Campus round-up

March 17, 2011


More Zzzs for ABC1s

Unemployed people are 40 per cent more likely to report difficulty sleeping than those in work, according to findings from the world's largest longitudinal household study. Analysis carried out by academics at the University of Surrey of early data from the Understanding Society study also found that those in routine occupations reported poorer-quality sleep than those in professional work. Overall the best sleep was reported by people with higher levels of education and by married people, the analysis found. Understanding Society, which is being managed by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, is following the socio-economic circumstances in 40,000 UK households over many years, with sleep data collected regularly.

Anglia Ruskin University

Helping hands through a keyhole

A new research and development centre for laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery aims to help address the shortage of surgical expertise in the UK and abroad. The ICENI Centre, a joint venture between Anglia Ruskin University and Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, was officially opened this month by Andrew Lansley, secretary of state for health. As well as attracting surgeons from around the globe, the centre's conference-link facilities will be used to help deliver distance-learning courses in the field.

University of East London

Little eyes and the big picture

Researchers hope to predict language development in babies before they can even talk. Experts from the University of East London will use eye-tracking technology to help determine whether future language, social and attention weaknesses can be identified at the age of six months. Eye-tracking technology is traditionally confined to university "baby labs", but this study will be taken into the community through children's centres. Derek Moore, director of UEL's Institute for Research in Child Development, said: "Eye-tracking allows us to explore exactly how a baby responds to the mouth and eye movements of others."

Imperial College/Royal Veterinary College

Weighty problems, tiny solutions

Scientists have revealed how the structure of elephants' thigh bones enables them to support huge loads. A team from Imperial College London and the Royal Veterinary College analysed specimens of the femur bones of 90 different species including the Asian elephant, Etruscan shrew, roadrunner, crocodile, emu, turkey, leopard and giraffe. They explored how animal size related to the formation of an interlinking lattice of tiny bone struts inside the femur called trabeculae. The researchers found that trabeculae have different geometry depending on the size of the species; those in bigger animals are thicker, further apart and less numerous.


Fair-weather travellers in fast lane

Moths can migrate as quickly as songbirds - even though the birds can fly unassisted four times as swiftly. A team of scientists from the universities of York and Greenwich, working in conjunction with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's Rothamsted Research centre and Lund University in Sweden, used specially designed radar to track the annual migration of thousands of individual birds and moths as they migrated between northern Europe and the Mediterranean and Africa. They found that, unlike birds, moths flew only when the winds were favourable, allowing them to reach speeds of up to 65km/h, almost identical to the average speed of avian migrants.

University of Nottingham

Pouncing on allergy culprits

New treatments for allergies could result from scientists' discovery of a cell component that plays a key role in triggering allergic reactions to cats. Immunologists from the University of Nottingham had previously found that the same component plays an important role in triggering dust-mite allergies. Both conditions often accompany and exacerbate asthma, which is becoming increasingly common. Amir Ghaemmaghami, a member of Nottingham's research team, said: "A better understanding of how the interaction between allergens and the immune system leads to allergy is vital if we are to develop more effective and efficient treatments for this debilitating condition."

Thames Valley University

Students help peers to butt out

Student volunteers have qualified as "smoking cessation advisers" to help fellow students quit the habit. Ealing Stop Smoking Service has trained 11 psychology students at Thames Valley University to a professional standard so that they can help their peers quit smoking through a free personalised six-week programme. Students are being told that they could save £1,000 a year if they stopped smoking 10 cigarettes a day.

University of Leeds

Scripts in plain English

Instructions on medicine bottles and packets of pills dispensed by UK pharmacists are to be made clearer thanks to the efforts of a team of academics. A study by researchers at the University of Leeds and spin-off company Luto Research revealed that many commonly used phrases on medicine labels are misunderstood. An example was "avoid alcoholic drinks", which some people took to mean that they were required only to limit their alcohol intake. That phrase will be replaced in pharmacists' labelling over the next six months by the words "do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine", which, according to Theo Raynor, professor of pharmacy at Leeds, is "far clearer".

University of Worcester

Spotlight on UK aid proposals

Plans by the UK government to rethink international aid will be discussed at an academic conference. The University of Worcester will host the event, The Politics of Aid, on 26 March. Keynote speakers will include Murray Worthy, policy officer at the World Development Movement, along with Jenny Holland and Hazel Mwawembe of the non-governmental organisation Concern Universal and its Kasumbu Food Security Improvement Project in Malawi.


Anglo-Scots pact means business

An agreement between a Scottish university and an English business school will lead to a new networking opportunity for senior managers in northeast Scotland. The partnership between the University of Aberdeen and Henley Business School at the University of Reading will create a network of academics and business leaders, offering members of the group a chance to update and review their business strategies based on the latest research. Ian Diamond, principal of Aberdeen, said the project would create new opportunities for business managers to engage with universities.

Newcastle University

Legions of the faithful

Archaeologists are to excavate an internationally important Roman site in Cumbria. The researchers from Newcastle University are to work at the site of a series of buried Roman altars at Camp Farm, Maryport, on land owned by Hadrian's Wall Heritage. Ian Haynes, professor of archaeology and the project's lead researcher, said the site was at the centre of a worldwide debate about the nature of religion in the Roman army. "We still know very little about the context in which the altars were originally deposited, and this project represents a marvellous opportunity to further our understanding," he said.

Aston University

Raising awareness of rising water

Vulnerable people in a flood-prone region of England may not have considered the threats posed by floodwaters, according to university research. Aston Business School has conducted research on how older people and those with disabilities can prepare for coastal flooding, on behalf of Lincolnshire County Council. The report suggests that many residents feel underprepared because they have never considered flood threats - despite some of them living within metres of the sea.

University of Warwick

Digital path to consumers' hearts

A £12 million research programme at the University of Warwick aims to help businesses tailor technology to the emotions and desires of customers. The new International Institute for Product and Service Innovation at Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) will allow local small and medium-sized businesses to access digital design tools that can "deliver the best emotional experience for consumers". Lord Bhattacharyya, WMG director, said: "The best product design technology will ensure that even the sound, feel and look of a product is perfected and even tailored to the customer's desires."

University of Sussex

Bang goes the bunker

A BBC television series that puts science and technology to the test through a series of eye-catching experiments has found a permanent home at a university. The team from Bang Goes the Theory has set up a studio lab inside a former nuclear physics bunker at the University of Sussex, and academics from the institution will be on hand to advise on experiments and ideas. Sussex said the lab, which has 1m thick concrete walls and once housed the university's particle accelerator, will also be home to the programme's production workshop, previously based elsewhere in Brighton.

Crime seen, heard and analysed

Criminology and forensic science students gathered evidence in a fictionalised case of rape as part of an exercise to simulate the criminal justice process. More than 30 student biologists, criminologists, lawyers, actors and psychologists at the University of Portsmouth followed the case from discovery of the crime, through evidence analysis and finally to presentation of the findings in the courtroom. It was the first such exercise conducted by the university in a bid to bring all departments together to share knowledge and skills and expand students' experiences of real-life situations. The mock juries' deliberations led to two not-guilty verdicts.

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