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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Image: Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

In a summer when the UK is recording its highest ever temperatures, it’s timely that a new research group – the Energy and Environment Group – has just been launched in this Department.

Its members are researchers interested in how computer science can be used to address key environmental challenges. These include assessing and managing the adverse effects of human activity on the environment (such as climate change and biodiversity loss) and reducing our global demand for energy.

Though its members are based here in the Department of Computer Science and Technology, their research interests are interdisciplinary and they collaborate with colleagues in a wide range of areas from climate and plant sciences, ecology and engineering to economics and law. 

But though the group is new, the ideas behind it are not.

The current record high temperatures only emphasise the need to harness computer science to help us tackle the problems caused by climate change.

Prof Anil Madhavapeddy

"In fact, the genesis of the group goes back 15 years or so to Professor Sir Andy Hopper's work on Computing for the Future of the Planet," explains Professor Srinivasan Keshav (right), one of the co-leaders of the group.

Prof Hopper’s award-winning programme developed a framework for the role of computing in dealing with the sustainability of the planet, such as using digital devices to sense and optimise the use of resources in the physical world.

This work spawned discussions and conferences and stimulated the interest of additional Faculty members here in the Department, including Profs Jon Crowcroft and Anil Madhavapeddy 

And after new Faculty members with a specialisation in this area were recently appointed, it became apparent that the Department needed to provide a focal point for this area of research. So the new group was created.

The group's core members include Emily Shuckburgh (left), our Professor of Environmental Data Science.

On Tuesday 19 July, as temperatures in the UK exceeded 40C for the first time ever, she told Channel 4 News: "We're now seeing the impacts of climate change occurring in every single region of the world. Heatwaves, as we're experiencing at the moment; flooding events as we've seen repeatedly impact communities across the world including in the UK; devastating wild fires that we've also seen causing devastation to communities. This isn't a problem of the future, it's a problem of today."

Prof Keshav, whose research focus is on reducing the carbon footprint of energy generation, transportation, and buildings, is also a core member. He has been studying the biodiversity potential of forests, looking at both conservation and restoration, and together with Prof Madhavapeddy, recently co-founded the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Credits.

The new research group also includes students from AI4ER, the doctoral training centre in the Application of AI to the study of Environmental Risk.

We're now seeing the impacts of climate change occurring in every single region of the world... This isn't a problem of the future, it's a problem of today.

Prof Emily Shuckburgh

This Department co-hosts this centre and a number of its PhD students are working under the supervision of Faculty here, including several students from other departments. The new group gives them a research 'home' here in the building and access to mentoring by academics working in this area.

The same will be true for the Computer Science PhD students from the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Credits who will also be joining the group later this year.

Lectures, seminars, courses and collaborations
The Energy and Environment Group has several additional aims, including to set up 'Energy & Environment' lectures and seminars, and to contribute to the development of relevant undergraduate and graduate courses within the University.

It will also liaise with other affiliated groups and initiatives across the University, including the Institute of Computing for Climate Science and the Energy Interdisciplinary Research Centre.

"This is such an important area of research and engagement for this Department," says Prof Madhavapeddy (right). "I’m very glad we have been able to set up this group.

"The current record high temperatures," he adds, "only emphasise the need to harness computer science to help us tackle the problems caused by climate change, and find effective ways to protect the environment from the harmful effects of human activity, such as deforestation, in order to help us maintain biodiversity."

Published by Rachel Gardner on Tuesday 19th July 2022