News in brief

September 27, 2012

Parody prize

Fishy research rewarded

A demonstration that brain researchers can detect meaningful neural activity in dead fish was among the research projects honoured in this year's Ig Nobel prizes, an annual parody of prestigious awards by the American magazine the Annals of Improbable Research. The neuroscience prize this year went to four academics from the US who demonstrated that researchers using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and simple statistics could see meaningful brain activity anywhere - even in a dead salmon. The researchers' paper, "Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic salmon: An argument for proper multiple comparisons correction", was published in the Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results. Other categories included an anatomy prize that went to Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal and his former doctoral student Jennifer Pokorny for discovering that chimpanzees can identify each other from photographs of their backsides.

Postgraduate funding

Elephantine task

A social enterprise is hoping to fund postgraduate students using a new "crowdsourcing" website. Juan Guerra, the founder of StudentFunder, said he believed the online fundraising platform, which asks members of the public to donate to specific causes, could "revolutionise the way postgraduate students fund their education". He added that StudentFunder "is a way for all of us who have been lucky to repay life's kindness forward to the next generation". The Cranfield MBA graduate is publicising his start-up business by trekking across the Alps dressed as an elephant. Mr Guerra said that the Carthaginian general Hannibal undertook a similar journey 2,000 years ago - with a troop of elephants - which "became a symbol for thinking out of the box and achieving the impossible". For more details, visit


Doctorals in the house

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is to open five new doctoral centres focused on engineering. Announced last week by universities and science minister David Willetts, the £14 million investment will establish a centre in innovative manufacturing in emergent macromolecular therapies at University College London, another in innovative manufacturing in continuous manufacturing and crystallisation at the University of Strathclyde and a centre in ultra precision, being run jointly by Cranfield University and the University of Cambridge. An industrial doctorate centre in composites manufacture at the University of Bristol and a centre of advanced training for engineering doctorates based at Swansea University will also be set up.

Social science

Census and sensibility

Ending the UK's national census will harm social science research by government and the academy, MPs have warned. The Commons Science and Technology Committee examined whether the information gathered once a decade by the census - whose 2011 iteration is expected to be its last - could be obtained by other means. It concluded that although other smaller social science surveys and administrative data overlapped, they were generally dependent on the census for calibration. The committee was also unconvinced that such sources would scale up or offer a similarly rich data source for less money than the census.

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