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July, 2020

The Good News #14

In the immortal words of Yazz ‘The Only Way Is Up,’ so as we get our masks on and get ready to get our nails done and hit the gym, there’s still plenty of amazing things happening to make the world a better place, both during and post-pandemic. Here’s a selection of our favourite positive stories from the past week.

4G internet balloons take off over Kenya

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has served to show the importance of staying connected. That’s why it’s so fantastic that Google’s sister firm Loon has launched a network of giant internet-enabled balloons to provide internet access to remote areas of Kenya. The project was first announced two years ago but has only just received final sign-off from the Kenyan government. The initiative has been fast-tracked to help improve communications during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past, balloons from Loon have been used during an earthquake in Peru. The balloons’ 4G internet service has been tested with 35,000 customers and will initially cover a region spanning 50,000 sq km (19,000 sq miles). Eventually 35 solar-powered balloons will be in constant motion in the stratosphere above eastern Africa. They are launched in the US and make their way to Kenya using wind currents. One field test of the service showed download speeds of 18.9Mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of 4.7Mbps. It’s extremely exciting to see technology being used in such an ingenious way but also to see large brands taking steps to help communities in need.

Internet-enabled hot air balloon to provide 4G coverage to remote areas of Kenya

Work begins on a UK system for estimating COVID-19 cases from wastewater

Remember coronavirus? Yes, that old chestnut. Well, Bath scientists are working with a UK-wide team to develop a standardised system for detecting coronavirus in wastewater, in order to provide an early warning of future outbreaks and reduce reliance on costly testing of large populations.

The new £1m research programme will see experts from Bath’s Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies and Water Innovation Research Centre help to develop sampling, testing and scientific modelling methods that will be adopted by government agencies and scientists across the UK. The work will inform the UK national surveillance programmes recently announced by Defra, Scottish and Welsh Governments.

The researchers will also determine whether there is a possibility for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater and sludge to be infectious, and how environmental factors such as sunlight and temperature reduce infectivity. This will enable them to confirm that current guidance is protective of workers at sewage plants, and also assess the risk to people and animals as a result of treated and untreated sewage discharge in rivers and seas.

The research programme, which is now underway and will last until October 2021, is being led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH). It also involves researchers from the universities of Bangor, Edinburgh, Cranfield, Lancaster, Newcastle, Oxford and Sheffield, plus the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. We’d rather them then us but how amazing that they’re taking serious steps to protect us all from future pandemics.

Wastewater treatment plant

Sky Orchestra

In our hometown of Bristol, hot air balloons are a regular feature in the skies. This year, Bristol artist Luke Jerram and Bristol-based BAFTA winning composer Dan Jones are bringing Sky Orchestra to the sky. Sky Orchestra was first performed at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta in 2003 and has since performed in locations across the world including Helsinki, Sydney, Ontario and London.

What is Sky Orchestra, I hear you ask? It comprises of a flotilla of seven hot air balloons with speakers attached to their baskets, promising ‘a massive musical dawn chorus’ when they float over Bristol on a cloudless morning. The exact dates and times of the performance are currently under wraps, the details will only be announced on the day as the balloons take off. The project will feature the premiere of a new composition commissioned by the Bristol Old Vic featuring musicians from around the city. Keep an eye on the sky!

Hot air balloons in the sky above Bristol