Campus round-up

June 2, 2011

Bucks New University

Restorative tonic

An expert furniture restorer to Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace will head a panel at a university conference devoted to the latest trends in the industry. Rod Titian, a BBC Restoration Roadshow specialist, will lead discussions at the Preserving the Past, Inspiring the Future conference, being hosted by Bucks New University's National School of Furniture on 7 June. The conference will look at new initiatives in the field and key aspects of furniture conservation and historical studies. It is the first such conference organised by the school, which is a partnership between the university and Oxford and Cherwell Valley College.

University of Cambridge

Benefits of feline persuasion

A new English teaching fund worth £1.1 million has been set up at a university college thanks to one of the world's most famous musicals. The fund at Newnham College, Cambridge follows a donation by the widow of poet T.S. Eliot, Valerie Eliot, from a charity she set up in part with money generated by the musical Cats. Ms Eliot, an honorary Fellow of Newnham for 20 years, was instrumental in encouraging Lord Lloyd-Webber to adapt T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats into the record-breaking musical.

University of Sheffield

Engines of progress

A university has been named one of a US aerospace giant's suppliers of the year. The University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre was among 16 of Boeing's 17,500-plus suppliers to be honoured at a ceremony in Seattle. The centre works with companies to resolve manufacturing problems, with a particular focus on high-performance metal alloys. Keith Ridgway, its founder and research director, said: "In the 10 years since we launched the centre with the support of Boeing, we have become internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for manufacturing research. This award is further evidence that Britain can still lead the world in innovative engineering."

University of Nottingham

Seminal findings

Scientists have revealed the complex genetic mechanisms that control the timing of seed germination. Plant biologists at the University of Nottingham hope that their insights into the way seeds respond to environmental cues such as temperature, light, moisture and nutrients could play a significant role in the development of new crop species that are resistant to climate change. Lead researcher George Bassel, who came to Nottingham on a Canadian government Fellowship, said: "To our surprise, genetic factors controlling seed germination were the same as those controlling the other irreversible decision in the life cycle of plants: when to start flowering."

Universities of Warwick and Leicester

Wish upon a starburst

A team of UK and US researchers have spotted what may be the most distant explosion, and possibly the most distant object, ever seen from Earth. Andrew Levan, an astronomer at the University of Warwick, was one of the first members of the team to spot the exploding star's flash, known as a gamma-ray burst. The explosion 13 billion light years away was briefly as bright as several thousand galaxies. Dr Levan highlighted the desire to "study the first stars and galaxies that formed in the Universe, in the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang". Researchers at the University of Leicester are also involved in the programme.

University of Manchester

Back gel feels swell

Chronic back pain could be relieved by a new treatment. University of Manchester scientists have developed a gel that, when injected, could restore the mechanical properties of damaged intervertebral discs. Chronic lower back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the UK after headaches. The Manchester team has succeeded in turning tiny polymer fragments called microgel particles into an injectable form that can undergo large permanent changes in shape without breaking. The treatment has been awarded proof-of-principle funding by the University of Manchester Intellectual Property Commercialisation Company.

City University London

Safer bets

A constable from the Metropolitan Police's Flying Squad has spearheaded an initiative developed at a London university that has contributed to a 46 per cent reduction in robberies targeting bookmakers in the capital during the past year. Known as the Safe Bet Alliance, it consists of a voluntary code of security standards, including recommendations about CCTV, safety measures for doors, lighting and banking procedures. It was developed by PC Mark Beale while he was studying for a part-time MSc in interprofessional practice at City University London between 2005 and 2010. The course enabled him to analyse the effectiveness of the partnership between London bookmakers and the Met.

Birmingham City University

The artist as entrepreneur

A conference has been held with the aim of linking creative courses with an unlikely bedfellow, business. Delegates at the third Creative Enterprise conference, organised by Birmingham City University, discussed how to develop the teaching of entrepreneurship for the creative industries. Fabrice Hyber, an artist working with the Nantes School of Fine Art, presented one such European Union-backed project, Les Réalisateurs, which places young artists within businesses to "experiment" and even transform their cultures.

Imperial College London

Round and round

Electrons are so close to being perfectly round that if one were magnified to the size of our solar system, it would still appear spherical to within the width of a human hair. That is the conclusion of a 10-year experiment in which physicists at Imperial College London's Centre for Cold Matter used lasers to look inside molecules called ytterbium fluoride. As with a spinning top, the slightest electron asymmetry would show up in a distinctive rotational wobble, but researchers were unable to find a trace of any such thing. They are now exploring new techniques for cooling electrons to extremely low temperatures, which should enable them to acquire an even more accurate picture of these fundamental building blocks of matter.

University of Salford

A million love letters later

The "remarkable creative and innovative activities" of Take That fans in the 1990s are celebrated by a university exhibition. Everything changes, and while today email, Facebook and Twitter are facts of teenage life, there was once a global communication network of young female Take That fans exchanging letters and packages through the post. An exhibition at the Kraak Gallery in Manchester co-organised by the University of Salford looks at the phenomenon, based on a survey of fans by sociologist Anja Lobert.

Aberystwyth University

Pastures new

Four courses are being launched by a Welsh university in a bid to develop the next generation of experts with the skills to improve pasture farming. The courses at Aberystwyth University will train professional and technical staff with the aim of creating specialists who can advise farmers and the food industry on the latest innovations in grazing systems. They will be aimed at farm managers, vets and other advisers to ensure that technical information reaches the farmers themselves. The courses will offer professional doctorate and master's qualifications.

University of Edinburgh

Carbon capture

Scientists at a Scottish university are aiming to use a charcoal-like substance to aid humanity's response to climate change. The researchers at the University of Edinburgh will investigate ways to convert agricultural waste into carbon-rich soil known as biochar. Biochar, which is created through the slow heating of farm waste in an oxygen-free environment, increases the carbon content in the soil, building a long-term store and countering excessive carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The process also releases energy-rich gases and liquids that can be used as sustainable energy sources.

University of East London

Binary culture

A digital archiving system that will allow museums to share details about priceless exhibits has been launched with an international symposium at a London university. The system, which is unique in Europe, enables museums to scan fragile artefacts, not only for archiving purposes, but also to exchange digital displays across the world. The University of East London has worked closely with Japan's Kyoto University on the project, using technology that has already been successfully employed in several Asian countries. At its heart is a device known as the Hokusai scanner, notable for its speed, high resolution and ability to scan very large artefacts, such as long wall paintings, in unprecedented detail.

Kitten caboodle

Kitten owners from across the UK are being asked to take part in a novel study to investigate feline health, welfare and behaviour. The Bristol Cats study, led by academics at the University of Bristol's department of clinical veterinary science, aims to find out more about the causes of common health problems in cats, such as obesity and lower urinary tract diseases, and behaviour such as aggression towards people and spraying. Researchers want to recruit 900 people from across the country who own a kitten aged between eight and 16 weeks to take part in the study.

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