Campus round-up

August 16, 2012

University of Dundee

Difference engine

Scientists have discovered a molecule that enables identical cells to differentiate, forming the building blocks for life. Researchers from the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee identified the "cyclic-di-GMP" as a signal for cells to transform into immobile "stalk" cells. Pauline Schaap, professor of developmental signalling, said: "Our work presents the opportunity to fully understand how cells learned to become different from each other in early multicellular organisms." The work has been published in the journal Nature.

Swansea University

Mad men, bulging bonuses

The obsession with bonuses that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis can be explained as a manifestation of masculine fragility, according to an article. David Knights, professor at Swansea University's business school, has co-authored "Managing Masculinity/Mismanaging the Corporation" with Maria Tullberg, senior lecturer at the University of Gothenburg. The pursuit of wealth is a reflection of "masculine behaviour within the business-class elite that makes the pursuit of spiralling salaries almost obligatory", Professor Knights said.

University of Nottingham

Non-stick implants

People with implanted medical devices could be subject to fewer infections thanks to a bacteria-resistant polymer. The material was developed by scientists from the University of Nottingham, who hope it can be used to coat medical devices such as catheters, heart valves and prosthetic joints. This would prevent infection-forming bacterial communities known as biofilms building up on their surfaces. Ted Bianco, director of technology transfer at project funder the Wellcome Trust, said: "Just as materials science gave us the non-stick saucepan, so we look forward to the day of the 'non-stick' medical device."

Manchester/Cambridge/Imperial

Material support

Oil and gas company BP is to establish a £64 million university-based research centre that will focus on developing materials relevant to the industry. The BP International Centre for Advanced Materials will have a central hub within the University of Manchester's Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, as well as "spokes" at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. BP's 10-year investment is expected to support 25 new academic posts, 100 postgraduate studentships and 80 postdoctoral fellowships.

University of Warwick

Bad luck of the Irish

A historian has uncovered why yellow fever killed a disproportionate number of Irish immigrants in the Southern US in the 19th century. Tim Lockley, associate professor in history and reader in comparative American studies at the University of Warwick, looked at records relating to people who died from the disease in Savannah, Georgia. He found that 650 people died of yellow fever between August and November 1854, of whom 293 were Irish immigrants. At the time, yellow fever was viewed as a "strangers' disease". Dr Lockley said this was because "strangers" were disproportionately male, in their twenties and resided in neighbourhoods close to low swampy ground where mosquitoes thrived. In Savannah's case, a large number of people in this position were newly arrived Irish immigrants.

University for the Creative Arts

They shoot, they score

Undergraduate photography students were commissioned to document London life for the Discovery Channel as global attention focused on the city during the Olympics. The five students from the University for the Creative Arts in Rochester were asked to illustrate how the city, its inhabitants and visitors interacted with the games away from the sporting venues. Their work for the 17 Days of Summer project was showcased on the channel's US- and UK-based websites. "At a time when work experience is everything, UCA students are getting a chance to shoot a global event," said Jonathan Simms, senior photography lecturer. "I'm sure it will prove invaluable."

University of Strathclyde

Gift of tongues

A study of primary school pupils has revealed that bilingual children enjoy an advantage in problem-solving and critical thinking. Fraser Lauchlan, a researcher at the University of Strathclyde, collaborated with colleagues at the University of Cagliari to study bilingualism among Scottish and Sardinian children. He said that the differences in performance arise because of the mental alertness needed to switch between languages. Scottish children who had been formally schooled in Gaelic as a second language were found to have had their mental capacities increased further than their Italian peers who had simply picked up the local Sardinian tongue from use around the home.

University of Southampton

Eocene scene: bring your own ice

Tropical vegetation, including palm trees and relatives of today's baobab trees, once grew on the coast of Antarctica, academics have discovered. The research by scientists at the University of Southampton, in collaboration with colleagues at Goethe University and the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt, Germany, discovered that 52 million years ago, winter temperatures on the continent were warmer than 10 degsC, in contrast to about -20 degsC now. In the study, published in Nature, the scientists were able to identify and reconstruct characteristics of Antarctic vegetation by analysing rock samples from marine drill cores containing fossil pollen and spores.

University of Cambridge

Combinatory treatment

Two of the UK's largest funders of medical research are investing £8 million into a centre for stem-cell biology and medicine. The Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute will merge the funders' two existing stem-cell centres, uniting about 30 laboratories at the University of Cambridge. At the centre, to be constructed on the Cambridge Biomedical Research Campus, researchers with expertise across the three main types of stem cell - embryonic, adult and induced pluripotent - will work with technology specialists and doctors to develop new therapies.

Bucks New University

Cowell play is not required

Aspiring pop stars may not need to rely on The X Factor for their big break now that one university has launched a course for "do-it-yourself musicians". The part-time BA in music performance management at Bucks New University is designed to enable performers, producers and writers to manage their own careers, and includes components on production, marketing and industry culture. The degree is thought to be one of the first in Europe to focus on helping performers and writers in this manner. The course will be spread over three years and is designed to fit around students' performance commitments.

University of Leicester

We're going to need a bigger bomb

Internet hysteria abounds that based on certain readings of the ancient Mayan calendar, the Earth will be destroyed, possibly by an asteroid, on 21 December this year. But unfortunately, if this wild prophecy does turn out to be accurate, Bruce Willis' technique for saving the planet will not work, students from the University of Leicester have calculated. In the 1998 movie Armageddon, Bruce Willis plays Harry Stamper, a character who drills a hole to the centre of an asteroid the size of Texas in order to detonate a nuclear bomb in it. The explosion splits the rock in half and diverts it from its collision course with Earth. But master of physics students at Leicester have calculated that for this to work, the device would need to be 1 billion times more powerful than the largest hydrogen bomb ever built.

Institute of Cancer Research

On target for fewer side-effects

Early clinical trials of new targeted cancer therapies show promise in reducing the risk of patients suffering the serious side-effects associated with chemotherapy. Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust published their analysis of data from 36 trials in the August issue of the Annals of Oncology journal. They found that the rate of life-threatening side-effects was reduced to 1.9 per cent, compared with 14 per cent for similar drugs tested in the 1990s and early 2000s. The targeted therapies under evaluation are intended to affect only cancer cells, rather than all rapidly dividing cells in the body.

A little bit previous

Research into recently released Ministry of Justice data on last summer's riots has revealed that those taking part were overwhelmingly young, male and had previous criminal convictions. Malcolm Davies, head of the University of West London's Ealing Law School, found that 76 per cent of the rioters who appeared in court in August and September 2011 had previous convictions or cautions. Among those with a record of offending, each individual had committed 14 previous offences on average. Almost 90 per cent of the rioters were male and half were under the age of 21.

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