Monthly Archives: October 2015

How Minecraft could help teach chemistry’s building blocks of life

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Converation.

By Mark Lorch, Senior Lecturer in Biological Chemistry, and Joel Mills, technology enhanced education

Children should be playing more computer games in school. That idea might enrage you if you think kids today already spend too much time staring at screens or if you are already sick of your offspring’s incessant prattling about fighting zombies and the like. But hear me out. Read more

Regrowing limbs: fossils reveal ancient secrets of salamander ancestors

Feuersalamander. Credit: Aah-Yeah, CC BY

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Conversation.

By Charlotte Stephenson, PhD Candidate in Palaeoenvironments and Palaeobotany

The natural world can be a dangerous place. With constant competition for food, shelter and a mate, it’s more than likely that things will end up getting violent. In the unfortunate event of a serious injury, such as the loss of a limb, what do you do? Well, in the case of the amphibian salamander, you simply grow a new one. Read more

University of Hull sleep expert reveals how to improve your slumber by switching off

Smartphone use at night

A sleep expert from the University of Hull has partnered with Vodafone Broadband to report upon a study of how digital devices are affecting the nation’s sleep.

The new research, commissioned by Vodafone Broadband, reveals we are a nation starved of sleep, with over 18 million Brits waking up every night to send emails or texts.

The study found that 30 per cent of commuters missed their stops on public transport, 35 per cent arrive at work with clothes inside out, and 28 per cent check emails or texts during the night.

Vodafone partnered with sleep expert Professor John Groeger, of the Department of Psychology, to evaluate the survey’s findings and offer expert opinion.

Professor Groeger said, “Most of us are overdrawn at the Bank of Sleep, and we simply can’t afford to spend precious sleep time on devices.”

“Device use just before bed, or when we wake in the night, can make restless sleep caused by stress at work even worse. Light from screens can delay sleep, and pre-sleep device use can increase worry, thus making it more difficult to fall asleep when we wish to.”

“Changing our pre-sleep routines, and what we do when we wake in the night, can hugely improve our sleep quality.”

Vodafone Broadband has introduced a new ‘app’ which allows users to remotely switch off internet access on selected devices connected to their home hub.

On October 26th and 27th John did 13 radio interviews* and also appeared on SKY’s Sunrise breakfast programme, discussing the findings and their implications.

*Sky News Radio, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC Hereford & Worcester, Viking FM, KCFM, Central (Stirling), Sunrise Yorkshire (Bradford), New Style Radio (Birmingham), British Forces Broadcasting Service, Manx Radio, Downtown Radio (Belfast), Big City Radio (Birmingham), SFM Radio (Sittingbourne).

Prestigious engineering medal awarded to University of Hull student for second successive year

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by the University of Hull.

Brian Houston, 28, whose research has included work for Siemens, has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers Medal.

The award, by the prestigious Smeatonian Society, is only awarded once per year to a final-year student or young researcher.

It is the second year running a University of Hull student has won the award, after Mechanical Engineering student Adam Stephenson was chosen by the society to receive the medal last year. Read more

Could it be a bleating sheep? No, it’s the common snipe.

Research carried out by Professor Roland Ennos has been featured recently on the BBC’s “The One Show” after viewers were asked to identify an unusual sound heard on the moors in the Peak District.

The programme’s reporter said that in the past the sound echoing across the moors had been likened to that of a sheep bleating.  In fact it’s the unusual noise made by the male common snipe (Gallinago gallinago), a species of wading bird, during spring to attract a potential mate.

This noise is made in a novel way and is not a vocal sound, but is made by their tail feathers as the birds descend.

Professor Ennos’s research looked into how the snipe make their drumming sound. The research team placed the outer tail feather in a wind tunnel and filmed their movements using a high speed video. The films revealed that the tail feather flaps backwards and forwards, and as the birds dive they can create this ‘drumming’ noise.

