Campus round-up

May 17, 2012

Queen Mary, University of London

Condition of the heart

All babies should be screened for heart defects at birth, an academic has said. A simple non-invasive test called pulse oximetry could detect most heart conditions, according to a survey of research by Shakila Thangaratinam, clinical senior lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. The tests could be combined with checks for other, less common types of birth defect 24 hours after birth, she said. About 1 per cent of all babies born in the UK each year - around 5,000 in total - have heart defects, but many newborns are asymptomatic. Surgery can successfully treat the most serious cases, but is most effective when defects are picked up early.

Brunel University

Stroke survivors play to win

Physiotherapy and computer design academics have created a Nintendo Wii-style console to help rehabilitate stroke victims. Researchers at Brunel University built the prototype to help patients check whether they are performing exercises correctly while recovering at home. The ReWiiRe console also enables stroke survivors to track their rehabilitation and stay motivated by playing games. Clinical tests so far have proved successful, with staff now looking to expand the scale of patient testing to develop the technology. "Following a stroke, the brain is unable to function properly and needs to be retrained," said Cherry Kilbride, lecturer in physiotherapy at Brunel. "It is therefore very important for a stroke survivor to have direct visual feedback as they start to regain mobility in their limbs."

Royal Holloway, University of London

Buttercup effect

Buying supermarket flowers may affect water levels and fish stocks in Africa's Rift Valley, according to research. Academics from Royal Holloway, University of London and Yale University have highlighted how many flowers sold in the UK are grown more than 4,000 miles away in greenhouses lining Lake Naivasha in Kenya. The example illustrates the concept of "teleconnections", in which urban transactions have direct effects on land change thousands of miles away. David Simon, professor of development geography at Royal Holloway and one of the study's authors, said: "The impacts of events in one area of the globe are by no means confined to that area - they travel far and often to the detriment of the world's efforts to sustain the environment in which we all live."

University of Leeds

Germ of an idea

Researchers are looking at ways to produce more efficient biofuel cells that could revolutionise electronics. The team from the University of Leeds hopes to make electricity from electrodes coated in biological materials such as bacteria, using light or hydrogen as fuel. The usual technique for creating biofuel cells has been to produce electricity using enzymes that process glucose. The Leeds project will start by using two specific groups of enzyme found in the membranes of chloroplast or bacterial cells. Follow-up research may enable the scientists to connect electrodes directly to the membranes of living bacterial cells.

Swansea Metropolitan University

Venerable wisdom

Academics have helped to launch a website that provides information for businesses and clinicians designing technologies to cope with Wales' ageing population. Ian Walsh, project director of the Design for Successful Ageing (DSA) scheme and head of industrial design at Swansea Metropolitan University, said the site provided a directory of scholars that specialised in ageing and a list of firms creating products for the elderly. "The website provides an important information and research point," he added.

University of Sunderland


A project that aims to build contacts between new refugee communities in the North East of England and health workers, social workers, teachers and other professionals has been launched with the help of a university. The University of Sunderland is a key partner in the Changing Lives project, which is being developed by the Regional Refugee Forum after it secured charitable funding for three years. It is hoped that staff and students at the university will help broker meetings between professionals and the region's emerging communities.

West of England/Bristol

Plenty of room to achieve lift-off

The largest robotics laboratory of its type in the UK has been officially opened by David Willetts, the universities and science minister. Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a partnership between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol, is a centre for the science, engineering and social role of robotics and embedded intelligence. It is home to a community of 70 academics and businesses leading research and development in nouvelle and service robotics, intelligent autonomous systems and bio-engineering. More than £1.65 million has been spent on the new facilities, and the centre's total area is around 2,400 sq m, with more than 300m of specialised laboratory space and two flying arenas.

University of Cambridge

Light-blue touchpaper

The pocket calculator, in vitro fertilisation and mobile phone microchips were all made possible by the combination of factors that have encouraged innovation around an ancient university, a book has claimed. The Cambridge Phenomenon: 50 Years of Innovation and Enterprise, written by Kate Kirk and Charles Cotton, says that the University of Cambridge's growth as a technology hub has been the result of a UK-wide change in policy that has allowed academics to get involved in enterprise, as well as changes to the traditional British aversion to risk. Other innovations to come out of the city since the 1960s include human genome sequencing and iris recognition technology, the book adds.

University of Reading

Weather with you

A 90-year-old weather-forecasting experiment will be put into action by academics next month. Meteorologists at the University of Reading plan to create the "Forecast Factory", which uses humans to carry out calculations across a grid. The idea was first put forward in 1922 but fell out of favour after the advent of electronic calculating machines. Researchers are calling on 200 members of the public to become cogs in the machine and test the idea on 3 June. Weather enthusiasts aged eight and above can join in as part of the Reading Festival of Weather, Art and Music.

University of Bristol

Some nerve

A method first developed to treat depression and epilepsy is being trialled to help improve human heart function. Researchers at the University of Bristol's School of Physiology and Pharmacology and the British Heart Institute have succeeded in implanting a device that electrically stimulates a nerve travelling between the heart and the brain. Although researchers have yet to figure out exactly how the device works, trials in animals suggest that stimulating the nerve helps rebalance the heart's automatic functions and protects the organ from adrenaline, which causes it to work faster and enlarge. The trial is part of a larger programme involving 96 patients across Europe and is expected to finish next year.

University of Salford

No home to go to

The often unheard stories of homeless people in Manchester will be voiced this month thanks to a collaborative art installation at a university. I LIVE TEMPORARY is a digital artwork created by more than 200 homeless people (with the help of North West-based arts organisation arthur+martha) that will go on display at the University of Salford's MediaCityUK building. Philip Davenport, a poet and one of the organisers, said that the customised postcards and Twitter poem that feature in the installation are "an extraordinary document of lives that are unnoticed. There's lost innocence, lost families, lost love. There's yearning, for shelter and kindness."

Harper Adams University College

AD, be green

Leftover food from four schools in Shropshire is being transported to a university college and recycled into heat and power as part of a pilot scheme that could lead to all school waste from the county being fed into a green energy plant. The scheme makes use of Harper Adams University College's anaerobic digestion (AD) plant at its campus in Edgmond, near Newport. The AD unit, which was opened last year, converts food and farm waste into heat, electricity and natural fertiliser. James Wood, Harper Adams' energy plant manager, said the institution "specialises in education relevant to every part of the food chain, from field to fork, and we can now demonstrate the full cycle, with waste food being transformed into energy to power farm operations and fertiliser to feed the land".

University of Wolverhampton

Torchlight progression

A celebration of science and technology will be held at a university in the form of its first "SciFest". The free week- long event at the University of Wolverhampton in June has been created to inform school pupils from the West Midlands. The festival will culminate in a Public Day on 30 June to coincide with the arrival in the city of the Olympic Torch as part of BBC programme Blue Peter's Big Olympic Tour.

Testing negative

Marine organisms such as plankton could be even more badly affected by the changes in sea acidity caused by climate change than was previously thought. Researchers including scientists from Swansea University and the University of Dundee simulated the effects of increasing pH levels on organisms using numerical models. They found that plankton could face a far more acidic environment than previous research has suggested, which could lead to higher levels of retarded growth or death.

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