In the summer of 2022, a ten-strong team of Oxford graduate students travelled to Tenerife, four of whom worked on a project to investigate food waste in hotels and holiday resorts on the Spanish island, as part of the easyJet holidays Sustainable Tourism Programme.
A collaboration between Oxford University’s SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Impact Lab and easyJet holidays, the programme enables Oxford students to work alongside businesses to identify and deliver solutions that help develop sustainable travel. Reducing food waste is a global concern identified in the United Nations (UN) SDGs and is considered the third most promising solution to address climate change.
Just 10 months on, the work of these ‘SDG Impact Lab Fellows’ is having a tangible real-world impact following the UK-based tour operator’s unveiling of an initiative that will utilise the power of AI to reduce food waste and run more sustainable kitchens in destinations where it offers package holidays.
The project team was made up of a diverse group of Oxford students studying a range of subjects as varied as International Development and Archaeological Science, and from as far afield as South Africa and Bolivia. Over four weeks they undertook research to understand the scale of the issue of food waste in the island’s hotels and develop evidence-based solutions to tackle it.
SDG Impact Lab Fellow, Laura Ballerini, a PhD Candidate in International Development, talks about how the team went about it: ‘We carried out mixed-method research and relied on a two-pronged approach. The first was a quantitative survey which we sent to a sample of 85 hotels in Tenerife to ascertain pre-existing approaches to sustainability and current food waste management mechanisms.
‘The second approach involved in-depth, semi-structured interviews with hotel directors, managers, and staff. These interviews aimed at gaining greater insights into the experiences and practices used by hotels to tackle food waste. Interviews were often accompanied by what we called ‘kitchen-based ethnography’, which essentially consisted of visits to hotel kitchens and long, informal conversations with chefs and kitchen staff.’
The team also engaged with a wide range of stakeholders with expertise in food waste, including leading researchers from local universities, public officials, private-sector experts, and representatives of local NGOs.
Desmond Okumbor, who completed the Lab Fellowship alongside an MSc in Politics Research, describes the value of key stakeholder engagement: ‘Presenting to stakeholders proved to be an informative and enlightening experience. During this process, we were afforded the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the critical issues at hand, which in turn allowed us to effectively identify and evaluate potential areas where our contributions could provide substantial value.’
Their research revealed that 18% of food waste in Tenerife was generated by the hospitality sector alone and that most hotels on the island had limited to no measures in place to adequately quantify the amount of food waste they generated.
The team recommendation was a partnership with Winnow, a UK tech company, to provide AI solutions to enable hotels and resorts in Tenerife to measure and prevent food waste. They pitched their business case to easyJet holidays in July 2022.
Based on the Oxford team’s recommendations, easyJet holidays has now formed a first-of-its-kind partnership with Winnow for the launch of a pilot programme that will monitor the reduction of food waste at one of their most popular hotels, the Bahia Principe Sunlight Costa Adeje resort in Tenerife.
Using technology similar to that of driverless cars, Winnow’s AI tools learn to ‘see’ food being wasted through a connected terminal with a motion camera. Data is shared with hotel teams who receive reports that pinpoint waste, giving them the insight to make operational improvements. Typically, kitchens using this form of AI solution see food waste halved within 12-18 months.
Project team member Desmond Okumbor explains: ‘AI Winnow is a smart solution to food waste because it leverages AI technology to provide automated data collection, insights and recommendations, real-time feedback, and cost savings for businesses. By helping businesses to reduce their food waste, it can also contribute to reducing the environmental impact of food waste.’
Laura Ballerini, a PhD Candidate in International Development, said, ‘It was an immense joy to see that the research efforts my team put into unpacking the major issue of food waste informed the launch of a first-of-its-kind pilot programme with the potential to make a substantial, tangible impact!’
