Campus round-up

March 29, 2012

Goldsmiths/Edinburgh/Hertfordshire

Prophet margin vanishes

An experiment that supposedly proved the existence of psychic powers has been challenged by a group of British psychologists. Academics at Goldsmiths, University of London and the universities of Edinburgh and Hertfordshire collaborated to repeat a 2011 study by social psychologist Daryl Bem, emeritus professor at Cornell University, which suggested that people can predict random future occurrences. After repeating the exact conditions of Professor Bem's test, the scholars failed to find any evidence to support his conclusions. Their paper was rejected by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which published Professor Bem's work, on the basis that it has a policy of not publishing replications, according to one of the scholars. It has appeared instead in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Royal College of Art

Beautiful lines

A Japanese manufacturing giant is working with a London art school on designs for a fleet of trains. Royal College of Art students have been asked by Hitachi Rail Europe to submit plans for proposed new models of Crossrail and London Underground trains, which could be built at the firm's new factory in County Durham. The best concepts will be exhibited at the Hitachi stand at the InnoTrans trade fair in Berlin this September. Dale Harrow, head of the college's vehicle design programme, said: "Working with a leading train manufacturer will ensure that the students have access to up-to-date technology and expertise in rolling stock design, while developing their own creative ideas."

University of Exeter

Tuck in, the humans are out

An international study led by a UK university has found that marine protected areas (MPAs) provide safe habitats for sea turtles when foraging for food. Research led by the University of Exeter produced data on the movements of 145 green turtles from nesting sites; this showed that 35 per cent travel to MPAs - regulated areas of the ocean in which activities such as fishing are restricted - for feeding. The incidence of turtles in MPAs is "far more than would be expected by chance", said Brendan Godley, professor of conservation science at Exeter. He called the research "compelling evidence" that MPAs could be effective in providing safe foraging habitats.

Cranfield/Northampton

Chip and skin

Academics have discovered deep public unease about the prospect of people being implanted with microchips. The study by Nada Kakabadse, professor of management and business research at the University of Northampton, and Andrew Kakabadse, professor of international management development at Cranfield University, highlights widespread privacy and health concerns over radio frequency identification technology. Advocates say such technology could be inserted under people's skin for identification purposes. Participants in the study worry about who would have access to the information and whether consent would be sought before implantation. They also thought the widespread adoption of such devices was inevitable.

University of Bath

Restricted emission

More than £1 million has been awarded to a university for research into low-carbon technology. The funding for the University of Bath will be used for cross-disciplinary work to meet future energy needs. Two projects will test methods to expand local electricity grid capacity and improve domestic energy storage, while an existing scheme will use the cash to continue identifying the effects of low-carbon technologies. The money comes from supplier Western Power Distribution and forms part of a £16 million grant made to WPD by power regulator Ofgem to promote green energy.

University for the Creative Arts

Red or Dead keen

A famous couple from the world of design have held a fashion masterclass for aspiring young artists and designers. Red or Dead founders Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, the former an honorary graduate of the University for the Creative Arts, spoke to an audience of 14- to 16-year-olds in a special session of the weekly Saturday arts club held at UCA's Epsom campus by the Sorrell Foundation, which aims to promote an interest in design among the young. The couple spoke about how they entered the fashion industry and then led the participants through a workshop in "up-cycling" - transforming old garments into new outfits. Sue Shearer, UCA's widening participation coordinator, said: "The group was totally engaged with the Hemingways' unique presentation and teaching style - their informality and the ease with which they offered advice and delivered information was a revelation to the students."

University of Chester

Spirit, not spirits

A conference hosted at a university has explored whether "spiritual solutions" can stop addiction. Addiction: A Spiritual Illness with a Spiritual Solution?, held at the University of Chester earlier this month, brought together experts in addiction and religious studies with counsellors and professionals from treatment centres. Alcoholism alone is estimated to cost the UK about £25 billion a year through its impact on health, welfare, social care and the prison population. Conference organiser Wendy Dossett, senior lecturer in religious studies at Chester, claimed that spiritual solutions "have been shown to be effective for many people".

University of Birmingham

Blind to the blades

Vultures are colliding with wind turbines because they literally cannot see the way ahead, according to research. A study by academics at the University of Birmingham, published in The International Journal of Avian Science, says they are frequent victims of collisions with wind turbines and power lines, with an estimated minimum of 1,000 Griffon vultures dying in such scenarios each year in Spain alone. Although the precise explanation is unclear, it seems that the birds evolved their foraging strategies in a world where obstacles did not intrude into their airspace, and so they are effectively blind in the direction of travel.

University of Aberdeen

Shock result

Researchers have discovered why electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which involves electrically inducing seizures in patients, can cure depression. University of Aberdeen researchers scanned the brains of patients before and after ECT and found that it "turns down" overactive connections between parts of the brain that control mood and those that process thoughts. ECT has been used for 70 years and is 75 to 85 per cent effective, but the reasons for its efficacy have remained a mystery until now.

Kingston University

Span the ages

Architecture students have created a scale replica of one of the arches of a famous Japanese bridge. Undergraduates at Kingston University used traditional carpentry methods to make a 1:3-scale version of an arch that forms part of Kintaikyo Bridge, which spans the Nishiki River in southwestern Japan. The 12m replica, the construction of which required almost 700m of spruce, was displayed at Ecobuild, the world's largest show for sustainable design, at London's ExCel arena last week. Takeshi Hayatsu, lecturer in architecture at Kingston, said the students had been inspired by the centuries-old approach of Japanese craftsmen.

University of Manchester

Same sex, same reasons

Same-sex couples enter civil partnerships for love, not legal rights and protections, researchers have found. Sociologists from the University of Manchester spent three years interviewing 100 civil partners under 35. They found that same-sex couples largely viewed and presented themselves as ordinary married couples, and subscribed to broader cultural mores about the importance to a good marriage of love, commitment and fidelity. Brian Heaphy, Manchester's head of sociology, said: "In this sense, civil partnership is already widely accepted as a form of marriage. Recent attempts by religious figures to stop same-sex marriage miss this point."

University of Leeds

Get a room - OK, make it 612

Another university has sold off some of its student accommodation to a private firm. The University of Leeds has raised £23 million from the sale of 612 residences at its Clarence Dock site to Liberty Living. The firm already manages 40 student residences in 17 UK cities. The sale agreement will guarantee that the site, to be renamed Liberty Dock, will remain available to Leeds students for the next 15 years. Ian Robertson, head of residential accommodation at Leeds, said the cash will be used to build new residences.

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