Campus round-up

November 24, 2011

University of Leeds

Look after yourselves, too

Close to 6.5 million people in the UK care for sick, disabled or frail friends and relatives, often at considerable cost to their own health and finances. Yet there are a number of cheap and easy ways to provide them with vital help and guidance, a newly published university report indicates. Small investments in gym memberships, laptops or short holidays, for example, can make a huge difference to carers who need a break and time for themselves, while costing a fraction of what it would should their ministration not be sustained. New Approaches to Supporting Carers' Health and Well-being, a major report by the University of Leeds' Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equalities, studies the impact and effectiveness of 25 multiagency projects set up to explore new ways of supporting some of England's most hard-pressed carers.

Kingston/Liverpool

Lay of the land

Information about the UK's landscape - from brownfield sites to green belts and landslides to flood plains - is held in tens of thousands of scattered journal papers, government reports, books and PhD dissertations. Now geographers from Kingston University and the University of Liverpool will aim to collate the data in a 13-month project. In its pilot phase, work will focus on two areas of the UK, including part of the High Speed 2 rail link between London and the West Midlands. If all goes well, it should form the basis for a definitive geographical blueprint of the country. The team also plans to develop an interactive online map, allowing users to virtually explore the UK's changing landscape. It hopes to provide a crucial resource for conservation trusts and civil engineers, local authorities and landowners, planners, tour operators and even ramblers.

University of Edinburgh

Single genes, disease battalions

Research has confirmed what scientists have long suspected: that certain genes are linked to multiple diseases. A study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh found that the genes responsible for Crohn's disease are also linked to other conditions including breast and prostate cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, high cholesterol and even obesity. Evropi Theodoratou, Cancer Research UK research fellow at Edinburgh's Centre for Population Health Sciences, said: "We have shown that this is a common finding and not just an exception."

University of Bristol

Wider access to superhighway

A massive expansion in the number of free public wi-fi hot spots offered in a city has been announced after an agreement struck by a university and a local council. Around 600 hot spots, previously accessible only to staff and students at the University of Bristol, will be made available to everyone from the end of November as part of Bristol City Council's network, B-Open. B-Open currently allows access to more than 50 free hot spots in libraries, care homes and public spaces.

University for the Creative Arts

Sovereign visit

The Queen met university representatives who have worked closely with a new contemporary art gallery in the South East of England during a visit to the site. Academic staff and students from the University for the Creative Arts met the Queen during her visit to the Turner Contemporary in Margate, which opened earlier this year. The higher education institution has worked with the gallery on several collaborative projects, including a scheme that offers local people the chance to get involved in the cultural regeneration of their area and a competition for student artists that will see winners' work displayed alongside that of greats such as J.M.W. Turner.

King's College London

Indian sum

A chair in contemporary Indian studies has been created thanks to a £3.5 million endowment from a multinational company. The post at King's College London's India Institute has been funded by the Avantha Group, an Indian-based conglomerate with a $4 billion (£2.5 billion) annual turnover and business interests in power, paper, chemicals and healthcare. The first scholar to hold the position will be Sunil Khilnani, director of the institute, which addresses issues such as democracy, intellectual property, science and inequality in India. "Our students wish to understand India as it is now and in its global context, but through a historical perspective and via a range of different disciplinary lenses," said Professor Khilnani. "I am truly delighted that we have received this magnificent gift of support."

Kingston University

Sound judgement

The traditional reputation of judges as out-of-touch and pompous is no longer deserved, a recently published book suggests. The work by Penny Darbyshire, reader in law at Kingston University, concludes that "judges are far more in touch with issues of society than 'ordinary people'", despite their negative portrayal in the media. Gaining unprecedented access, Dr Darbyshire spent seven years researching the judiciary at all levels for her book, Sitting in Judgment: The Working Lives of Judges. "I know from work-shadowing and meeting hundreds of judges that they're actually hard-working and much more ordinary than the stereotype," she said. "Because they see all of human life paraded before them in court, they have an acute awareness of social problems. They see photos of bodies kicked to death in crackhouses or beaten babies in maggoty cots. But they perceive themselves as trying to make the world better." Although the profession is still largely white and male, Dr Darbyshire found that today's judges are far more socially mobile than their predecessors. Of the 77 judges studied, four were born into families living in council housing.

