Campus round-up

August 1, 2013

Now you see me…

An experimental sculpture has been unveiled at Bristol Temple Meads railway station. The work, which shows a young girl standing alone and gazing at her mobile phone, is by artist Luke Jerram, visiting senior research fellow at the University of the West of England. Maya, which was installed on a station platform on 25 July, is a three-dimensional pixelated portrait that can be seen clearly from a distance but appears to fragment into cubes as a viewer gets closer. It is composed of more than 5,000 photographic sections made up of pixels from photos of the artist’s daughter.

Royal Veterinary College

Bark twice if it’s a slipped disc

Longer dogs are at more risk of developing spinal conditions among short-legged breeds, research has suggested. Particularly long varieties of small and fat dogs – such as dachshunds, Pekinese and shih-tzus – are more likely to develop a potentially debilitating slipped disc, according to researchers at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London. Charlotte Burn, a lecturer in animal welfare science who led the study, urged that demand for the breeds be reined in. “The human environment is larger relative to [the dogs’] body size, making things like jumping down a step, or into a car, more dangerous for them,” she said.

University of Sheffield

For pooped soil, just add poop

Attitudes to genetically modified technology and the role of human excrement in the food chain will have to be rethought to safeguard food security in the UK. That conclusion grew out of research conducted for the University of Sheffield’s Project Sunshine. Estimating that nutrients in the UK’s soil may last only 100 seasons more, the researchers advise that the 1.5 tonnes of excrement that every individual produces each year be used as fertiliser. Duncan Cameron, senior research fellow at Sheffield’s department of animal and plant sciences, who led the analysis, said: “In a time of rapid environmental change, we need new ways to intensify sustainable production and protect food crops. This isn’t optional. Like it or not, the shit is going to hit the fan.”

University of Leicester

Migrant misery

Most Eastern European migrants are no happier after moving West, while those from Poland were less happy than before they left their home country, research has suggested. A paper by David Bartram, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Leicester, found that the increases in income associated with migration do not lead to greater happiness. However, he also found that those who moved from countries with a low average level of happiness to somewhere cheerier were likely to grow more contented. Although most migrants were happier than those who stayed behind, this was because they were on the whole a happier bunch of individuals.

University of Nottingham

More good turns

The vice-chancellor and other senior figures at a university will cycle between each of the capital cities in the UK and the Republic of Ireland in aid of stroke rehabilitation research. When they complete the 1,100-mile (1,770km) Life Cycle 3 event, the team from the University of Nottingham hope to have raised £300,000 to support stroke survivors after they leave hospital. It is the third time a team from Nottingham has taken part in a long-distance charity cycle ride. Marion Walker, professor in stroke rehabilitation, said: “It is fabulous to know that our work is helping shape the services and treatments that stroke survivors and their families receive.”

University of Edinburgh

Lyrical linguists

Language learners who sing phrases in a foreign tongue can recall them better than those who simply speak them, a study has found. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Reid School of Music asked participants to repeat, speak rhythmically or sing aloud passages in Hungarian; asked to repeat them later, the singing group performed best. Karen Ludke, who conducted the study as part of her PhD, commented: “Melody could provide an extra cue to jog people’s memory, helping them recall foreign words and phrases more easily.”

University of Oxford

Restless minds

Sleepless nights and disrupted body clocks could be linked to mental health conditions, research has found. A study by Russell Foster, chair of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford, has suggested that the neural mechanisms of the brain associated with sleep and conditions such as schizophrenia overlap. Schizophrenic patients are known to have erratic sleep patterns. Professor Foster’s team found a link between a genetic mutation that in mice causes schizophrenia-like symptoms and that also appears to disrupt their body clock.

Cardiff Metropolitan University

Seeds of contentment

Gardening not only lowers the body mass index of older people but can increase happiness and self-esteem as well, a study has found. Researchers from Cardiff Metropolitan University compared people aged 50 to 83, some of whom worked an allotment and others who were on the waiting list for a plot of land. The gardeners enjoyed reduced stress levels; in women, happiness and self-esteem were boosted, too. The researchers hope the findings will inform health policy in Wales and also increase access to allotments.

University of East Anglia

Help stop the breaks

A university has launched an appeal to raise funds for a centre dedicated to developing treatments for chronic bone diseases. The Norfolk Bone and Joint Centre, a joint venture between the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, will be based in the Norwich Medical Research Building, whose year-long construction is due to finish in September 2014.

Anglia Ruskin University

Welcome refuge in a book

Children in refugee camps on the Syria-Turkey border will receive help to comprehend and adjust to their difficult surroundings thanks to a book written and illustrated by a UK university student. Samah Zaitoun, who is pursuing an MA in children’s book illustration at Anglia Ruskin University, is from Syria. To help youngsters displaced by the conflict in her home country, she has been working with Books for Syria to distribute thousands of copies of her book to children in the camps and in war-torn cities. Far from Home, about a family of geese, is written in Arabic and English and teaches children about the importance of optimism and resilience.

King’s College London

Neural nets and neologisms

Scientists at a London institution have identified how a unique pathway in the human brain allows people to learn new words. It has long been believed that language learning depends on an individual hearing and repeating words, but the neural mechanisms behind word acquisition were unclear. Now researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, in collaboration with Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute and the University of Barcelona, have mapped the neural pathways involved in word-learning. They discovered that the arcuate fasciculus, a collection of nerve fibres connecting auditory regions at the temporal lobe with the motor area at the frontal lobe in the brain’s left hemisphere, allows the “sound” of a word to be connected to the regions responsible for its articulation.

The Open University

Open source artwork

The world’s most successful distance-learning university is inviting artists from around the UK to submit ideas to depict its origins and promote its excellence in research. The Open University wants to mark the 50th anniversary of the coining of the phrase “University of the Air” by Harold Wilson (the concept would become The Open University in 1969) by commissioning four works, one from each country of the UK.

For more details and information on applying, visit the OU’s research website.

University of Liverpool

Tracking tool for sex offenders

A UK university forms part of a European consortium of child protection officials and researchers, led by Kent Police, that has won £1.1 million to help track sex offenders. Funding was provided by the Justice and Home Affairs division of the European Commission to develop a risk assessment tool for suspects involved in possessing and distributing indecent images of children. Partners include police forces in the UK, Estonia, Spain and the Netherlands, and academic teams at the University of Liverpool, the University of Barcelona and University College Dublin. The Kent Internet Risk Assessment Tool (KIRAT) is already used by 38 UK police forces.

University of Cambridge

Out of sight, out of mind, on target

If you want to stick to a diet, removing temptation is more effective than willpower alone, a study has found. Researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Dusseldorf compared the effectiveness of willpower against voluntarily restricting access to temptation, or “pre-commitment”. The study gave male participants the option of a tempting small reward (a mildly enjoyable erotic picture) available immediately, or a large reward (an extremely enjoyable erotic picture) available after some delay. Some were also allowed to deny themselves the small reward, while others had continuous access. The study found that subjects were more likely to get the large reward if they were able to pre-commit. It was also able to identify the brain regions involved.

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