Campus round-up

December 22, 2011

Royal Holloway, University of London

Defence of the realm

Academics are working with a British intelligence agency to combat a new wave of cyber crime. As part of the government's Cyber Security Strategy, scholars from Royal Holloway, University of London will advise staff at the Government Communications Headquarters on how they can stop security breaches and cyber attacks on business. Keith Martin, director of the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway, said: "The department has long recognised that cyber security is an issue that can only be tackled by cooperation between academia, industry and government, at both a national and international level."

Queen Mary, University of London

Monitoring gaps

Birth defects are significantly more common than previously thought. More than one baby in every 50 is born with a birth defect, according to a report led by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, whereas previous estimates were around one in 80. However, the study's authors have raised concerns that data for substantial parts of the country, including London, are not currently monitored, meaning that large regional increases in birth defects could go unnoticed.

University of Edinburgh

They will survive

Crops with greater durability in the face of fluctuations in climate could be created as a result of new understanding about how fast plant proteins replenish themselves. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that the speed at which protein renewal in algae takes place dictates how quickly they can adapt to environmental changes, such as a sudden frost or drought. Cells involved in photosynthesis repair themselves particularly quickly because they are at a high risk of damage from sunlight.

University of St Andrews

A force for good

A study of 2.4 million Twitter messages sent during the riots in England in August has found no evidence that the social media platform helped to incite the violence. Cloud computing facilities at the University of St Andrews allowed researchers from several universities in England and Scotland to analyse the data available in a way that would have been impossible on a standard network. Rob Procter, a professor at the University of Manchester's eResearch Centre, said that Twitter had instead been key to the post-riot clean-up.

Bucks New University

Find them before midnight

Undergraduates studying ceramics and glass made five glass slippers for a Cinderella-themed competition in which the footwear was hidden for members of the public to find. The students from Bucks New University - which has its main campus in High Wycombe - were commissioned to make the slippers by the local town centre partnership. As part of the competition, each slipper - made out of hot, blown glass - was hidden in the town with clues to the items' locations given to participants.

University of Brighton

Taking the challenge

Academics are using TV-style contests as a new tool to teach students of pharmaceutical science. The students at the University of Brighton are set tasks in a similar way to the challenges faced by candidates in the BBC's hit reality show The Apprentice. Those taking part in the challenge - which is dubbed "The Analyst" - are filmed from the laboratory through to marketing-style presentations, and finally the boardroom, where they are judged. The footage is then posted online.

Sheffield/Bristol

Bee decisive

Discoveries about how honeybees decide where to nest could shed light on how the human brain works. An international team of scientists, including members from the universities of Sheffield and Bristol, have found that bees in the same hive committed to alternative nesting sites disrupt each other's "waggle dance" by butting against each other with their heads and emitting shrill beeps. This prevents the colony from being paralysed by indecision. James Marshall, reader in computational systems biology at the University of Sheffield, said: "Up to now we've been asking if honeybee colonies work in the same way as brains; now, perhaps, we should be asking whether our brains work like honeybee colonies."

University of Dundee

Multi-faceted approach

Researchers have embarked on a £1 million-plus project to target Huntington's disease with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. The aim is to develop the findings of Susann Schweiger, a professor at the University of Dundee, whose research uncovered a mechanism that controls production of the disease-causing protein. The project will combine expertise in molecular genetics, behaviour, brain physiology and drug development to tackle the fatal disease, which is caused by a single defective gene and currently has no cure.

Imperial College London

Driving ambition

Seven-times Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher made a surprise visit to a university engineering department. The German racing star, currently driving for the Mercedes Petronas team, joined his race engineer Jock Clear to answer questions from students at Imperial College London earlier this month. The visit was organised by Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas, which employs several Imperial alumni.

University of Oxford

Highly thought of

The philosophy department at the University of Oxford has been ranked second in the English-speaking world in a survey of programmes in North America, the UK and Australasia. Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy was the only one in the UK to make it into the top 10 in the 2011 Philosophical Gourmet Report. The ranking was topped by New York University. In separate rankings for different fields of the subject, Oxford was placed first for ancient philosophy and in philosophy of law. It was also placed in the leading group of institutions for philosophy of language, metaphysics, philosophical logic, philosophy of physics, applied ethics and history of analytic philosophy.

Derby/Cambridge

Long time coming

The differing length of sexual intercourse among species could reflect male choosiness, scientists have suggested. A team of researchers from institutions including the universities of Derby and Cambridge found that the duration of copulation in different species of bush crickets positively correlated with the mass of male ejaculate transferred to the female. The scientists suggest that a large amount of sperm is costly for males to produce and limits the number of times they can mate. Therefore, they are more selective about their mates and spend the period of copulation before ejaculation assessing the female.

University of Nottingham

Calculated risk

An online calculator has been devised to help family doctors diagnose two forms of cancer. Scientists from the University of Nottingham and the medical software company ClinRisk used data from 564 GP practices to develop algorithms that predict which patients are likely to have pancreatic and bowel cancer, based on a combination of risk factors and symptoms. Of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over a two-year period, 62 per cent were deemed by the algorithm to be among the 10 per cent of patients most at risk. For the bowel cancer algorithm, the figure was 70 per cent.

University of Worcester

Birthing partner

The parenting charity NCT has formed a partnership with a university to create a specialist college to provide courses for parents. The charity, which provides antenatal courses, breastfeeding counselling and postnatal groups, has designated the University of Worcester as its "university partner of choice". The two will work together to train NCT practitioners, volunteers and subsequently parents across a range of issues relating to pregnancy, birth and parenthood.

Extreme bid to outrun the best

"Ultra-distance" runner Sharon Gayter is hoping to become a record-breaker. The part-time lecturer at Teesside University is aiming to beat the men's world record for long-distance running on a treadmill over seven days. She will be raising money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research as well as Zoë's Place, a hospice for babies in Middlesbrough. The current Guinness World Record is held by Lee Chamberlain, who ran 753.24 km (468.04 miles) in 2009. Ms Gayter, who has run over 300 marathons, is hoping to beat that by over 250 km; she has set herself a target of 1,010 km. She has been preparing for the feat with the help of colleagues at Teesside, including Nicolas Berger, senior lecturer in sport and exercise, and Keith Haley, technician manager.

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