MPP+MBA student Diego Rojas-Arancibia reflects positively on his experience as a Lab Fellow: 'I had a great time working with eJh. We were able to lead our own research, and work on something that can achieve real impact. Moreover, without the field research, we would not have been able to understand hotels' needs. Having a combination of training and field research helped us not only to come up with a strong project, but also to learn different leadership skills’.
Following the successful outcome of the first year of the SDG Lab’s Sustainable Tourism Programme, a second cohort of Oxford students are undertaking Lab Fellowships to develop strategic and destination-based projects to help make easyJet holidays an industry leader in sustainable tourism.
Established in 2021, the SDG Impact Lab brings together the research expertise of Oxford University with partners across industry sectors, to address the most pressing challenges of our time. The Lab’s programmes enable talented graduate students to collaborate with non-academic partners to identify creative, interdisciplinary solutions that advance the UN SDGs.
Find out more about the SDG Impact Lab here.
On World Malaria Day 2023, the global fight against malaria has hit a critical point in Africa. Recent studies have confirmed that malaria parasites resistant to artemisinin have emerged in Rwanda, Uganda and the Horn of Africa.
Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are the first line treatment for malaria and there is no immediate replacement available. The loss of ACTs will put millions of Africans, mostly children under the age of 5, at risk of drug-resistant malaria infection and death.
One possible solution?
Adding a third drug to current ACT drug combinations. These Triple ACTs or TACTs have been found in clinical trials in Asia to be highly efficacious even in places where ACTs were failing.
'It is so much easier to prevent antimalarial drug resistance than to try and contain it. We are in danger losing of our current antimalarial drugs to resistance,' said Professor Sir Nick White, University of Oxford Professor of Tropical Medicine based at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU), in Bangkok.
'Triple artemisinin combination treatments [TACTs] will protect against resistance and help ensure that these drugs remain effective until new drugs arrive in 5-10 years time,' said Professor White.
Before TACTs can be widely deployed in Africa, however, their efficacy, safety and tolerability must be confirmed in African populations, especially children.
To that end, the Development of Triple Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (DeTACT) trial is studying in eight African and two Asian countries two new TACTs - Artemether+lumefantrine+amodiaquine and Artesunate+piperaquine+mefloquine - to generate evidence that they are safe and effective malaria therapies.
The DeTACT project has also conducted modelling, ethics and market positioning studies to support their use in Africa and thereby prevent or delay the emergence of artemisinin and multi-drug resistant malaria.
'The DeTACT project aims to provide the necessary evidence that TACTs can both delay antimalarial drug resistance to existing drugs, and be an effective treatment for multidrug resistant infections. DeTACT will also deliver a product to market, and engage with national and global policy makers and stakeholders to discuss the potential position of TACTs in the mix of antimalarial drugs,' said University of Oxford Professor Arjen Dondorp, DeTACT project Principal Investigator.
Led by University of Oxford-affiliated researchers based at MORU in Bangkok, and funded by UK Aid administered through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the DeTACT trial has recruited over ~1800 patients as of April 2023 , with recruitment and follow-up completed in Niger and Nigeria, and no major or unexpected safety signals detected.
Once recruitment and follow-up are completed at the end of 2023, DeTACT investigators will present results in April 2024. Prior to that, they aim to present interim findings at a DeTACT symposium in October 2023 at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) 72nd Annual Meeting in Chicago, USA.
The first modelling study to project the impact of TACTs in preventing or delaying artemisinin resistance, led by Associate Professor Ricardo Aguas, University of Oxford, and Associate Professor Maciej Boni, Pennsylvania State University, has been completed and will soon be published in the prestigious journal, Nature Communications.
'These DeTACT modelling studies and market positioning studies generate data that will be crucial in our efforts to effectively introduce TACTS and to project the impact and cost-effectiveness of TACTs in preventing the spread of artemisinin resistance. Along with the clinical trial, these studies constitute a comprehensive assessment of the expected advantages and potential barriers to the large-scale use of TACTs,' explained Dr Chanaki Amaratunga, DeTACT Project Coordinator.
