Campus round-up

January 17, 2013

University of Manchester

Feeling peckish?

Computer scientists have built a talking, tweeting chicken aimed at shaming dieters into sticking to their New Year's resolutions. The chicken sits in a cupboard and orders anyone who opens it to stay away from the cakes. It can also tweet to their Twitter account accusing them of straying from their diets. The device is operated by a Raspberry Pi, the small programmable computer aimed at introducing children to programming. A tutorial on how to make the chicken has been released on YouTube and ties in to a series of workshops for local teachers and schoolchildren run by the University of Manchester's School of Computer Science.

Aston University/University of Derby

Supply in demand

Two universities are involved in plans to build a national centre for supply chain innovation as part of a £40 million government project to develop business and manufacturing. Focused on the competitiveness and growth of companies in the "trains, planes and automobiles" supply chains, the £40 million Regional Grant Fund project involves Aston University and the University of Derby. It aims to help companies boost their competitiveness with the help of university research, training and advice. The centre would form part of a new innovation campus being built at a 215-acre business park next to Rolls-Royce's site in Derby.

Coventry University

Eau de toilet

A university spin-off company is helping to make some campus toilets more pleasant by trialling a new product. Exilica, based at Coventry University's Technology Park, has developed and patented a technology that allows long-lasting fragrances to be incorporated into a variety of plastics and other polymer-based materials. The company recently collaborated with Birmingham-based Barkley Plastics and Manchester fragrance firm Seven Scent to create a scented floor tile, and has launched a trial run of the product in toilets on campus. Using Exilica's micro-particle technology, floor tiles manufactured by Barkley Plastics have been loaded with both a fragrance and an antibacterial agent, ensuring the toilets "smell nice and stay clean at all times".

University of Bedfordshire

Charged up

A university is aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by installing electric vehicle charging points and by purchasing an electric van. The University of Bedfordshire has already installed the first of three planned charging points at its Luton campus and has taken delivery of its first electric van, which will be used daily by the facilities and estates department. The charging points can be used by students and staff. Vice-chancellor Bill Rammell said: "It's a great initiative to reduce our carbon footprint but it's also help us move up the Green League table."

University Campus Suffolk

Little voices

Key findings of a study that used high-tech augmentative and alternative communications systems - such as picture cards and electronic devices - to better understand the experiences of disabled children have been presented at a conference in Canada. Allison Boggis, a senior lecturer at University Campus Suffolk's School of Applied Social Sciences, who led the Deafening Silences study, told the Montreal event that most studies relating to disabled children's lives relied on adult perspectives or research conducted with those who were most articulate. Dr Boggis said it was unacceptable to exclude disabled children simply because they pose challenges to traditional research methods. "We tend to think that children with little or no voice have little or nothing to say, but I found the opposite." She added: "If we are serious about recognising diversity in childhoods, there is an overwhelming need for us to establish new ways of engaging with children who have little or no speech."

University of Chester

A farewell to armchairs

An exercise scientist is following in Ernest Hemingway's footsteps in a bid to burn "easy calories". John Buckley of the University of Chester's department of clinical sciences and nutrition has salvaged one of the institution's old oak lecterns to use as a standing desk, similar to one famously used by the author when writing. Dr Buckley has calculated that by working at this desk for three hours of his work day, he will burn an extra 144 calories per day - amounting to 30,000 calories or 8lb (3.6kg) of human fat in a year - compared with carrying out his work sitting down.

Cranfield University

No time to waste

A new approach to calculating the potential renewable energy derived from waste material could save time and money, it has been claimed. The method, developed by Cranfield University, uses an image and microwave analysis tool that, when placed above a conveyor belt in a waste treatment facility, is able to calculate how much renewable energy can be derived. The current process for calculating the renewable content of waste requires either manual sorting of waste into individual components or analysis of the flue gas using specialist equipment for carbon dating. The former is time-consuming while the latter can be expensive. Work is now being planned, in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory, to further develop the tools and test them in a range of waste-handling facilities.

The Open University

Technology? That's kids' stuff

The classroom of the future is the subject of a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership, funded by the Technology Strategy Board and the Economic and Social Research Council. The Open University and Sharp Laboratories of Europe plan to develop a prototype for a "new educational technology system" over their 30-month partnership. The collaboration brings together academics at The Open University, a pioneer in the application of technology in education, with Sharp, which produces electronic display products such as interactive whiteboards and tablet PCs. They hope to use these technologies to support new interactive classroom practice.

Plymouth University

Cruise control

State-of-the-art technology has been employed in a documentary that aims to shed light on the events that led to last year's Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster. The National Geographic Channel film, aired on 10 January, included footage from the ship simulator at Plymouth University's £19 million Marine Building. The simulator, which includes a 240-degree scan and realistic control panel, was used to replicate the instrument movement leading up to the liner's running aground and to produce simulations of radar displays and course plotting. The circumstances of the ship's capsizing, in which 32 people died, remain the subject of legal proceedings in Italy.

Queen Mary, University of London

Jointed-up thinking

A university has been awarded £1.2 million to run clinical trials on new rheumatoid arthritis treatments. The study, by Queen Mary, University of London, which will be carried out in partnership with Barts Health NHS Trust, will test whether it is possible to predict which patients will respond positively to a particular therapy and thereby tailor their treatment. If the study is successful, it could help to improve patient care for the 400,000 people in the UK affected by the autoimmune disease, which causes painful joints, and save the NHS as much as £8 million a year. There is no cure for the disease, but some patients have responded to powerful "biological therapies" created over the past decade. The trials will seek to determine which patients may benefit from the expensive treatment.

University of Bath

Nerves centre

A university-NHS partnership in the South West is expected to open a specialist centre for psychological disorders. The Centre for Specialist Psychological Treatments of Anxiety and Related Problems, a collaboration between the University of Bath and Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, will focus on the assessment, treatment, training and research for psychological problems such as obsessive compulsive disorder, panic and phobias including agoraphobia. The centre aims to fill a gap in highly specialist evidence-based treatment for a range of disorders, thereby reducing the need for service users to travel long distances to national centres in London.

Leeds Trinity University

Gift of the Gabby

One of the 10 institutions recently awarded university title has appointed television presenter Gabby Logan as its first chancellor. Leeds Trinity University, which was founded as a Catholic teacher training college, was awarded university status at the end of last year. Leeds-born Ms Logan, who is a Catholic and a Durham University law graduate, said the university's "ethos" was very close to her own, adding that the "enormous benefit" she had derived from her law degree made her "a firm believer in the importance of higher education". Leeds Trinity's new vice-chancellor, Margaret House, said: "To have someone as impressive as Gabby as our first chancellor says much for what Leeds Trinity can achieve in the future."

Tough act to follow

A drama school has opened its archives for an exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of the acting guru Konstantin Stanislavski. Rare photographs of the influential Russian theorist from the archives of the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, based in Southeast London, have gone on show at Pushkin House in Bloomsbury. The exhibition, Stanislavski on Stage, features photos of productions by the influential director at the Moscow Art Theatre and runs from 16 January to 12 February. The opening of the show coincides with anniversary events being celebrated at the theatre in Moscow on 17-18 January, where Michael Earley, principal of Rose Bruford College, will speak.

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