Campus round-up - 19 September 2013

September 19, 2013

Scientific resolution

This image (main picture) is a 3D scan of a glass sculpture of a jellyfish created in the 19th century by father-and-son team Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. The German glass artists used techniques that are not fully understood even today, according to the Great North Museum in Newcastle University, which is displaying the scan as part of its International Images for Science 2013 exhibition. X-rays were used to image the model and the artificial colours are based on the density of the glass. It is hoped that the scan will reveal more of how the Blaschkas created their models. Other images featured at the exhibition, which runs until 29 September, include a scanning electron micrograph of a tardigrade or water bear (top left); a polarised light microscope image of the chemical compound Dimedone (middle left); and an interferometry image of the complex patterns created by a reflected shock wave (bottom left).

University College London
Branch blossoms

The first campus established by a UK university at Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa University has been formally inaugurated. University College London Qatar was opened at a ceremony in Doha on 9 September. The campus was established in 2011 in collaboration with the Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Museums Authority as a research and postgraduate institution studying cultural heritage. UCLQ’s first cohort of master’s students are set to complete their studies later this year.

Robert Gordon University
Gas, gas, gas (and oil)

A Scottish university is to offer an MSc in oil and gas engineering in concert with a Russian firm. From October, Robert Gordon University will link up with Oilteam to teach “the next generation of Russia’s offshore energy professionals” in the Black Sea town of Sochi. The partnership, worth more than £1.2 million, will help Russia to access as yet untapped offshore resources, the university said, adding that the scope of the arrangement “is expected to grow with time”.

University of Cambridge
Dirt is good for the brain

Better hygiene may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a study has found. Research from the University of Cambridge shows that even accounting for greater life expectancy, people in high-income industrialised countries appear more likely to develop the disease because of reduced contact with bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. The study analyses the prevalence of the disease in 192 countries and has found strong correlation between levels of national sanitation and Alzheimer’s. Researchers say that the study supports the hypothesis that lack of exposure to microbes weakens the immune system and makes dementia more prevalent.

University of Bedfordshire
Precocious art of persuasion

Debate and communication skills should be taught to primary school children, research has suggested. A study co-sponsored by the University of Bedfordshire and charity the English-Speaking Union has found that children taught how to use “persuasive speech” and placed in situations requiring them to argue, question, debate and speak publicly gain in confidence and improve their national curriculum assessment scores by 6 to 19 per cent more than those not involved. The effect is particularly pronounced for children of lesser ability, those for whom English is a second or additional language, and boys. Results of the study will be passed on to a government consultation on the new national curriculum.

Newcastle University
Postcode health lottery

Differences of up to 11 years in how long Newcastle citizens can expect to live healthy and active lives have been recorded in people living just eight miles apart. A team of experts from Newcastle University has simulated differences in health outcomes across the city and found stark disparities. At the end of the month, academic, council, NHS, business and voluntary sector representatives will meet to discuss the issue, with the aim of cutting the discrepancies in half over the next 10 years.

Harper Adams University
Big cheese on campus

One of the UK’s leading dairy food companies is to create an innovation centre at a university specialising in agricultural and food studies. Dairy Crest, known for successful brands such as Clover and Cathedral City, will base the centre at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, giving students and staff access to technical expertise and state-of-the-art facilities. Dairy Crest aims to deliver 10 per cent year-on-year growth through new product development, with research and technology at the core of its plans to meet the objective.

University of Salford
Social media optimisation

A student-designed free online course will help businesses and individuals to make best use of web search engines and social media marketing. The massive open online course, designed by master’s-level marketing students at Salford Business School with support from academics and industry experts, covers topics including online personal branding, search engine optimisation, blogging and marketing through social media such as Twitter. Amanda Broderick, executive dean at Salford’s College of Business and Law, said: “This…open access online course, offering critical business skill development opportunities, is the first in a series demonstrating our continuing commitment to address…skills gaps.”

University of West London
Song and dance of the desert

Academics and students from the University of West London have taken part in a performance by an innovative theatre company that attempts to mix Eastern and Western dance styles. Desert, a production from SpiralArts, tells the story of a traveller who is expelled from the “escalating cacophony of inner city hustle and its computerised obsessions…to seemingly silent and empty desert lands”. Music theatre students Evelyn Nagy and Claire Hutchinson and lecturers Emma Evans and Bryony Williams, based at the university’s London College of Music, helped with the performance. It was held in London’s Cockpit Theatre last month, with another performance scheduled for West London’s Lawrence Hall on 21 October.

Newman University, Birmingham
Black in the Union Jack

An academic conference has brought together scholars engaged in researching the past, present and future condition of the UK’s black population. Blackness in Britain, held at Newman University, Birmingham on 12 September, unveiled research papers including the “New Black ‘Social Conservatives’” and “The Impact of Public Spending Cuts on Black People in Contemporary Britain”.

Loughborough University
Taking the public temperature

Academics have developed software that can gauge the public’s reaction to events by analysing up to 2,000 tweets a second. The program, known as Emotive, analyses tweets for expressions of eight emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sorrow, surprise, shame and confusion. Principal investigator Tom Jackson, professor of information science at Loughborough University, said: “Twitter is a very concise platform through which users express how they feel about a particular event, be that a criminal act, a new government policy or even a change in the weather…We can collate these expressions in real time, map them geographically and track how they develop.”

Queen Mary, University of London
Birth defects detected

The most comprehensive study of congenital anomalies among babies born in England and Wales (including heart and lung defects, Down’s syndrome, neural tube defects and limb malformations) brings together data drawn from six regional registers. Covering the period 2007 to 2011, the third annual report by the British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers was compiled by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London and released earlier this month. It estimates that at least 16,000 babies with such anomalies were born in 2011, 2.2 per cent of the total – higher than the levels recorded by comparable European registers.

University of Edinburgh
Clear speech

Researchers have created a computer program that can modify the speech in public announcements to make them easier to understand in noisy environments such as airports or train stations. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh monitored how people listen to voices amid background noise, and then developed a system that amplifies the particular sounds people use to understand what is being said. In some cases, the improvement is equivalent to reducing the background noise by five decibels. The Edinburgh researchers hope that the program can be utilised to make smartphone voices, loudspeaker announcements and satellite navigation systems more audible for users.

University of Manchester
Horror soundtrack

The regime of Chilean dictator General Pinochet used Julio Iglesias records to torture political opponents, an academic has discovered. Katia Chornik, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Manchester’s music department, is investigating the treatment of almost 40,000 political opponents imprisoned after the dictator seized power in 1973. She discovered that most were tortured physically and psychologically. This included being forced to listen to music played at high volume, sometimes for days on end. Other records used included the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

University of Leicester
Language of reform

The English Association is to host a conference examining A-level reforms and how they will affect the teaching of English at all levels. The conference, to be held on 5 October at the Institute of English Studies in London, will be addressed by representatives from examination boards and academics involved in the reform consultation process. The event is being organised by the University of Leicester-based association’s University Admissions and Transition Special Interest Group, set up in 2008 with a view to promoting dialogue between English teachers at sixth-form and degree level.

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