Campus round-up

January 31, 2013

Hot stuff

Researchers have been awarded £765,000 for a three-year study into the physical processes behind the super-hot ionised plasma that appears on the Sun. The Science and Technology Facilities Council has granted University of Dundee mathematicians the funds in the hope that they can better understand solar flares, mass ejections from the Sun’s corona, and magnetic loops (pictured) that occur on the surface. Gunnar Hornig, a professor of mathematics at Dundee, said: “We don’t know why these loops are so hot [or] why they occur in the way and number they do.”

Aston University
Far Eastern promise

A university has been designated as the UK leader of a consortium setting up a new research-led university in Vietnam. Aston University will bring internationally recognised expertise in science, engineering, business and technology to the project, which aims to establish a research-intensive institution within the existing University of Danang. Last week, Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and Tran Quang Quy, deputy minister of education and training, signed an agreement with David Willetts, the UK universities and science minister, to start the process. As a first step, 20 PhD scholars from Danang will undertake placements at Aston in September.

Imperial College London
This job’s a wheeze

Cleaners are more likely to suffer from asthma than those in other occupations, a study has found. Farmers, hairdressers and printing workers also have an increased risk of developing the respiratory disease, according to scientists at Imperial College London. The study tracked almost 9,500 people born in 1958 and identified 18 occupations that were clearly linked to asthma risk. Of these, four were cleaning jobs and three others involved exposure to cleaning products. More awareness of occupational asthma was needed among employers, employees and healthcare professionals to prevent an increased incidence of the disease, researchers said.

Goldsmiths, University of London
Who dares wins

A literary prize to reward “boldly original fiction” has been launched by a university. Established by Goldsmiths, University of London, the annual Goldsmiths Prize will award £10,000 to a British or Irish novelist for a book that shows “creative daring” and is “genuinely novel”. “We hope it will encourage more risk-taking among novelists, editors and agents,” said Blake Morrison, poet, author and professor of creative and life writing at Goldsmiths. “There’s an idea that innovative and genre-busting books are bound to be inaccessible. We don’t believe that’s the case.” Authors are invited to submit entries for the prize, which is run in association with the New Statesman, by 22 March.

University of Sussex
Dead good fun

The Science Museum is playing host to visitors learning how to identify and defeat zombie invaders. Postdoctoral research fellow Daniel Bor and colleagues from the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science are among those taking part in ZombieLab. The aim of the three days of events - 30 January and 2-3 February - is to explore what it means to be a conscious being and what we understand about consciousness. The free event, for people aged 15 and over, includes interactive experiences such as collective behaviour experiments and the live “trial” of a zombie.

University of Bath
It pays to take a risk

Some 22 new prize fellowships have been created to help talented early career researchers forge corporate and public policy links with their research. The prizes at the University of Bath include a fellowship in the School of Management’s Centre in Strategic Risk, supported by the business and financial advisory firm Grant Thornton. Elena Veprauskaite will receive £50,000 from the firm over the next three years to support her research on the link between risk and financial management, and its implications in the insurance market. Dr Veprauskaite will also have the opportunity to spend a sabbatical at a university abroad and to access resources at the firm, while providing it with analytical support.

University of Essex
Best place to bee

Have you ever wondered where you should place your beehive to optimise pollination? Researchers from the University of Essex are working with app developer Simul Systems to apply scientific reasoning to this problem and help beekeepers improve productivity. Abdel Salhi, head of the university’s department of mathematical sciences, is leading the feasibility study investigating the use of mathematical optimisation to estimate the best distribution of beehives on a given piece of land. The project was made possible after Simul Systems employee Andrew Lewis was awarded a £5,000 Innovation Voucher from the Technology Strategy Board to help develop an app that will help commercial and non-commercial beekeepers to increase their yield.

University of Liverpool
Hope for bone disease sufferers

A major national centre has been set up to offer treatment to those suffering from the rare genetic bone disease known as alkaptonuria (AKU). The Robert Gregory National Alkaptonuria Centre, based at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, will enable 140 patients recruited in Liverpool, Paris and Piestany in Slovakia to benefit from a five-year clinical trial of the drug nitisinone. The centre is named after Liverpool-born Robert Gregory, a sufferer from the disease who founded the AKU Society a decade ago and who has had a major impact in galvanising research at the Royal and at the University of Liverpool.

University of St Andrews
A question of trust

A US foundation that funds research into “human purpose and ultimate reality” has given a UK university £2.6 million to explore how culture, creativity and trust have evolved. The John Templeton Foundation will support work at the University of St Andrews that looks at the social traditions of monkeys and apes. Kevin Laland, a professor in St Andrews’ School of Biology who will co-lead the project, explained: “We will be investigating how humans and other animals decide who to trust as sources of cultural information.”

Oxford Brookes University
Restoring the balance

Academics were among the 30 women selected to join a BBC initiative to boost the number of female experts in the media. Tina Miller, professor of sociology at Oxford Brookes University, was one of those selected from 2,000 applicants for the first Female Expert Day on 18 January. The initiative, which included an opportunity to meet industry professionals and programme commissioners and to receive hands-on training, arose in response to claims that female experts could not be found to contribute to discussions on radio and television. Professor Miller called the day a “truly unique experience in enabling women from areas of business, science, history, politics and a single sociologist - me - to learn from industry experts about how to translate our expertise into media content”.

University of Bedfordshire
Perseverance and dedication

A PhD student who travels across the country each week to visit his sick daughter has been named the nation’s Most Deserving Student. David Moorhead, who is studying for a doctorate in cinematic adaptation and screenwriting at the University of Bedfordshire, was chosen by the public from 200 nominees to take the title. After leaving secondary school with “nothing” and being told he was “stupid”, Moorhead later discovered that he had dyspraxia and dyslexia. He went on to complete a master’s degree in teaching before starting his PhD. The 30-year-old stays in university accommodation three days a week but then travels home to Cheshire to see his seven-year-old daughter, Grace, who suffers from an illness that doctors have been unable to diagnose.

University of Hertfordshire
Dealing with a shortage

A course under way at a university is helping the UK pharmaceutical industry to address a skills shortage by boosting the number of people with the practical skills it needs. The part-time MSc in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Hertfordshire is run in collaboration with life science company Melbourn Scientific. The hands-on course is heavily practice-based, allowing for specialisation in product formulation and development as well as pharmaceutical analysis. It started in October, and the university is now accepting applications for 2013.

University College London
Orwell celebration

Rare photos of George Orwell have been released by a university archive to celebrate the author’s life. Images of the renowned writer, who penned the novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, were published online by University College London’s George Orwell Archive to mark the inaugural George Orwell Day on 21 January. Containing manuscripts, notebooks and personal items, the archive was presented to UCL in 1960 on permanent loan by his widow on behalf of the George Orwell Archive Trust.

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