Campus round-up

July 26, 2012

University of Southampton

A fantasy season with AI FC

A team of academics plans to make its mark on the English Fantasy Football League next season with some help from artificial intelligence. PhD student Tim Matthews and researchers Sarvapali Ramchurn and George Chalkiadakis, all from the University of Southampton, have built an "artificial football manager" program that uses algorithms to analyse player performances and statistics before picking its team each week. Performance in a simulation using data from last season would have put the program as high as the top 500 of the country's 2.5 million fantasy football players. This season they intend to enter the fantasy league and use the program, augmented with their own input on more subtle issues, such as low morale, that the software cannot consider.

Royal Holloway, University of London

A stranger to myself

Sharing an identical experience with a stranger can change our perception of ourselves, according to a recent study. Psychologists at Royal Holloway, University of London, asked people to observe the face of a stranger being touched with a cotton bud, while touching their own face in the same way over a period of time. Participants were then asked to identify an image of their own face morphed with the stranger's features. Those taking part in the experiment were less able to recognise their own face, often identifying the face of the stranger as their own. The experiment "shows how the sense of who we are, our sense of identity, is given to us by our interactions with others, and is, eventually, reflected back to others," said lead researcher Manos Tsakiris, a reader in neuropsychology.

University of Warwick

Bigger team for small miracles

Ten new professors and associate/assistant professors will be recruited by a university's manufacturing offshoot. WMG at the University of Warwick is making the appointments, including two new research posts in nanocomposite technologies. The researchers will help engineers create new engineering products and materials using nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. They will also mark a milestone for WMG by being the 499th and 500th persons to be employed in its research buildings. WMG was founded in 1980 by Lord Bhattacharyya, then professor of manufacturing systems, with the aim of reinvigorating manufacturing.

University of York

Gender-balance stimulus policy

A mentoring scheme aimed at boosting the number of senior female economics academics has been launched. The inaugural event, at the University of York, involved 13 professors advising 20 junior female academics on issues such as publication, research funding and work/life balance. Karen Mumford, a professor in York's department of economics and related studies and chair of the scheme's sponsor, the Royal Economic Society Women's Committee, said: "In 1992, there was just one female economics professor in the UK and, although things have improved dramatically, they are still relatively rare."

University of Wolverhampton

Trooping the scholars

Students from an armed forces school in Germany visited an English university to find out more about higher education opportunities. Eleven pupils from the Gloucester Secondary School in Hohne - which caters for service children from Hohne Station, one of the British armed forces' main bases in Germany - paid a visit to the University of Wolverhampton. The initiative was part of Wolverhampton's wider engagement with service personnel and their families who may wish to relocate or retrain. Wolverhampton registrar Helen Wildman, a former lieutenant colonel in the British Army, said: "Children of services personnel abroad often find it difficult to access higher education and have the opportunity to see up close what a university is like or what it can offer."

University of Nottingham

Charge yourself up

Student rowers have set a new world record for the most electricity generated by human power in 24 hours. A relay of rowers from the University of Nottingham's boat club, along with other volunteers, generated 12.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity. The event was devised in collaboration with the university's Faculty of Engineering to mark the official launch of Nottingham's £150 million fundraising campaign. Mark Gillott, professor of sustainable building design and co-director of the Institute of Sustainable Energy Technology, said the amount of power generated was comparable to that used by a three-bedroom house over a 24-hour period.

University of Portsmouth

Shedding light on glass ceilings

Female scientists in the Middle East are hoping to get a helping hand in their careers from two UK experts in leadership. Liza Howe-Walsh and Sarah Turnbull, both from the University of Portsmouth's business school, have won funding to run workshops looking at what barriers prevent women from becoming leaders in the Middle East. The workshops will also look at the qualities that unite women in positions of science and technology leadership across the world and at the particular challenges faced in the Arabic world. The results of the study will be presented at conferences in the Middle East in 2013.

Swansea/University College London

Startle disease's genetic culprit

Scientists have identified changes in a gene that are a factor in the onset of a disease that causes exaggerated reactions to unexpected stimuli. The research by academics from Swansea University and University College London looked at startle disease, also known as hyperekplexia, which can cause rigidity, the inability to breathe and even infant death in response to touch or loud noises. Until now, only one gene was thought to be the major cause, but the findings identify a second (GlyT2) as another factor.

University of Salford

Model swinger and all-time great

Statistically, who is the greatest golfer of all time? The answer is the late Texas-born legend Ben Hogan, according to one academic's computer modelling. In the run-up to the 2012 Open Championship, Ian McHale, director of the Centre for Sports Business Analytics at Salford Business School, and chair of the Royal Statistical Society's sports section, studied hundreds of results from golf's major tournaments and the records of more than 800 players via computer-assisted analysis. Dr McHale's method looks at the varying prowess of players from the past 80 years, from the beginning to the end of their career taking into account the standard of opposition faced. His method suggests that at his peak in 1950, Hogan, who was a nine-time winner of major tournaments, was the sport's best-ever player.

University of Northampton

Like it?

A university has adopted the social networking site Facebook as its primary mode of communication with students. The University of Northampton's specially designed platform will provide information that was previously available only on its website, and will allow students to provide feedback on a range of issues via surveys and discussions. Delia Heneghan, director of marketing at Northampton, said the move was an extension of the university's use of social media in student recruitment and formed part of the institution's response to government wishes to see students "at the heart of the system".

Institute of Commonwealth Studies

No more royal hand-me-downs

Queen Elizabeth II should be the last head of the Commonwealth, constitutional experts have argued. On her death, the ceremonial role should be abolished to avoid damaging debates about the suitability of Prince Charles to assume it, contends Philip Murphy, director of the University of London's Institute of Commonwealth Studies, in an opinion piece written for the Commonwealth Advisory Bureau thinktank that was co-authored by its director, Daisy Cooper. The leadership role was created for George VI in 1949 and passed to his daughter in 1952, but there is no agreement over whether her heir should automatically inherit the position. The authors say scrapping the role could allow the UK to play "a more forthright, creative and equal role" in the Commonwealth.

Imperial College London

Extinction: mark the spots

Conservation efforts in the Amazon jungle should be focused on biodiversity hot spots to save dozens of rare species, research suggested. Imperial College London scientists found that up to 38 species were doomed to disappear as forest clearances increased competition for food and cut breeding rates. Those already lost as a result of the destruction of Brazil's rainforest in the past 30 years are just one-fifth of those expected to die out as deforestation takes its toll. Identifying biodiversity hot spots "shows us where we are likely to have high concentrations of species which are all in trouble, and that becomes a way for directing our conservation efforts," said Rob Ewers, the study's lead author and senior lecturer in life sciences at Imperial.

Kissing cousins can take wing

Different species of butterfly in Peru's Amazon rainforest have been found to share each other's wing patterning via interbreeding. Researchers from the universities of Edinburgh, Exeter and Cambridge found that the interbreeding did not leave offspring infertile and allowed butterflies to gain patterning that wards off predators much more quickly than evolving it independently. Mark Blaxter, a professor of evolutionary genomics at Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, said the study had been made possible by a "recent revolution in the way we can look at the DNA of animals".

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