Attending the 2014 U21 Summer School on Building Future Cities at the University of New South Wales in Sydney was an unforgettable experience. My fellow students and I spent two amazing weeks learning about the challenges we face in developing urban environments, and how best we can prepare to meet these challenges in the future. Although not primarily concerned with physics, the Summer School provided an opportunity to see how the skills I have developed through the last four years at university, can be applied in the practical design of the cityscape.
Approximately 120 participants from over 15 countries attended, and we all quickly became very good friends. Each morning we would attend lectures from some of the world’s leading experts in architecture, transportation, city planning and environmentalism. My favourite of which was given by Professor Scott Mooney, and was concerned with the misconceptions and associated dangers of hazard reduction burning as a means to reduce the risk of bushfires in Australia.
In the afternoons, we would head out on tours and field trips around Sydney. For example, we visited the Command Centre of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) – the largest Fire Service in the world. I was amazed at the range of technology employed in quickly detecting and responding to bushfires, and was informed that NASA representatives upon their visit, were even impressed by the sophistication of the NSWRFS’s operations! Having also learnt about the architectural/mathematical difficulties encountered in constructing the Sydney Opera House, I relished the opportunity to examine its non-Cartesian design up close, when we went to watch the Aboriginal/ballet dance troupe Bangarra.
After hours, the participants indulged in Sydney’s nightlife and even experienced a river cruise around Sydney Harbour, which gave breath-taking views of the Bridge, the Opera House, and city skyline. I also now consider myself a diehard Sydney Swans fan, after going to watch the Aussie Rules Football on a number of occasions.
The participants were also required to perform a final group presentation on the last day of the School. I was both surprised and humbled, when my group was selected as the best presenters at the closing ceremony at Taronga Zoo that evening.
I am very grateful to the University of Birmingham for providing me with the opportunity to attend this amazing Summer School on the other side of the globe. Furthermore, since I was given the flexibility to book my own flights, I chose to stay in Oz another two months after the Summer School finished, and even took part in an astrophysics internship at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne! I never could have afforded this adventure without the financial support provided by the University. Therefore I would wholeheartedly recommend other students seek out the exciting opportunities available to them here!