The DeTACT project has engaged malaria stakeholder engagement officers to communicate directly with National Malaria Control Programmes (NMCPs) to present to them to the DeTACT project and TACTs in general. Presentations on DeTACT and TACTs have been made at the RBM Partnership to End Malaria Case Management Working Group and the Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) Alliance Annual meetings. These efforts have led to significant interest from all parties in participating in future research and exploring the roll-out of TACTs in their countries.
To make TACTs available as quickly as possible where they are most needed it is critical to work with the pharmaceutical industry on the co-formulation. MORU has signed a memorandum of understanding with Fosun Pharma, China, and the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to develop and pre-qualify fixed-dose combinations of artemether-lumefantrine-amodiaquine, prior to deploying them across Africa.
'The DeTACT trial will generate data not only on the efficacy and safety of TACTs but also on the pharmacokinetics of each of the drug components, including in malnourished children – a particularly vulnerable sub-population. In addition, there will be cutting-edge analyses, combining clinical trial data with that from whole genome and transcriptome studies, to improve our understanding of artemisinin and antimalarial drug resistance,' said Dr Mehul Dhorda, DeTACT-Africa Coordinator.
Ethical considerations in deploying triple artemisinin-based combination therapies for malaria: An analysis of stakeholders' perspectives in Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
Ethical, Regulatory and Market related aspects of Deploying Triple Artemisinin-Based Combination Therapies for Malaria treatment in Africa: A study protocol.
Deploying triple artemisinin-based combination therapy (TACT) for malaria treatment in Africa: ethical and practical considerations.
Expert perspectives on the introduction of Triple Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (TACTs) in Southeast Asia: a Delphi study.
To what extent are the antimalarial markets in African countries ready for a transition to triple artemisinin-based combination therapies?
Market Formation in a Global Health Transition.
Triple Artemisinin-Based Combination Therapies for Malaria - A New Paradigm?
A statistical analysis of 650 UK spinouts between 2010 and 2021 shows that the university proportion of equity share has a limited effect on multiple fundraising factors including the probability of spinouts raising equity, the amount of funding raised, and the market valuation of a spinout after it has received funding.
The study, released last week by the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, provides a UK-wide analysis of UK spinouts where a university owns at least a 1% stake of founding equity.
The results speak for themselves, there are some specific effects but the broad-brush argument, that higher university stakes make spinouts unfundable, is not supported in the data.
The paper’s lead author, Thomas Hellmann, DP World Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Oxford Saïd Business School, said, ‘This often-heated debate about a university’s stake in their spinouts happens in a data vacuum, based on opinion and anecdote. We are addressing this gap by analysing systematic data on the relationship between university stakes and subsequent fundraising outcomes. The results speak for themselves, there are some specific effects but the broad-brush argument, that higher university stakes make spinouts unfundable, is not supported in the data.’
The paper entitled ‘How does equity allocation in university spinouts affect fundraising success? Evidence from the UK’ highlights that the average university equity share is 31% and declining, with the University of Oxford’s equity share at 20%, well below the UK average reported. The finding also suggest that the more resources available to university technology transfer offices to spend on registering IP, the higher the number of spinouts are created.
Oxford University Innovation’s CEO, Matt Perkins, said: ‘We welcome this timely UK-wide study and the rigour of the analysis. University Technology Transfer Offices provide tremendous support to create spinout companies by assessing market potential, registering and covering the costs of intellectual property, advising on investment options, and supporting the creation of management teams. We want to see sustained success for the spinouts created and have supported our founders by reducing the University’ founding equity share to 20%, speeding up the creation of companies and reducing the burden of negotiation.'
We remain committed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship to maximise the global impact of the University’s research and expertise and have delivered this through recently reaching a milestone of 300 companies created.
Matt Perkins, Oxford University Innovation
The analysis highlights that less than five per cent of university spinouts in the UK ever raise more than £25 million. This data suggests the debate should focus less on equity share and more on creating more attractive investment opportunities for UK spin outs to scale up exponentially.
