Campus round-up

October 6, 2011

University of Wolverhampton

Someone to get you out of there

A postgraduate course has been established to equip transport and emergency workers with the skills needed to deal with major incidents. The University of Wolverhampton's postgraduate certificate in the management of passenger transport emergency incidents is the first of its kind in the UK. Willie Baker, a recently retired British Transport Police superintendent, has been instrumental in establishing the course and will lead its teaching. He said it was "vital that incidents are managed safely and brought to a swift conclusion by people who are both academically qualified and operationally skilled".

Queen Mary, University of London

Incredible shrinking plankton

Global warming is causing many of the world's organisms to shrink. Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London have demonstrated that almost all cold-blooded organisms are affected by a phenomenon known as the temperature-size rule, in which individuals of the same species reach a smaller adult size when reared at warmer temperatures. Studies on marine planktonic copepods, which are the main animal plankton in the world's oceans and a food source for fish, birds and marine mammals, show that higher temperatures cause them to mature more quickly, thereby reducing their mass. But different organisms are shrinking faster than others, which could disrupt the ocean's ecosystems as food stocks decline for certain species.

University of Salford

Gimme shelter and support

Two separate studies of more than 250 homeless people and those who work with them have contributed to a major report into the causes of - and solutions to - homelessness. The University of Salford contributed the studies to the report, which highlights initial findings from four projects that make up the Economic and Social Research Council's Multiple Exclusion Homelessness programme. The researchers conclude that simplistic solutions based solely on the provision of housing are ineffective without specialised support.

Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Ocular proof (don't be jealous)

A London drama school has highlighted the professional success of its alumni as a group of its graduates, including one of the stars of critically acclaimed HBO television show The Wire, appear in a new production of Othello. Dominic West, who left the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1994 and who played Jimmy McNulty in the Baltimore-based crime drama, is playing Iago in Daniel Evans' production at Sheffield's Crucible. Mr Evans, also a Guildhall graduate from 1994, has cast fellow alumni Lily James (as Desdemona), Gwilym Lee (Cassio), Brodie Ross (Roderigo), Luciano Dodero and Josh Hart. Clarke Peters, who played Detective Lester Freamon in The Wire, plays the eponymous role.

Bangor University

The cold wind doth blow

The UK could be in for another freezing winter because of the paradoxical effects of the lowest level of Arctic sea ice for four years, scientists have warned. Tom Rippeth, a researcher at Bangor University's School of Ocean Sciences, said that less Arctic ice "allows the heat of relatively warm seawater to escape into the much colder atmosphere above, creating an area of high pressure surrounded by clockwise-moving winds that sweep down from the Arctic over Northern Europe". Instead of warm and wet winds from the Atlantic, the UK increasingly will be hit by much colder air from the north and east, he predicted.

Bristol/West of England

Metallic, but a bit wooden

David Willetts met an actor of the future during a visit to a special robotics laboratory that has been set up through a collaboration between two institutions. RoboThespian, a life-sized humanoid robot created by Cornwall-based company Engineered Arts, is used by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory - a joint venture between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England - for various research projects. The universities and science minister was shown a variety of such projects during his visit to the lab - which is based at UWE - including a robot-assisted hand that can help victims of strokes and cutting-edge research on microbial fuel cells.

Derby/Harper Adams

Muck and brass

A farming and agricultural college's expertise in the field of employer engagement is featured in a new book. Making Employer and University Partnerships Work: accredited employer-led learning was launched at the University of Derby's Enterprise Centre and includes a chapter on Harper Adams University College. Lydia Arnold, work-based learning developer at Harper Adams' Rural Employer Engagement Development Network, said the book was "a portrait of higher education institutions that have opted to engage with industry and...captures how industry has joined and led the party".

University of Oxford

Hub's helping hands

A multimillion-pound building that will be used as a base for efforts to boost student volunteering has opened its doors. The Oxford Hub, an organisation involving hundreds of students at the University of Oxford, will be based at the new building, which will also act as a meeting point for students and charities. Originally opened by a group of Oxford students in 2007 to encourage volunteering, the hub has since grown into a national charity.

University of Edinburgh

Nest practice

Birds learn how to build nests, suggesting that the ability is not genetically innate, according to observations of southern masked weaver birds in Botswana. Scottish researchers, along with scientists from Botswana, found that the male birds varied their nest-building technique, with some building right to left and others left to right. The birds also gained experience between nests and refined their techniques, dropping blades of grass less often. Patrick Walsh, a Fellow at the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, said: "Even for birds, practice makes perfect."

University of St Andrews

Abusive relationship

An expert in marine ecology has warned that humanity is using the sea as a "giant litter bin" and that environmental damage caused by illegal dumping is much more grievous than was previously thought. Speaking in advance of a symposium on deliberate, harmful "irregular" ocean activities at the University of St Andrews last week, David Paterson, professor of marine ecology in the School of Biology, said that humanity has an "extremely abusive relationship" with the sea, abuse that is likely to be unsustainable. "The question is how long can the oceans stand the abuse we visit on them?" the academic asked.


Plastic fantastic, so pliable

Manufacturers should be able to design from scratch the perfect plastic for their needs thanks to a breakthrough in mathematical modelling. Researchers from the University of Leeds and Durham University have combined and enhanced computer code that predicts how polymers will flow and the shapes their molecules will take. Daniel Read, a reader in applied mathematics at Leeds, said: "Until now the production of plastics has been effectively guesswork. This breakthrough means that new plastics can be created more efficiently and with a specific use in mind."


Heart attacks go unmentioned

More than 200,000 people in the UK may have fallen prey to online romance scams, researchers have found. A survey coordinated by researchers at the universities of Leicester and Westminster found that one in 50 people knew someone who had been the victim of one of the scams, in which fraudsters set up fake online identities and develop romantic relationships with their victims before asking them for money. Monica Whitty, professor of contemporary media at Leicester, said: "Our data confirm law enforcement suspicions that this is an under-reported crime. It may well be that the shame and upset experienced by the victims deters them from reporting it."

University of Manchester

Roll back, Beethoven

A lost piece of music written by Ludwig van Beethoven and reconstructed by a professor of music has received its modern premiere. The original slow movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in G, Opus 18, Number 2 was replaced by the composer soon after he wrote it in 1799. The original score is lost but Barry Cooper, from the University of Manchester, has pieced it together from Beethoven's detailed sketches. The results were performed last week by Manchester's resident string quartet. Professor Cooper said: "This movement is of particular importance as it stands out as the last substantial work Beethoven composed in full."

Sting time blooms

The beaches of the Mediterranean could soon be littered with jellyfish, a study dubbed "Jellywatch" has concluded. The project was established by Ferdinando Boero, professor of zoology at the University of Salento in Italy, who set up a "citizen database" to encourage members of the public to report sightings online. The aim was to keep tabs on the increasing number of "jellyfish blooms", which Professor Boero said were caused by overfishing. Speaking ahead of a conference at the University of Aberdeen last week, he said that intensive fishing had created a vacuum that was being filled by jellyfish. "It's not just happening in the Mediterranean but in seas all over the world," he said.

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