Cranfield University

Scanning the horizon

A centre that will attempt to predict how the world will be affected by environmental change has been set up with £1.8 million in funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and 10 other partners. The Centre for Environmental Risks and Futures at Cranfield University will aim "to get people thinking about what might happen in the future", said Fiona Lickorish, principal research fellow and leader of Cranfield's futures work.

University of Liverpool

Chim, chim, healthy

Severe cases of pneumonia among young children are reduced by a third in homes with smoke-reducing chimneys on cooking stoves, a three-nation team of researchers has found. The study by scientists from the universities of Liverpool, California, Berkeley in the US and del Valle in Guatemala highlights the health effects of exposure to smoke from open fires and dirty cooking stoves - the primary cooking and heating source for 43 per cent of the world's population. Nigel Bruce, reader in public health at the University of Liverpool, said: "Increasing awareness of the effects of woodsmoke on health will help us to significantly reduce the number of cases of severe pneumonia [in children], as well as respiratory disease in adults."

Aston University

Renewable showcase

The construction of multi-million-pound engineering laboratories that will showcase and develop renewable low-carbon technologies has begun. The £16.5 million European Bioenergy Research Institute at Aston University is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. It will include a small-scale industrial power plant that will generate heat and power from biomass, including sewage sludge, wood, algae and agricultural waste. The bioenergy research centre's studies will include generating biomass by-products including hydrogen power for low-carbon vehicles and fuel cells. The centre will be powered by renewable energy.

Imperial College London

Reich recovery

Scientists are helping to save a German aircraft found lying in the English Channel. The Dornier Do 17, a fast, light German bomber known as the Fliegender Bleistift (the "flying pencil"), was uncovered in the shallows off Goodwin Sands in Kent last year. Researchers from Imperial College London are donating their time and expertise to help the Royal Air Force Museum rescue the submerged aircraft, which has been largely protected from corrosion by layers of sediment. Scientists are keen to stop further rust once the plane - thought to be the only remaining largely complete Dornier Do 17 - is lifted out of the Channel and displayed in the museum's planned Battle of Britain exhibition. "It is absolutely fascinating to see how this bomber, which crash-landed more than 70 years ago, has been so well preserved by the layers of sand," said Mary Ryan, reader in materials science and nanotechnology at Imperial.

University of Essex

Joint op for military/academy

Army officers and students joined forces to plan for an international crisis. Postgraduates from the University of Essex's School of Law and Human Rights Centre and officers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade worked together at Colchester's Merville Barracks to plan a response to a fictional humanitarian crisis in Africa. Exercise Demeter's Eagle considered disaster and insurgency in the fictional states of Tytan and Petraceros. The students and officers worked in mixed groups to draw up a plan for operations, taking account of military and civilian factors. The groups then briefed Colonel Hugo Fletcher, deputy commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, and Geoff Gilbert, head of the School of Law.

Acorn antiques

Three species of deep-sea worm that harvest food at the bottom of the ocean have been discovered by a remote-controlled submarine in the mid-Atlantic. The creatures, members of the Torquaratoridae, a recently discovered family of invertebrates known as "acorn worms", were captured and their DNA tested in an expedition led by Monty Priede, director of the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab. Acorn worms are burrowing creatures related to the ancestors of back-boned animals. They have neither eyes nor tail, and scour the sea floor for food, leaving distinctive spiral patterns in their wake. "At depths between 1,500m and 3,700m, the deep-sea acorn worm can be among the most abundant mobile animals," Professor Priede said.

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