Campus round-up

June 16, 2011

University of East London

Helping those who help others

An online master's course aims to provide aid relief workers with greater understanding of their often harrowing working environments. The MSc in international humanitarian psychosocial consultation at the University of East London, starting this September, will be taught mainly via distance learning to students who are working to provide humanitarian aid in countries such as Haiti and Afghanistan. It will be led by Sarah Davidson, former vice-chairman of the British Red Cross, who said it would bring together world-leading experts in the field. "It advocates critical and culturally appropriate methods to intervene, including the need to be mindful of complexity in humanitarian crises," she added.

University of Salford

City vision

A university and a design consultancy have signed an agreement to collaborate on vital urban infrastructure. The University of Salford's deal with Arup will run until 2014 and will entail academics from the School of the Built Environment working with the company's experts to develop research and courses. Mike Kagioglou, reader of process management at Salford, said Arup "shares similar objectives to us in improving energy use and the built environment".

University of Oxford

Mastering the language

One of England's ancient universities is to introduce a master's course in English language for the first time in its history. The University of Oxford course in English language, which will be launched in October 2012, will be a one-year taught degree designed for graduates in English, linguistics and other relevant subjects. Areas of study will include the history, structure and uses of the English language; social and cultural influences on its development and use; and theoretical and analytical approaches that have been used to study it. News International, a major benefactor of the university's Faculty of English, will offer scholarships for outstanding students. Some of those on the course will also have the opportunity to work as interns on the Oxford English Dictionary, produced by Oxford University Press.

University of Plymouth

From learning to earning

A university has signed a 10-year agreement with a company to help it commercialise its intellectual property across all faculties. The University of Plymouth and Frontier IP will work as "strategic partners" to help increase the institution's income in research areas such as marine biology, ecology, coastal and ocean sciences, robotics and neural systems. In return for its advisory services, Frontier IP will receive a share of the income from all new licences and a percentage of the equity in each new spin-off company.

Edinburgh/Strathclyde

Far-flung flu

The swine flu outbreak in the winter of 2009-10 was much more widespread than previously thought, research suggests. Scientists from the universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde examined blood samples taken from Scottish adults in March last year at the end of the flu season, and found that almost half were carrying antibodies to the virus. The majority of those who tested positive had contracted swine flu. The study also showed that most of these cases went unreported. Only 100,000 people consulted their GPs about flu symptoms during the winter in question, while about 2 million are believed to have been infected with the virus.

Edge Hill/Sussex

Too male to ask?

The question of whether male students are reluctant to seek university support is to be examined, as well as whether this affects their academic results. The Equality Challenge Unit has commissioned the research on the male student experience, focusing on engagement with pastoral and academic-support services. The investigation will be carried out by Liz Thomas, director of the Widening Participation Research Centre at Edge Hill University, and Ruth Woodfield, reader in sociology at the Centre for Gender Studies, University of Sussex.

University of Bath

Hey presto!

Scientists have discovered a simpler way to create precursor liver cells from stem cells, with potential uses in medical testing. The method, developed by researchers at the University of Bath, involves the use of just one molecule that causes stem cells to transform into liver cells. The current procedure involves many different steps and uses a variety of biological agents. Liver cells are commonly used to test the safety of new medical drugs.

University of Dundee

Fresh faces

A Scottish university is to lead new research into craniofacial abnormalities and associated health inequalities in Europe. Peter Mossey, associate dean for research at the University of Dundee School of Dentistry, has received a €450,000 (£400,200) grant from the European Science Foundation to explore the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to conditions such as cleft palate. Professor Mossey said: "This work means that for the first time a major effort will be made towards (a key) scientific and humanitarian objective - primary prevention of orofacial clefts."

University of Birmingham

A brolly won't help

A university institute created to generate "novel and innovative solutions to real-world problems" is studying space weather - solar conditions that can influence the Earth's environment - with a technology company. Employees from QinetiQ have been seconded to the University of Birmingham's Poynting Research Institute to work with academic researchers. The first two themes of research are space weather, which can disrupt satellites, and autonomous robots.

University of Nottingham

The worms that turned

Experiments carried out by astronauts on tiny worms could help combat muscle wasting both in space and on Earth. Millions of Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes, from the University of Nottingham, were flown to the International Space Station on the space shuttle Atlantis. Tests showed that a widely used gene-therapy technique called RNA interference is also effective in space and could be used to prevent the muscle loss experienced by astronauts during missions. The discovery could also lead the way to new treatments for muscle wasting resulting from illness or old age.

University of Sheffield

Compensatory vision

Deaf people benefit from better vision than others because their eyes develop differently, researchers have shown. A team from the University of Sheffield found that the retinas of adults who are either born deaf or become so within the first years of life have differently distributed retinal nerve cells, allowing them to capture more peripheral visual information than people with normal hearing. Previous research attributed deaf people's superior peripheral vision to differences in the way their brains process visual information.

Leeds/Bradford/Huddersfield/York St John/Leeds Metropolitan

All you need is a mobile

A project that allows health and social care students to use mobile phones to complete and upload assignments during work placements has won an international award. The Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings project, led by the University of Leeds, won a Gold Award at the IMS Global Learning Consortium's Learning Impact Awards in California. The project's participants include Bradford, Huddersfield, York St John and Leeds Metropolitan universities. It aims to improve work-based learning by allowing students to use mobile devices to complete and upload work and receive feedback.

Southampton/Heriot-Watt/UEA/Essex/Oxford

Acidification trip

Oceanographers are taking part in the first research cruise specifically to study ocean acidification in European waters. Academics from the University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Heriot-Watt University, the University of East Anglia, the University of Essex, the Marine Biological Association and the University of Oxford embarked on the month-long trip last week on RRS Discovery. The cruise will range across northwestern European seas, circumnavigate the British Isles and visit the territorial waters of seven nations. The researchers will study the impact of the changing chemistry on marine organisms and ecosystems, the cycling of carbon and nutrients in the sea, and on how the sea interacts with the atmosphere to influence climate.

Anglia Ruskin University

Worrying signals

An "alien invader" causing destruction as it spreads through the UK is to be the focus of new research. The signal crayfish was introduced into the UK in the 1970s as part of a farm-diversification initiative. A number escaped and there are now wild populations in more than 87 per cent of river catchments. Abby Stancliffe-Vaughan, a postgraduate student at Anglia Ruskin University, is researching whether their presence in the Brecks in Norfolk and Suffolk is affecting the size and sex ratios of the native white-clawed crayfish population.

Box clever




This unusual artwork is an interpretation of Eugène Delacroix's painting Saint Sebastian Comforted by Female Saints and is made out of old cardboard boxes and tape. It is one of a series of sculptures by Dylan Shields, a final-year fine arts undergraduate at Northumbria University, who developed the technique during his degree. The -year-old twists and folds pieces of cardboard to create the works, which depict scenes from famous paintings. He has also produced an interpretation of Caravaggio's David and Goliath, and Hans Holbein the Younger's The Praise of Folly. Mr Shields has won a Europe-wide competition to design a commemorative €2 coin for the Netherlands. "It's been a process of trial and error to perfect my style," he said. "It started off with smaller sculptures but has now developed into a larger scale."

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