Campus round-up

August 18, 2011

University of St Andrews

Now you see him...

An undergraduate student has brought invisibility cloaks one step closer to reality by creating an "invisibility sphere" that is able to slow down light. Hungarian-born Janos Perczel, 22, came up with the idea for the tool while working as a summer student with Ulf Leonhardt, "invisibility expert" and professor of theoretical physics at the University of St Andrews. Previous attempts to create invisibility cloaks have bent light around an object, speeding it up, but this can be done only with one part of the spectrum. By slowing light down via the sphere, a cloak could make a user invisible against backgrounds of all colours.

University of Ulster

Help for troubled minds

New psychological research will look at how best to help victims left mentally scarred by the conflict in Northern Ireland. Staff from the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing at the University of Ulster have designed a study to examine the relationship between the Troubles and post-traumatic stress disorder. Siobhan O'Neill, senior lecturer in psychology at Ulster, said the research would offer "significant new information about experiences of traumatic events and the level of mental health problems among members of the public who have been adversely affected by the Troubles".

London School of Economics

Soaring interest levels in debate

More than 1,000 people attended a debate at a London institution that compared the merits of two of the world's most influential economists. The event at the London School of Economics, organised by BBC Radio 4, considered how John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek would have handled today's economic turmoil. Lord Skidelsky, emeritus professor of political economy at the University of Warwick, and Duncan Weldon, a former Bank of England economist, argued in favour of Keynes, while Hayek was championed by George Selgin, professor of economics at the University of Georgia, and Jamie Whyte, head of research at consultancy firm Oliver Wyman. The debate was broadcast on Radio 4.

University of Aberdeen

Universal antibodies

A new spin-off company will produce antibodies that could help life sciences researchers treat diseases in humans and animals. Vertebrate Antibodies has been formed by a trio of researchers at the University of Aberdeen - fish immunologist Steve Bird, antibody developer Beatriz Cash and biotech-commercialisation expert Ayham Alnabulsi. The university said the company had developed a method of producing antibodies in the lab that was more cost-effective, less complicated and applicable to a range of animals as well as humans.

University of Cambridge

Brief, broad-minded encounters

A set of short public courses will draw on many academic disciplines to explore topics ranging from Victorian values to sex and gender. The programme at the University of Cambridge's Institute of Continuing Education, which starts in January 2012, will be taught by Cambridge academics at Madingley Hall, a 16th-century manor house on the outskirts of the city. Unlike traditional short courses focusing on a specific academic field, much of the Madingley Weekly Programme will be multidisciplinary. Among the sessions planned is one titled "Crime and deviance: nuts, sluts and perverts"

Imperial College London

Matchmakers' hidden agenda

Altering the genetic structure of mosquitoes could cut malaria deaths, scientists have confirmed. Plans to introduce DNA-altered infertile mosquitoes into Africa have long been mooted, but now a study at Imperial College London has confirmed that existing species would mate with the barren breed. Researchers found that female mosquitoes did not spot spermless mates and continued to lay eggs that remained unhatched. The finding paves the way for further work on the scheme, which it is hoped could help to prevent some of the world's 800,000 annual malaria deaths. Flaminia Catteruccia, the Imperial research Fellow who led the investigation, said: "We need to make sure that the insects continue to mate as normal, unaware that we have interfered with their sexual mechanisms."

University of Warwick

Cut-price offer's sterling aims

Brokering an intellectual-property deal between innovators keen on legal protection and developing countries that are unable to afford standard prices is a tricky business. But researchers at the University of Warwick, working with US colleagues at Boston University, are exploring the potential of "voluntary licensing" to tackle the problem. The mechanism would involve innovators licensing their products to a third party able to ensure they reach underprivileged countries at affordable prices. UK and US researchers will meet at a conference in Warwick on 20 and 21 November to examine how such licensing mechanisms can be applied to sectors such as agriculture and healthcare.

Southampton/Bath/Birmingham

Behold the Man? Not bothered

The corporate branding associated with the explosion of summer music festivals in the UK is regarded as a "necessary evil" by many young people, according to researchers. Academics at the universities of Southampton, Bath and Birmingham spent three years studying different ways festivals were branded and how people's consumption was affected by sponsorship deals. They found that few festival-goers noticed or were concerned about corporate sponsorship or how their consumption choices were being constrained.

Liverpool John Moores University

Home truths from ex-cons

Imprisonment and homelessness may combine in a vicious cycle because offenders lose their housing or are released without a home to go to. A study by Vickie Cooper, lecturer in criminology at Liverpool John Moores University, carried out in collaboration with the Howard League for Penal Reform, found that many male offenders said that they would rather spend time in custody than agree to being housed in probation accommodation. Those interviewed said the community accommodation provided was of a very low standard and left them feeling "disempowered and unsupported".

University of Birmingham

Bringing the public to book

A new sports centre featuring a 50m swimming pool, sports halls and other training facilities is part of the £175 million development plan at a Midlands university. The plans for the Edgbaston campus of the University of Birmingham, which will be implemented over five years, also include a new library offering access to the public. Ian Barker, director of estates at the university, said: "These are significant and exciting projects that will benefit students, staff and the local area. The university was founded to be an asset for the city and these plans have that aim in mind."

Nottingham Trent University

Online too much of the time

A university is launching a study of the prevalence and symptoms of internet addiction. Researchers from the International Gaming Research Unit in Nottingham Trent University's Division of Psychology aim to develop a diagnostic framework for different types of internet addiction, including online gaming and gambling, social networking and cybersex. They hope that the project, which will include a survey of students in the UK and China, will inform future therapies and preventative efforts. Daria Kuss, a doctoral researcher working on the study, said: "Internet addiction is emerging as a serious mental health problem within our society. We need to fully understand the reasons behind it."

Birmingham City University

Clothes watch on back problems

A vibrating suit has been developed that could save the NHS millions of pounds a year by helping to prevent its staff from suffering back injuries. Developed at Birmingham City University by Stephen Wanless, senior lecturer in the Faculty of Health, the suit contains sensors that monitor the position of the body. If the wearer is at risk of back injury, the sensors vibrate, triggering the correction of posture by the back muscles. It is thought that the technology will be of benefit to healthcare staff, helping them to avoid hurting themselves when moving patients. Those working in other fields, such as the construction industry, could also benefit.

University of York

Time passes at a snail's pace

A new way of dating archaeological and geological sites has been used to study Britain during the Ice Age. Scientists used a refinement of amino acid geochronology, developed at the University of York, to accurately date a wide range of sites from the Quaternary Period. The technique, which is known as amino acid racemisation, measures the breakdown of protein in fossilised snail shells. Kirsty Penkman, a researcher at the University of York's department of chemistry, said: "This framework can be used to tell us in greater detail than ever before how plants and animals reacted to glacial and interglacial periods, and it has helped us to establish the patterns of human occupation of Britain."

Drawn to battle

Historians have launched a major project to understand the cultural impact of wartime comics. A team led by Jane Chapman, professor of communications at the University of Lincoln, will use an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant to examine how the two world wars were depicted in contemporary comics produced in Europe and the US, and how they influenced public consciousness. They also aim to study how gender and ethnicity were depicted in comics such as the Daily Mirror's Jane at War strip. Professor Chapman said: "We believe now is the time to open up the public debate about the relevance of these cultural artefacts and how they remain in the public psyche."

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