Thursday, 31 January 2013

10 Great Sciency Stories from the University of Sheffield in 2012

Leaky water pipes problem solved by Sheffield engineers
With some 20-40% of the country’s piped water supply being lost through leaks and damaged pipes, a means of quickly and accurately finding the location of leaks has long been a capability that water engineers wanted.

But existing methods, based on acoustic techniques only had a short range, especially in plastic water pipes, and were inaccurate.

A new tecnnology pioneered at the Univesity of Sheffiel (UoS) takes a very different approach by sending a pressure wave along the pipe. The wave is reflected back by any leaks or other damage and the equipment can then locate the site of the fault to within 1m (within 20cm in plastic pipes)

The technology, led by Professor Stephen Beck in the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering is not being trailled by Yorkshire Water.(Read more)

University of Sheffield researchers announce finding of particle thought to be Higgs boson
A team led by Dr Dan Tovey have been heavily involved in the Large Hadron Collider experiment at CERN, and were understandably chuffed to hear the news in 2012 of strong evidence for the Higgs Boson.
The team, together with other universities, had created the SCT tracking detector, which is located right at the centre of ATLAS, surrounding the region where all the collisions will take place, and had also been involved in writing the millions of lines of code for the software that processes the huge amounts of data from the experiments. (Read more, and more, and more ).

The SCT (ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN)

Scientists to investigate 'magic bullet' cancer therapy
Higher rates of the most deadly cancers, such as colorectal and breast cancer, have been linked to obesity or high fat diets because cancer cells use fat to grow larger and more dangerous. They are able to uptake fat by producing large amounts of structures on their surfaces called receptors, which allow chemicals to bind with the cell.

Dr Irene Canton, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Biomedical Science, plans to produce smart nanoparticles that are taken up by two of the main receptors, known as SR-B1 and CD36. These nanoparticles could then be used to carry therapies directly to the cancer cells, without affecting healthy cells. (Read more)

Space tornadoes power the atmosphere of the Sun
One aspect of the Sun that has long puzzled astronomers is that the atmosphere around the Sun is much hotter than its surface. Clues to the cause of this have been discovered by Applied mathematicians Professor Robertus Erdélyi and Dr Viktor Fedun who, working with teams at other universities, have discovered that huge 1,000 mile wide magnetic tornadoes cover the surface of the Sun and carry magnetic energy from the interior of the Sun to its atmosphere. This is of interest as it may have applications in fusion power or other advanced energy production techniques in the future.(Read more)

Magnetic Solar Tornadoes Credits: Wedemeyer-Böhm et al. (2012). Image produced with VAPOR.)

Study shows pollution levels in some kitchens are higher than city centre hotspots
Air Pollution is something that people generally associate with urban outdoor areas, but researchers from the Faculty of Engineering, ledy by Prof Vida Sharifi, have found that nitrogen dioxide levels in the kitchen of the city centre flat with a gas cooker were three times higher than the concentrations measured outside the property and well above those recommended in UK Indoor Air Quality Guidance (read the paper here)

Prof Sharifi comments that “"We spend 90 per cent of our time indoors and work hard to make our homes warm, secure and comfortable, but we rarely think about the pollution we might be breathing in… as we make our homes more airtight to reduce heating costs, we are likely to be exposed to higher levels of indoor pollution, with potential impacts on our health." (Read more, and more)

Landmark study to pave the way for diabetes treatment of the future
Researchers have been awarded over £310,000 to carry out a study that could help revolutionise the way clinicians treat the pain experienced by thousands of people with diabetes. The research represents the first major study to investigate how the brain processes the pain often caused by diabetes, potentially paving the way for new therapies in the future.

A team led by Professor Solomon Tesfaye, Consultant Physician and Honorary Professor of Diabetic Medicine, has been awarded a grant to investigate the cause of debilitiating diabetes related pain felt by some 600,000 people in the UK. Previous research in Sheffield has shown that an area of the brain, called the thalamus, plays a crucial role in the condition, becoming engorged with blood in those that suffer the condition.

The study aims to establish whether the abnormal pattern of blood flow in the thalamus is causing the pain, or whether it is actually a response to the pain itself. (Read more)

The Thalamus is right here...

New research goes down the drain
Kieran Williams and Professor Adrian Saul of the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering are working with local roof drainage specialists Fullflow to develop their symphonic roof drainage system for large buildings.

“Syphonic” drainage is much more efficient than normal “gravity fed” systems and require significantly fewer downpipes, so it is no surprise that Fullflow have worked on prestigious projects ranging from Farnborough Airport to a Ford Motor Company production facility in Mexico. (Read more)

Ancient plant-fungal partnerships reveal how the world became green
Dr Katie Field, of the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences is leading a team that is investigating the origins of the symbiotic relationship that plants share with the fungi that coat their roots. Dr Field comments that “, said: "Our research shows for the first time how Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems were initiated in partnership with soil dwelling fungi nearly half a billion years ago and how these fungi played a crucial role in enabling plants to diversify into fantastically rich and biodiverse modern floras….the fungal symbiotic efficiency of the more sophisticated, recently evolved land plants with complex organs such as leaves and roots, increased as CO2 levels decreased. (Read more, and more)

Flax root cortical cells containing paired arbuscules

Virtual microscope lens delivers a real revolution in imaging
Professor John Rodenburg, of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering has attracted significant funding and investment for his fascinating technique of microscope imaging that requires no lenses! Instead, it relies on computer processing of a number of diffraction images - something that was previously thought to be too complicated to compute.

Prof Rodenburg has spun off his technology into a company called Phase Focus which has already As the lens is the most expensive part of a microscope, the ability to dispence with it offers huge potential to reduce the cost and size of imaging systems. eaaction imagesinvented a process that can generate high definition images of an object without the need for the high quality lenses that account for a significant element of the cost of high-performance microscopes.

The system is also able to see, to a degree, within objects, which opens up other possible uses, including those in the contact lens and opthalmic industries. (Read more, and more, and more)

Ultrasound can now monitor the health of your car engine
Rob Dwyer-Joyce, Professor of Lubrication Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering has devised a method of using ultrasound to measure how efficiently an engine’s pistons are moving up and down inside their cylinders and is now ready to commercialise the technology.

“There is a real urgency, now, to improve energy consumption in cars,” says Professor Dwyer-Joyce. “Our method will allow engine manufacturers to adjust lubrication levels with confidence and ensure they are using the optimum level for any particular engine, rather than over-lubricating to ensure engine safety. The energy used by the piston rings alone amounts to around 4p in every litre of fuel – there is a lot at stake in getting the lubrication right.”

Because cylinders are enclosed spaces, it is not easy to test what is going on inside. Computer models don’t effectively allow for changes as an engine speeds up and gets hotter, and more invasive methods – cutting open the cylinder – interfere too much with the mechanism to get an accurate test result.

The Sheffield team are measuring the lubricant film by transmitting ultrasonic pulses through the cylinder wall from sensors attached to the outside. The reflections from these pulses can then be recorded and measured.(Read more)

Image Sources
Solar Tornado, Thalmus, Mycorrhiza

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