Global researchers for the future of cities

The construction of knowledge and the solutions for the different crisis in our urban planet cannot be seen anymore from a one-sided perspective, but rather, need to be built and rely on the power of a collaborative and multidisciplinary platform that adopts a holistic approach that is effective and has a positive impact.

With that in mind, during one week, 50 researchers from the six technical universities of the GlobalTech Alliance gathered for the 10th edition of Global Fellows Program, discussing the future of cities with a focus on health and wellbeing. The event, held at London’s Olympic Park’s Velodrome, took place from 11 to 15 June 2018 and was organised and hosted by the Imperial College London (ICL), ranked as the 8th best university worldwide by both QS and THE rankings, in partnership with the Technical University of Munich (TUM). In this post, I intend to give a highlight of what happened on the five rather intense days.


Global fellow researchers gathered on the last day after the first pitching.


London’s Velodrome: Lee Valey VeloPark

My home university, the University of New South Wales, UNSW Australia, selected 3 PhD students in a two-stage nomination process, with me being one of them, alongside two other colleagues, and a fourth one, representing both UNSW and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), in Singapore.


From left to right, the three researchers representing UNSW (Malshika, Henrique and Charishma), and the one representing both NTU and UNSW (Daniel).

Researchers were grouped into 5 multidisciplinary and multi-university teams, each with a challenge in one specific area: mobility/transport, health, smart data, housing, and business and infrastructure. Although the programme aimed at solutions for urban issues in each of the topics, there was also a whole set of personal and professional skills to be developed:

  • international networking and collaboration;
  • communication, collaboration and teamwork;
  • problem-solving in an interdisciplinary context;
  • leadership, delegation, self-awareness, co-sensing;
  • listening, debating, among many others.

As a Brazilian based in Sydney, Australia, I was quite glad to meet another 3 Brazilians, from TUM, during the week.

Highlights of the programme

Although the programme HQ was the velodrome, activities and technical visits took place in different places:

  • The Crystal: Siemens, a sustainable building where we had the opportunity to explore a range of different smart technologies to improve and solutions the future of cities,;
  • The Emirates Cable Car, that crosses over the Thames River from Royal Docks to the Greenwich Peninsula, next to the O2 dome and The Crystal, bringing a different perception of an area that has been going under constant urban regeneration for over a decade;
  • Imperial’s new White City campus, with the north section mostly developed, and a whole south area. Located among major roads and railways, and bordering communities from different socioeconomic levels, the context of the new campus was used to explore perspectives of public engagement, while also putting us in contact with startups concerned with new technologies and solutions, such as Blakbear – a portable air quality sensor, CustoMem – developing biotechnology-based smart materials for tertiary water treatment, and Smap Energy – focused on energy smart metering.
  • Imperial’s main campus, on South Kensington, in the heart of London.
The images above, starting top left, clockwise, show a game simulation to understand how different departments of a city work together, much alike SimCity; The Crystal building from ground and above, a building at the new Imperial White City campus; and a view from above the Emirates Cable car towards the O2 dome with the city of London skyline in the background.

Mind the Gap – the mobility/transport team

As mentioned, five teams worked on different issues of the city. The mobility/transport team, named Mind the Gap, in the context of the famous London Tube, aimed at bridging the gap and integrating different modes of transportion in an app called TravelUp. The idea was to foster the use of the most sustainable modes by rewarding the user when choosing the less polluting options, such as walking, subway or electric vehicles.

‘Mind the Gap’ working on their solution for urban mobility issues © Imperial College London

‘Mind the Gap’ presenting their solution

The ‘Mind the Gap’ team. From left to right, Anna (ICL), Jiwoo (ICL), Hamdi (ICL), Laura (TUM), Ekaterina (TUM), Veronica (TUM), Henrique (UNSW), Jonathan (TUM), Xiaozhou (SJTU), Dr Richard Bale (our coach from ICL), and Qiao (ICL) – 10 different nationalities.

From the 5 proposals, two were selected by the judges. The proposals selected were the ones focused on housing and health. Congratulations to them and all the other teams. The results denote the true meaning of this programme and go beyond any ranking!

The two teams whose proposals were selected as the best by the judges.


The main outcomes of the GlobalTech programme are not the technical solutions but re-learning new ways of working and developing ideas. Having a background in the built environment (as an architect, urbanist, urban engineer and sustainability professional and academic), I have always considered myself part of a multidisciplinary environment – that may be true, however, the possibilities and the range of this multi and interdisciplinarity gained a whole new meaning in London. The possibilities and perspectives are infinite, and we need to be truly openminded and humble. Sometimes, stepping back and slowing down in different situations to consider the other, the different, the one thing you always thought wasn’t true, might be the real deal to find a more effective solution (out of many possibilities) to a problem.

Some of the learning outcomes that I expect to take with me and spread to my fellow researchers back at UNSW are:

  • The need to develop projects with multi-interdisciplinary teams;
  • Strategies and gamification as ways to improve teamwork;
  • The evolution and possibilities regarding the use of portable sensors connected to smartphones – an aspect that I am already exploring on my thesis;
  • The consideration of the community and the importance of public engagement to make a solution feasible and successful;
  • Different methodologies for research;
  • The solutions that are being implemented in London, a global city that so richly combines the old and the new; and very importantly
  • The importance of building relations beyond the walls of academia – going out and about, exploring the city, having a beer, or just chatting in a different environment can have a powerful impact on how people connect and bond. I know, by experience, that this doesn’t happen very often at a Higher Degree Research level.

In a few days, I’ll be visiting TUM. Rather than a mere visit to know the facilities and researches underway, as previously organised, it will now be a reunion with my new colleagues and friends to discuss academic opportunities for collaboration, and also a chance to have a few more beers to foster new ideas for our cities.


Some of the Global Fellows going around the London Olympic Village – a 360 degrees perspective as a tiny planet.

The next edition of the programme, in 2019, will take place in Beijing from 9 to 19 July, in a partnership between ICL and Tsinghua University. If you are a PhD student in one of the GlobalTech universities, I highly recommend applying. It was an intense and busy week that has highly impacted my professional, academic and personal mindset.

I would like to thank once more my Director of Postgraduate Research, Riza Sunindijo, for nominating me as a representant for the Faculty of Built Environment, and UNSW and the GRS for the award that allowed me to come to this experience.

And if you want to know more details of the programme, just get in touch!


Henrique Benites

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