Campus round-up - 18 April 2013

April 18, 2013

Source: Reuters

Peak performance in aid of breath of life

Scientists at a UK university are working in one of the harshest environments on Earth to further vital research into the effects of low oxygen levels on the human body. Medical staff and scientists from the University of Southampton have travelled to the Himalayas as part of the Xtreme Everest research team, which will conduct work on human adaptation to hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, which can have a dangerous and even deadly effect on the body’s vital organs. It is hoped that the research will help the development of new hospital-based treatments for critically ill patients with hypoxia. The project is an international collaboration between Southampton, University College London and Duke University in the US.

University of Hertfordshire
Unofficial number one

An attempt to break the world record for the longest-ever radio show has failed to be ratified after Guinness World Records said the students witnessing the event were too closely associated with the participants. A team from Crush Radio, the station run by the University of Hertfordshire students’ union, set out to beat a 73-hour record set in 2011 by a German radio station, KISS-FM, while at the same time raising money for Comic Relief. They thought they had succeeded after broadcasting for more than 76 hours, but Guinness declined to give their efforts its rubber stamp. Chris Thomson, head producer of the show, said: “We may not have Guinness’ approval but we know we did it. Listeners know we did it. And I am still proud of everyone involved in the show.”

University of East Anglia
Stemming the tide of dietary ills

Neuroscientists have made a discovery that could help to cure eating disorders such as those that cause obesity. It was previously thought that the nerve cells in the brain associated with appetite regulation were generated entirely during an embryo’s development in the womb, but a team of University of East Anglia researchers have identified a population of stem cells known as tanycytes that are capable of generating new appetite- regulating neurons in the brains of rodents. Lead researcher Mohammad Hajihosseini said: “Unlike dieting, translation of this discovery could eventually offer a permanent solution [to] obesity.” The findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

University of Portsmouth
Secrets of selflessness

What drives members of the public to give up their free time to help research? A team led by the University of Portsmouth has won a grant to answer why volunteers take part in online projects in which they help to interpret and classify data, whether as part of a search for the cure for cancer or efforts to understand galaxies. The three-year project, which also involves researchers from the universities of Oxford, Manchester and Leeds, aims to build economic models to explain the choices, motivations and behaviours of digital volunteers, and to investigate ways that volunteering can be optimised and sustained.

University of Cambridge
Gates’ way leads from Nile to Cam

This autumn will mark the first time that Egyptians will join the cohort of students receiving Gates Cambridge Scholarships. Funded through a $210 million (£137 million) endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the scholarships are given to high-achieving international postgraduate students attending the University of Cambridge who have demonstrated leadership and a commitment to improving the lives of others. The 51 scholars chosen for 2013 come from 24 countries, including Kenya, Pakistan, Peru and Egypt. They will join 39 US students already selected for the scheme, which aims to nurture the “leaders of tomorrow”.

Royal Holloway, University of London
Model diplomats’ arc of triumph

Student diplomats last month picked up a prestigious award at an international debating conference for the second year in a row. Royal Holloway, University of London claimed the Outstanding Delegation award at the National Model United Nations conference in New York City, attended by more than 5,000 students from across the world. The university’s 23-member delegation took part in debates on topics ranging from peacekeeping to nuclear proliferation. “We are very proud of our achievement, especially when considering the stiff competition we faced from top universities and colleges from around the world,” said Johanna Englund, Royal Holloway’s head delegate.

University of Nottingham
Digital pipeline to water safety

A mobile phone app may help to change lives in parts of Africa by giving people the power to instantly report problems with sanitation. The app, Taarifa, is being developed by Mark Iliffe, a doctoral student in engineering at the University of Nottingham, who was chosen as one of 10 finalists in the Sanitation Hackathon competition sponsored by the World Bank. Taarifa allows people to communicate sanitation problems using SMS, web forms, email or social media. Reports can be monitored by local authorities with the responsibility for carrying out repairs and improvements and providing new infrastructure. The app is already in operation in Uganda and Tanzania and is being further developed at Nottingham’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute.

University of Dundee
Bright ideas sparked in dark days

Society must use the economic recession of the past five years as an opportunity to rethink how it is organised, a lecturer was due to argue in a public event on 16 April. Kirsteen Shields, a lecturer in the University of Dundee’s School of Law, planned to tell the Dundee Arts Café event that “in the brutality of the recession we have an opportunity to redesign our society for the better”. She has also advocated moving to a four-day work week to more evenly distribute employment during the downturn.

Queen Mary/Oxford
Spring arrivals may risk MS

Babies born in May are more likely to have immune system disorders than those born in November, a study suggests. Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Oxford compared blood extracted from the umbilical cords of 50 babies born in each of the two months. They found lower levels of vitamin D among children born in the spring, while levels of “autoreactive” white blood cells that can trigger multiple sclerosis were higher, indicating a higher risk of those babies contracting the autoimmune disease in later life. Further studies were needed to determine whether pregnant women should be given vitamin D supplements to help to prevent the disease, the researchers said.

Keele University
Call for schooling in home truths

Research has reinforced calls for domestic abuse prevention programmes to be compulsory in schools. The study of a group of 13- to 14-year-olds in Staffordshire schools, undertaken by Keele University and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found worrying levels of experience of domestic abuse among the pupils. The research analysed the effectiveness of Relationships without Fear, a pilot programme being run in some of the schools surveyed in the study. Claire Fox, senior lecturer in psychology at Keele, said: “We found that domestic abuse prevention can be effective in changing girls’ and boys’ attitudes towards domestic abuse and encouraging more of them to seek help.” Dr Fox emphasised that while awareness campaigns were helpful, young people needed opportunities to discuss the issues.

University of Sunderland
Peer’s pressing concerns

An Oscar-winning film producer and former university chancellor has criticised the “hysteria” that followed the decision to regulate the press using a Royal Charter. Lord Puttnam, who was chancellor of the University of Sunderland from 1997 to 2007, used a recent talk at the institution to reflect on media reaction after the peer tabled an amendment to the Defamation Bill - a move that preceded Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to accept a deal on press regulation. “There is a lot of hysteria around this. The amendment I put down in the House of Lords got a huge majority - but none of the papers mentioned that. We have allowed the growth of a lazy perception that all politicians are on the take, and that newspapers are always necessarily right.”

University of Warwick
Beware the persuaders

Companies should avoid hiring charismatic chief executives because their powers of persuasion mean there is no resistance if they take the firm in the wrong direction, a study has concluded. Researchers at Warwick Business School looked at Europe’s biggest firms and found that “intelligent conservatism” in leaders was a better trait in the long run. Christian Stadler, associate professor of strategic management, said: “If your company is heading in the right direction, a charismatic leader will get you there faster. Unfortunately, if you’re heading in the wrong direction, charisma will also get you there faster.”

University of Sheffield
Fresh readings of old lines

A research project is set to tackle the fraught relationship between religion and homosexuality by challenging traditional readings of the Bible. The University of Sheffield project, titled Hidden Perspectives, aims to challenge assumptions made in many mainstream and scholarly readings of the Bible that have implications for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’s feelings of alienation from many religious traditions. The first major event of the project is a one-day festival on 1 June in which cabaret acts, vocalists, poets, storytellers, artists and academics are to offer new readings, interpretations and reappropriations of biblical stories or passages that have traditionally been read as “anti-gay”.

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