Campus round-up

January 6, 2011

Royal Holloway, University of London

Warm spots in the big chill

Researchers may have come a step closer to understanding how life on Earth survived between 600 and 700 million years ago when the planet was frozen solid. Daniel Le Heron, lecturer in the department of Earth sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, has uncovered evidence that large "ice-free oases" could have harboured life and helped animals beat the chill. Dr Le Heron said: "What we've found is the clearest evidence yet that large areas of the Earth's oceans remained ice-free during 'Snowball Earth'. Such oases would have been key for the survival of life...and indeed our own existence today." The findings have been published in the journal Geology.

King's College London

Poor maths result for home team

Fewer than one in five students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland study any kind of mathematics after GCSE, the lowest participation in a comparative study of 24 countries. In most of the countries surveyed, more than half of upper secondary students study maths, according to research published by the Nuffield Foundation. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea, Russia, Sweden and Taiwan had the highest levels of participation, with almost all students studying maths until the age of 18. The research was undertaken by Jeremy Hodgen and David Pepper of the department of education and professional studies at King's College London, and Linda Sturman and Graham Ruddock of the National Foundation for Educational Research.

University of Glasgow

Algae preferred chilly reception

New data indicate that summer temperatures in the North Atlantic have risen by around 2.7 degrees Celsius since the "little Ice Age" of the 14th century. This has meant a reduction in the quality and abundance of zooplankton, a primary source of food for marine species including cod. Researchers at the University of Glasgow used existing climate models as well as data gathered from the rings of fossilised algae, which - like the rings of trees - reveal the temperature in each year of growth. The results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may have implications for the management of fisheries.

London Metropolitan University

Eastern liaisons

A London university has opened a new centre in a major Chinese city. London Metropolitan University's Chongqing Centre will act as a point of liaison and development for the university's partnership with Sichuan International Studies University. It is hoped that the centre will also help both universities to internationalise their curricula.

Cardiff University

Postnatal health work recognised

A researcher has been given the prestigious Marce Society Medal for work on postnatal mental health problems. Ian Jones, reader in perinatal psychiatry at the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University, has carried out groundbreaking genetic studies on bipolar disorder and its effect on a mother's mental health after the birth of a baby. Noting that postpartum psychoses are some of the most severe episodes seen in psychiatry, Dr Jones said "it is vitally important that we understand more about this condition, so we can develop better treatments and provide hope to women and their families".

University of Southampton

New hub for Lloyd's link-up

A research collaboration described as the largest of its kind in the UK is being set up to drive innovation in the fields of transport, energy and the environment. The partnership between the University of Southampton and risk management company Lloyd's Register Group will involve hundreds of academics, students and engineering professionals working together at a new research hub. Construction on the site, at the university's former Boldrewood campus in Southampton, is due to begin this year after an initial investment of £116 million. The centre will include the Lloyd's Register Group Technology Centre, the cornerstone of the organisation's global research and development network.

University of Brighton

Certifiably valuable internships

Students are being offered free courses tied to internships with local not-for-profit community organisations as part of a university scheme. The project, to be run by a University of Brighton programme that develops partnerships with community groups, will offer 16 internships in Brighton, Lewes and Hastings for recent students struggling to find graduate-level work. Free internships will be attached to a postgraduate certificate in community enterprise, with travel expenses and course fees paid by the host organisation.

University College London

Budding scientists, busy bees

Primary school children have achieved a world first by having their school science project accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The paper on how bumblebees perceive colour has been published in Biology Letters. The research was undertaken by 8- to 10-year-old pupils at Blackawton School in Devon. The young scientists found evidence that bees are able to learn and remember cues based on colour and pattern in a spatially complex scene. The project was coordinated and funded by Beau Lotto, reader in neurobiology in University College London's Institute of Ophthalmology.

City University London

The best years of their lives?

People in their twenties in Britain are more likely to feel discriminated against because of their age and are viewed more negatively than those who are over the age of 70, a study has suggested. Researchers at City University London's Centre for Comparative Social Surveys found that more than half of 18- to 29-year-olds report having been treated with prejudice because of their age in the past year, compared with about a quarter of those aged 30-39 and only a fifth of those aged 60-69. The study also suggests that conflict between younger and older generations could grow. Eric Harrison, senior research Fellow at the centre, said: "Our research suggests that intergenerational conflict could increase as resources become scarcer - the recent student protests could be a sign of this."

Kingston University/Royal Holloway, University of London

Joining forces on difficult issues

The UK's only multidisciplinary centre for research and training on abuse and trauma has been created. The Lifespan Research Group, which has been based at Royal Holloway, University of London, for more than 20 years, has joined forces with the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies, which was previously based at Royal Holloway, University of London and Kingston University. The new centre will be based at Kingston's Penrhyn Road campus and will have three divisions: offending and criminal justice, health and social care and legal and ethical issues.

University of Central Lancashire

Hitting nuclear targets

Postgraduate courses in nuclear studies aim to help students to study while remaining in full-time employment. The University of Central Lancashire has developed four courses in line with government plans for institutions to work closely with niche industries: an MSc in nuclear safety, security and safeguards; and postgraduate certificates in nuclear safety, nuclear security, and nuclear safety and security. Javad Yazdani, senior lecturer in nuclear engineering, said: "The nuclear sector has been identified by the government as a priority area for skills development."

Aston University

Wall-to-wall good ideas

A university-developed business model is helping a carpet firm improve its effectiveness and efficiency. The supply chain performance measurement model, which has been adopted by Kidderminster-based Brintons Carpets, is the result of a collaborative project between Aston Business School and the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. The project was funded by the British Council. Phil Ellis, group operations director at Brintons, said the project had provided "interesting and thought-provoking data".

University of Warwick

Leverhulme's 10% solution

Arts and humanities research at a UK university has been boosted by major research fellowship awards totalling £509,000. Four University of Warwick researchers will be funded by the Leverhulme Trust, giving the institution 10 per cent of national awardees this year. Stella Bruzzi, chair of the Faculty of Arts, and Steve Hindle, head of the department of history, have each been given two years' funding, while French studies academic Ingrid de Smet and philosopher Stephen Houlgate have each received funding for three-year projects.

It makes you sick

People who endure days and nights stuck at airports due to severe travel disruption go through similar emotions to being told they have a serious illness, according to a university study. Psychology researchers at the University of Surrey spoke to travellers affected when volcanic ash closed much of European airspace in April last year and found they first went through a period of denial, before uncertainty and worry took over. "We know this is a psychological process that kicks in when we're faced with a crisis. Whether it's being told the airports are closed or that they have a serious disease, people tend to react by first denying the reality or the seriousness of the problem," said lead researcher Niamh Murtagh.

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