First meeting of CF Hub environmental network

Post for Guardian Cardiff blog.

More than 30 people attended the unveiling of a new umbrella group for environmental and social organisations last night.

Members of various groups squeezed into the Yurt at the back of Milgi in Cryws Road, Roath for the first meeting of CF Hub, a network for environmental and green issues in Cardiff.

Environmental green volunteers gather in the Yurt at Milgi Bar for the first CF Hub meeting

Volunteers gather in the Yurt at Milgi Bar for the first CF Hub meeting

The group aims to launch a community website in March next year, and appealled for feedback from volunteers and activists.

Organiser Steve Smith, who is also involved with Cardiff Taffs community currency projectCardiff Transition project and Fair Trade Wales, said:

“The aim of tonight is to bring people together.

“The website will be for anyone who wants to be involved, and will be a magazine style blog and events calendar with guest writers, articles and interviews.”

“It will mainly be about green issues but we did not want ‘green’ to be in the name because of political connotations.”

A  number of organisations were present at the Hub in the Pub event, including the Cardiff Foodbank charity which provides food for those in financial hardship, Hungry Planet wholefoods co-operative, Oxfam student group, People & Planet student group, Riverside and Roath farmer’s market, Recovery Cymru support group and the Zeitgeistsocial movement.

Environmental green volunteers gather in the Yurt at Milgi Bar for the first CF Hub meeting

Volunteers gather in the Yurt at Milgi Bar for the first CF Hub meeting

Kate Meakin, of Cardiff Transition, which campaigns for grass roots responses to climate change and oil dependence, said:

“The CF Hub will be really useful to help us.

“We will be able to contact and work with other groups doing similar things, and let them know about events we are holding.”

Mr Smith said the CF Hub is intended to be both an online and offline group, and until the website is launched next year those interested should visit the CF Hub facebook group.

Paul Buckley talks about big business research at Cardiff Science Café

Marketing psychologist Paul Buckley gave listeners at the Cardiff Science Café a glimpse into the world of consumer spending research last night.

Paul discussed ways that big businesses gather information about their customers’ tastes, habits and preferences, and how they use these findings to maximise sales.

Paul Buckley at Cardiff Science Café Cardiff Gwyddor Science Mark Riley Cardwell Wales Science Environment

Paul Buckley at Science Cafe Cardiff

He said that there has been a trend in the last ten years towards using smell to create a happy environment for shoppers – which will make them spend more.

“There is a company in London called IFF that turn out shop fragrances, and one of the things you can buy is Christmas smell which is basically mulled wine and cloves.

“You put it into the air conditioning system, pump the thing out and as customers walk into your shop they get the ‘Christmas feel’ because of the smell.

“At the bottom of your brain is an area called the limbic system where smell sensations are located. It is also connected very closely to emotions – its very good at triggering emotions.

“So as soon as people can smell the mulled wine it brings vivid memories of Christmas to them – much more than writing.”

He claimed that music is used in a similar way:

“The faster the music in the shop, the faster customers push their trolleys.

“You don’t want them to push their trolleys quickly because they get round the shop quickly, they don’t make many impulse buys and then they go.

“If it was something like Motorhead they would be round the store and out!

“So consequently there are companies that produce this music, round about 80 beats per minute with lots of compression on it so you don’t get too many highs or lows.

“Online, fast music gets more sales – its sort of the opposite to super markets.

“Fast music increases your heart rate and increases excitement, so consequently they reckon you get more online sales that way.”

Paul has 18 years of marketing experience and is currently a marketing lecturer at University of Wales Institute, Cardiff.

He has been a consultant for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF, now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), and most recently for Kia Motors.

When working for the MAFF, he carried out research into product labelling and looked at how customers interprted terms like “low fat” and “organic”.

The event, held at the Gate Café Bar in Keppoch Street, Roath, is the latest in a long run of science cafés held on the first Tuesday of every month.

Huw James, who has been on the group’s committee for three years, told me that the idea of the sessions is for an expert to gve their thoughts, which will spark a debate from the attendees.

The sessions feature speakers from a range of scientific backgrounds, and have covered climate change, GM foods, HIV and Dark Matter.

Funding for Science Research Councils following the Spending Review.

The UK science budget was spared the worst in George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review on October 20, to the relief of the research community.

Instead of a feared 20 per cent cut, George Osborne anounced that the cash allocated to science would be frozen at £4.6bn per year.

Science Is Vital, campaign, Mark Riley Cardwell, Mark Cardwell, Science, Gwyddor Science, Journalism, Cardiff, Wales

Science Is Vital campaigners, photo from The Telegraph

This was a relative success for the Science is Vital campaign, which lobbied parliament to preserve the UK’s ‘proud history of excellence’ in science.

But the announcement will not end all worries : against inflation, the frozen budget will mean an effective cut of 10 per cent over the next four years.

How will this effective decrease in funding affect science research in the next few years?

Although the exact figures have not yet been decided, Science Minister David Willets has suggested that of the £4.6bn total, a rough figure of £2.75bn will be allocated each year to RCUK, the umbrella group in the department of Business, Innovation and Skills which contains the seven research councils.

This number is down from the £3.2bn given to the research councils this year.

In addition, the Medical Research Council (MRC) will be protected in real terms, so its budget will increase proportionally to inflation. If the overall budget is declining in real terms, what is left for the other research councils is getting smaller.

Research Councils in RCUK

  • * Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • * Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • * Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • * Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • * Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • * Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • * Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

I spoke to Peter Coles, Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy, who writes the excellent blog In The Dark.

He told me:

“The astronomy department gets most of its research funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council. At the moment, the success rate for research grant applications is around 10 per cent, but this number could fall as the budget is stretched.”

European Southern Observatory Chile Gwyddor Wales Mark Riley Cardwell Journalism Science Cardiff University

ESO in Chile - Photo from European Southern Observatory

“The school’s involvement in astronomy projects around the world is also funded by research council. These include the European Southern Observatory, the Gemini observatory, UKIRT and the James Clerk Maxwell telescope.

“Our access to these could end if we can’t secure money from the STFC.”

The Astronomy Instrumentation is a research group based in the school which develops instruments for ground and space based observatories, including ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory.

SFTC funding for the project is due for renewal in April, and there are fears it will not continue if the grant is not secured.

Peter said the problem with the threat of projects such as these being closed down is that specialist scientists will not want to stay in Britain.

“If projects are cancelled, specialist scientists wil go abroad and it will be very hard to convince them to come back. Experts will get restless and not stay if the ‘vibe is better in the US’ or other countries.”

Adrian Smith, the director general for business and research and now higher education and innovation at BIS will shortly decide on the specific allocations for each Research Council.

In addition, university funding from Higher Education Funding Council for Wales will be cut by 12 per cent over the next three years in the the National Assembly’s draft budget published last week.

But the amount of Quality-Related (QR) Research funding, which grants research money straight to universities rather then on a project basis has not been decided yet.

Until these figures are announced, the research community will be hesitant to make long term plans.