Latest research news

January 25, 2006

Brown opens disease research unit
Chancellor Gordon Brown has opened a pioneering research unit which aims to tackle some of the world's most neglected diseases. The £13 million Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee University is the first of its kind in Europe. The aim of the unit is to translate basic research discoveries into candidate drugs ready for clinical trials. The diseases, which include parasitic types including African Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), Chagas and Leishmaniasis, are among the most neglected in the world. Mr Brown said: "This is a unit which gives hope to 30 million people in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa and India, and hope therefore for thousands of people who die unnecessarily and avoidably every year.
The Scotsman

Why post-disaster boys live longer
Although fewer than average baby boys are born in the months that follow a social upheaval, whether caused by war or an economic recession, they go on to live longer lives, according to a study published today. Again and again scientists have observed how the ratio of baby boys to girls changes in times of great anxiety and depression, an effect seen after the London Fog in the early 1950s, the Kobe earthquake in 1995, and the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York, among others. Today, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Ralph Catalano of the University of California, Berkeley, and a colleague provides evidence that supports one of two competing theories to show why fewer boys are born, changing the population's sex ratio.
The Daily Telegraph

Head of new ELT research centre appointed
A leading authority on English language teaching is heading up a new research centre for learning and assessment at the University of Luton. Cyril Weir, who has taught and advised on language testing and the curriculum in 50 countries, takes up the Powdrill chair in English language acquisition, which is funded by an endowment worth more than £1 million, given to the university by a charitable trust. The money will be used to set up the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment, which aims to improve academic literacy and language skills among students.
The Guardian

Lasers beams build and hold nanoscale structures
A form of matter held together by nothing more substantial than light has been created by physicists in the UK. The method, known as "optical binding", was used to glue together about 100 polystyrene beads – each 400-nanometres in diameter – in a flat two-dimensional structure. Colin Bain from the University of Durham and Christopher Mellor from the National Institute for Medical Research say the phenomenon might one day provide a simple way to construct, or reconfigure, nanoscale structures. "It is an entirely new way of making regular nanostructures," said Bain. He adds that changing the parameters of the laser used, or the shape of the particles, could generate very different types of structure. "It's a possible way of making much more complicated patterns," he says. "But we really don't understand the basic physics well enough."
New Scientist

Closer to man than ape
They already use basic tools, have rudimentary language and star in TV commercials, but now scientists have proof that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than other great apes. Genetic tests comparing DNA from humans, chimps, gorillas and orang-utans reveal striking similarities in the way chimps and humans evolve that set them apart from the others. The finding adds weight to a controversial proposal to scrap the long-used chimp genus "Pan" and reclassify the animals as members of the human family. The move would give chimps a new place in creation's pecking order alongside humans, the only survivor of the genus Homo.
The Guardian

Spacecraft skin 'heals' itself
A material that could enable spacecraft to automatically "heal" punctures and leaks is being tested in simulated space conditions on Earth. The self-healing spacecraft skin is being developed by Ian Bond and Richard Trask from the University of Bristol, UK, as part of a European Space Agency project. The researchers have taken inspiration from human skin, which heals a cut by exposing blood to air, which congeals to forms a protective scab. "The analogy is the vascular system of the human body," Bond said. "The system needs to be completely autonomous."
New Scientist

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