Campus round-up

December 1, 2011

University for the Creative Arts/Kent

Slime mould gets moving

Two universities have joined forces in an attempt to explain complicated biological processes with computer-generated animation. The joint research project between the University for the Creative Arts and the University of Kent saw recent graduates from a computer arts degree course create a series of films. Biological processes depicted in the films include "how our bodies fight infections" and "the life cycle of a mushroom". Michael Poraj-Wilczynski, associate dean at UCA, said his institution saw an opportunity to collaborate as soon as Kent approached them "with tales about mushrooms, slime mould and plant fertilisation".

Arts University College Bournemouth

Small surplus

Plywood offcuts from industry have been put to good use by students to create one of the smallest acoustic performance spaces of its type. The students, on the second year of an architecture course at Arts University College Bournemouth, used technical advice from expert acoustic engineers to layer the wood so that music would amplify and resonate in the space. It has now been put on display as part of an interactive exhibition into structural engineering, acoustics and materials at the Lighthouse arts centre in Poole, Dorset, which runs until the middle of January.

University of York

Rotten? It's a matter of opinion

Archaeologists have claimed that graffiti by the Sex Pistols mark out a London flat the punk band rented in the 1970s as an important historical site. The graffiti - mostly cartoons of the band by its singer, Johnny Rotten - were discovered behind a cupboard. John Schofield, director of the Centre for Applied Heritage Studies at the University of York, and independent researcher Paul Graves-Brown describe the graffiti in an article for the journal Antiquity as "a direct and powerful representation of a radical and dramatic movement of rebellion". Dr Schofield added: "The tabloid press once claimed that early Beatles recordings discovered at the BBC were the most important archaeological find since Tutankhamen's tomb. The Sex Pistols' our minds usurp it."

University of Exeter

Feel the force

A shortlist of 28 finalists has been selected by a university to contest its first set of awards to celebrate the impact made by its research. The inaugural University of Exeter Impact Awards aim to encourage entries demonstrating successes in knowledge exchange, collaborative working and partnership, which have led to benefits for the wider economy and society. Exeter's inaugural event to present awards in seven categories will take place on 7 December. The shortlisted choices were made from 100 entries by a panel of academic and student judges, assisted by a group of external reviewers.

Sheffield Hallam University

Spending time

A university has announced a £30 million investment in new facilities and staff. Sheffield Hallam University intends to spend £25 million on a new teaching complex, plus another £4 million on additional teaching staff and £500,000 on new research staff. The teaching positions, to be spread across the faculties, will be advertised in the new year. They have been created in response to student feedback calling for more one-to-one time with tutors. Philip Jones, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam, said: "All of these developments have been designed to make a real difference to our students."

University of Sheffield

Talk talk

A lecturer has raised almost £8,000 for the BBC's Children in Need appeal by lecturing for 24 hours solid. Tim Richardson, a reader in nanoscience at the University of Sheffield, lectured at various locations on subjects such as aliens and Harry Potter to an audience of staff, students and local schoolchildren. His "science-a-thon" even included a lecture delivered on the move, using a megaphone and a whiteboard on wheels. Dr Richardson said: "With about nine hours to go it got really hard. I wasn't feeling well but I concentrated on the lectures and kept going. I think my brain is still a bit mashed but I'm just so pleased it all went well."

City University London

Open to business

Search engines able to trawl social networking sites could be created as part of a £7.46 million research project. The three-year programme involving City University London and 10 other organisations, including IBM, Yahoo! and the University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany, will be funded by the European Union. City researchers will develop a software platform that can collect and analyse user-generated content and make it searchable for commercial users. Principal investigator Ayse Goker, from the university's Centre for Interactive Systems Research, will lead on the technical side, while Steve Schifferes, professor of financial journalism, will explore possible uses in newsgathering and publishing. "Recent events such as the Arab Spring and Japanese earthquake highlight the huge role that citizens now play in newsgathering," said Professor Schifferes.

