Latest research news

August 11, 2004

Students not as clever as they used to be
More than a third of lecturers consider the academic ability of university students to be worse than it was ten years ago and more than one in four believes that degrees have been devalued as a result. The Times survey of lecturers carried out at 28 universities revealed a widespread view that applicants were often poorly prepared by the A-level system for both science and arts courses.
( The Times )

Belarus deports British scientist
A British nuclear physicist has been thrown out of Belarus after promoting democracy and investigating whether Russian “rain technology” had increased the level of local radioactive fallout following the Chernobyl disaster. Alan Flowers was asked to leave last week after he was put on a list of banned persons in February. Professor Flowers, of Kingston University, insists that his papers were in order and that his visa had been granted by the Belarussian Ambassador in March.
( The Times, The Times Higher )

Alzheimer's linked to lowbrow jobs
A mentally stimulating career may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, research suggests. According to a study carried out in the United States, those who develop the debilitating form of dementia are more likely to have had jobs that do not tax the brain. The discovery lends weight to the 'use it or lose it' theory, says Kathleen Smyth of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, who led the research.
( Nature )

V&A given £1.6m to make gems sparkle
One of the highest flying couples in the City have donated £1.6 million to the Victoria & Albert Museum to help transform its renowned jewellery collection. The gift by William Bollinger and his wife, Judith, will form part of the £2.5 million the museum aims to raise to rebuild its three jewellery galleries.
( Daily Telegraph )

Mixing medicines can halt rise of superbugs
An attempt to control the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in hospitals is doomed to failure, according to a study of how drugs should be prescribed among patients. A mathematical comparison of drug cycling and drug mixing has shown that mixing is far better at preventing the spread of superbugs. The findings were not expected given that experts have high hopes for drug cycling and clinical tests are under way in the United States, said Professor Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington.
( The Independent )

Governments ignore tidal wave threat
Bill McGuire, the director of the Benfield Grieg Hazard Research Centre at University College London, claimed on Monday that a huge chunk of rock, roughly the size of the Isle of Man, was on the brink of breaking off the volcanic island of La Palma in the Canaries. When - Professor McGuire says it is not a matter of if - the rock plunges into the ocean it will trigger giant waves called mega-tsunamis. The scientist called for an international effort to install more sophisticated sensors on the island, as well as global positioning satellite units to detect how quickly the land mass was falling into the ocean.
( The Guardian )

Asteroid danger to vanish in 30 years
One of the greatest threats to the future of the human race — a collision between Earth and a large asteroid — will largely disappear within the next 30 years, an expert in the field predicted on Monday. A new generation of asteroid-hunting telescopes will allow astronomers soon to detect and trace 99 per cent of near-Earth objects that could endanger the planet, according to Benny Peiser, of Liverpool John Moores University.
( The Times )

Hikers help spread sudden oak death
Researchers have confirmed suspicions that trail users such as hikers and mountain bikers are helping to spread a disease that is devastating Californian forests. The researchers found the pathogen causing sudden oak death was prevalent along trails through otherwise uninfected forests, but almost absent in soil samples taken two metres away from the trail.
( New Scientist )

Larkin's lost elegy to dad who mucked him up
An unpublished poem by Philip Larkin has been found languishing in the archives of Leicester University, where he worked as an assistant librarian in the late 1940s. And Yet relates to his famous 12-line elegy on the death of his father in 1948, An April Sunday Brings the Snow . James Booth, Professor of English at the University of Hull, where Larkin later worked as librarian, and literary adviser to the Philip Larkin Society, said: “It’s a very good poem. It is an unpublished poem. Anything by Larkin is of interest to literary people.”
( The Times )

What's the gorilla for 'Ouch'?
How do you know when the gorilla has a toothache? It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California, it is a cause for celebration. The gorilla, a 300lb ape called Koko, managed to tell her handlers about her dental pain using sign language, a result of years of training that has made her one of the most articulate non-humans on the planet.
( The Independent )

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