Chemical Reaction

Fire! Reflections on a major incident

In the evening of Friday September 12 I received a call from our Deputy Head of Security to alert me to a major fire at the University’s Jubilee Campus. The building ablaze was the unfinished GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry and, during the hours that followed, it was completely destroyed. Fortunately no-one was injured and, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Nottinghamshire Fire Service, supported by their colleagues from Derbyshire, no other buildings were damaged.

What it would have looked like

What it would have looked like

From this point on we were in incident response mode and the first thing to work out was how this might affect our Open Day the following day when upwards of 12,000 visitors – prospective students and their parents – were due to visit the University. In discussion with colleagues in student recruitment we determined that the Open Day would go ahead and that if we did need to relocate activities from Jubilee Campus to University Park then we would find a way to do it:

Open day tweetTwitter proved to be just about the best way to get the message out and counter the erroneous ‘whole university burns down’ message from some overzealous commentators.

As it turned out, the only effect on the rest of Jubilee Campus beyond the loss of the building was the closure of Triumph Road, one of the routes into Jubilee and easily worked around.

A team of University staff met early the following morning to work on our approach. Without going into too much detail, we sought to ensure that we broadcast a message that we were grateful for all of the assistance we had received and to reassure everyone that it was business as usual, that we would rebuild and that outstanding green chemistry research would continue at the University of Nottingham. It was also important to stress that this would not affect teaching as it was largely intended as a research building.
The full statement issued later that day and subsequently amended a little:

The University of Nottingham’s Registrar Dr Paul Greatrix said: “We are terribly saddened by the major fire at our Jubilee Campus on the evening of Friday September 12, which completely destroyed our new GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry which was still under construction.
“We are incredibly grateful to our staff and students for their fantastic response in dealing with this major incident and would like to express our gratitude to both Notts Fire Service and Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service. It was the quick action of their fire crews which prevented this incident from being much more serious. We have also been extremely touched by the messages and best wishes from our close neighbours out in the community.
“We would like to thank the wider higher education community across the UK for its support – we have had many offers of help from other universities around the country, for which we are extremely grateful.
“To put this loss into perspective, we need to remember that this was one building, that thankfully no one was injured and that the fire was prevented from spreading further on to campus.
“We want to stress that it is business as usual at The University of Nottingham. We were able to ensure that Open Day 2014, went ahead as planned and was unaffected by the incident — we welcomed thousands of prospective students and their families to our campuses to enjoy a packed programme of talks and activities demonstrating our high-quality teaching and facilities.
The new building wasn’t due to be opened until next year and, as such, our chemistry department, while understandably disappointed by this loss, won’t be affected either from a teaching or research perspective in the immediate future.
This is a setback for us but one from which we have no doubt we will recover. The University of Nottingham has an international reputation for scientific excellence, underpinned by the world-leading expertise of our academics. It is upon those strong foundations that we will rebuild and renew for the future.
The GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry is a landmark building which is the embodiment of the University’s commitment to sustainability in all its forms, particularly in the area of green chemistry and we will be working closely with our partners at GSK, and the contractors Morgan Sindall, to develop a positive plan of action for rebuilding.
At this stage, we have no idea what caused the fire and may not know for some time until the Fire Service has been able to fully investigate the incident. The building was designed to meet stringent fire regulation requirements.”

A whole bunch of media interviews followed throughout the day but not everyone was wholly convinced by our line:

Memo to self: NEVER read the comments under a Mail Online article. Glee would be to understate teh general response

Memo to self: NEVER read the comments under a Mail Online article. To suggest that there was widespread glee at the incident would be to understate the general tenor of responses.

On Monday, the media wanted to do it all over again (my family was mildly impressed) and the Vice-Chancellor published a blog post on his response to the fire. After that, things went pretty quiet and, given that we are still waiting to hear what caused the fire, I guess they will be for a while yet.

stream_imgA few other points of note:

The University’s Facebook post on the fire had a huge number of impressions, I think more than anything else we have ever posted and attracted hundreds of messages of support.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff of our School of Chemistry and Periodic Videos fame posted a video commentary on the fire:

On the day of the fire I and other colleagues who are involved in incident responses (and who were all gathered round the table on the day after the fire) spent the day in a simulation exercise to rehearse how we would deal with a major incident. The scenario chosen by our external facilitator was a fire on campus…

Overall, the fire was a desperately sad situation but the response of everyone from the Emergency Services to University staff and students and from the local community to colleagues around the sector was just amazing. Despite the loss I am left with an enormous sense of optimism about the future of Sustainable Chemistry at the University of Nottingham and confident that before long there will be a world-leading carbon neutral laboratory on our campus. And we also learned a lot about our incident response plans. (It will be some time before we agree to do another simulation.)

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Another university league table variation

A league table of universties’ social media ‘visibility’

Econsultancy have published a league table of Russell Group universities’ social media profiles or their ‘visibility’:

The visibility score we use here is based on the total number of links a web domain has scored on the six social sites, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Delicious and StumbleUpon, while accounting for different weightings we give to links on individual social sites.

