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Vitamin D profiling for city dwellers

Sunlight exposure

Dr Weisi Guo is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering. His award will fund the development of a smartphone app and advanced computer modelling to help track levels of sunlight exposure in individuals in different cities around the world. The aim is to provide demographic data on levels of sunlight, to identify geographic areas where people are under, or over, exposed.

Sunlight and health

Sunlight is the primary mechanism used to convert nutrients into vitamin D in the human body, an essential requirement for good health. However, getting the right balance is key. Too little can lead to health complications such as rickets, too much can lead to skin cancer.

By tracking levels of sunlight exposure, Weisi hopes to be able to provide invaluable demographic data which can be used to provide individualised and general health guidance to influence positive behavioural change, inform architectural design in city planning, aid further medical reseach into vitamin D production and sunlight deficiency or over-exposure, and influence policy.

Keeping track

Historically it has been hard for the medical community to quantify exposure accurately, and research has previously relied on questionnaires and surveys or inconvenient UV monitors strapped to volunteers. By harnessing existing smartphone technology, Weisi will be able to track movements of individuals through GPS, and compare this information to weather data to form an accurate picture. Weisi explained why he settled on an app to monitor sunlight levels:

Smartphones can already track sunlight intensity, but they're always in your pocket or bag so provide little useful data in terms of exposure. We opted for a hybrid application, whereby we track your location and model your exposure based on geographic weather data. Suffice to say, we probably all need a little more sunshine in our lives, but this project can tell us how much."

A passion for contraptions

Weisi read general engineering and went on to research robotics at Cambridge, then telecommunications at T-Mobile and the University of Sheffield. He now works on Smart Cities at Warwick. Weisi describes himself as 'passionate about contraptions'. He explained why the Philanthropy Awards attracted him:

The Awards were specifically to support cross-disciplinary research, and I felt it was a great opportunity for collaboration as research into cities is a good fit, crossing many boundaries. It's brilliant that this money has been given to Warwick because it really helps junior academics to step up in their careers and explore exciting new areas of collaborative research."

Find out more

You can find out more about Weisi's work on the School of Engineering webpages, and discover the many ways philanthopic donations support research at Warwick on the Giving webpages.