Campus round-up - 28 February 2013

February 28, 2013

Fitting image

When Will Brooker, head of the film and television department at Kingston University, visited a comic shop recently, he “felt very alienated by the way female characters are all pin-ups, wearing high heels, just violated and then rescued. I went back to teach a class of highly intelligent women.” The contrast led him to team up with artists Sarah Zaidan and Suze Shore to create a new series of comics, My So-Called Secret Identity, in which the heroine is a PhD student. The first episode of the webcomic went live last week and quickly raised enough money both to fund the next issue and to make a donation to the women’s outreach charity A Way Out. The central image by Ms Shore depicts two characters who have yet to appear, Dahlia Forrester, a professional and single mother, and her daughter Daisy.

University of Glasgow
The plot just got bigger

Plans have been unveiled for a major campus development and expansion that could provide an extra 14 acres for university use. The University of Glasgow announced that it has already secured most of the site currently occupied by the city’s Western Infirmary, and talks are under way to acquire the remainder of the plot. The university - which will spend £80 million on new buildings and £55 million on refurbishing facilities over the next five years - is now working on a campus strategy to decide how the money will be allocated.

University of St Andrews
If you care, you copy

Dolphins copy the unique voices of those closest to them, researchers have found. Scientists at the University of St Andrews discovered that the animals mimic vocal signatures as a way of saying they miss each other. Scientists already knew that dolphins copied each other, but did not know whether it was a sign of aggression or friendliness. Stephanie King, a research fellow in St Andrews’ School of Biology, observed that the mimicry was evident only between “mothers and their calves or adult males who form long-term alliances with one another”.

University of Plymouth
Sailor and citizen scientist both

Scientists have launched a project to measure levels of plankton worldwide with the help of thousands of people. In the Secchi Disk Citizen Science project, seafarers in small boats and yachts will collect readings of phytoplankton populations using a free smartphone app and a simple measuring procedure. Researchers at the University of Plymouth have initiated the project in response to fears that the phytoplankton population is in decline due to rising sea temperatures.

University of Bath/Teesside University
Colouring activity

A traffic-light system similar to that used to display health information on food could be used to help people become more active. In a study by the universities of Bath and Teesside, participants wore body sensors showing how much energy they burned during different types of activity - under categories such as “vigorous” or “moderate sustained” - and also when sedentary. Alan Batterham, professor in exercise science at Teesside University, said that just as different dietary components are important for health, the traffic-light system could help people understand the benefits of different types of activity.

University for the Creative Arts
Interior design

Architecture students have been given a rare opportunity to study Canterbury Cathedral. In collaboration with the University for the Creative Arts Canterbury, first- and second-year students have been given access to the historic location to learn about its design and structure. Students are surveying and drawing the building, as well as studying its history and enjoying the opportunity to exhibit their work temporarily in the cloisters. Heather Newton, head of stonemasonry and conservation at the cathedral, said the relationship was mutually beneficial as she had been “forced to stop and reflect deeply on some of the interesting and searching questions [students] have put to me”.

Royal Holloway, University of London
Airwave triumph

A trilogy of gripping afternoon dramas by a university lecturer has been broadcast on Radio 4. Written by Dan Rebellato, head of the department of drama and theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London, the Negative Signs of Progress trilogy was inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings that swept through the Middle East two years ago. Here was a psychological thriller set in the UK; There was a comedy about two hostage negotiators in training set in Europe; and Somewhere comprised a drama about a hostage held captive in an Arab country. They were broadcast on 25, 26 and February.

Queen Mary, University of London
Poetic discovery

A letter from the poet T.S. Eliot has been discovered in a university library’s archives. Written in 1957, the missive was found by archivists at Queen Mary, University of London as they catalogued the papers of Jacob Isaacs, a former professor of English at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the letter, Eliot asks his friend for help recalling what he meant in one of his old essays, “Shakespeare and the stoicism of Seneca”, which was about to be republished. The letter is an important addition to the debate about Eliot’s alleged anti-Semitism, said Peter Howarth, senior lecturer in 20th-century literature at Queen Mary, where Professor Isaacs also taught. “It reinforces how Eliot’s actual poetic ideas were being worked out with the help of a Jewish friend and fan,” he said.

Goldsmiths, University of London
Rural focus

City dwellers are more easily distracted from tasks than people who live in remote rural areas, a study has suggested. Psychologists from Goldsmiths, University of London found that people living in the remote cattle-herding Himba tribe in Namibia had higher concentration abilities than tribesmen who had moved to a nearby town. “People who live in less urbanised areas of the UK, such as the Shetlands, may be in a better cognitive state to concentrate on tasks than those who live in large cities,” said Karina Linnell, the study leader.

University of Huddersfield
Credit all round

Craig Mahoney, chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, has unveiled a commemorative plaque at the first university in the country to have all its teaching staff accredited. The University of Huddersfield’s 750-plus lecturers have all become fellows of the HEA after demonstrating their professional competence. Tim Thornton, Huddersfield’s pro vice- chancellor for teaching and learning, said the process of acquiring accreditation was “a very good way of encouraging colleagues to reflect on teaching and learning and to develop their practice”.

The Open University
Infinitely entertaining

Could you explain some of the wonders of the Universe in 60 seconds? Comedian David Mitchell can, with the help of The Open University. Twelve videos, recorded as part of the university’s “60 Second Adventures” series, cover topics from the Big Bang to black holes, breaking each down into minute-long animations accompanied by informative but light-hearted commentary by Mr Mitchell. Stephen Serjeant, reader in cosmology, said: “We’ve found we can get across genuinely deep scientific concepts in only a minute and still have room for a few jokes.” The videos are available on YouTube, iTunesU and the OU’s learning platform OpenLearn.

University of East Anglia
Spotlight on abused women

A controversial film about the abuse of women in Arab society has had its first UK screenings in London and Norwich this month. Duma (“dolls” in Arabic) - shown as part of a University of East Anglia project - is regarded as the first film to shed light on the sexual assault of women in Arab and Palestinian society. The events included a question and answer session with the film’s director, Abeer Zeibak Haddad. The screenings come at a time when discussions about and protests against rape and violence towards women are taking place around the world, particularly in light of recent cases in Egypt and India.

Green collaboration

Europe’s first Centre for Global Eco-innovation will open next week. The £9.8 million virtual centre will establish collaborative research and development partnerships for the creation of global products, processes and services with positive environmental benefits. It is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and combines expertise from Lancaster University, the University of Liverpool and consultancy Inventya. The launch will showcase 50 local businesses already benefiting from intensive three-year collaborative projects, which 50 graduate researchers will use as the basis of their PhDs.

Nottingham Trent University
Driving ambition

A university has started offering driving tests. Nottingham Trent University has opened two test centres in a trial conducted by the Driving Standards Agency. The move is part of government efforts to provide driving tests from a wider range of locations, including retail premises and easily accessible public areas. Michael Lees, head of customer services at Nottingham Trent, said: “Not only will [this] benefit our students, but because members of the public will also take their tests from our campuses, it will help increase our links with the wider community.”

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