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A new UCL laboratory with a unique capacity to explore how people interact with their environments has been granted planning permission by Barking and Dagenham Council.

Opening in 2021, PEARL (Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory), part of UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering’s (CEGE) Centre for Transport Studies (CTS), will be the only space in the world where researchers can precisely simulate large-scale environments such as train stations or town centres and test people’s reactions to them in detail.

UCL’s first net zero carbon building

The space, which will be UCL’s first net zero carbon building, aims to improve quality of life through better infrastructure design but will also facilitate research in a wide range of areas – from medical and brain sciences to smart data, public health and the performing arts.

The facility, located at Londoneast-UK, near Dagenham East tube station, will be one of the core laboratories in the UK government’s EPSRC-funded UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC).

Tony Barry, Chief Executive of the BD Group, the trading arm of Barking and Dagenham Council which owns the Londoneast-UK site, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Londoneast will be home to this pioneering feat in engineering research. Dagenham is fast gaining a reputation as a scientific hub and this announcement is a further boost for local people and the local economy.”

Professor Nick Tyler, Director of the UCL CTS, said: “PEARL’s vision is to create a better world through designing infrastructure that works for everyone, but also by facilitating research and education across a wide range of areas, including the arts, humanities and medical sciences, as well as planning, design and engineering.”

The Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Councillor Darren Rodwell, said:  “We’re excited to be working with UCL on this ground-breaking research laboratory. The PEARL facility – along with the wider Londoneast site – will contribute to Dagenham’s growing recognition as a centre for media, data and engineering.”

PEARL will build on the work of PAMELA (UCL Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory) which has informed the design of proposed new London Underground trains and identified ways of improving infrastructure for people with dementia.

“We are absolutely delighted that Londoneast will be home to this pioneering feat in engineering research. Dagenham is fast gaining a reputation as a scientific hub and this announcement is a further boost for local people and the local economy.”

At 14 metres tall and with 600 square metres of reconfigurable floor space, PEARL will have a sophisticated capacity to simulate scenarios, recreating smells such as gas leaks and sounds ranging from the tiniest bird song to massive explosions.

Professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Dean of UCL Engineering, said: “PEARL is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. This new facility shows the power of engineering in delivering the full range of UCL’s capabilities in education and research.”

PEARL will be delivered by UCL Estates as part of Transforming UCL, a £1.25 billion ten-year programme of investment in UCL’s estate and in partnership with the UK Government who are providing a £9 million grant through UKCRIC.

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