Campus round-up

November 3, 2011

University of Essex

Mind control

People with severe physical disabilities who find it difficult or impossible to use joystick-operated wheelchairs may benefit from a new study. The Robotics Research group at the University of Essex, led by Huosheng Hu, professor of computer science, is looking at ways to control wheelchairs using brainwaves, facial gestures, speech and small body movements. Its earlier wheelchair projects were financed by the Royal Society and the Chinese Academy of Science, but the group has now secured £10,000 from the Colchester Catalyst Charity to fund the study. The charity will also help to identify local user groups that can contribute to the research.

University of Northampton

Ho Chi Minh trail leads to link-up

An MBA programme will be jointly delivered by UK academics and partners in Vietnam. Nick Petford, vice-chancellor of the University of Northampton, travelled to Ho Chi Minh City to sign a memorandum of cooperation with Le Quang Minh, vice-president of Vietnam National University. The pair also discussed collaborations that would draw on Northampton's specialist capabilities in sustainable development, waste management and IT systems, and future student and staff exchanges. Professor Petford said the MBA would be taught by visiting academics from Northampton Business School and staff from Vietnam National at the latter's Ho Chi Minh campus.

Staffordshire University

Stoking creative fires can pay off

Contemporary ceramics work by staff and students was showcased in the official launch of Flux Stoke-on-Trent, a university company that draws on the heritage of local potteries. The Flux Goes Live event at Staffordshire University displayed offerings from the company, which has clocked up substantial sales since its inception earlier this year. David Sanderson, professor of design at Staffordshire and the company's creative director, said: "We're adding substantial value to 'blank' bone china ceramic products that are manufactured here in Stoke-on-Trent, by adding our designs and selling them around the world. The contemporary global market for high-value tabletop products with the provenance of 'Made in England' is massive."

University of Salford

Technical innovation

A new university technical college has been given the green light by the government. Wigan University Technical College, backed by the University of Salford, will be one of a new breed of institutions focusing on technical studies for students aged 14 to 19. The government has pledged to build a national network of 24 such colleges in the coming years. Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of Salford, said: "We believe it is particularly important to integrate all educational opportunities for those over the age of 16, since this widens the scope of opportunities for individuals and will contribute to the growth of the regional economy."

University of Aberdeen

Nazi hysteria

Adolf Hitler was not blinded by mustard gas during the First World War as he claimed, but instead lost his sight due to psychosomatic causes, it has been suggested. Thomas Weber, reader in history at the University of Aberdeen, has reached the conclusion on the basis of a series of letters exchanged by two American physicians who had been told that Hitler had been treated for "hysterical blindness" by neurologist Otfrid Foerster, one of the few people to have seen the Nazi dictator's medical files.

Swansea/Bangor

REM plays last week's favourites

Researchers have found that dreams recalling events from five to seven days previously occur only during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. A study by experts from Swansea and Bangor universities found that this "dream lag" effect is present only during REM sleep phases when the brain is very active and the eyes move quickly from side to side. The findings provide evidence that there is a week-long memory consolidation process specific to REM sleep, which fits with theories that REM is vital to the consolidation of emotional memory.

University of Edinburgh

Leave no strain unjabbed

Researchers have developed a malaria vaccine that acts against the several different types of parasite that cause the disease. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh combined a number of different versions of a protein found in many types of malaria parasite, which induces antibodies against several different strains. David Cavanagh, lecturer in immunology at the university's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "Our approach is novel because it combines multiple antibody targets from different parasite types, giving broader protection. This could prove to be a useful vaccine."

University of Sheffield

Stealing a march on a killer

Cancer Research UK has unveiled the latest in its network of national research centres. CRUK and local charity Yorkshire Cancer Research will together invest more than £3.5 million a year in a new Sheffield centre that will bring together researchers from the University of Sheffield and local hospitals. It will be led by Rob Coleman, professor of medical oncology at Sheffield. He said: "By building closer links between scientists and doctors, we want to increase the pace of research, leading to improved treatments for patients."

University of Leeds

Sludgy solutions

Radioactive sludge is being tackled by researchers with an enthusiastic glow. Engineers and environmental specialists from the University of Leeds have set up a "Sludge Centre of Expertise" to work out how to deal with the radioactive sludge produced by nuclear installations. The scientists will work with experts from nuclear processing plant Sellafield to investigate the behaviour of the sludge and to develop safe ways of removing, transporting and disposing of it. It is hoped that some of the equipment developed may also have applications in other industries, such as mining.

Imperial College London

Sun-seekers achieve lift-off

Scientists will gain a close-up view of the Sun and a deeper understanding of the Universe after two space missions were given the go-ahead. The Solar Orbiter is one of the projects involving academics at Imperial College London to be granted funding by the European Space Agency. It will travel nearer to the Sun than any other probe, measuring the star's magnetic field and investigating the impact of solar winds on the Earth. The other project, Euclid, will send a probe to search for clues to the early expansion of the Universe by surveying far distant parts of space using faint light still emanating from the Big Bang. Both machines will be designed, tested and built across Europe, and will launch between 2017 and 2019.

Royal Holloway, University of London

Sporting clean machine

More than 100 students picked up rubbish bags, garden tools and scrubbing brushes for a community volunteering day. Royal Holloway, University of London students picked up litter near the college's Surrey campus, painted St Peter's Church hall in Chertsey and cleaned windows at the Englefield Green Village Centre as part of Make a Difference Day last month. Sports clubs were especially active, with volleyball players helping out at Heathrow Special Needs Farm and female footballers gardening and cleaning at the United Church of Egham. "It looks so clean and tidy - there is not a speck of anything untoward to be seen," said Janet Figgins, the church's spokeswoman.

Exeter/Bristol

Bringing expertise to the table

As the world's population approaches 7 billion, two universities have joined forces to tackle the problem of feeding so many mouths. The universities of Exeter and Bristol, in partnership with Rothamsted Research, hope that the Food Security and Land Research Alliance will establish South West England as a disciplinary centre of "global significance". Project leaders will use cross-disciplinary expertise from the biosciences and agricultural science to economics and the humanities in a bid to solve food-security problems.

University of Cambridge

New general theories welcome

A research project has been launched in response to the 2008 world financial crisis and named after influential UK economist John Maynard Keynes. The Keynes Fund for Applied Economics at the University of Cambridge will provide grants for research, fellowships and teaching on issues that cross the intersection between financial markets and the economy of jobs and production. It is hoped that the fund will enable researchers to follow in the footsteps of Keynes, an alumnus of King's College, and "help meet the need for coherent practical solutions to economic problems".

Royal Agricultural College

Crop set to flourish worldwide

A college specialising in agricultural studies has launched its first online distance-learning course in partnership with a private provider. The Royal Agricultural College has joined online specialist Resource Development International, which was recently acquired by US for-profit provider Capella Education Company, to offer an MBA in business management in the global food industry. Principal Chris Gaskell said the move was prompted by changing patterns of learning in higher education.

Chant encounter

This re-enactment of late-medieval worship took place at Salisbury Cathedral as part of a project funded by two research councils. Led by John Harper, director of the International Centre for Sacred Music Studies at Bangor University, the re-enactment aimed to "recreate the full sensory experience" of medieval worship "including smell, sound and touch". It was attended by a fully briefed "medieval" congregation, with professional singers engaged to provide the integral chant and polyphonic elaboration where appropriate. The project forms part of the Religion and Society Research Programme, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

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