Health down the Tube
People working or travelling on underground railways for sustained periods of time could be at increased risk of health problems because of metals in the ultra-fine dust found there, research has suggested. A team of academics has studied the microscopic dust particles and found that they are rich in metals such as iron and copper. It is known from previous research relating to steel mills and welding plants that such dust is deleterious to human health, but until now little work has been done to trace its presence in underground railways. “These tiny dust particles have the potential to penetrate the lungs and the body more easily, posing a risk to…health,” said Matt Loxham, a doctoral student at the University of Southampton involved in the study. The findings were published in Environmental Science and Technology.
University of Essex
Good (and bad) grief
A philosophy lecturer has completed a short film for the BBC addressing people’s responses to grief. Timothy Secret, lecturer in the School of Philosophy and Art History at the University of Essex, looks at the influence of Sigmund Freud’s controversial essay “Mourning and Melancholia”, in which the founder of psychoanalysis argued that grief can be divided into healthy and unhealthy variants. The film is one of a series made as part of the New Generation Thinkers programme, developed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and BBC Radio 3 to identify academics in the early stages of their careers who have the potential to turn their ground-breaking ideas into popular broadcasting.
University of Leicester
Why do individuals such as Josef Fritzl and Ian Brady develop in modern society and why are we so fascinated by their crimes? The human capacity for cruelty is to be explored by an interdisciplinary research network created by Sarah Hodgkinson, senior lecturer in the department of criminology at the University of Leicester. The Extremes of Human Cruelty Research Network will bring together interested parties from a variety of disciplines to examine cruelties such as sexual offences, homicide and serial killing, abuse and torture, even mass violence and genocide. Dr Hodgkinson said: “It is a fundamental part of human nature to seek to understand human evil and atrocities, and we need to know why such things occur.”
Positive reactions to reality television shows such as Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice reflect changing attitudes to entrepreneurship, research has suggested. According to a study by academics from Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Nottingham that canvassed 960 university students, those who watch so-called “entre-tainment” programmes tend to think that the values depicted are “good” and feel encouraged to consider setting up their own businesses. However, the shows should be accompanied by a warning that they do not necessarily offer a realistic portrayal of life in the business world, the report suggests. Simon Down, director of the Institute for International Management Practice at Anglia Ruskin and one of the report’s authors, said that in the past “with dodgy characters like Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses”, Britons’ attitude to entrepreneurs “was generally less positive”.
University of Oxford
Palpable hits and misses
The first collected edition of William Shakespeare’s plays has been published online by the Bodleian Library to mark the Bard’s birthday on 23 April. A public campaign by the University of Oxford’s library to digitise the edition, known as the First Folio, raised £20,000 via hundreds of individual donations. The First Folio, received by the library in 1623, is rare because it has never been rebound or restored. The wear and tear evident on its pages shows the tastes of early readers: the 1,000-page online copy, which is free to view, shows Romeo and Juliet to have been extensively thumbed, whereas King John is in virtually pristine condition.
Broken-hearted noticed at last
One in five elderly people living in care homes could have undiagnosed heart failure, a study has found. Scientists from Durham University, aided by colleagues from Darlington Memorial and James Cook University hospitals, examined nearly 400 residents aged 65 to 100 in 33 homes across the UK. They found that about a quarter had heart failure - a condition where blood is not pumped around the body effectively, leading to breathlessness, tiredness and swelling. In the vast majority of cases the condition had not been identified.
University of Essex
A university is hosting the premiere of a new play by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott that looks at the turbulent relationship between Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. The performance of O Starry, Starry Night will take place at the University of Essex’s Lakeside Theatre on 2 May. Essex has close links with the West Indian playwright, who is professor of poetry at the institution. London-based actor Martina Laird is part of the international cast for the drama, which is set in the South of France and follows Gauguin’s visit in 1888 to a troubled Van Gogh while he was living in Arles.
Understanding the brain development of each child with learning difficulties could help educators to design more effective teaching, research indicates. Psychologists from Goldsmiths, University of London, University College London and Siberia’s Tomsk State University argue that the creation of a “genetic profile” for each student with a learning disability such as dyslexia or dyscalculia could vastly improve training for school psychologists, clinicians and teachers dealing with such students. The study, published in Science, also indicates that children are frequently affected by more than one learning disability: for example, about a half to a third of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also have dyslexia.
University of Bath
Happily married workforce
The risk of divorce among UK couples is no longer raised if the wife is in work, a study has found. Researchers at the University of Bath looked at whether the level of policy support for female employment, such as maternity leave and public childcare provision, affected a country’s associated divorce risk. They found that only in the US, where support is minimal, does the risk significantly increase. In most countries studied this is no longer the case. In Scandinavia, which has the highest level of policy support of this kind, the divorce risk is significantly lower. The study is one of a series of briefings published to mark the launch of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research later this month.
University of Worcester
A university’s £15 million sports arena has been handed over following the successful completion of construction work. The University of Worcester Arena is a fully inclusive 2,000-seat enclosure designed to become a national centre of excellence for disability sport. It will build on the work of the institution across a range of disability sports, including wheelchair basketball and blind football. Mick Donovan, head of the university’s Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, said: “The arena will really help to put Worcester on the map as a sporting city and attract some great events to the region.”
University of Wolverhampton
Midlands move to mountains
Two academic institutions in Nepal have joined forces with a UK university for student and staff exchanges and research collaborations. The partnership agreements with the University of Wolverhampton were signed by Kathmandu University and Merryland College Biratnagar (MCB) during a recent visit to Nepal by a delegation of Wolverhampton representatives. Geoff Layer, Wolverhampton’s vice-chancellor, also signed a separate agreement with Sulav Budhathoki, executive director of MCB, to consider curriculum development and the possibility of delivering some of the British university’s courses in Nepal.
University of Edinburgh
A fly that devours fresh fruit could be brought under control using an artificial scent after scientists unravelled its genetic code. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have studied the Suzukii fly, Drosophila suzukii, which has spread across Asia, North America and Europe over the past five years. The insect can wreck harvests because it targets only fresh, not rotting, fruit. It is hoped that by understanding the species’ genetic make-up, a fragrance that attracts, traps and kills the fly can be developed.
University of St Andrews
University of whales
Humpback whales can teach each other new hunting techniques to counter the depletion of herring stocks, a research group has found. The study, led by academics at the University of St Andrews, found that a technique whereby humpback whales slap the water with their tails while hunting prey had spread to 40 per cent of the population since first being observed in 1980. “Our study really shows how vital cultural transmission is in humpback populations - not only do they learn their famous songs from each other, but they also learn feeding techniques that allow them to buffer the effects of changing ecology,” said Luke Rendell, lecturer in the School of Biology at St Andrews. The findings were published in the journal Science.
Birkbeck, University of London
It’s what he would have wanted
A scholarship scheme has been launched in honour of the historian Eric Hobsbawm. The awards to support promising young historians were announced at a memorial service in Bloomsbury for the influential Marxist scholar, who died aged 95 in October last year. Historian Simon Schama and the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, led the tributes to Professor Hobsbawm, who joined Birkbeck, University of London as an academic in 1947 and became college president in 2002, which was a position he held until his death. “Eric was wholeheartedly committed to making the study of history as accessible as possible to all,” said Frank Trentmann, professor of history at Birkbeck. “These scholarships in his name will remove financial barriers to study and will inspire the next generation of talented historians.”