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Footballing legend Sir Bobby Charlton announced the launch of pioneering research into the removal of landmines, in which Lancaster University will play a vital role, during a visit on Monday 24th May.
The programme, called “To Find a Better Way,” aims to improve the speed of detection and removal of landmines in post-conflict zones and involves members of the university’s Engineering Department.
In a lecture to staff and students in the Faraday lecture theatre, the former Manchester United and England star heaped praise on the university’s integral role in the project. He said, “Every time I come up here, I speak about Lancaster University and what they do.”
Sir Bobby particularly praised the man who best represents Lancaster’s commitment to the project, Bob Mackin, Research Officer with the Engineering Department. He first became involved in the project through his colleagues at Manchester University, and his skills as an explosives engineer have been invaluable.
Speaking after the event, Mr Mackin explained what he hoped the initiative would achieve.
“90% of the items you find when you are looking for mines are rocks or pieces of old iron… the big problem is removing the false positives so you can put the effort into looking for the mines” he stated.
To combat this, the project seeks to improve the technique of detecting mines by adding intelligence to either hand-held or mechanical probes so they can identify what they are touching. Mr Mackin likened the current technique of using steel rods as like something you would see in an “old film.”
The “To Find a Better Way” scheme represents a wide variety of other parties, including Manchester University, the security firm Rapiscan and the Mines Advisory Board, a charity. All were brought together by Sir Bobby Charlton, following trips he had taken to Sarajevo and Cambodia, where he witnessed the scale of the challenge to remove the mines left behind from conflicts.
Sir Bobby said that the process of removal in Cambodia was “unbelievably slow” and could take up to 200 years.
Returning to the UK, he set up meetings with contacts including academics and security experts to look into the problem. He stated that he felt there must be a way that intelligent people could do something about this.
However, the hour-long lecture, delivered by the sporting legend, also provided an inspirational insight into an illustrious career.
Drawing on truly remarkable anecdotes, referencing luminaries such as Pelé and the late Sir Alf Ramsey, Sir Bobby advocated three maxims for student success.
“Listen when you’re young…do it together…and, above all else, practice,” he said.
These qualities of diligence, perseverance and teamwork, combined with stories from a remarkable life, struck a chord with those present.
Sam Twibill, a third year Engineering student, said “It was nice to see a completely different side of someone you see in the public eye.”
In the following question and answer session, football inevitably dominated the agenda. In particular, when asked about England’s 2010 World Cup chances, Sir Bobby replied that he hoped they did well because he was “fed up of being the only team that had ever won.”