The study shows there is no statistically significant impact of a university’s share on venture capital investment in biomedical and engineering spinouts. It highlights a very minimal negative effect of university share on the probability of raising venture capital in less scientific spinout sectors such as IT.
Professor Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Innovation at the University of Oxford said: ‘Oxford remains at the forefront of the UK’s university innovation economy thanks to our researchers and the commercialisation potential of their work. We continue to contribute to the UK’s innovation economy by reinvesting our university returns into funding further research innovation and by aligning our commercialisation approaches with our founders and partners in industry, the investment community, government, and the wider ecosystem.'
Growth of University of Oxford spinouts, 1959 - 2022
At this year's Skoll World Forum Oxford University Innovation (OUI) showcased five social ventures from the University of Oxford changing lives and impacting the environment.
The University’s support for social ventures through OUI started in 2018. Since then 18 social ventures have been created, positively impacting society and making a difference in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Discover five social ventures making waves below:
Greater Change: Alleviating homelessness through empowerment
Greater Change is revolutionising how we approach homelessness by providing financial planning support and micro grants to help those in need overcome financial barriers. With over 670 people supported and 80% now in stable housing, this unique approach has proven to be effective in helping those experiencing homelessness get back on their feet. The best part? Greater Change’s approach is scalable and can quickly plug into partners across wide geographies.
Wise Responder: Creating multidimensional wellbeing
Wise Responder is empowering social investments and sustainable human development goals by providing social metrics for financial institutions, investors, companies, and governments to tackle the world’s declared number one goal: United Nations SDG1 – No Poverty. By identifying deprivations at the individual and household levels, including health, education, and living standards, Wise Responder is making a significant impact on poverty reduction. The company is also helping to create sustainability-linked financing and investment options for financial institutions, corporates, and investors eager to make a difference.
Rogue Interrobang: Using creative thinking to solve wicked problems
Rogue Interrobang is helping individuals and organisations unlock their potential and create a better world. With offerings that include creative thinking training, diversity workshops, and coaching, Rogue Interrobang has worked with high-profile clients like the Cabinet Office, HMRC and the Open University. Their products include Mycelium, a card game that promotes creativity, and books “Our Dreams Make Different Shapes” and “Lift,” are just a few examples of how Rogue Interrobang is helping individuals tap into their full potential.
SEREN: Delivering life-saving diagnostic solutions in Africa
SEREN is working to improve access to diagnostic solutions in lower middle-income economies, like Tanzania, where cancer, anaemia and inherited diseases are a major health problem. SEREN provides DNA-based tests for as little as $10, making life-saving diagnostics accessible to those who need it most. Their cloud-based data systems allow for remote analysis and rapid diagnostics by experts so that samples don’t need to be sent abroad and valuable data can be used to further research and the provision of patient solutions.
Nature-Based Insetting: Creating Sustainable Supply Chains for a Healthier Environment
Nature-Based Insetting is helping organisations implement evidence-based targets for mitigating and insetting impacts on climate, biodiversity, and society through nature-based solutions. By enhancing the value and resilience of supply chains, Nature-Based Insetting is making a positive impact on our environment and promoting socially just, nature-positive, and net-zero pledges. With collaborations like Reckitt for biodiversity and net-zero targets, Nature-Based Insetting is helping individual businesses make a significant impact on sustaining a healthy, functioning natural environment and a stable climate system.
The full portfolio of social ventures can be viewed here.
Contact a member of OUI's social ventures team with your questions.
Please could you introduce your work?
I am interested in exploring the psychological and cultural foundations of music, and the role they play in human societies and cultural evolution. Music has not evolved from individual brains but instead from being embedded in large cultural processes of multiple social interactions. To understand why music is the way it is, and how we find pleasure in it, we therefore need to consider the collective processes by which music has evolved. To study this, my work combines methods from many different disciplines, including psychology, computer science, musicology, and cultural evolution.
