the University. 

The project was conceived by Dr Arjan Dijkstra and Dr Colin Wilkins, geologists from the University’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, with their initial interest being sparked by the increasing reliance of high-tech everyday items on rare mineral resources putting new demands on the global mining industry.

They then worked in tandem with Devon-based animation company Real World Visuals to produce a short video which demonstrates the amount and variety of the Earth’s resources used each year in global mobile phone production. Read more and watch the video.

Signposting the NurSusTOOLKIT

Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century and will affect most populations in the next decades, putting the lives and wellbeing of billions of people at increased risk. Delivering healthcare has a significant impact on the environment, resulting in further health problems that require interventions. 

The aim of the project was to develop an innovative and engaging digital representation of key aspects of sustainability and health, in order to raise awareness about the need for education and promote the NurSusTOOLKIT.

Watch the animation and read about the project

A suitcase full of eels

The European eel is a critically endangered species and with the creative collaboration, A Suitcase Full of Eels, John Kilburn, Lecturer in Illustration a the University of Plymouth, and Luke Thompson from Guillemot Press, are hoping to raise awareness of this exceptionally weird and mysterious fish.

The fishy suitcase is an explorative and experimental project, working within conservation, absurdism, writing, art, publishing and illustration to help promote the charismatic qualities of a species at the heart of European ecosystems.

Find out more about the project

Robotic fruit and vegetable picker video

According to the National Farmer's Union, because of a shortage of labour, fruit and vegetables are being left to rot on British farms. Manual labour often represents more than half of the farmers’ costs, and is typically imported. Dr Martin Stoelen and his team are developing cutting-edge robotics based upon soft robot arms for selective harvesting to tackle this growing problem. Including cauliflower, raspberry and tomato harvesting. This project will aim to produce bite-size videos optimized for social media to explain the problem, aims and solutions of the Robot Fruit and Veg harvesting systems being developed at the University of Plymouth. This video is part-funded through the ERDF Agri-tech project.

Visualisation of carbon sequestration in temperate peatlands

Globally, opportunities for the uptake and storage of CO2 are of vital importance in reducing the impacts of climate change. Biological systems such as peatlands can remove CO2 from the atmosphere. They cover only 3 per cent of the Earth’s terrestrial land area but are by far the most significant long-term store of plant carbon, holding twice as much carbon as all of Earth’s forest combined. In total this carbon equates to ~1800 gigatons of CO2, which is over half of the total amount held in the atmosphere. A Creative Associates project led by Dr Paul Lunt has been researching the carbon storage (sequestration) in temperate peatlands.

Read more about the project and watch the animation

Learning to change the world: using the UN Sustainable Development Goals to transform Higher Education (HE)

The University of Plymouth has an international reputation in sustainability education research, as highlighted through an intended REF impact case study. This research project is being developed to contribute to this case study by capturing how a community of practice at Plymouth is transforming HE teaching to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A creative partnership has been formed to help tell the story of this research project in novel ways, enabling the impact of this work to reach a broader audience; crossing disciplinary divides and supporting public engagement. It seeks to creatively communicate how the campus, city and local environment can serve as a living lab where staff, students and community partners learn to change the world together.

Extract, Transform, Bed Load (‘ET BedLoad’)

Understanding bedload transport in rivers is fundamental to managing for river resilience, avoiding flood risk and promoting biodiversity.
Recent developments in passive monitoring equipment now make low-cost, long-term collection of high-resolution bedload data possible and, with it, comes the potential for transforming our understanding of how rivers function.

The 2018 Sustainable Earth Institute Creative Associate Award enabled collaboration between Dr Peter Downs, Associate Professor in Physical Geography at the University of Plymouth, Dr Philip Soar (University of Portsmouth), Plymouth-based open data firm The Data Place, and the creative technology company Controlled Frenzy. The project has developed an open data platform for storing, interrogating and visualising high-resolution bedload data.

Find out more about the project

Professional photo reporting of pulmonary rehabilitation in Kyrgyzstan

Dr Rupert Jones is leading a team of University of Plymouth researchers within an international programme of research addressing the problem of chronic lung disease in resource-poor settings.

The FRESH AIR programme is carried out in Uganda, the Kyrgyz Republic, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India and Greece. These low-resource settings have high levels of lung disease related to tobacco consumption and household/outdoor air pollution.

Creative Associate and photojournalist, Carey Marks, accompanied the team on a visit to Kyrgyzstan where they were working in the implementation of pulmonary rehabilitation.

View the photographs from the trip, and find out more about the project

Smart Cities Toolkit

Dr Katharine Willis from the School of Art, Design and Architecture is developing creative technologies as toolkits to enable more meaningful citizen participation in smart city projects as part of the AHRC funded Whose Smart City? network.

The project includes a mix of creative demos and videos, together with explanations of how to make simple smart devices and interactions, and was developed with tech startup OnePolygon. The project works with the emerging technologies of IoT (Internet of Things), artificial intelligence and augmented reality in exciting new creative ways.

Read more about the project

Realising land management change in East Africa 

Over the past 10 years, the Tanzanian Maasai landscape has witnessed a dramatic increase in soil erosion with almost total destruction of the soil resource in many areas used for grazing of livestock. 

Professor Will Blake from the University of Plymouth and the project’s creative associate, Carey Marks, developed photographic documentation of the research project in action, a whiteboard animation and a soil erosion game to help the Maasai community understand the process of soil erosion.

View the photos and find out more