Dr Marguerite Nyhan maps interactions between human populations, urban systems and the environment to create healthy, sustainable cities, and she’s starting with Cork.


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Currently, about 56pc of the global population live in cities. This is expected to rise to more than 70pc by 2050.

According to the World Economic Forum, cities cover just 2pc of the world’s land surface yet 75pc of the earth’s material resources are consumed within their boundaries. With the future expansion of urban areas, material consumption is expected to grow also.

In light of this rapidly changing demographic, Dr Marguerite Nyhan’s research is especially timely. Nyhan, who is an associate professor in environmental engineering at University College Cork (UCC), uses new and emerging tech “to study and predict interactions between human populations, urban systems and the environment” with the goal of advancing the science of “sustainable, net-zero, healthy and liveable future cities”.

‘Sensors and data from sensors are transforming urban life’

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com, Nyhan explains that her Environmental Intelligence project, which is funded by the Science Foundation Ireland, “harness[es] state-of-the-art technologies, including sensors, largescale digital datasets, artificial intelligence and digital twins” to understand “the dynamics of urban populations and transport systems, the changing patterns of emissions and air pollution, and the varying distributions of green space” in several cities in Ireland and the US.

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Nyhan describes this research as “unprecedented” in its “spatiotemporal resolution and scale” as it encompasses “entire cities or megacities”.

‘Analysable and predictable’

In a TED Talk she gave a few years ago, Nyhan said that “sensors and data from sensors are transforming urban life”. She used the example of the famous scramble crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo as seeming to be a chaotic mass but in fact “much of this movement is analysable and predictable”.

Most of the people in this scene have at least one, if not many, mobile, connected devices which allows their movements to be tracked and analysed. By using this data to develop mathematical models which describe the principles underlying human mobility, among many other data points, Nyhan aims to understand cities, how we use them and how we can improve them.[…]

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