Campus round-up

February 9, 2012

University of Exeter

Trading places

A student and senior administrator saw what life was like on the other side of the fence as part of a two-day shadowing scheme. Imogen Sanders, a third-year English student at the University of Exeter, and Janice Kay, the institution's deputy vice-chancellor for education, took part in a project aimed at putting students at the heart of decision-making. Ms Sanders attended senior management meetings and discussed issues such as Exeter's education strategy and graduate employability. Professor Kay attended an English workshop, where she debated themes for dissertation topics and chatted to students about their courses and life at the university.

University of Salford

Champions and role models

A university's celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history month kicked off with a debate on LGBT issues in sports journalism. Participants in the University of Salford debate at its MediaCityUK building last week included Jon Amaechi, who grew up in Stockport and was the first "out" National Basketball Association player, and former BBC sports reporter Bob Ballard. They considered media portrayals of LGBT sportspeople, sporting organisations' anti-homophobia initiatives, and the impact on grassroots participation of professional athletes coming out.

Bucks New University

Embedding expertise

A university is working with local schools and a further education college to set up a business school offering opportunities to young people and firms looking to tap into specialist knowledge and resources. The Clare Business School, a partnership between Bucks New University, Aylesbury College and schools across Buckinghamshire, has been developed with entrepreneur Mike Clare, executive chairman of Clarenco and founder of Dreams, a chain of bed superstores. Chris Kemp, pro vice-chancellor at Bucks New, said the school hopes to give students "real experience in the business world, while providing tailored solutions to local business needs".

University of Bristol

Virtual Cowell

A web application that allows musicians to find out if their songs are potential hits has been launched by researchers. The software, which is the work of a team based at the University of Bristol's Intelligent Systems Laboratory, follows on from a paper presented at an international workshop last month, which suggests that it is possible to predict hits in the UK top 40 singles charts. Musical features such as tempo, time signature, duration and loudness were probed by researchers for their correlation with hit songs. The team also computed more detailed summaries that considered facets such harmonic simplicity, the economy of chord sequences and non-harmonicity - how "noisy" a song is.

University of Strathclyde

Paint it smart

A low-cost "smart paint" able to detect microscopic faults in wind turbines, mines and bridges is being developed by researchers. The environmentally friendly paint is made from a recycled waste product known as fly ash and highly aligned carbon nanotubes. It can be sprayed on to any surface and dries to a cement-like consistency that is well suited to harsh environments. Mohamed Saafi, senior lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Strathclyde, explained that monitoring painted surfaces via a wireless communications system makes it easy to detect unseen damage, such as micro-cracks in a wind turbine's concrete foundation.

Imperial College London

The ravelled sleeve of health

People who struggle to sleep are six times more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease, research suggests. Scientists at Imperial College London found that a faulty protein, known as MT2, may disrupt the link between our body clock rhythms and the release of insulin, leading to abnormal control of blood sugar and thus Type 2 diabetes. The study could help researchers to assess people's diabetes risk more accurately and ultimately lead to personalised treatments.

Durham University

Starbursts our distant destination

An international team of astronomers has used data from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, Nasa's Earth-orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope and others to "see" distant galaxies as they underwent "starbursts" about 10 billion years ago. By measuring the masses of dark-matter halos around the galaxies, the researchers found the starbursts lasted a "mere" 100 million years and probably came to an end as a result of the emergence of supermassive black holes. The galaxies eventually became today's giant elliptical galaxies. Ryan Hickox, who led the research as a postdoctoral research fellow at Durham University, said: "This is the first time that we've been able to show this clear link between the most energetic starbursting galaxies in the early Universe and the most massive galaxies in the present day."

Royal Holloway, University of London

Words' worth

The effect of poor verbal skills on children's future academic success is coming under scrutiny. Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London will examine why language difficulties develop in preschool children and how they delay their development. About 7 per cent of children start school with substandard communication skills, research suggests, with some unable to say their own names at the age of five. The academics will work with Surrey County Council's schools to screen the language skills of all local five-year-olds entering education, before a smaller cohort of 500 children is assessed in detail over the next three years.

University of Sheffield

Bottoms up: the bottom line

Minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland would reduce alcohol consumption and related harm, academics have concluded. In an updated report, commissioned by the Scottish government, researchers from the University of Sheffield also advise a ban on alcohol discounts in off-licences and supermarkets. The researchers found that minimum pricing would have little effect on moderate drinkers, but would target the heaviest drinkers, who tend to buy cheaper alcohol and cause the most harm to themselves and society. They found that just over 50 per cent of all alcohol purchased in supermarkets is on offer.


Friends with neurological benefits

The number of friends people have may be related to the size of a particular brain region, scientists have found. Researchers from the universities of Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh discovered that the orbital prefrontal cortex, located just above the eyes, is larger in people who have a large number of genuine friends. They also found that such people have a higher ability to understand what others are thinking, which is crucial to friendship. Penny Lewis, a lecturer in the University of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences, said: "This shows that the link between brain anatomy and social success is much more direct than previously believed."

Loughborough University

Comparatively simple solution

Academics will test a new form of marking that could make GCSE mathematics examinations more rigorous. Critics say the short, factual questions typical of current exam scripts do not test deep understanding, but there are concerns over the unreliability of the marking of longer questions. Ian Jones and Matthew Inglis, academics at Loughborough University's Mathematics Education Centre, will test a system in which examiners compare pairs of exam scripts, with judgements being combined to produce an overall ranking. "It is based on a long-standing psychological principle that people are very unreliable at making absolute judgements but are highly reliable at making relative judgements," Dr Jones said.

Edge Hill University

Weather eye on forecasting data

Researchers are analysing one of the world's largest weather-forecasting systems to ensure that it gives more accurate reports on global warming. Edge Hill University's computing department has been chosen to join the Quality Assurance for Climate Codes project, which looks at climate-change predictions made by computer simulations used by government and military agencies when devising policy. Mark Anderson, the senior lecturer in computing who is leading the project, said there was a risk that the programs "contain significant errors which could, in turn, cause underestimation or overestimation of the predicted changes, and undermine the credibility of the studies".

Queen Mary, University of London

Remembrance - stat!

The unsung heroes of modern medicine will be profiled as part of a £1.4 million project. Tilli Tansey, professor of the history of modern medical sciences at Queen Mary, University of London, will lead the Wellcome Trust-funded scheme to record the stories behind the key medical breakthroughs of the 20th century. "It is the stories of the hidden pioneers of medicine that we want to preserve - the technicians, nurses, patients, carers, funders and journalists, among others," she said. Researchers will oversee 130 interviews and hold 20 discussion groups over the next five years, with the oral accounts recorded, transcribed, edited and published.

Animated discussions

Animators who have worked on Hollywood hits including The Lion King and Toy Story 2 gathered at Teesside University this week for an international festival. The line-up of speakers at the Animex Festival, running from 6 to 10 February, includes Max Howard, former president of the Exodus Film Group and an honorary graduate of Teesside, and Karen Prell, who has worked as an animator and puppeteer at Pixar Animation Studios. Chris Williams, the festival's director and head of animation and visual effects in the School of Computing at Teesside, said the aim was to bring together the brightest talent in animation. Among the films being shown at the festival is At the Opera (pictured), a short work by Juan Pablo Zaramella, an independent animator from Argentina.

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