Professor Ennos said: “The tail feather has special adaptations, which means it acts just like a flag blowing in the wind, which has not been seen before. By flying fast and making a lot of noise the male birds show prospective mates how fit they are. They dive to increase their speed and make a more attractive high-pitched sound.”

Lab on a Chip research wins digital award

The University of Hull’s pioneering ‘Lab on a Chip’ research has been recognised at the inaugural Hull and East Yorkshire Digital Awards.

Lab on a Chip won the award for Best Emerging Technology at the ceremony at the new C4Di headquarters on 22nd October.

Lab on a Chip is an innovative technology that enables scientists to build their ‘labs’ on chips – shrinking a whole laboratory, and all basic functions carrier out there, to chip size.

The research has led to significant developments in the fields of chemistry and biology, having been an international leader in the field for over 20 years.

Best Emergency Technology award, winner Lab-on-a-Chip. Pictured, from left, Amy Dawson, Rory Cellan-Jones, presenting the award James Greenwood digital director Strawberry and John Greenman Picture: Jerome Ellerby

Best Emergency Technology award, winner Lab-on-a-Chip.
Pictured, from left, Amy Dawson, Rory Cellan-Jones, presenting the award James Greenwood digital director Strawberry and John Greenman
Picture: Jerome Ellerby

Lab on a Chip has a range of applications, which includes producing individualised treatment plans for patients with cancer, heart or lung disease by studying living tissues on the chip.

It is also being developed to test for pathogens in water in resource-poor countries where water monitoring facilities are scarce.

The multidisciplinary research is carried out by academic staff from the areas of chemistry, engineering, physics, biology and medicine.

Professor John Greenman, a researcher in the Lab on a Chip group and Head of the School of Biological, Biomedical and Environmental Sciences said, “It’s fantastic that the pioneering work of many spread across the Faculty of Science and Engineering was recognised.”

“Understanding how biological processes work is the start of us being able to design new ways of treating disease, as well as enabling us to use existing drugs in a smarter way.”

The University had a strong presence in the awards with six shortlisted entries in total.

These included Adam Boyne, a Computer Science graduate who helped found video game firm BetaJester, who was shortlisted in the Young Digital Person of the Year Award.

Seed Software, based in the Department of Computer Science, which develops high-end software for UK fire services, was shortlisted in the Best Digital innovation category.

Computer Science graduates were also shortlisted for their software firm Arc Studio, which has expanded 50 per cent since launching a year ago, being shortlisted in the Best Digital Start-up category.

Lab-on-a-chip was also shortlisted in the Best Hardware category.

Awesome Jobs: Dr Rebecca Williams – Volcanologist

Geologist and volcanologist Dr Rebecca Williams was featured recently in the “i” newspaper’s (part of the Independent) column The Shift, which highlights fascinating jobs.

Dr Williams talks in the article about her interest in volcanoes starting while studying A-Level geography, but that the idea of being a volcanologist seemed so ‘out there’ she initially didn’t believe it was achievable. As a university student studying geology, she heard that the Hawaii Volcano Observatory took volunteers. After being accepted on their programme, Dr Williams spent six months as a gas geochemist, including monitoring gas emissions from Kilauea volcano, and it was at this point she realised you could do this as a career.

Currently a Lecturer in Volcanology, Department of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Dr Williams explains in the column how she divides her time between teaching and research.  Her main area of research is volcanic flows, involving studying lahars (the flow of debris, mud and water down from a volcano) and pyroclastic density currents (the fast-flowing currents of hot gas and rock from an explosive eruption).

“I look at ancient deposits and try to understand how they were formed, and from that understand the behaviour of different flows,” Dr Williams said.

“You can’t observe them in action, except from a long way away, and then they are shrouded in ash clouds.”

The University’s new flume, constructed by Dr Williams, which in the GEES flume lab, simulates lahars, enabling her to investigate these hazardous flows, helping people who live in volcanic regions by predicting which areas might be affected.

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