Campus round-up

April 19, 2012

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Less is more

Scientists have identified a gene that reduces the risk of younger women contracting breast cancer by lowering their oestrogen levels. A study carried out by the Institute of Cancer Research and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, looked at the hormone levels of more than 700 pre-menopausal women and found that those with lower traces of oestrogen in their urine were significantly more likely to have a common genetic variant associated with a lower breast-cancer risk. Olivia Fletcher, from the ICR's Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre, who co-authored the study, said that it was an important step forward in understanding the disease.

Birmingham City University

Dig those urban beets

An exhibition showcasing urban agriculture projects from around the world has come to the UK for the first time. The Carrot City initiative aims to stimulate interest in local food production and encourage the use of urban spaces such as rooftops and derelict sites. The exhibition has already visited Toronto, New York, Casablanca and several German cities, but this will be its UK debut. It will be based at Birmingham City University's Millennium Point campus until 20 April, before moving across the city to Edible Eastside in Digbeth, a derelict site that has recently been transformed into an urban garden, and then to MADE, a display space in Newhall Square.

Staffordshire University

Extra, extra

Journalism students at Staffordshire University have produced a newspaper that will be delivered direct to 50,000 homes. The 16-page publication is a one-off project designed to raise awareness of the Stoke-based political news and comment website Pits n Pots ( The paper was commissioned by the Journalism Foundation, a charity set up to promote free and independent media voices, which is working with Pits n Pots to encourage local engagement in community issues. The volunteer team of students had just three weeks to source all the content, design and edit the finished paper.

Glasgow Caledonian University

Just play, eyes say

Playing a video game while wearing special goggles might help children with amblyopia - the condition known as "lazy eye". A team at Glasgow Caledonian University trialled the treatment by getting children to play a Tetris-style game for an hour a day for a week to 10 days. Tests found an almost immediate improvement, raising the prospect that the treatment could provide an alternative to eyepatches, which often take months to work and can make children feel stigmatised.

University of Nottingham

Growth industry

A student-designed device that indicates when house plants need to be watered is set to be commercialised. The device, invented by mechanical engineering student Chris Pearson, has won the £500 first prize in the University of Nottingham's Student Venture Challenge, aimed at encouraging student entrepreneurship. Mr Pearson intends to spend the money on developing his prototype with the help of a professional gardener, as well as building a website to publicise it. "The judges have offered great advice, and I am currently working with them to get my product into the shops," he said.

University of Dundee

Lessons learned from Baby P

A seminar on 2 April explored how Haringey Council has transformed itself after the outcry over the abuse suffered by Peter Connelly, known as Baby P, who died in 2007. Graham Badman, a visiting professor at the Institute of Education, University of London, who was appointed head of Haringey's local safeguarding children board in the wake of the case, delivered a seminar at the University of Dundee on how standards and morale have been raised in the borough's social care services since Peter's death. Sarah Peel, formerly business manager of Haringey's safeguarding children board, discussed with social work staff at the university what lessons can be learned from the case.

University of Aberdeen

Let me explain what I just did

Researchers at a Scottish university will have a new avenue through which to communicate their work to the public thanks to £300,000 in funding from Research Councils UK. The University of Aberdeen will use the cash to create a "public engagement with research unit" to "share the exciting research journeys and breakthroughs made at Aberdeen with the general population". The universities of Bath, Exeter, Nottingham and Sheffield, as well as The Open University, the Institute of Education, University of London and Queen Mary, University of London were awarded similar grants.

University of Sheffield

Reel philosophy

Philosophers are to introduce a series of classic films highlighting the philosophical issues they raise. Each month, an academic from the University of Sheffield's department of philosophy will introduce a film at a local cinema and discuss it afterwards. The academics will also post short essays about the films on an online discussion forum. Selected films include Memento (which raises issues of memory), The Thin Red Line (understanding war), Rashomon (trust) and Last Year in Marienbad (doubt).

Leeds Metropolitan University

That doesn't hurt at all

Men who consider themselves to be particularly masculine appear to be less sensitive to pain than women and other men. Academics from Leeds Metropolitan University's Institute for Health and Wellbeing reached the conclusion after evaluating studies on gender role and pain response published since 1950. Osama Tashani, the lead researcher, said: "Our findings support claims that learned masculinity encourages stoicism and encourages displays of withstanding pain. We found that femininity was associated with greater sensitivity to painful stimuli, and this may be one of the factors contributing to a greater proportion of women rating their pain more severely than men."

Imperial College London/Oxford

Don't spoil it

Halting the spread of fungal diseases in food crops could help to feed more than 600 million people, scientists have suggested. Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, working with US institutions, found that fungal infections destroy 125 million tonnes a year of the world's most important food crops - rice, wheat, maize, potatoes and soybeans - that could otherwise be used to feed those who do not get enough to eat. More research into how to limit diseases and better control plants that spread infection could improve millions of lives, said Matthew Fisher, a reader in fungal disease at Imperial's School of Public Health.

University of Edinburgh

QI? More like AI

Four out of 10 tweets by Stephen Fry, who has 4.1 million Twitter followers, were mistaken for the work of artificial "chatbots" by children taking part in a competition to mark the 100th birthday of computing pioneer Alan Turing. The University of Edinburgh organised the event to see if children could tell the difference between tweets created by people and those created by computers in a version of the "Turing test" of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour.

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine/Warwick

International health service

The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the University of Warwick have joined forces in a £3 million collaboration, supported by the Wellcome Trust, to create a team of 12 researchers to study the science, policy and economics of applied health research. The two institutions, widely recognised for their complementary expertise in global health, epidemiology and health economics, aim to attract established academic leaders and rising stars, and to produce research that translates into cost-effective and scalable interventions for the world's poorest populations.

Newcastle University

Nuclear options

In the wake of the radiation leak from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan after it was hit by a tsunami in March 2011, a political scholar has argued that national governments alone cannot be relied on to regulate the safety of nuclear power. Thom Brooks, reader in political and legal philosophy at Newcastle University, said in an article for the journal Ethics, Policy and Environment that the dangers of nuclear power crossed national borders and so required the supervision of international institutions, just as there are international agreements on nuclear weapons.

Victorian secrets

Sensational 19th-century science, ghosts and Arctic exploration will be among the subjects of a series of free public lectures at Queen Mary, University of London. Held at the university's Pathology Museum, which is housed in the grounds of St Bartholomew's Hospital in West Smithfield, the spring seminar series will be broadly themed around the link between medicine and the humanities. It will run from mid-April to June. Other seminars feature talks on pioneering Victorian female doctors, Sherlock Holmes and bodysnatchers. Booking is essential for all events.

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