For example, I use singing as a model to study how music evolves when it is transmitted across human generations. Singing is fascinating because it is the most widespread mode of musical expression, practiced by all cultures and ages, even in infants. We developed a novel method to simulate the evolution of music with singing experiments, where sung melodies are passed from one singer to the next, similar to the popular ‘telephone game.’ Using this method, we examine how thousands of musical melodies change and evolve as they are orally transmitted across participants.
What have you found so far?
We found that oral transmission has profound effects on how melodies evolve, shaping initially random sounds into more structured musical systems that increasingly reuse and combine fewer elements, such as certain pitch intervals and simple melodic contours (the sequence of ups and downs in pitch). This ultimately makes the melodies easier to learn and transmit over time. Importantly, the structural features that emerged artificially from our experiments are largely consistent with widespread melodic features found in most musical traditions across the world. This suggests that ‘human transmission biases’ in singing may contribute, at least partly, to the observed cross-cultural commonalities found in many music cultures across the world.
The next stage is to work out which factors are responsible for these ‘transmission biases.’ Our experiments show that physical and cognitive constraints in our capacity to produce and process music are of critical importance. For example, melodies that are hard to sing or remember are systematically less likely to survive the transmission process. We also found that participants’ previous cultural exposure is important. For instance, in a group of US participants, the ‘evolved’ melodies tended to align with certain cultural conventions of Western music, whilst a group of participants from India showed cross-cultural divergences.
Overall, this work is exciting because allows us to study evolutionary processes that are typically hidden or very hard to measure. We are excited to extend this work to study other production modalities, such as speech, as well as to test participants from more diverse musical backgrounds.
Online iterated singing method, developed by Manuel to study how oral transmission affects the evolution of melodies in songs. Participants hear a sequence of tones generated by a computer and reproduce it by singing back. The vocal reproductions are analysed by a computer and played to the next participant as the input melody. This process is repeated with many parallel transmission chains at the same time, each corresponding to a melody evolving over 10 generations. Image credit: Manuel Anglada Tort.
We talk of the culture of music but essentially, music is culture. Just as we cannot understand culture by only looking at individual brains, we cannot understand music without considering the larger cultural and social processes surrounding it.
For your PhD at the Technical University of Berlin, you studied how behavioural economics can be applied to music cognition. What did you find?
Behavioural economics recognises that human beings do not always think through every decision rationally. For example, we often rely on cognitive heuristics to simplify complex decisions: mental shortcuts that allow us to use information selectively and effectively.
In my PhD, I showed that, when it comes to music decisions and preferences, the context in which music is presented has a very important influence. Our preferences for music will change dramatically depending on the time and day of the week, which activity we do while listening to music, whether we are alone or with others, and what information we know about the artists’ skills and persona. Even small variations on the title of a song can have an important impact on how much people like the music.
In one experiment, we showed that contextual factors can completely change our experience of the same piece of music. We told participants to listen to ‘different’ musical performances of an original piece when in fact they were exposed to the same repeated recording three times. Each time, the recording was accompanied by a different text providing information about the supposed performer, which was manipulated to indicate either low or high prestige of the performer. We found that most participants (75%) believed that they had heard different musical performances. Interestingly, participants evaluated identical recordings more positively in terms of liking and music quality when they thought the music was performed by a professional musician rather than a less-skilled musician. This suggests that when we judge music, we rely on cognitive biases and heuristics that do not always depend on what we actually hear.
The results of our studies suggest that when we judge music, we rely on cognitive biases and heuristics that do not always depend on what we actually hear.
You have also worked as a science consultant for an audio branding firm. What exactly does audio branding involve?
