Campus round-up

June 28, 2012


Stop acting on impulse

Research has shown that people can train their brains to become less impulsive. Psychologists at the universities of Exeter and Cardiff assessed whether asking people to refrain from certain movements while in a simulated gambling situation affected how reckless or cautious they were when betting. The results suggest that training people to inhibit their movements could boost or prime a system in the brain that regulates inhibition across a range of functions. The paper, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that more work on the topic could lead to treatments for addiction.

University of Cambridge

If it's good enough for them...

A government-backed science park has received a vote of confidence after academics announced their plan to move into the site. The University of Cambridge will open an innovation centre within the Stevenage BioScience Catalyst, which is backed by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, the Wellcome Trust, the Technology Strategy Board and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Small teams of Cambridge scientists will bring their research to the centre and will aim to develop medicines through an "open innovation" model, which involves scientific exchange without the need for exclusive research-collaboration agreements. The park's partners say that Cambridge's involvement validates its approach and may prove a catalyst for the development of similar relationships with other universities.

Peninsular College of Medicine and Dentistry

Healthy measure

A UK scholar helped to draft an alternative index of national progress to gross domestic product for the Rio+20 Earth Summit, held from 20 to 22 June. Michael Depledge, professor of environment and human health at the Peninsular College of Medicine and Dentistry - which is run in partnership by the universities of Exeter and Plymouth - has contributed to the method that would take into account health, happiness and well-being rather than economic growth alone. Professor Depledge said the index was part of an effort to define "a new economic paradigm".

University of Worcester

Honey, we're home

Some of the UK's threatened population of wild bees are now able to make their homes in two five-star "bee hotels" set up by the University of Worcester. The two large wooden structures have been deemed perfect for a number of important apian species that are struggling to find homes because of changes in land management and agriculture. The "bee hotels" feature bamboo and cardboard tubes of different diameters and can accommodate hundreds of bees at a time.

University of Warwick

Compound interest

A national study to find the best way to treat compound fractures is being led by a university specialist. If a fracture is "open" (ie, the skin has been broken), the exposed bone is at risk of contamination, which may lead to infection, disability - and higher costs. Matt Costa, professor of trauma and orthopaedics at the University of Warwick and chief investigator on the £2.2 million study, said he hoped the research would demonstrate the best and most cost-effective treatment for trauma centres across the UK.

Royal Holloway, University of London

See no pongid, hear no pongid

A famous experiment into a visual phenomenon known as the "invisible gorilla" effect has been aped by scientists investigating hearing. Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London created a three-dimensional auditory scene, featuring conversations between two men and two women. A man then walked through the scene, repeating the phrase "I'm a gorilla!" for 19 seconds. However, most of the participants listening to the women's discussion failed to notice him. "This has real-world implications in suggesting, for example, that talking on your mobile phone is likely to reduce your awareness of traffic noises," said Polly Dalton, senior lecturer in cognitive psychology, who led the research. The term "invisible gorilla" was coined after a famous study into inattentional blindness, where people failed to see someone in a gorilla suit walking through a basketball game.

Liverpool Hope University

You study: we'll get the bill

Six fully funded doctoral scholarships that collectively are worth more than £300,000 over three years have been introduced by a post-1992 institution. The scholarships at Liverpool Hope University cover fees and offer bursaries of £13,500 a year. PhD students will be considered for the scholarships in Liverpool Hope's key research areas such as education, core humanities, business and computing. Kenneth Newport, pro vice-chancellor at Liverpool Hope, said that the institution was looking for top students and would expect them to have gained distinctions at the master's level.


Fred the Shred's heavy squad

A reputation for "economic violence" by senior Royal Bank of Scotland executives helped them win City backing for their disastrous takeover of Dutch bank ABN Amro in 2007, scholars have claimed. Management experts from the University of Leicester and Newcastle University Business School write in the journal Organization Studies that the executives used threats of redundancy to force staff to meet aggressive sales targets. Sarah Robinson, senior lecturer in management and organisation studies at Leicester, said: "The executives' reputation for economic violence counted as 'capital' in the City of London. Competition among banking leaders for legitimacy...triggered irrational behaviour which contributed to the financial crisis."

University of Edinburgh

Green roots manoeuvre

A tropical tree can turn carbon dioxide into soil-enriching limestone, a three-year project has found. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh, along with international partner universities and companies, found that when treated with natural fungus and bacteria, the iroko tree (Chlorophora excelsa) combines calcium from the earth with the greenhouse gas to create limestone around its roots. The process is a "low-tech, safe, readily employed and easily maintained way to lock carbon out of the atmosphere", said Bryne Ngwenya, reader in microbial geochemistry at Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences.

Newcastle University

Notes of warning

The human brain experiences electrical rhythms similar to musical glissandi - an upward glide in the pitch of notes - in the lead-up to an epileptic seizure, according to a study. Mark Cunningham, senior lecturer at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience, jointly led the project and said that it "may offer a promising insight into when a seizure is going to start". Glissandi are used to convey intense anticipation in classical music and similar brain patterns may predict seizures, the study suggests.

Sheffield/Sheffield Hallam

All the world's a student stage

Two universities are co-hosting the inaugural International Student Drama Festival as part of celebrations for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The nine-day event, co-staged by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, will feature 10 international and 10 UK student shows, plus around 200 theatre workshops. Steve Nicholson, director of theatre at Sheffield, said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for students to broaden their theatre experience and maybe even challenge some expectations. It is almost like having the best of the Edinburgh Fringe on our doorstep."

University of Nottingham

Make a song and dance about it

A Bollywood film whose male lead character is a student at a British business school has opened in UK cinemas. Teri Meri Kahaani (Our Story), a time-travelling romantic comedy, was partly filmed at the University of Nottingham and "Krish" (one of three roles played by Shahid Kapoor) is a student at the institution. Vicky Bahri, one of the film's producers, said: "We looked all over the world...and as soon as we visited Nottingham and saw...the Trent Building and the Jubilee campus with its completely different architecture, we fell in love with the university."

The nose has it

An academic with Type 1 diabetes is training her puppy to use his nose to detect when she needs life-saving glucose. Moira Harrison, principal lecturer in diabetes at the University of Brighton, is training the dog to detect molecules on her skin and to raise the alarm if he detects that her sugar levels are below safe limits. The dog, Treacle, is also being used to help teach pharmacy and medical students about the disease. Treacle has learned to detect the scent that means glucose levels are low in samples on cloth and paper, and is now transferring the skill to scrutinise his owner. Dr Harrison hopes that once her "diabetes alert dog" is fully trained, she will need to test her own blood less frequently.

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