Campus round-up

May 23, 2013

Creature comforts

An animal-obsessed artist will step into character as “Mrs Panda Head” when she gives a live performance at a university show for aspiring artists. Mary Beth Quigley has created a mocked-up living room for the character - and her husband Mr Panda Head - that is modelled on her grandmother’s living room, except that all the pictures and figurines are of pandas, due to the “nostalgia it evokes”. Ms Quigley has also created life-size giraffes, penguins and flamingos out of recycled material for the exhibition, which will be open to the public from 18 to 25 May at the University of Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design Degree Show 2013.

Newcastle University

Sounds like the joke’s on me

The brain can tell the difference between the sounds of joyous and taunting laughter, a study has found. A team from Newcastle University scanned volunteers’ brains while they listened to recorded laughter from someone who was either happy, mocking somebody else or being tickled. In the majority of cases, volunteers were able to tell which was which, although they were least accurate in identifying tickling-induced laughter. It is hoped that the research will allow greater understanding of mental conditions such as schizophrenia and depression, which often cause people to misinterpret happy laughter as mockery.

Royal Holloway, University of London

Darker tones, lighter views

White people become less racist when they are under the impression that they have darker skin, research has suggested. In a study funded by the European Research Council and published last week in Cognition, scientists from Royal Holloway, University of London asked participants to look at a fake dark-skinned hand being touched, while their own hidden hands were simultaneously being touched by researchers. Once this combination of sight and touch had “convinced” them that the fake hand was part of their own body, they were tested for racial biases. The results showed clearly that the more intense the Caucasian participants’ illusion of owning the dark rubber hands, the more positive their racial attitudes became.

University of Derby

Weighed down

Wearing a heavy backpack during physical activity - such as when soldiers carry them in military exercises - can significantly decrease an individual’s performance, researchers have found. Sport and exercise academics from the University of Derby asked study participants to take a 60-minute walk while wearing a 25kg backpack and then to run as fast as they could for 2.4km. The researchers found that carrying the backpack increased the effort of taking each breath and caused respiratory muscles to become fatigued more quickly. “Effects as big as these could have life or death implications for people on active duties in the armed forces,” said Pete Brown, an exercise physiology lecturer.

University of Essex

Pot luck

A story about a teapot that survived a doodlebug explosion in the Second World War has been uncovered by university researchers investigating the history of a demolished country estate. The battered artefact was among items gathered by a University of Essex team researching the history of the Marks Hall estate near Coggeshall. A German bombing raid flattened one of the farmhouses at the estate during the war. Three people were dug out alive, but the only object to come through intact was the teapot. It survived another seven decades as an heirloom treasured by the granddaughter of the farmhouse’s residents.

University of Bedfordshire

Revived by scandal

The expenses scandal was an “adapt or die” moment for MPs, the Speaker of the House of Commons has said. Speaking on 9 May as part of the University of Bedfordshire’s series of Public Policy Lectures, John Bercow said the revelations about politicians’ expenses claims sparked a “right and proper” revival in the House of Commons. “[The media] rightly triggered a shift towards an independent system of overseeing such expenditure with tougher rules and notably smaller overall claims. All of this was not merely right and proper but painfully overdue,” he said. Mr Bercow also said he believed that a “strong” House improves the “quality of our democratic discourse”.

University of Bath

Epilepsy linked to autism

Research has uncovered a link between epileptic seizures and signs of autism in adults. SallyAnn Wakeford, a recent PhD graduate in the University of Bath’s department of psychology, found that adults with epilepsy were more likely to have higher traits of autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Her research suggests that epileptic seizures disrupt the neurological operation that affects social functioning in the brain, and that results in the same traits seen in autism, which include impairment in social interactions and communication as well as repetitive interests. Dr Wakeford said the findings could lead to improved treatment for people with epilepsy and autism spectrum disorders.

University of Huddersfield

A place for religion

Scientists who refuse to acknowledge mankind’s spiritual dimension are damaging science, Lord Winston has told a university audience. Delivering the 10th annual Harold Wilson Lecture at the University of Huddersfield on 9 May, the peer, renowned for his research in the field of human fertility, criticised atheist scientists such as Richard Dawkins for their recalcitrant views. “When Richard Dawkins says that religion is evil, we must remember how cohesive religion has been,” Lord Winston said in his speech, “Playing God”. “Religion can be used wrongly, but it has been a potent force in our humanity.”

Royal College of Art/Imperial College

Innovative combination

Two higher education institutions are joining forces to create a new Healthcare Innovation Exchange (Helix) Centre. The Royal College of Art and Imperial College London worked together on Design London, a “centre for design-led innovation”, which brought science, technology, business and design together in an interdisciplinary unit. They also collaborated on a three-year research project, “Designing out medical error”, that demonstrated that new types of equipment and hospital bed space, for example, can help to prevent doctors making dangerous errors. The new centre will build on these initiatives and benefit from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund.

Teesside University

Unprepared for departure

Despite the majority of people feeling comfortable about discussing their own deaths, only a small proportion have made concrete plans for their demise, academics have concluded. Three researchers from Teesside University have analysed data from the British Social Attitudes Survey to coincide with national Dying Matters Awareness Week. They found that 70 per cent of people were happy to talk about death, but only 35 per cent had a will, and just 11 per cent had prepared funeral plans.

University of Hertfordshire

Healthcare in care homes

Improving the delivery of NHS services to care homes is the focus of a three-year project funded by the National Institute for Health Research. The study, to be led by the University of Hertfordshire, will look at existing health service delivery to identify more effective working methods for care homes. The work could inform future commissioning of services. Claire Goodman, professor in healthcare research at the university’s Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care, said: “We now have a good understanding of the barriers affecting how healthcare services work with care homes, and too many examples of when the oldest and most vulnerable members of society do not receive adequate healthcare.”

Bournemouth University

Mind changing

A set of films has been created with the aim of reducing the stigma of talking about mental health issues. The films, by Bournemouth University and Dorset Healthcare, feature university staff, students and members of the local community discussing their experiences of mental health problems and overcoming them. Available to watch on the university YouTube channel and premiered at a campus Mental Health Awareness event, the films are the latest in a series of awareness-raising activities and form part of the national Time to Change anti-stigma campaign, being run by leading charities.

Cambridge/University College London

Teenage insight? Whatever…

A project has been set up to look at what happens to the human brain as it matures. The U-Change study by the University of Cambridge and University College London will study the development of the brain using scans, questionnaires and genetic testing of 300 people between the ages of 14 and 24. Despite adolescence being a high-risk time for developing major psychiatric and drug dependence disorders, little is known about the teenage brain. Ed Bullmore, the Cambridge professor leading the project, said: “The teenage brain struggles with controlling impulsive and emotional behaviour…Our research will hopefully shed light on what happens to their brains as they mature.”

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