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IBEC Seminar: Anthony J. Ryan OBE

Monday, May 29, 2023 @ 12:30 pm2:00 pm

Making Science Work for Refugees and Refugees Work for Science

Prof Anthony J. Ryan, OBE, University of Sheffield, UK

At Zaatari refugee camp, 80,000 people face daily struggles that many of us cannot imagine are squeezed into six square kilometres. With highly qualified jobs at home, they are forcibly unemployed at the camp but embody values that are often forgotten by those of us in more privileged parts of the world: an adaptable approach to solving problems, an aversion to waste, a sense of community. Our research on hydroponics is focussed on the production of high-value crops close to market (urban farming) with a low carbon and water footprint using polyurethane foam as synthetic soil. I will show how a design of experiments approach can predict the productivity of crops from the reagents used in polyurethane synthesis through the properties of the foam.
We connected our work on synthetic soils with a waste disposal problem posed by UNHCR – the UN’s refugee agency. Where they saw dirty unused mattresses, we saw an alternative growth substrate. In doing so we developed small-scale hydroponics at the household and community scale. We responded to the frequent cry of the Syrian refugees – that they miss the colour green – not only did we find a technical fix, but also an impact on well-being. This benefits our work in Sheffield, we now have an urban farm built using the low-cost technology developed in Zaatari with farmers from Syria.

Professor Tony Ryan OBE is The Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Sheffield and the founding Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.
Tony’s research interests include sustainable synthesis, structure, processing, and applications of polymers using advanced analytical and measurement techniques. Recent research projects included renewable sources for polyurethane synthesis, organic photovoltaics, maximising the properties of polymers and biopolymers through flow-induced crystallisation, formulation of home and personal care products and polymer foams for high-intensity urban agriculture. He has co-authored more than 300 papers and patents and 2 books, “Polymer Processing and Structure Development” and “The Solar Revolution: One Planet, 10 Billion People, One Solution.”
More recently, Tony has been focussing on the global challenge of the food, water, and energy nexus; feeding a growing world population. Tony is very active in translational research, disseminating evidence-based science to both experts and non-experts and has been a regular contributor to TV, Radio, National Press and learned societies from The Royal Society of Chemistry to Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs. He presented evidence at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris in 2015 and returned to COP22 in Marrakech in 2016. Tony delivered the televised Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 2002 and was awarded an OBE in 2006 for ‘Services to Science’.
Tony holds a BSc and PhD from the University of Manchester and a DSc from UMIST. He held a NATO Research Fellowship at the University of Minnesota, was a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader in Materials Science at The University of Manchester and was seconded to the Synchrotron Radiation Source at Daresbury. In 1997 he moved to Sheffield and served as Head of Chemistry before becoming the Pro Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Science in 2008, a role which he fulfilled until 2016.


Monday, May 29, 2023
12:30 pm–2:00 pm
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Sala Baobab, Tower I, Floor 11
Baldiri i Reixac
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