The content linked to includes

news page stories about new research studies and initiatives are quite common. While heavily shared links included software simulations, web cam images, jokes and podcasts.



The league table is as follows:

Social visibility of Russell Group universities

University of Cambridge. Visibility score: 462,823

University of Oxford: 442,758

London School of Economics: 286,859

Newcastle University: 186,184

University College London: 176,202

University of Warwick: 169,462

University of Manchester: 143,186

University of Edinburgh: 131,053

Queens University Belfast: 118,137

University of Glasgow: 72,211

University of Bristol: 70,656

University of Nottingham: 64,381

University of Leeds: 63,802

Imperial College London: 47,321

Cardiff University: 46,053

University of Southampton: 44,106

King’s College London: 31,762

University of Liverpool: 20,444

University of Birmingham: 15,873

University of Sheffield: 9,912

It’s a bit crude but nevertheless fascinating. And it is quite striking how big the gap is between Oxbridge and the lower half of the table. Many of us have a lot to do to catch up.

Finding the good stuff

Social media can be overwhelming…

And this can make finding the really good stuff really rather difficult. The Schumpeter column in The Economist has an interesting take on this.

Most commentary on social media ignores an obvious truth—that the value of things is largely determined by their rarity. The more people tweet, the less attention people will pay to any individual tweet. The more people “friend” even passing acquaintances, the less meaning such connections have. As communication grows ever easier, the important thing is detecting whispers of useful information in a howling hurricane of noise. For speakers, the new world will be expensive. Companies will have to invest in ever more channels to capture the same number of ears. For listeners, it will be baffling. Everyone will need better filters—editors, analysts, middle managers and so on—to help them extract meaning from the blizzard of buzz.

It’s not a wholly original point but it is well made. It’s a challenge for individuals as well as for universities and other organisations. The problem is, I think, the more you fret about it, the worse it seems. Moreover, by the time you have analysed the position, the entire world has moved on. So, don’t worry, just go with it is my lightweight solution to this particular challenge. Hey, it’s Friday.

Lawrence on University College Nottingham

A controversial piece from D H Lawrence

More of Lawrence on Nottingham is available here but this entertaining piece is a highlight. Not exactly what you’d want to use in promotional material though.

‘Nottingham’s New University’ in Pansies (1929)

In Nottingham, that dismal town

where I went to school and college,

they’ve built a new university

for a new dispensation of knowledge.

Built it most grand and cakeily

out of the noble loot

derived from shrewd cash-chemistry

by good Sir Jesse Boot.

Little I thought, when I was a lad

and turned my modest penny

over on Boot’s Cash Chemist’s counter,

that Jesse, by turning many

millions of similar honest pence

over, would make a pile

that would rise at last and blossom out

in grand and cakey style

into a university

where smart men would dispense

doses of smart cash-chemistry

in language of common-sense!

That future Nottingham lads would be

cash-chemically B.Sc.

that Nottingham lights would rise and say:

-By Boots I am M.A.

From this I learn, though I knew it before

that culture has her roots

in the deep dung of cash, and lore

is a last off-shoot of Boots.

 

 

Unofficial university promos

Contrasting unofficial university promo videos

Certainly at least one of these is not endorsed by its University…

Must admit I found it difficult to get past about 4 minutes on this one:

No such trouble with this much more entertaining effort (not entirely suitable for younger viewers in parts).

Ways universities share information using social media

Universities using social media

social-media

A very interesting set of examples this: 10 Ways Universities Share Information Using Social Media

What this really highlights is how many more opportunities there are better to exploit social media for all sorts of useful information-sharing purposes. At Nottingham we use just a few of these methods consistently and therefore there remains plenty of scope for development. Some good progress recently but we have a long way to go to catch up with the leaders in this arena.

Guardian Education Notebook: Thanks for that

The Grauniad, in December, ran this lovely Notebook item in which I was honoured to have my name misspelled:

We know universities are cash-strapped, but isn’t it going too far to suggest they generate money by building alumni cemeteries, golf courses and breweries? Dr Paul Geatrix, Nottingham University’s registrar, claims he was “joking” when he proposed such things in a presentation to university lawyers, which was made last year but has just emerged on the internet. “I was being intentionally provocative,” he told Notebook. “Although, the University of Virginia does have a cemetery for alumni.” The message in his last slide is clear: “We all need the money £££££££.”

(Guardian Notebook: December 2 2008)presidents_choice_thumb

In hindsight I wish I had referred also to the generally under-exploited options offered to universities running a dairy herd. California Polytechnic University, for example, home of the largest dairy school in the USA, makes a tidy sum each year from selling festive cheeses.

Definitely the way to go.

New additions to iTunes U

As reported by the BBC, UCL, the OU and Trinity have joined the iTunes U stable along with a group of other non-US universities. It remains to be seen whether they will reach the top 10 with any of their offerings but one of the UCL presentations is a bit different: the University’s annual report as a series of brief podcasts.

Given the well-known challenges of making university annual reports readable and then promoting them this seems like a worthy approach. But it is still difficult to make some of the issues sound exciting.