Campus round-up

May 5, 2011

University of Cambridge

The company you keep

David Cameron attracts the same sort of Facebook follower as American martial arts fighter Chuck Liddell, while fans of Barack Obama are the type who also watch cartoon comedy Family Guy, according to a website launched by university researchers. LikeAudience, which has been developed by two psychometricians at the University of Cambridge, combines personal information and "likes" expressed on Facebook with the results of online personality tests to profile the followers of companies, politicians and celebrities. Its creators, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, have so far aggregated data from about 170,000 participants and believe their technique could revolutionise marketing by allowing detailed profiles to be drawn up of the average follower's personality, IQ and satisfaction with life.

University of Southampton

Bone of contention

An early example of wartime propaganda has been unveiled by research into the English Civil War. According to popular histories of the 17th-century conflict, Parliamentarians were terrified by a Royal dog named "Boy", a white poodle who they believed to be a "dog-witch" in league with the Devil. However, Mark Stoyle, professor of history at the University of Southampton, said the idea was an invention of the Royalists and that it was possible to trace the propaganda back to a poem written at the time.

Bath Spa University

Sweet career of mine

A performance poet and the public relations man for rock band Guns N' Roses are among the guests taking part in a student careers forum next week. FutureFair, to be held at Bath Spa University's Newton Park Campus on 10 May, has been organised by the institution's School of Humanities and Cultural Industries to boost the employment prospects of students in a range of arts subjects. The event will be opened by poet Matt Harvey, while other participants include Paul Elliott, a music journalist turned PR manager for Axl Rose's group.

Imperial/Cardiff

Fossil evidence

Ever since the days of Charles Darwin, there has been fierce debate over whether environmental factors or diversity within ecosystems do more to drive the evolution or extinction of species. Researchers from Imperial College London and Cardiff University have contributed to the debate by studying the fossils of ocean-dwelling plankton known as forams. Although not more than half a millimetre across, forams have distinctive shells made of calcium carbonate that reveal a great deal about environmental factors, such as the depth at which the organism once lived. Detailed mathematical analysis of foram fossils, published in Nature, indicates that new species are more likely to evolve when there are fewer competitors around, but extinctions are more closely linked to changes in the environment.

Roehampton University

Problem behaviour

Roehampton University researchers have developed two psychometric measures for assessing challenging behaviour in adults with intellectual disabilities. A detailed study of the reliability and validity of the Disability Assessment Schedule, one of the instruments most commonly used in this area, revealed the existence of two statistically reliable clusters of behavioural problems: disruptive/distractive and anti-social/delinquent. Measures to diagnose the conditions are described in this month's Research in Developmental Disabilities journal.

University of Edinburgh

Y marks the spot?

A researcher has helped a man abandoned at birth in Gatwick airport to trace his origins. Jim Wilson, research Fellow at the Centre for Population Health Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, analysed Steve Hydes' DNA to identify where his parents may have come from. Now 25, Mr Hydes was found as a baby on the floor of a toilet block at Gatwick with no indication of his background. Dr Wilson found that he shared blocks of DNA with several people whose grandparents came from England and also one person from the Republic of Ireland. He also analysed Mr Hydes' Y chromosome, which revealed that his father's family were probably from the east of the UK.

University College London

Titanic attraction

It was already known that Jupiter is linked to three of its moons by charged current systems generated by the satellites orbiting inside its giant magnetosphere. Data from Nasa's Cassini spacecraft have now revealed that Saturn is also attached to one of its diminutive moons, Enceladus, by powerful electrical currents. The discovery was made by an instrument incorporating an electron sensor called CAPS-ELS, developed by a team led by University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

University of Ulster

Truly social media

Internet chats between pupils in Northern Irish schools help to reduce sectarianism among children, according to an academic. Roger Austin, professor of education at the University of Ulster, said Northern Ireland should follow the example of schools in the Republic of Ireland that use IT to help children learn together in videoconferences and virtual classrooms. Professor Austin said that as well as learning about school subjects, the pupils also built "a better understanding of themselves and others ... Every school already has access to the internet and a virtual learning environment that could be used to do this, but at the moment very few use it."

University of Nottingham

Giga? Tera? Peta? Keep going

A researcher studying depleted uranium has made a discovery that could lead to a huge increase in data-storage capacity. Stephen Liddle, associate professor at the University of Nottingham's School of Chemistry, has created a new molecule containing two uranium atoms that, if kept at very low temperature, will maintain its magnetism. Scientists believe that the use of such "single-molecule magnets" could lead to a thousandfold increase in the storage capacity of computer hard disks. Dr Liddle said: "This work could help point the way to scientific advances with more technologically amenable metals."

University of York

Better dread than dead?

Animals' personalities are related to their stress levels, researchers believe. A study led by Kathryn Arnold, research Fellow at the University of York's environment department, tested the reactions of greenfinches to novel situations by adding a brightly coloured object to their food bowl and timing how long they took to approach it. The times, which varied between a few seconds and 30 minutes, were found to relate to the birds' oxidative stress levels. Dr Arnold said: "Birds that are afraid of new things may ... die early because they pay these physiological costs, but they might also be less likely to be eaten by a predator because they are more wary."

University of Essex

The great outdoors

Fresh air could help sufferers of severe mental illnesses, according to research. Scientists at the University of Essex reached the conclusion from studying a community project offering walking- and outdoor-based therapy to mental health patients. They found that after taking part in the six-month outdoor project, 88 per cent of participants experienced an increase in self-esteem and 89 per cent felt their mental well-being improve.

University of Salford

Serendipitous build-up

A UK university is billing itself as the first foreign institution to offer a full degree programme in Sri Lanka. The University of Salford will train quantity surveyors at the Colombo School of Construction Technology, with teaching offered by local experts supervised by Salford academics. Sri Lanka has a huge need for construction professionals as it rebuilds after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and a decades-long civil war, the university said.

University of Chester

Press-gang rivalry

A fierce provincial newspaper rivalry is examined in the first publication from a newly relaunched university press. Politics, Publishing and Personalities: Wrexham Newspapers, 1848-1914 is published by the University of Chester Press. Political conflict between proprietors in pursuit of circulation is among the subjects of the book by Lisa Peters, law librarian at Chester.

University of Birmingham

Choose your role model

Famous alumni will mentor final-year undergraduates as part of a university's £3.5 million employability drive. The University of Birmingham's Alumni Leadership Mentoring Programme will give 12 students career guidance from figures as diverse as Sir Liam Donaldson, the former chief medical officer, and Tamsin Greig, the actress from the television series Green Wing and Black Books.

Birmingham City University

Constructive permission

Planners have given the green light to a new campus in Birmingham city centre. Birmingham City University will build the campus at Eastside, part of a £180 million investment plan. The facility will provide a home for the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, as well as a "media hub" for the university's media production courses.

Eyes off the prize

Parrots carry out the tricky manipulation of objects for which they are renowned without being able to see what they are doing. Ornithologists at the University of Birmingham have found that the dexterous bird has a good field of vision in front, above and behind its head, but cannot see below the beak where the manipulation occurs. The researchers studied the Senegal Parrot, a popular pet, which in its natural habitat lives on seeds, nuts, blossoms and fruit. The team concluded that the parrot's field of vision developed as it did because it could do many things by touch while keeping its eyes peeled for predators.

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