The widely accepted "Goldilocks theory" of why life flourishes on Earth has been challenged. The idea posits there is no life on Venus or Mars because they are too near and far from the Sun respectively. In contrast, the Earth's proximity is, like the baby bear's porridge, "just right". But Richard Ghail, a lecturer in Imperial College London's civil and environmental engineering department, said it was actually Venus' low density, rather than just its extreme heat, that prevented life there. He said that lower density caused Venus' interior to melt more easily, unlike the Earth's core, which contained a turbulent mix of rock and magma. Without this mix, no magnetic field could be created to protect the planet from solar radiation, causing it to lose all its water and the potential to support life.
Top of the eco-friendly charts
An English university has been named the greenest in the world.
The University of Nottingham tops the 2011 UI GreenMetric World University Rankings, produced by the University of Indonesia. Institutions are assessed on a range of metrics, including energy management, sustainability-related scholarship and the proportion of green space on campus. Nottingham was second in the 2010 ranking. Karen Cox, pro vice-chancellor for environment and infrastructure, said the university had achieved its first reduction in carbon emissions in 2011. "Taken against a background of increasing student numbers, new infrastructure on campus and an extremely harsh winter, this is a considerable achievement," she said.
It's a gas
The first new engineering school to be built in the UK for more than 20 years has opened. The £7 million facility at the University of Lincoln has been funded through a joint bid with the technology company Siemens to the Higher Education Funding Council for England's Strategic Development Fund. Siemens manufactures gas turbines in Lincoln and offers scholarships, bursaries and work experience to Lincoln engineering students, as well as employment to the best students on graduation. The company will locate its training facilities in the new school, which aims to establish "world-class expertise in gas combustion and related technologies".
Students in India will able to study for a UK university's fashion degrees following an agreement between a creative arts institution and a design college. The collaboration between the University for the Creative Arts and the MIT Institute of Design in Pune will see undergraduate courses in fashion, as well as fashion management and marketing, delivered in India from July. A UCA spokesman said the courses would feature the same content as those delivered in the UK. The two institutions are also working together to create new postgraduate courses that will be delivered in India - an MDes in fashion design and an MBA in fashion management and marketing.
Calling future leaders
Ten scholarships are to be made available to students who gain entry to a new school focused on teaching the practice of leadership and government. The scholarships for the University of Oxford's Blavatnik School of Government will cover all tuition fees and living costs for students taking the institution's one-year master of public policy degree. Five of the scholarships will be jointly funded by the Weidenfeld Scholarships and Leadership Programme - managed by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue - and the Chevening Scholarship scheme, funded by the UK government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
A major European bank has signed an agreement with a university to fund a number of scholarships for overseas students and awards to support exchanges. Santander will fund four scholarships at the University of Sussex for students from the US, China, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, while 10 "mobility awards" will support students and academics taking part in exchanges, conferences and symposia. Five special bursaries will also seek to help master's and doctoral students who have shown "promising entrepreneurial talent". It is the latest agreement for the bank's Universities Global Division, which since its formation in 1996 has formed alliances with almost 1,000 institutions in 15 countries. In the UK its network, which began in 2007, has 55 universities as members.
Queen Mary, University of London
Virus link with MS
Scientists believe new insights into the cause of multiple sclerosis could pave the way for possible treatments. Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London say they have established a link between the Epstein-Barr virus and some types of the neurological disease, which affects more than 100,000 people in the UK. By dissecting post-mortem brains of MS patients, they found the virus tricks the immune system into triggering inflammation and nerve-cell damage in the brain, causing symptoms of MS. A new technique trialled by Queen Mary allowed researchers to pinpoint the virus, which might be treatable with antiviral or cancer drugs.
A Confucius Institute has opened at a university to strengthen links between the UK and China. The institute has been awarded to Lancaster University and its partner, the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, by the Office of Chinese Language Council International. Bob McKinlay, Lancaster's deputy vice-chancellor, said the institute would "offer Mandarin language and Chinese culture courses to students, schools and businesses in the region and it will support enterprise in the North West".
Reputation under fire
German engineering may be the stuff of legend, but an academic has suggested that some of the country's major infrastructure may not be as sound as it could be. Miklas Scholz, professor of civil engineering at the University of Salford, used a quick assessment toolkit he has developed to uncover evidence that several German dams are at a comparatively high risk of failure. He has assessed more than 220 dams in the Baden region and found that although most are well maintained, there is very little publicly available information on their risk of failure and the impact this can have. "It seems that German engineers who are responsible for these dams are unwilling to change their methods or open them up to proper public scrutiny," he said.
Hot sell, cold facts
Aggressive marketing and the low pricing of alcohol has directly resulted in a sharp increase in liver disease among under-35s over the past 20 years, an academic has said. Chris Hackley, professor of marketing at Royal Holloway, University of London, claimed that skilful advertising had helped to change the "cultural context of drinking", in which "getting drunk very quickly is often the norm". "It is no coincidence that the way alcohol is marketed began to change radically in the early 1980s, with characters such as the Hofmeister Bear making alcohol advertising seem cool to children," said Professor Hackley. "Alcohol brands have now moved into major sponsorship deals, giving them huge public recognition which supermarkets use to drive store traffic."
High-profile figures from the Saudi Arabian embassy have paid a visit to a Midlands university to meet staff and students. The University of Wolverhampton has a growing number of students from the kingdom, and its International Centre recently hosted a visit from Ghazy Almakky, cultural attache to the royal embassy of Saudi Arabia in London, and his deputy, Aiman Momenah. The officials spoke to Saudi students about their experience in Wolverhampton and also met with vice-chancellor Geoff Layer. Jo Gittens, international director, said: "The expansion of our global community to include the Middle East and the Arabic-speaking nations [plays] an important role in our internationalisation agenda."
Globalisation and human mobility are eroding the traditional taboo against hunting lemurs in Madagascar, leaving the species in danger, researchers say. A team from Bangor University and the Malagasy organisation Madagasikara Voakajy found that rapid social change was eroding cultural protection of the animals. "Young men have more available cash and leisure time due to the transition from subsistence farming to panning for gold, and they spend more time in local bars, eating fried-meat snacks [such as lemur] with their drinks," said Julie Razafimanahaka from Madagasikara Voakajy.