Campus round-up

September 27, 2012

Royal Holloway, University of London

Gold-letter day for alma mater

A postbox on a university campus has been painted gold to honour a graduate's success at the London Paralympics. Sophie Christiansen was the first British athlete to win three gold medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games, claiming top spot in three equestrian events. Ms Christiansen, who has cerebral palsy, won her first gold at the Beijing Games four years ago while studying for a master's in mathematics at Royal Holloway, University of London. She asked Royal Mail to decorate one of the postboxes at the college in Egham, Surrey in recognition of the support she received while juggling training and studies. The postal service is painting postboxes gold in the home towns of all UK Olympic and Paralympic champions, but this is the first time that a university has been recognised in this way.

University of Manchester

Off-piste study nets points

A university has opened a unit dedicated to promoting interdisciplinary study. The University of Manchester's University College for Interdisciplinary Learning will offer students the opportunity to earn up to 8 per cent of their undergraduate degree credits by studying a subject outside their degree area. The college will also offer three annual lectures open to the public. The college's director, Peter Lawler, said: "This is not just about broadening our students' educational horizons, it's about giving them richer skill sets, which will ultimately make them more attractive to employers."

University of Nottingham

Making it better

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has presided over the official opening of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing. The University of Nottingham has invested £2 million of its own capital funding in the project, topped up by £550,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and nearly £1million from the European Regional Development Fund. The institute is based on Nottingham's campus and is staffed by an interdisciplinary team drawn from its British, Malaysian and Chinese campuses. It aims to accelerate the commercialisation of manufacturing concepts and technologies developed at the university.

Exeter/York

I can't go on without you, Ma

Male killer whales are "mummy's boys" that struggle to survive without their mothers, researchers have found. An international team led by the universities of York and Exeter discovered that male killer whales over 30 years old were 14 times more likely to die within a year if their mothers died. Females were only three times more likely to do so. The researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Science, say that the need to care for adult sons may explain why female killer whales stop reproducing in their thirties or forties but can survive into their nineties, the longest post-reproductive lifespan of any non-human animal.

Institute of Cancer Research

Whole body of evidence

Scanning young patients' entire genetic make-up for cancer damage could save the lives of thousands of children, a study indicates. Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London have recommended that doctors offer whole-body genome scans before patients begin treatment for neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer that attacks the nervous system. This follows an international study, led by the centre, which found that such scans could identify large-scale chromosomal damage caused by the disease, allowing doctors to decide on the best treatment. Andy Pearson, Cancer Research UK professor of paediatric oncology at the institute, said the tests could save more lives and spare other children serious side-effects.

Institute of Education

Mini-loans' pluses and minuses

Micro-credit may leave people worse not better off, research indicates. The practice of offering very small loans to the poor to help establish businesses such as market stalls has been seen by governments and charities as a reliable way to help people out of poverty. But a report by academics at the Institute of Education, in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg, shows mixed outcomes. Those with higher levels of education or training are the most likely to benefit, but loans for the poorest of the poor risk plunging them into debt with little chance of escape, the study found.

Sussex/Edge Hill

Silent types may not be so strong

Male students are less likely to seek help from university services, research suggests. A study by Ruth Woodfield, reader in sociology at the University of Sussex, and Liz Thomas, director of widening participation at Edge Hill University, looks at the uptake of services such as counselling, financial support and careers advice by 4,000 students at seven higher education institutions. It says that male students are less aware of services on offer, less likely to use them and less likely to engage with staff on a personal level, even when they recognise they are struggling with university life. According to the study, funded by the Equality Challenge Unit, men are more likely to opt for interactions that do not involve personal engagement with frontline staff or form-filling.

Durham University

Higgs spotted at birthday party

Renowned physicist Peter Higgs headed celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of a UK physics institute. The Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics at Durham University celebrated its birthday with a series of lectures based around the five questions posed at its foundation about the nature of dark matter, the nature of dark energy, the masses of elementary particles, the masses of neutrinos and their influence on the evolution of the Universe, and the origins of planets and life itself. Researchers at Durham's Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology, one of two institutes housed at the centre, have been involved with experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which earlier this year found a candidate particle for the Higgs boson, whose existence Professor Higgs theorised nearly 50 years ago.

University of Bedfordshire

Games masters of Planet Earth

Nearly 300 students are joint holders of a Guinness World Record after participating in the largest-ever gathering of computer game production held in a single location. The event, known as a "game jam", took place at the University of Bedfordshire's Luton campus. Teams of students on courses in games design, software development, art and animation battled for two days to create games to be used on Windows 8. More than 20 games have now been submitted to the Windows Store for review. The students stayed awake for 48 hours to complete the work and adjudication was carried out on site by Guinness World Records.

Anglia Ruskin University

Eminent Victoriana

A Cambridgeshire academic has been named president of the British Association for Victorian Studies. Rohan McWilliam, course leader for history at Anglia Ruskin University, is the first historian to lead the association. He will work with academics around the world to develop research and thought focusing on 19th-century Britain, and his three-year term runs from 2012 to 2015. "The opening ceremony of the Olympics reminded us that we remain in the shadow of the Victorians," Dr McWilliam said.

Birmingham City University

My so-called university life

Freshers are the focus of a Midlands university's online "docu-soap". Birmingham City University's programme, Starting Out@BCU, follows first-year students during their first week, with an episode posted on the university website just hours after filming. The programme takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, capturing key moments including students moving in to halls of residence and meeting new flatmates, formal enrolment and attendance at the first lecture of the year. Starting Out also mixes in messages about health and welfare from the students' union, and signposts a further series of videos about student finance.

University of Liverpool

Lie me crook kangaroo down

A Russell Group university's veterinary school will feature in a new Rolf Harris series on Channel 5. The University of Liverpool's School of Veterinary Science will feature in Rolf's Animal Clinic. The series will follow veterinary staff and students as they deal with medical emergencies and treat the injuries and diseases suffered by a wide variety of creatures, from domestic pets and farm livestock to exotic zoo animals. Mr Harris, perhaps best known in his early career for singing about the forced restraint of marsupials, said: "The welfare of animals is something that has always been close to my heart. It's wonderful to be presenting this series, which covers the fascinating and skilled work of the vets dealing with such an amazing range of animals."

Coventry University

Pressure release

Young people will have the opportunity to use a computer game developed by academics, health professionals and their peers to deal with the issue of sexual coercion. Developed by Coventry University's Studies in Adolescent Sexual Health group, the computer game is called PRE:PARe - Positive Relationships: Eliminating coercion and Pressure in Adolescent Relationships. It will be rolled out to schools in the coming months and is free to access for schools in Coventry and Warwickshire. The resource has been designed for use in sex education lessons to help young people understand, through a variety of scenarios, what coercion is and how it occurs within personal relationships and through online interaction with others.

Scare stories

A group of experts have gathered at a conference to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of the stories popularly known as Grimms' Fairy Tales. Organised jointly by Kingston University (which hosted the conference), the University of Chichester and its Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, the event brought together academics and storytellers from 26 countries and a mix of disciplines, cultures and generations. The event, held on 6-8 September, covered topics relating to fairy tales and the art of storytelling, from ancient myths and legends to contemporary "myth-punk". One of the attendees, professional storyteller Janet Dowling, will give a presentation at Chichester on 10 October, titled "Sex, Lies and Videotape: The Brothers Grimm Experience".

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