Future Human Sandpits – November 9-10th 2021

The Future Human SRT commenced its first year of events with a 2-day intensive research Sandpit in November. The event brought together academics from five Divisions, who participated in facilitated discussions aimed at developing new inter-disciplinary research ideas and projects relating to human augmentation. On the first day of the event the participants discussed their hopes and aspirations for the Sandpits, introduced their experience and expertise, and exchanged initial ideas about exciting themes to develop. On the second day, the group prioritised research themes and spent much of the day refining these and working towards well-shaped projects that were shared with the wider cohort and benefited from their feedback. From the 2-day Sandpit, ten project proposals were developed and pitched to a selection panel comprising of the Future Human Theme Leads and Dr Tim Hopthrow from the GRC. The standard was amazingly high, with all ten of the pitched projects demonstrating huge potential and exciting opportunities for follow-up. The Panel identified two of the project teams to receive the two Future Human PhD Scholarships for the 2022-23 academic year, and a further two teams to receive seedcorn funding to run more contained projects.


The projects are:

Decision design ecology and deciding whether or not to treat
The ‘Decision Design Ecology’ PhD project will study medical treat/don’t treat decisions involving human-machine interaction, in the specific context of kidney dialysis. Adopting a critical and historicising perspective, the project asks: what ecology do these decisions rest upon, and how do its ecological elements relate? The setting of this project in a healthcare context will spotlight how digital technologies present new mediations between social and systemic questions of equality, access and ethics on the one hand, and individual bodies, lives, and deciding brains on the other.
Project team: Simon Bailey, Larry Duffy, Raza Mikelyte, Connal Parsley, Daniel Soria

Taking a combined technology driven and patient-centred approach to the development of next-generation bladder cancer treatments
This project will provide proof of concept for the use of a novel molecular technology to increase the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs and provide a route to a proof-of concept clinical trial for the treatment of bladder cancer. However, unlike traditional PhD’s in the area, we will involve the patients and clinicians themselves in the design of the molecular technology from the very beginning, revolutionising the way that academic drug development projects are conducted.
Project team: Michelle Garrett, Jennifer Hiscock, Katrina Taylor

Exploring the use of static transport: its role in the life of the future human
Alternative, electric and ‘static’ transport modalities, such as e-scooters, have been introduced globally with the intention of providing a shift to more sustainable modes of travel as a primary form of human mobility. Despite their perceived social and environmental benefits, it is questionable whether these micromobility vehicles has predominately replaced active modes of transportation, such as walking or cycling, rather than traditional vehicle use. As such their possible impact on physical inactivity and markers of health has yet to be considered. Improving overall understanding of varied elements of their use may help to shape how transport schemes such as these continue to develop, with the findings from this project potentially contributing to future research into policy, environmental impact, health and engineering in relation to novel transport options. The aims of this project are twofold:
Aim 1: Collect pilot data exploring acute physiological effects and impacts of scooter use in first time and regular users
Aim 2: Explore the rationale for decision making of transport choices and understanding considerations of physical activity within these choices
The opportunity for networking and developing ideas within the sandpit environment was really valuable and fed into developing the ideas for this project. Beyond the sandpits, the idea of establishing future collaborations with other disciplines features strongly within this project and we are looking forward to continuing to work with colleagues across the university.
Project team: Samuel Smith and Katrina Taylor

Establishing user-led priorities for use of immersive technologies in palliative care
Project team: Jim Ang, Rasa Mikelyte, and Samuel Smith


Some quotes from participants of the Sandpit:
It is through interdisciplinary collaboration that true innovation can be found; this is what will revolutionise the world in which we live. The Future Human sandpit allowed us to initiate interdisciplinary collaboration and build an innovative project that we believe can help to change the world, through realising the Future Human – free from cancer.’

‘The sandpits provided a fantastic opportunity to meet and discuss ideas with individuals covering a huge range of disciplinary bases. Knowing that we had only two days the challenge was working out how long to continue with relatively unstructured and wide-ranging conversations, and when to begin to focus down on possible partners and projects.’

As a new member of staff at the University of Kent, I was excited to be selected to take part in the Sandpit days. It was a great opportunity to network, and I enjoyed hearing first-hand about diverse areas of research colleagues at Kent are engaging in. Through the sandpits, I have become part of an interdisciplinary team, researching within a field I hadn’t imagined a few weeks ago. The Sandpits encouraged me to think outside the box and explore ways to apply my interests and expertise beyond my own academic discipline.’

Although I couldn’t attend the Sandpit myself, I had a strong feeling from the rest of the team that the event contributed to building up the momentum and really pushed everyone to aim for the best possible outcome in a very short period of time. The enthusiastic spirit among the team members after the Sandpit definitely contributed to achieve a high quality PhD studentship proposal, and allowed the team to even start planning for future collaborations before knowing the outcome of the bid.”

As an interdisciplinary researcher, I often wonder if there are colleagues across the University who I could be collaborating with on ‘big questions’ beyond our individual fields. The Sandpit offered a concrete process for finding those colleagues and identifying questions in common. Over the course of two days, I ‘went with the process’ and became part of a collaborative group with diverse expertise, but a clear set of shared research interests—enabling us to frame a PhD project in the multi-dimensional way that is so important today. I also met many people I would like to talk to more in the future.”


The Future Human Theme Leads will be running another research Sandpit, specifically for ECRs and MCRs on the 4th and 5th May 2022. More seedcorn funding will be available for the teams and projects formed at this Sandpit. Please watch out for further communication and watch for updates on our website – https://research.kent.ac.uk/signature-themes/events/