Campus round-up

October 25, 2012


Thick-skinned causes

An international team of scientists has identified a gene that plays an important role in the skin disease punctate palmoplantar keratoderma, which causes dots of thickened skin that can be painful for sufferers. The research group was led by Irwin McLean, professor of human genetics at the University of Dundee, and included scientists from the University of Cambridge and King's College London. When the p34 gene is disrupted, Professor McLean said, "the cells in the skin grow too fast and this results in these hard, thick, painful lesions, which can be quite debilitating".

Durham University

Castles made of ham

Diners at a Newcastle restaurant will have the chance to sample medieval meals - and have an academic explain why the organisation of food was so important to castles' military might. Michael Prestwich, professor (emeritus) in the department of history at Durham University, will give a talk at Blackfriars Restaurant on October titled "Castles and their Food". "A castle without sufficient stores, no matter how massive its walls or how powerful its gatehouse, would have been hopelessly vulnerable," he said.

University of Cambridge

Crassh course

International researchers from 35 organisations took part in a forum this month to explore research methods that employ art and creativity. Launched at the University of Cambridge's Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (Crassh) on 12 October, participants in the Research through Art and Creativity forum discussed research methods alongside the benefits of the cross-fertilisation of arts, social and scientific research. The next Crassh forum will convene on 22 February.

University of Bristol

Cosmic inquisitors on the roof

Schools across the country could soon have their own rooftop cosmic ray detectors thanks to an initiative being rolled out this week. The University of Bristol is spearheading the project, which will involve sixth-form physics students building and installing the detectors on school roofs to measure the rate, direction and energy of particles that rain down from space. Results of the HiSparc initiative, which originated in the Netherlands, will be fed into a central database that will be accessible to researchers across the globe. Red Maids' School in Westbury-on-Trym became the first school in the South West to link up with the international initiative on 22 October.

University of Sheffield

Golden dawn

A university is seeking to recruit 20 "exceptional" early career researchers by next April. The University of Sheffield's vice-chancellor's fellowships scheme aims to recruit researchers within five years of receiving their doctorates or, for advanced fellows, those with five to ten years' research experience since gaining a PhD. They will be appointed for three or five years respectively and given minimal teaching duties. Subject to "satisfactory performance", they will then be awarded lectureships or senior lectureships, respectively. Sheffield's vice-chancellor, Keith Burnett, said the scheme demonstrated the university's determination to develop "cutting-edge research talent". He added: "We are committed to ensuring the highest-calibre academic staff are given the environment in which they can thrive."

Staffordshire University

Olympian puts his oar in

Olympic rowing gold medallist Andrew Triggs Hodge got a hero's welcome when he returned to his alma mater to open its £30 million Science Centre. Mr Triggs Hodge, who won gold medals at the Beijing and London Olympics as part of the Great Britain coxless four rowing team, was introduced to the sport while studying for an environmental science degree at Staffordshire University more than a decade ago. The investment is part of Staffordshire's plans to become a regional "powerhouse" for science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, and to inspire local students to continue STEM studies. The Olympian told students that the centre provided the facilities to nurture their talent, "but it's up to you to turn your interest...into something better".

Roehampton/West of England

Square Mile mapped at last

A film by two academics about the City of London has been given its premiere at the House of Commons. Secret City examines the hidden history of the Square Mile institutions at the heart of the global economic crisis. The film, which was screened in Westminster on 16 October, was directed by Michael Chanan, professor of film and video at the University of Roehampton, and written by Lee Salter, senior lecturer in journalism at the University of the West of England. Secret City includes interviews with scholars, MPs, businessmen, members of the clergy and activists from the Occupy movement. "I'm a Londoner born and bred, but like most of us, I grew up knowing very little about the stuff we've uncovered in making this film," said Professor Chanan.

University of Leeds

Air assault

Hospital superbugs can spread by riding air currents, researchers have found. The discovery by researchers at the University of Leeds may explain why some hospitals struggle to prevent the spread of infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile despite strict cleaning regimes and hygiene controls. The study says that coughing, sneezing or even simply shaking bedclothes can launch the bacteria into the air, allowing them to contaminate recently cleaned surfaces. The researchers will use computer modelling to attempt to determine how altering ward layouts and repositioning windows, doors and air vents could help to prevent airborne transmission.

University of Bedfordshire

Result, not battery

Radio waves could soon be used to power small electronic devices, replacing traditional batteries. Researchers at the University of Bedfordshire's department of computer science and technology are working on "energy-harvesting" technology, which uses radio waves to create electric currents. The initial aim is to reduce the world's reliance on conventional batteries, about 30,000 tonnes of which are dumped in UK landfill sites each year. The technology could be used to power devices such as smart meters, which monitor how much energy households use and eliminate the need for estimated bills. Such devices are expected to be in every UK home by 2020. "At the moment it's a very low amount of power supplied," said Ben Allen, head of Bedfordshire's Centre for Wireless Research. "We can in principle power wall clocks and could look into things such as water sensors in rivers. That could research continues."

Aston/East Anglia

Prescription for trouble

The use of potentially harmful antipsychotic drugs by people with dementia may be underestimated, it has been claimed. Research by the University of East Anglia and Aston University found that 15.3 per cent of dementia sufferers receive anti-psychotic medication, contradicting the government's national audit, which puts the figure at 10.5 per cent. Chris Fox, clinical senior lecturer at UEA's Norwich Medical School, said: "[One] issue with the national audit is it fails to report the usage of the drug lorazepam, which is sometimes used instead of antipsychotics. It is potentially equally dangerous. Until we capture the true level of usage...we cannot truly understand the issue." Antipsychotics are thought to be associated with up to 1,800 deaths a year.

University College London

We'll drink to that

Researchers will compete for a £2,000 prize by pitching their ideas to pub-goers. Hosted by stand-up comedian Lloyd Langford, the Focus on the Positive scheme will involve academics from University College London explaining why their research would improve the world. An audience will decide who wins £2,000 to move their project forward, with the runner-up receiving £1,000. Ideas under scrutiny will include ways to boost radiotherapy provision in Africa and methods to support environmental education in inner-city primary schools. The event, which has been organised by UCL's public engagement team, will take place at The Phoenix in London's Cavendish Square, near Oxford Circus, on 30 October at 7.30pm. Tickets are £5.

Prints that came in from the cold

A selection of "lost photos" of Robert Falcon Scott are to be displayed for the first time at a university museum. The images, missing for most of the 20th century, will be exhibited 10 at a time (and changed fortnightly to minimise light damage) in an exhibition at the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute - Polar Museum. Robert Falcon Scott: A Century On concludes the museum's centenary programme in remembrance of the Antarctic explorer's death and looks at Captain Scott's personal legacy through his family, his professional inspiration to the Royal Navy, and his important role in developing and enhancing polar science and exploration.

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