Students interested in microbiology are set to benefit from an annual joint field trip module with the University of Akureyri, Iceland thanks to a British Council grant of nearly £60,000. Staff and students at the University of Reading will have the chance to carry out research in Iceland’s extreme environments, including glaciers, geothermal regions and volcanoes, under the Erasmus Intensive Programme. The initiative will also benefit researchers from Jacobs University Bremen in Germany and Ghent University in Belgium. Reading academic Robert Jackson, who co-led the funding bid, said the programme “will enhance multilateral teaching and internationalisation cooperation” while also providing “cross-cultural training opportunities”.
An annual summer workshop that aims to advance the business skills of the UK’s brightest electronic engineering students was held last week. The third UK Electronic Skills Foundation event, hosted by the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, featured seminars on project management, business ethics, negotiation and emotional intelligence led by executives from a range of businesses including Jaguar Land Rover. The foundation was formed in 2010 to increase the number of electronic engineering graduates entering industry in light of concern about declining interest in the subject.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Could the pain of hours spent in the library be lessened by a well-designed seat? The University of Oxford is nearing the final stages of a competition to design a bespoke chair to be installed throughout the Bodleian Libraries’ newly refurbished Weston Library. Readers gathered on 5 September to test three shortlisted designs, which were selected according to a brief including comfort, usability, practicality, longevity and character. An exhibition displaying the competition designs, prototypes and other historic furniture made for the library will take place during the London Design Festival at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 14 to 22 September, where the winner will also be announced. The winning design will be installed in the new library in autumn 2014.
We can work it out
A university is to invest nearly £2 million to improve its links with local small and medium-sized firms. Nottingham Trent University aims to improve access to its expertise and facilities, generate more collaborative work and create more internships, placements and employment opportunities for its students. The investment, which includes a £760,000 grant from the European Regional Development Fund, will finance a number of initiatives, including a dedicated point of contact for SMEs, an online business analysis tool and a team of university account managers to deal with enquiries and advise on business needs.
Undergraduates at one university have hit back at short-term payday loan firms by forming the first credit union for students. The Changemaker Credit Union is a joint initiative between students at the University of Northampton and the Northamptonshire Credit Union. Credit unions are social enterprises set up by members to offer ethical finance solutions including savings accounts and loans. Northampton’s vice-chancellor Nick Petford said that the credit union demonstrated a “strong commitment to ensuring that all students of the university have access to ethical, responsible and affordable financial services”.
Females can maximise the genetic quality of their offspring by being promiscuous – at least in the bird kingdom. Researchers at the University of East Anglia and the University of Oxford joined colleagues at Sweden’s Stockholm University and Linköping University to study red junglefowl, and found that females of the species produce offspring more resistant to disease by mating with multiple males. The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that this is down to “cryptic female choice”, where an internal mechanism in the female’s reproductive tract favours sperm from males with the greatest genetic differences from it.
Let’s be careful out there
Men are less thrill-seeking than they were in the 1970s, according to a meta-analysis of studies into sensation-seeking behaviour. A team from the University of St Andrews led by Kate Cross, lecturer at the School of Psychology and Neuroscience, looked at responses to the sensation-seeking scale, which asks people whether they would try intense but potentially risky experiences such as parachuting or mountaineering. Men’s scores have declined and are now similar to women’s, possibly reflecting cultural changes towards male behaviour.
Why don’t you…watch the skies?
A number of Lancashire schoolchildren gave up their holidays to return to the classroom and explore the universe. Fifteen pupils from Preston and elsewhere in the county spent an intensive week at the University of Central Lancashire’s astronomy summer school. The teenagers learned about the latest technology used in space exploration, the physics underpinning astronomy and how we can search for life on other planets. Chloe Lester, 15, from Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School, said: “I want to work in engineering so I’m very interested in physics and…this summer school will be beneficial for my final year at school.”
Kill them while they’re young
Targeting mosquito larvae as they develop in standing water could cut malaria cases by 75 per cent in some areas, scientists claim. Killing immature mosquitoes before they turn into flying adults can be achieved by draining land where the insects hatch, clearing drains to make water flow or adding chemicals to standing water. Led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in collaboration with Durham University, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and US institutions, the Cochrane review collated 13 studies from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Europe, where various strategies have been successful.
Tans by the tonne
Whales tan through exposure to sunlight just like humans, researchers have found. Experts from Newcastle University analysed skin samples from blue, sperm and fin whales during their annual migration to warmer parts of the world. Blue whales respond to increasing exposure to ultraviolet light by producing more pigment in their skin, while extra sunlight triggers a genetic stress response among sperm whales. Fin whales, the darkest skinned of the trio, are the most resistant to sun damage.
Thus spake Zarathustra
One of the world’s oldest religions will be explained in an exhibition. The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination, which opens at Soas, University of London’s Brunei Gallery next month, will profile the cultural heritage and influence of the ancient religion, which dates back to the 2nd millennium BC. Ancient clay tablets borrowed from the British Museum and Alpaiwalla Museum in Mumbai will be on display, alongside other artefacts, coins and silverware from Iranian Zoroastrian history. A two-day conference, organised by the Centre for Iranian Studies at Soas, will take place at the gallery on 11 and 12 October to mark the show’s commencement.
Valuable moral lesson
Nearly nine out of 10 parents believe schools should teach children character and values, a survey has found. A Populus poll of 1,001 parents was carried out for the Jubilee Centre for Character and Values at the University of Birmingham. The survey reveals that 87 per cent of parents say schools should focus on character development and academic study, not the latter alone. James Arthur, director of the centre, said: “Parents want teachers to set a moral example.”
A university is to turn a vintage double-decker bus into a lecture theatre as part of its efforts to communicate research to the public. Under the University of Sheffield’s Mobile University initiative, the bus will tour the city over three days at the end of September, staging lectures on topics including spending cuts, stem cells and monogamy. The tour, which follows the university’s Festival of the Mind last year, is the brainchild of Vanessa Toulmin, head of engagement at Sheffield. “It’s a way to engage people with our research and to show them the impact it has on their everyday life,” she said.