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Sustainable urbanisation project named winner of Newton China Prize

Image credit: Sheng-Feng Qin

A research project that combines big data and the principles of service design to improve the lives of elderly people in parts of China has been awarded the prestigious £200,000 Newton China Prize 2019.

The project, called ‘Transforming service design and big data technologies into sustainable urbanisation’, is led by Northumbria University in the UK and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Newton Prize showcases science and innovation partnerships between the UK and designated countries that are helping to solve global development challenges.

The winning project’s UK team is led by Sheng-feng Qin, professor of design at Northumbria University. Following the announcement, he said: “Countries around the world are struggling to meet the challenge of rapid urban expansion and ageing populations.

“In developing countries economic progress places even greater pressure on vital but under-resourced services such as healthcare and transportation. There is a need for smarter, more accessible services which improve people’s wellbeing and ability to contribute to society and the economy.

“Winning the 2019 Newton China Prize means our UK and Chinese partners can continue to work together to develop our project to promote sustainable healthcare and social care policies, services and technologies in China for villagers and the vulnerable.”

The researchers are applying big data and service design principles to the difficulties people face in villages and cities, leading to improved transport services and better access and suitability of core services for elderly people.

Presenting the award, Dame Barbara Woodward, British Ambassador to China, said: “I am delighted to award the Newton Fund prize to this fantastic project, which is helping to make our cities more liveable for our ageing population.

“The UK-China research partnership has delivered huge benefits to the world in tackling global challenges and achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Newton Fund has played a key role in bringing the best UK and Chinese scientists together and will continue to provide more opportunities in the future.”

Professor Wang Hongan from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Software Design said: “With Newton Fund support, we have brought together an interdisciplinary research team, combining the UK’s strength in service design and China’s strength in big data analysis and natural interaction technology to provide intellectual and human support to resolve the issues of global sustainable urbanisation. We hope to use our technology to provide personalised services to vulnerable groups in cities such as the elderly and disabled.”

The project has been supported by the British Council and National Natural Science Foundation of China.

The Newton Fund brings together researchers from the UK and partner countries to support economic development, social welfare and increased research and innovation capacity. It is managed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The annual Newton Prize is awarded for the best research or innovation promoting the economic development and social welfare of Newton Fund partner countries. Eligible prize countries for 2019 were China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Five projects were shortlisted for the China category in 2019. The others were:

  • A new generation of solar panels to reduce fuel consumption and support our transition to a low-carbon economy
  • A nature-based solution to tackle the problem of rising water levels due to climate change
  • Protecting cities against the challenges of climate change and extreme weather
  • Vaccines to combat avian disease and support food security

Professor John Loughhead, chief scientific adviser to BEIS, said: “These shortlisted projects demonstrate how efforts to tackle global development challenges can change lives. As well as making a valuable contribution to global goals, these partnerships also develop new and fruitful networks between researchers and provide vital career opportunities to researchers and innovators.”

Another three UK-China partnerships have been shortlisted for the Newton Prize 2019 Chair’s Award, a prize of up to £500,000 for a project that demonstrates the best knowledge exchange and partnership development. The winner of the Chair’s Award will be announced in February.

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