Campus round-up

September 5, 2013

Underground art

This subterranean art installation, housed in a Victorian ice well beneath the London Canal Museum, was inspired by particle physics. Commissioned by the Institute of Physics, Covariance is the first in a series of artists-in-residency programmes and represents the result of a partnership between physicist Ben Still – research associate at Queen Mary, University of London – and artist Lyndall Phelps. It is suspended in a circular brick space, about 9m in diameter, and consists of 1km of brass rods, 28,000 glass beads, hundreds of acrylic discs and 36,000 diamantes. Dr Still said the regular structure and colour palette “reflect the role of particle detectors and the data they record in the most visually grasping way”. The artwork is now accessible through the Canal Museum on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays until 20 October.

University of Worcester

Not forgetting those in need

Dementia researchers have won funding for a European Union project to study new ways of supporting people with dementia and their families. The University of Worcester’s Association for Dementia Studies has been granted €375,000 (£320,000) over three years, with the UK funding being awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The project’s aim is to implement and evaluate the Meeting Centres Support Programme, which supports people with mild to moderate dementia and their families “through an evidence-based, person-centred” approach and has achieved great success in the Netherlands.

Kent/Winchester

Homophobia is being tackled

Today’s young footballers on the cusp of becoming professionals are much more likely to be supportive of gay teammates than those of a decade ago, according to research. Sociologists at the University of Kent and the University of Winchester conducted interviews with 22 Premier League academy footballers aged 16 to 18. All the participants said they would openly accept one of their colleagues if he were to come out as gay, the researchers found. The study was led by Steven Roberts, lecturer in social policy and sociology at Kent, and Eric Anderson, professor of sports studies at Winchester. They said the results were consistent with other recent research on British men of similar age in that they “showed no overt animosity towards gay men”.

Sheffield/Edinburgh

Horniness may not breed success

Alpha males do not necessarily enjoy the greatest reproductive success because rivals typically live longer, researchers have found. A team from the universities of Sheffield and Edinburgh found that among wild sheep on the Hebridean island of St Kilda, males with larger horns tended to win more females in the annual rut. However, alpha males were outlived by sheep with small and medium-sized horns. As they had more breeding years, sheep with medium-sized horns could produce as many offspring as large-horned rams. They could also pass on the gene for small horns. According to the scientists, this explains why small horns have not disappeared through natural selection.

University of Warwick

A clear high-tech hitch

Liquid crystals can be tied in knots, scientists have shown, in a development that could help to produce next-generation technology. Liquid crystal is an essential material in modern life – the flat-panel displays on computers, televisions and smartphones all employ its light-modulating properties. Using a theoretical model, researchers from the University of Warwick have shown how to tie knots in liquid crystals using a miniature Möbius strip made from silica particles. Thomas Machon and Gareth Alexander, both based in the department of physics and the Centre for Complexity Science at Warwick, describe the work in their article “Knots and nonorientable surfaces in chiral nematics”, published in the journal PNAS.

Cranfield University

Go green: eat a spud

Research on how green some everyday food items are has determined that potatoes are the most sustainable source of carbohydrate. A team of scientists from Cranfield University compared three of the most popular types of carbohydrates consumed in the UK – British potatoes, Italian pasta and Indian basmati rice – in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions and impact on water use in production and transport. Basmati rice came in third place, with the highest emissions and most water use; ahead of it was pasta, while potatoes came out in first place. The study was funded by the Potato Council.

University of Glasgow

Watchful to a fault

Researchers are using a new technique known as interferometric synthetic aperture radar to monitor the impact of natural disasters around the world. By scanning the Earth from space, a team led by Zhenhong Li – senior lecturer in the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences – can spot changes in the surface that are masked by vegetation. Using such information, they hope to be able to predict where devastating events such as volcanic eruptions and landslides may occur.

University of York

Commercial courses

A university has reacted to a survey of local businesses’ training needs by developing a series of short courses. The University of York’s Corporate Training Unit is teaming up with the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce to run courses on topics such as negotiation skills, social media and developing and leading teams. Discounts of 60 per cent will be offered to small companies. Amanda Selvaratnam, head of continuing professional development at York, said the initiative “allows us to reach out to more local companies with professional training that can make a real and measurable difference”.

University of Leicester

A stone’s show

A new conference centre in a former student hall will preserve a large boulder that has languished in the building’s pond since it was dumped there in a student prank 40 years ago. The boulder, hauled to the University of Leicester’s all-female College Hall in the 1960s, will also bear a plaque explaining its history when the building is redeveloped as a conference centre. Warren Jukes, director of Associated Architects, who designed the redevelopment, said his research revealed that students from an adjacent all-male hall had moved the boulder as “a mark of masculinity” shortly after College Hall was opened.

Kingston University

Care blossoms

Mothers-to-be are well known to be protective of their baby bump during pregnancy, but what if the “baby” is a plant? Alice Kim, a recent product design graduate of Kingston University, has created a see-through PVC pregnancy vest that carries and nurtures a small seedling. She believes that people can learn much about caring for others by taking an interest in plants and their growth. Ms Kim asked students on her course and her lecturer as well to try wearing the vest around campus. She reported that with a precious plant perched in its own protective pouch, wearers of the vest became aware of the seedling’s fragility.

University of Northampton

Brazilian beachhead

A UK university has formed a partnership with a Brazilian institution to undertake joint research activities, staff development projects and student exchanges. The University of Northampton’s School of Education signed a memorandum of understanding with Rio de Janeiro State University last month. Alayna Carter, Northampton’s international officer for the Americas, is due to visit Rio de Janeiro in October to discuss expanding the agreement into areas such as postgraduate recruitment, PhD joint supervision and postdoctoral opportunities.

University of St Andrews

Degree for dignitary

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Scotland next month to take part in celebrations to mark the foundation of the country’s oldest university. Ms Clinton, whom many expect to run in the next US presidential election, will be given an honorary doctor of laws degree by the University of St Andrews on 13 September. She will also deliver an eve-of-summit address to an audience of global academic leaders, faculty and students assembled to debate the future of universities on the following day. St Andrews has long-standing links with the US: three signatories to the Declaration of Independence studied or gained degrees there.

University of Bedfordshire

Better care starts here

A consortium led by a university has been launched with the aim of helping to transform the quality of social work in the UK. The Frontline initiative, which is led by the University of Bedfordshire, will recruit, train and develop graduates to be children’s social workers. Offering a work-based route into the profession, the project will aim to attract people who might not have otherwise considered embarking on such a career. Bedfordshire will lead a consortium that includes the Institute of Psychiatry and the Institute of Family Therapy, and will deliver a 13-month postgraduate qualification in social work.

University of Wolverhampton

Check in with research central

A post-1992 university has created a hub offering centralised support for academics as part of a £6 million investment in research. The Research Hub in the University of Wolverhampton’s Harrison Learning Centre will be the base for a new research policy unit, a project support office, activities that provide training and support for postgraduate research students and a team of research librarians. John Darling, dean of research, said: “The hub is our way of stressing that research is at the heart of everything we do.”

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