Campus round-up

November 8, 2012

University of Edinburgh

Fresh light on dark matter

A university has teamed up with a capital management firm to launch a competition that asks experts to find techniques that might shed light on dark matter. University of Edinburgh astronomers and the science crowdsourcing data website kaggle.com are appealing to numerical problem-solvers to apply tools from outside astronomy to the mystery of dark matter, which accounts for the vast majority of the Universe's mass but is little understood. Winton Capital Management, which builds automated trading systems for financial markets, is offering prizes of $12,000 (£7,540), $5,000 and $3,000 to the best entrants.

Leeds Metropolitan University

Painfully macho

Stereotypical attitudes relating to gender play a role in pain expression, research has suggested. A study led by Osama Tashani, a research fellow at Leeds Metropolitan University, examined the reactions to pain of more than 200 British and Libyan student volunteers. It found that in line with reported stereotypes, men had higher pain thresholds and lower pain intensity ratings than women, and were less willing to report their suffering. Meanwhile, Libyans had a higher pain threshold than Britons and were less willing to report pain. Dr Tashani said: "Stereotypical gendered behaviours emerged in the response to experimentally induced pressure and ischaemic pain between Libyans and white British students and between men and women."

University of Aberdeen

Windows to the mind

Scientists have developed a test for schizophrenia that monitors eye movement and has a 98 per cent accuracy rate. The researchers from the University of Aberdeen asked volunteers to track slow-moving objects with their eyes, look over an everyday scene, and stare at a fixed point. Philip Benson, senior lecturer in psychology, said that schizophrenics "have well-documented deficits in the ability to track slow-moving objects smoothly with their eyes". It is hoped that the tests can now be incorporated into routine clinical practice.

University of York

Mobile pilgrims' progress

Researchers have created a mobile phone application for visitors to Coventry Cathedral. The app, developed by the University of York's Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture, offers visitors three trails designed to help them trace the story of the three cathedrals that have stood on the site. It also includes interactive panoramas and acoustic reconstructions of medieval worship. The centre's director, Dee Dyas, said: "Cathedrals hold so much of the nation's history and spiritual and artistic heritage. It is vital we find new ways to help people...explore and enjoy these glorious buildings." York is also developing apps for other cathedrals.

London School of Economics

Transatlantic triumvirate

Three universities have forged a transatlantic consortium to promote faculty exchanges, collaborative research and dual-degree programmes. The London School of Economics, the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and Columbia University have formed the Transatlantic Consortium on Education and Policy. Building on the existing Columbia-Paris Alliance, the consortium is designed to "push the boundaries of the traditional university model" by integrating courses and boosting student and staff mobility to "prepare tomorrow's multilingual, multicultural leaders".

University of Sheffield

Vast wing span

The world's first evolutionary tree of all living bird species has been created. The tree, created by scientists from the University of Sheffield and three overseas universities, has been published in the journal Nature. Based on fossil and genetic data, it details when and where each of the 10,000 extant bird species evolved and diversified. Gavin Thomas, senior lecturer in molecular microbiology at Sheffield, said the tree would be useful for prioritising conservation efforts: "Some species have many close relatives...whereas others have few...and their loss would represent the disappearance of vast amounts of evolutionary history."

University of Liverpool

Fertile thinking

An expert in reproductive health has been voted a "knowledge hero" by a local newspaper. Sue Wray, professor of cellular and molecular physiology at the University of Liverpool, was given the title by The Liverpool Echo as part of the city's first Knowledge Festival. She carries out research at the Centre for Better Births - a joint initiative between the university and the Liverpool Women's Hospital that aims to make childbirth safer all over the world. Professor Wray topped a poll of shortlisted entries (of which she was the only woman) after Echo readers were asked to select the person who through knowledge had done the most to make the world a better place. The late Tom Reilly, who was the UK's first professor of sports science and who worked at Liverpool John Moores University, came second.

Imperial College London

Quantum aesthetics

A university is combining the "two cultures" of art and science to offer roadside enlightenment and demonstrate the beauty of scientific exploration. Artwork based on the Schrodinger equation, which has enabled many of the modern world's technological advances, has been installed by Imperial College London on two giant advertising billboards near its Kensington campus. The installations were devised by Imperial's artist-in-residence Geraldine Cox and quantum physicist Terry Rudolph, who hope to communicate the "excitement and beauty that scientists see in equations that describe the world around us". The artwork will be on display for two weeks.

University of Greenwich

Want hot? Waste not

An experimental "green" power plant is to be built on a university campus. The installation at the University of Greenwich's Medway Campus will be powered by the biofuel glycerol and is funded by a £3.4 million grant from the European Development Fund. The initiative, led by Medway Council, is part of Ecotec 21, an Anglo-French initiative set up to study how waste heat created by power plants can be captured and used for heating and hot water.

University of Portsmouth

Change the criminal record

The wayward tendencies of young criminals can be nipped in the bud, research has suggested. Forensic psychologists at the University of Portsmouth studied the impact of intensive long-term intervention on children aged seven and upwards who were heading towards a life of crime and found that the average number of offences committed per year was reduced from six to three. "Children as young as seven are a small slice of the offending population as a whole, but we know that those who commit crimes when very young are tomorrow's most serious, violent and prolific lawbreakers," said researcher Claire Nee. Since the study was conducted, the Portsmouth-based intervention programme has been axed due to funding cuts.

University College London

Lonely brains' club scanned

Lonely people have less grey matter in a part of the brain associated with decoding social cues, research has found. A team at University College London scanned the brains of 108 adults and found that self-reported loneliness was associated with less grey matter in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus - an area implicated in basic social perception. The study, published in the journal Current Biology, states that loneliness is associated with difficulty in processing social cues and suggests that through training, people might be able to improve their social perception and become less isolated.

Lancaster University

Sleeping on it does help

Researchers from Lancaster University have produced fresh evidence for the old idea that "sleeping on a problem" can help forge solutions. The study, published online this month in the journal Memory & Cognition, gave participants some easy and difficult puzzles requiring verbal insight. They were tested again on the ones they had failed to solve after a period of sleep, after time spent awake or after no delay at all. In the case of difficult problems, the sleep group managed to solve more than the others. "Sleep appears to help us solve problems by accessing information that...may not be initially brought to mind," said Padraic Monaghan, professor of psychology at Lancaster and the study's co-author.

Picket lines

One academic is seeking to find fresh perspectives on the 1984-85 miners' strike by looking at poetry from both sides of the picket line. Mining the Meaning: Cultural Representations of the 1984-5 UK Miners' Strike by Katy Shaw, senior lecturer in contemporary literature at the University of Brighton, examines unpublished poems from miners and police officers, as well as literature and film from the time, to provide a "deeper and more lasting truth" about the conflict. According to a review by Ian Haywood, professor of English literature at the University of Roehampton, the book exposes contemporary culture's "failure to engage with the collective solidarity at the heart of embattled mining communities".

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