Audio branding is where brands translate their identity and values into audible elements that are then repeated in their advertisements or used within their products. As we are increasingly saturated with visual information, companies are showing a growing interest in using audio branding to reach target audiences. For example, repeated catchy melodies of three to five notes can be highly effective in making people recognise a brand or product, such as the iconic audio logos of McDonald’s or Netflix. As researchers, we can quantify the effectiveness of different music when paired with certain commercials or brands, for example by measuring the impact of music on consumers’ brand recognition or purchase intention.
In one study, we found that pairing brands with music that can be recognized by the target consumers increased brand choice by 6%. Although this is a small effect, it is quite remarkable given that using music is relatively easy and cheap for brands. But the use of advertising music is becoming much more sophisticated with AI and big data. The future of music and advertising is about creating individualised consumer experiences where the same ads and products can be paired with different music targeting the many individual preferences of consumers.
Music is essentially a psychological phenomenon: our mind has evolved to translate physical qualities of sound into the subjective experience of music.
How did you get in to music psychology?
I have always loved playing and composing music, but my academic career originally started in psycholinguistics and experimental psychology, studying the bilingual brain. I then happened to find out about this small research field in music psychology. For me, music and science seemed the perfect combination, so I applied to Goldsmiths, University of London, to study their MSc in Music, Mind and Brain.
It was revolutionary for me to realise that all the scientific methods I had learnt for experimental psychology could be applied to study music as well; working out how we perceive sound and get pleasure from it, and the many psychological functions that music making and listening have. I remember the lectures on psychoacoustics to be particularly inspiring, where I learnt that music is essentially a psychological phenomenon: our mind has evolved to translate physical qualities of sound into the subjective experience of music. For example, we perceive pitch from the speed at which an object vibrates: the faster the vibration, the higher our perception of pitch. By combining different sets of music pitches, we can in theory create infinite music patterns. Some of these patterns will become popular in a given population, whereas others will die out.
I feel very fortunate that this work is a fusion of three key interests of mine: science, music and culture.
What plans do you have for the Music, Culture, and Cognition group in the near future?
I am excited about the potential of this group, and I feel very fortunate to have an incredible network of international collaborators with expertise in music cognition and cultural evolution. The idea is to continue to perform cutting-edge research on the intersection between music, culture, and cognitive science here at the University of Oxford. This will include continuing our experiments to simulate cultural evolution (such as the singing transmission study) and extending these methods to also study more complex cultural phenomena. For example, to study how the evolution of musical structures may depend on selection pressures (e.g. composers vs critics vs consumers) or underlying population structures, such as social networks and their different patterns of connectivity.
Another exciting line of research is on the topic of cultural globalization and popularity dynamics: exploring how songs spread across the world and what determines whether a song will become a global hit or not (also known as ‘Hit Song Science’). Traditionally, people have attempted to predict music success based only on the content of the music: its harmony, timbre, or rhythm. But studies have repeatedly failed to predict musical success based on musical features alone. I believe that the distribution network by which music spreads within and across countries may help solve this puzzle. So, we are investigating ways to measure and quantify this underlying network of music diffusion and its impact on cultural globalization.
You arrived here less than two months ago – what do you make of Oxford so far?
Oxford is an incredible place and I feel very privileged to be here. Unlike ‘campus’ universities, you feel that the whole city itself is the university; you sense it all around you. The musical scene is excellent (which is important to me) and more generally, it feels that this is a place where anything you might want to do is possible – from life drawing, to dancing, to playing any kind of instrument. I have already found a group of friends to go rock climbing with and recently got into bird watching for the first time. I have also fallen in love a bit with the English pub culture. Coming from Spain, I had never seen anything like them before, and am fascinated by how they are all so different and have so much history. I am looking forward to exploring all the ones in Oxford over time!
You can read Dr Manuel Anglada Tort's latest research paper 'Large-scale iterated singing experiments reveal oral transmission mechanisms underlying music evolution' in the journal Current Biology.
In the video below, Manuel Anglada Tort describes his work to study the effect of oral transmission on music evolution using online singing experiments, in an event for the Oxford Seminar in the Psychology of Music.
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