On the road
Seven councils in the South East of England have teamed up with a university to launch the UK's first degree course for those seeking jobs in highways departments. Sixteen students have begun the master's course in highway engineering at the University of Brighton, which has been developed by Surrey County Council on behalf of the SE7 group of local authorities in the region. Besides lectures, the students will learn on the job at one of the seven councils or their contractors. The leader of Surrey council, David Hodge, said the course would help fill a skills gap and train the senior public-sector highways managers of the future.
Built for the journey ahead
Motor company Ford is funding 10 scholarships at the University of Bath in celebration of its centenary in the UK, which was achieved last year. The awards, to the value of £10,000 each, will fund students at Bath over three years in engineering and science courses. The gift underscores a long-standing relationship between the university and Ford: they have worked together for more than 25 years on courses from the undergraduate to the research level. The awards are part of the Ford Blue Oval Scholarship Programme, a £1 million initiative to support 100 budding scientists and engineers across the UK.
Whatever it is, they've got it
Detailed notes on the early theatre performances of some of the UK's biggest stars have been donated to a university archive. Talent scout Cary Ellison toured the country for almost 40 years looking for bright young actors and kept all his theatre programmes, complete with handwritten notes on the possible new stars. Among those spotted by Mr Ellison include Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Derek Jacobi, Richard Briers, Dame Judi Dench and Patricia Routledge. He judged Vanessa Redgrave to look "tall and good - nearly very good" when she appeared in the panto Mother Goose at Leatherhead in 1958, and wrote that Sir Patrick Stewart had "a touch of the Peter O'Tooles" when the Huddersfield-born actor took on the title role in Henry V in Manchester in 1963. "The great thing about Cary Ellison is that he didn't mince his words and he kept all his verdicts for posterity," said Katie Giles, archivist at Kingston University, the new home of the unique archive.
Ban the Bomb...or not
A national online debating competition has been launched by students. The initiative, set up at the University of Bristol through the Erudition website, will kick off with members of the institution's debating society pitting their wits against rivals at the University of Leeds on the topic of nuclear disarmament. Erudition, which was founded as a print publication by students at Bristol, has evolved into magazine-style websites covering the economy, politics, science, engineering, travel, arts and culture.
A new institute based at Newcastle University is to conduct research on how to regenerate areas, tackle educational and health inequalities and stimulate enterprise. Mark Shucksmith, an expert in rural development and policy, is director of the body, the Institute for Social Renewal. A professor of planning at Newcastle, he has previously focused on rising rural youth unemployment in Europe and the transformation of many UK villages into "rich people's ghettos". He said the "challenge of social renewal is more relevant now than it has ever been".
Text-mining software will be used to scan thousands of 19th-century documents to track the boom in global trade that accompanied the growth of the British Empire. The software will be set to work on newspapers, government journals and books to discern the weights and prices of goods such as tea, fruit and spices that were shipped across the world. Project leader Ewan Klein, professor of language technology at the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics, said that global trade in the 19th century led to "a golden age of global economic development".
Queen Mary, University of London
Historian Simon Schama and poet Ruth Padel are among the speakers at a season of public talks to mark the opening of ArtsTwo, a new £20 million humanities complex at Queen Mary, University of London. The free events on the theme of "migration, memory and identity" will take place between 5 and 14 March. The Princess Royal will officially open the building on Mile End Road during the celebrations.
Hosepipe ban won't cover it
A "super-drought" on Mars lasting hundreds of millions of years has made the planet's environment too hostile for life, research suggests. By analysing samples of Martian soil collected during the 2008 Nasa Phoenix mission, scientists at Imperial College London concluded that there has been no water on the planet's surface for at least 600 million years. Tom Pike, reader in microengineering at Imperial, said: "We found that even though there is an abundance of ice, Mars has been experiencing a super-drought...We think the Mars we know today contrasts sharply with its earlier history, which had warmer and wetter periods and which may have been more suited to life."
A researcher is to help a police force adopt methods that enable the NHS to find new ways of dealing with common medical concerns. Jo Rycroft-Malone, professor in health services and implementation research at Bangor University, has developed a system that allows evidence from different solutions to NHS problems to be fed back into planning and delivery. Now Professor Rycroft-Malone will work with North Wales Police to see if the technique can be used to tackle antisocial behaviour.
Healthy skin is key to male attractiveness, researchers have found. Psychologists at the University of Nottingham's Malaysia Campus asked female volunteers to rate the attractiveness of a range of male faces. They found that, at least for faces in the volunteers' own ethnic groups, those with the most golden skin were deemed the most attractive. The masculinity of the faces had no effect on responses. Lead researcher Ian Stephen, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Science, said golden colouring was an indicator of good health, which was a key influencing factor in the search for a mate.
Flaws of the father
Susceptibility to a common form of heart disease is passed from father to son, researchers have found. A team led by Maciej Tomaszewski, clinical senior lecturer in the University of Leicester's department of cardiovascular sciences, found that the risk of coronary artery disease, which caused nearly 90,000 deaths in the UK in 2008, is 50 per cent higher among men whose Y chromosome is in a group called "haplogroup I". The researchers believe this is due to the chromosome's influence on the immune system and inflammation. They now hope to identify the specific genes involved.
The new curiosity app
Screenwriter Andrew Davies and university experts on Charles Dickens are among those featured in a mobile application celebrating the bicentenary of the novelist's birth. Led by Dickens expert Jon Mee, a professor in the University of Warwick's English and comparative literary studies department, the Warwick app offers a plethora of podcasts, articles and videos exploring aspects of Dickens' novels and adaptations of his work. Mr Davies, a former Warwick lecturer who adapted both Bleak House and Little Dorrit for the BBC, offers exclusive insights into how one goes about translating Dickens' text into compelling television.
The University of Birmingham is preparing to submit plans for a free school to the Department for Education. If approved, the University of Birmingham School and Sixth Form will be a mixed ability, co-educational state school for pupils aged 11 to 16 plus sixth-formers. The institution would be based near to the university's main campus in Edgbaston-Selly Oak and would focus on academic rather than vocational subjects in order to prepare pupils for "selective universities", Birmingham said. Edward Peck, the university's pro vice-chancellor, added: "We are very clear that there will be no entrance exams for admission to Year 7 and pupils will be admitted without consideration of their religion, ability or disability, or social or financial background."
Remembrance of activities past
Researchers are to investigate the value of overlooked cultural activities in the hope of helping policymakers and arts organisations target their funding more effectively. The £1.5 million investigation, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will be hosted by the University of Manchester. Andrew Miles, senior research fellow at Manchester's Centre for Socio-Cultural Change, said: "Many bodies define cultural participation too narrowly, considering only traditional cultural institutions such as museums and galleries. But we believe that other - sometimes mundane - activities such as pastimes, local events and social activities should also be included."