Campus round-up

December 8, 2011

University of Liverpool

Turn the page on pain

A new research centre will explore how reading can help sufferers of serious health conditions including depression, dementia and chronic pain. The University of Liverpool's Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistics Systems is being led by scholars from the School of English, but will be based in the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society. The idea is for psychologists, medics and literary experts to work together to understand the impact that reading can have on health and well-being. The centre's director, Philip Davis, said its aim was "to take literature out of the confines of an academic discipline and into the service of real lives".

University of Warwick

Pulling secrets from a shell

One of the first tasks for a new £1.3 million supercomputer will be to analyse the natural properties of tiny mollusc shells. Scientists from the University of Warwick are hoping to guide future development of materials that replicate the formidable strength and light weight of mollusc shells in a synthetic format. The research could revolutionise building materials and even offer improved synthetic bone substitutes for use in operations such as hip replacements. The supercomputer, which is more than 6ft tall and has some 3,000 "cores", is located in Warwick's Physical Sciences Building.

University of Birmingham

Hole lot of Sun worshipping

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of two huge pits positioned on "celestial alignment" at Stonehenge. The team, led by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria, believes that these pits may have contained tall stones, wooden posts or even fires to mark the Sun's rising and setting, and could have defined a processional pathway used by agriculturalists to celebrate the passage of the Sun at the summer solstice. Vince Gaffney, project leader and chair in landscape archaeology and geomatics at Birmingham, said the finds in the wider area indicated that Stonehenge itself "may at times not have been the only, or most important, ritual focus and the area...may have become significant as a sacred site at a much earlier date".

University of Greenwich

African outlook: improving

A research conference on improving business conditions in Africa is to be held by the University of Greenwich and the International Leadership Institute in Addis Ababa. Governance, modernisation and foreign investment are all on the agenda of the event in Ethiopia later this month. Bruce Cronin, head of the department of international business and economics at Greenwich Business School, will talk about Chinese involvement in East Africa, while Stephen Thomas, professor of energy studies, will examine South Africa's ill-fated nuclear project, the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. Others will consider environmental education in Ethiopian primary schools, corporate social responsibility in Kenya and the effectiveness of monetary policy in Nigeria.

King's College London

Why worry?

A professor of risk management has submitted a report calling for a wide range of health and safety regulations to be removed. In producing an analysis that he claims to be "science-based, evidence-based and risk-based", Ragnar Lofstedt of King's College London has sought the views of employers, business organisations, trade unions, victim-support groups, health and safety professionals and the legal and insurance industry. He has proposed, for example, that the 1 million self-employed people in the UK should be exempt from many of the rules and suggested ways of clarifying the legal position of employers when employees act in a grossly irresponsible manner. Employment minister Chris Grayling has indicated that most of Professor Lofstedt's recommendations are likely to be accepted by the government as it proceeds with its radical overhaul of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Leeds Metropolitan University

Added paths to enlightenment

A Yorkshire institution has become the first UK university to teach Buddhist meditation as part of its psychology degree. The move by Leeds Metropolitan University has come after Elliot Cohen, course leader of its BA in psychology and society, received official authorisation from a Sri Lankan temple to teach meditation. Dr Cohen said: "Mindfulness-based approaches are rapidly becoming one of the most prevalent and popular forms of psychotherapeutic intervention and have their roots in Buddhist meditation. As the dialogue between Buddhism and psychology advances, I have been keen to ensure that the ancient Buddhist origins of this approach are fully recognised and celebrated."

Sheffield Hallam University

Turning heads and pages

The fruits of a collaboration between institutions in China and the UK have received high honours. The book Designing Impact! Approaches to Applied Research showcases the best design and research projects undertaken by students, academics, artists and designers at Sheffield Hallam University's Art and Design Research Centre and the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. It has been named "Most Beautiful Book in China" by the country's General Administration of Press and Publication. It will now be entered into the 2012 World's Most Beautiful Book competition at the Leipzig Book Fair in Germany.

University of Nottingham

Raising a family far from home

Microscopic worms could offer a cost-effective way to study how long space flights might affect human health. Writing in the journal Interface, scientists from the University of Nottingham report that Caenorhabditis elegans worms launched on the Space Shuttle in 2006 were able to develop and reproduce as normal in space. Nate Szewczyk, assistant professor in Nottingham's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, said: "Many of the biological changes that happen during space flight affect astronauts and worms in the same way. Ultimately, we are now in a position to be able to remotely grow and study an animal on another planet."

Durham University

Statistically, Ten becomes one

An academic has achieved online fame for his analysis of the best recordings by a US rock band. Greger Larson's explanation of how he ascertained which were Pearl Jam's greatest albums by using the statistical techniques he employs in his day job as research fellow in the department of archaeology at Durham University has been viewed more than 60,000 times on YouTube in the past 10 weeks. Completing the analysis in his spare time in 2008, Dr Larson found that the 1991 album Ten is Pearl Jam's best.

University of Bath

Big and bold but not thirsty

A university has opened an £800,000 centre focused on the development of low-carbon turbocharged engines. The Powertrain and Vehicle Research Centre at the University of Bath aims to develop "downsizing" technologies that can be applied to petrol and diesel engines, reducing their fuel consumption while still allowing them to offer high performance. It is carrying out its work in collaboration with UK-based vehicle manufacturers Ford and Jaguar Land Rover, as well as turbocharger manufacturer Cummins Turbo Technologies.

University of Bristol

Brunel meets the matrix

An image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's famous Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge has been turned into a Quick Response barcode for a university marketing campaign. The University of Bristol's "Discover More" campaign uses the square QR code as part of the bridge's towers and then continues the pixelated effect throughout the advert. QR codes are a type of matrix barcode which, when scanned, can take the user to a specific website. The Suspension Bridge advert, which has appeared in Times Higher Education, takes online surfers to an exclusive section of the institution's website that promotes both the city of Bristol and the university.

Winchester/Bath Spa

High-powered feedback loops

Two universities have been awarded almost £200,000 to run a three-year project looking at how to improve the use of technology in student feedback and assessment. The Learning and Teaching Development Unit at the University of Winchester and its counterpart at Bath Spa University were given the money by the IT body Jisc to run the scheme. The project - titled Feedback and Assessment for Students with Technology - is designed to use readily available technologies to enhance assessment and feedback at course, faculty and institutional levels.

University of Dundee

Illustrated origins

An international appeal has been launched for people to send pictures of tattoos and body modifications in order to build up a database of regional markings that could help Interpol identify missing people and unidentified bodies. Sue Black, a professor at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, said: "Perhaps national or regional 'signature' tattoos may be found; for example, a frequently seen design specific to Scots or even Dundee." The university will maintain donors' confidentiality.

Chilly scenes of emotional winter

The artist L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) is most famous for his paintings of Lancashire mill towns that brought him international fame and remain some of the best-loved images of the North of England. But they represent only one strand of a much more complex career. A major exhibition at the University of Nottingham's Djanogly Art Gallery brings together the far more anguished and unfamiliar work of the 1920s to mid-1950s, when a disturbed and solitary Lowry was still struggling to make a name for himself. Along with more reassuring urban scenes, we find intense staring heads and desolate wastelands, landscapes and seascapes drained of all life. Also on display is a wide selection of rarely seen pencil drawings that reveal Lowry's supreme talent as a draughtsman. The exhibition runs until 5 February 2012.

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