Northumbria University

Address the balance

Journalists pander to government and corporate worldviews rather than the public interest and this is causing a decline in newspaper circulation, according to a new book. Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, a senior lecturer of media and politics at Northumbria University, claims in Human Rights Journalism: Advances in Reporting Distant Humanitarian Interventions that "the focus is on drama with very little context". He argued that this results in global imbalances being reinforced rather than challenged. "Mainstream journalism does not pry into the structural problems affecting ordinary people," Dr Shaw said.

Durham University

Some mums do have it

A study of seal colonies in Scotland has found that the mammals have very different mothering styles, with some being extremely attentive to their pups and others not. Lead author Sean Twiss, from the school of biological and biomedical sciences at Durham University, said: "Grey seals are individuals and we want to find out if having different personalities and behaviour helps seals and other animals in the wild, or whether it limits their ability to cope with change."

Swansea University

From soccer lore to civil war

The Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has indulged a little-known passion for American Civil War history, delving into a university's collection of more than 3,000 books on the conflict. Sir Alex visited Swansea University's collection, donated to the American studies programme by Alan Milne, a private collector, on the same day that his team beat Swansea City FC 1-0. "Sir Alex is extremely interested and knowledgeable about the war and the personalities involved in it," said Jon Roper, professor of American studies, who invited the manager.

King's College London

Safe relief

A new generation of painkillers could be created using recent research into paracetamol. Although discovered in the 1890s and marketed as a drug since the 1950s, scientists did not know exactly how paracetamol relieved pain. Researchers at King's College London, with colleagues from Lund University in Sweden, have now identified a protein on the surface of nerve cells called TRPA1, which is the key molecule for its effectiveness. "Paracetamol is the go-to medicine for treating common aches and pains, but if the recommended dose is significantly exceeded it can lead to fatal complications," said David Andersson, from King's Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases. "So now we understand the underlying principal mechanism behind how this drug works, we can start to look for molecules that work in the same way to effectively relieve pain, but that are less toxic and will not lead to serious complications following overdose."

University of Worcester

Follow those hemlines

The mail-order company Kay & Co Ltd was one of the biggest employers in Worcester for well over a century. A team at the University of Worcester has set up a website ( using 1,500 images from Kays catalogues to chart changing fashions from 1920 to 1990, to explore the firm's impact on Britain's lifestyle and clothing choices, and to document the contributions made by former staff to its trademark style. Film and audio recordings of employees and Worcestershire residents are being added to the site. Highlights include branch manager June Reeves' memories of running the phone-ordering department in the 1960s and fashion buyer Gerry Donohoe's description of how Kays took on rivals Freemans to win back the teenage market in 1973.


Pict power

Between the 5th and 10th centuries AD, the Picts are believed to have been one of the most powerful groups in the north of Britain, yet we know very little about them. Now an archaeological team from the universities of Chester and Aberdeen has uncovered an elaborate system of fortifications, as well as amber beads, a drinking bowl and large fragments from a Roman amphora, at the Aberdeenshire village of Rhynie. All this suggests it was once a high-status settlement with extensive trade links and a tradition of fine dining. "This type of find is exceptionally rare in Britain", said Meggen Gondek, programme leader in archaeology at Chester, "and practically unheard of as far north as this."


The winners of the 2011 Times Higher Education Awards hold their trophies aloft after a night of celebration in London. This year's main prize went to the University of Sheffield, which was named University of the Year, while Baroness Blackstone, a former education minister and vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich, won the Lord Dearing Lifetime Achievement Award. Among the other winners was David Gibson, a senior teaching fellow at Queen's University Belfast, who was named Most Innovative Teacher of the Year. The prizes were handed out at a ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane on 24 November, which was introduced by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, and presided over by comedian Rob Brydon, with DJ entertainment from Keith Chegwin. For more details:

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