Campus round-up - 9 May 2013

May 9, 2013

Do as the vervets do

Researchers have observed a rare example of “cultural transmission” among wild monkeys. Working with two groups of vervets in South Africa, scientists from the University of St Andrews and the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland gave one group pleasant-tasting blue-dyed corn and ill-tasting pink-dyed corn, or vice versa. Infants were then offered both colours - neither tasting badly - and soon learned from their mothers which was the “right” kind for their group. However, the crucial discovery came when males migrating to new groups started eating the colour of corn that was usual there. The findings, published in Science, indicate that “a willingness to conform to what all those around you are doing when you visit a different culture is a disposition shared with other primates”, said Andrew Whiten, Wardlaw professor of psychology and neuroscience at St Andrews.

Coventry University
Deliverance from evil

A research project that aims to put an end to the illegal practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) across the European Union has been awarded funding. Coventry University secured the cash to lead the European Commission-backed Replace II initiative. As part of the project, academics from Coventry’s Faculty of Business, Environment and Society and its Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyle Interventions will work with communities affected by the practice. Hazel Barrett, associate dean for applied research, said she hoped the project, “which takes an innovative community-based socio-behavioural change approach to ending FGM, will help to change behaviours and attitudes”.

Plymouth University
We finally get the message

Hidden messages in wartime letters have been revealed for the first time in 70 years. Mathematicians, historians and geographers at Plymouth University worked together to crack codes used by a section of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, MI9, to conceal information going in and out of prisoner-of-war camps across Europe during the Second World War. The studies uncover the signals used to indicate whether or not letters contained messages, the pattern of code words within the letters as well as trigger words that signalled further layers of complication in the code. The messages reveal attempts within the missives - seen by both German and British censors - to engineer escapes and to pass on military intelligence to commanders back home.

Bath/Queen Mary
Memory king in kingdom of blind

Congenitally blind people have more accurate memories. A study by academics at the University of Bath and at Queen Mary, University of London found that volunteers who were blind from birth performed better in memory tests than sighted people or those with late-onset blindness. They were able to recall more words from a list they had been asked to remember and were less likely to falsely “remember” words related to those on the list but not read out. Michael Proulx, senior lecturer in the department of psychology at Bath and leader of the study, said it would be interesting to see whether congenitally blind individuals would also be better witnesses in forensic studies.

Hows, whys and therefores

Major social conundrums such as the long-term decline in crime rates, racial segregation in cities, the impact of inequality on higher education and job prospects, and attitudes towards Scottish independence will be analysed by a major research centre. The Applied Quantitative Methods Network Research Centre, launched on 30 April, is based at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law and will also involve academics from the University of Glasgow. It is being funded by £4 million from the Economic and Social Research Council.

University of St Andrews
Thumbs up

A keyboard that allows people to type on mobile devices significantly more quickly than on the traditional Qwerty set-up has been devised by researchers. Academics from the University of St Andrews, alongside colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany and Montana Tech in the US, have come up with the KALQ layout, which they claim allows people to type 34 per cent more quickly on average when using their thumbs. The team simulated millions of layouts, using a model of thumb movement, to come up with the optimum keyboard.

University of West London
Pages to savour

A chef school graduate has returned to his alma mater to launch his debut cookbook. University of West London alumnus Will Torrent, who graduated in culinary arts management with first-class honours in 2007, went back to the institution’s Ealing campus to serve up his recipe book, Pâtisserie at Home, to dozens of guests. Mr Torrent, who developed Heston Blumenthal’s Waitrose bakery range, said his time in the university’s cookery division - now known as the London School of Hospitality and Tourism - had helped him to develop several of the book’s recipes.

Soas, University of London
One hump or two? Make that four

Two camels were the star attractions at a two-day conference in London dedicated to the desert mammal. The Bactrian camels, Thérèse and Temujin, were brought to the Bloomsbury campus of Soas, University of London on 29 April as part of the event about the “ships of the desert”. Papers presented at the event included a historical account of the camel’s role in ancient Roman civilisation, a review of husbandry methods and an analysis of how camel milk can be used to help people with diabetes or allergies.

The Open University
Clear outlook for cloud

Smaller businesses are increasingly turning to “cloud-based” service providers to run back-office functions such as invoicing and customer relationship management, a report has found. The Quarterly Survey of Small Business in Britain, produced by The Open University Business School, examines the use of mobile- and web-based services and has found that about 21 per cent of respondents are now using such providers to run back- office services, compared with 8 per cent two years ago. It also says that just over half of respondents (56 per cent) do business using only personal computers or laptops with no mobile internet access, while a small minority of firms (2 per cent) rely exclusively on smartphones and tablet computers.

University of Sheffield
Stay in bed and pay us a visit

A university department is offering a “virtual open day” for potential students. The University of Sheffield’s department of physics and astronomy is using high-definition internal Google Street View images to allow browsers to explore its buildings, and will also offer live web chats with academics and existing students. Paul White, Sheffield’s pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, said that virtual open days would run alongside standard ones and would “allow more people than ever before to experience the university, as well as allowing them to revisit the campus as often as they like”.

University of Bedfordshire
Kindness of strangers

A team of university students successfully made their way from Luton to southern Spain without spending a penny on travel. The University of Bedfordshire team, known as The Idiots Abroad, won the Bedfordshire Students’ Union Jailbreak competition - which challenges students to travel as far as possible on the kindness of strangers - by clocking up 1,439 miles and reaching Malaga. Dressed as pharaohs, ancient Greeks and sultans, the four intrepid travellers first persuaded a local rail operator to give them free tickets to London before a businessman contacted them via Facebook and offered to buy them return flights to Reus, Catalonia. There, a group of men on a stag-do paid for a hire car, which the Idiots used to drive to Malaga. The nine teams that took part in the challenge so far have raised £1,826 for charity.

University of Leicester
Breaking old ground

The archaeologists who discovered the remains of Richard III earlier this year have applied for permission to extend their excavation of the site. The University of Leicester scholars hope to exhume a 600-year-old stone coffin they found close to the Plantagenet king’s remains in what used to be church grounds. The coffin, which may contain the remains of a medieval knight called Sir William Moton, is located under a former school that will be converted into a Richard III heritage centre to coincide with the king’s planned reinterment at Leicester Cathedral next year.

University of Salford
Measure for green measures

Providing scientific data on the effectiveness of green household measures such as insulation, new boilers and glazing will be the focus of research. The University of Salford study will look at households in Greater Manchester that are part of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s core cities programme. Will Swan, senior lecturer in buildings retrofit and a member of Salford’s Energy Hub, said: “If we are to effectively understand what difference sustainable [retrofitting] is going to make to people’s bills and their quality of life, we need to establish the evidence base that will help inform those decisions.”

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