Saturday, 26 January 2013

10 Great Sciency Stories from UoN in 2012

January : Making sure the food we grow is good enough
Dr Asgar Ali, an expert in postharvest biology, is leading a research team at the UoN Malaysian Campus that is looking at technologies that could reduce food loss after harvest. Dr Ali comments that “In developing countries losses of between 10 to 100 per cent have been recorded. Tropical countries like Malaysia have a particular problem because of the number of micro-organisms that exist due to humidity…”. One example of the research being undertaken is that of Mehdi Maqbool, a PhD student from Pakistan, who is looking at ways of developing edible coatings from natural Gum Arabic powder to extend the shelf life of fruit. (Read more)

February : The UK's largest prefabricated straw bale building is officially opened.
The Sutton Boningtom Campus of the UoN, situated a few miles to the south of the main campus, is now home to one of the largest straw bale building in Europe! The “Gateway Building” , which houses the Bioscience and Veterinary laboratories, has been constructed from 1,954 straw filled panels, using straw harvested just 200 yds away from the building. The building was designed by Make Architects who commented that “…we believe that environmental awareness should not be viewed as a limitation of architectural potential, but as an exciting challenge that will produce a new generation of innovative and environmentally responsible buildings”. (Read more)

The Gateway Building

Mar : Anti-microbial catheter to cut infection risk for dialysis patients
Researchers, led by Dr Roger Bayston, at the UoN School of Clinical Sciences, have developed a novel catheter material for dialysis that is resistant to infectious bacteria for up to 100 days - some 20 times that of current catheter types. The technology involves a patented process in which the silicone catheter mateiria is bathed in a mix of chemicals and anti-microbial agents. The chemicals cause the silicone to swell, allowing the agents to enter the polymer network. Once the silicone is removed from the bath it shrinks and the agents cannot escape from the polymer - but, critically, they are able to move around within the structure and, as they do so, they kill any pathogens that are in contact with the silicone surface. (Read more)

May : The UoN and Promethean Particles take lead on €10m nano-research project
The UoN are managing the large SHYMAN project, with spin off technology company Promethean (based at BioCity) as lead manufacturing company. The project aims to scale up the “hydrothermal” production process of making inorganic nanoparticles. The process involves the mixng of hot pressurised water with a cold metal salt solution, resulting in the metal salt releasing the metal as nanoparticles. This process is inherently more environmentally friendly than other methods of making nanopaorticles and has been known about for decades - but only as a difficult-to-reproduce batch process. Prometheans revolutionary mixing technology offers the chance to make these particles in a much more efficient continuous process. (Read more)

TiO2 Nanoparticles With an average particle size around 10nm and low particle size distribution

May : Rolls-Royce Innovation Award for FreeHex
An “Excellence through Innovation” award has been presented to Professor Dragos Axinte and Dr John Allen by Rolls Royce for a revolutionary new machining robot, called “FreeeHex” that can operate in small difficult-to-reach locations. Developed at the UoN Rolls Royce University Technology Centre (UTC), FreeHex has already become a technology of interest to a number on industries, including Formula 1. Some clever thinking has gone on look at each area of the machines design to ensure that FreeHex has a small size and yet can work to a high accuracy and cut metal at an acceptable speed. (Read more)

Sep : World's most powerful camera records first images in hunt for Dark Energy
Science questions don’t get much bigger than “Why is the Universe expanding at an accelerating rate?”. Answers to this conundrum might come from the 570Megapixel “Dark Energy Camera” which has been installed in a high altitude Chilean telescope. UoN astomomers Prof Alfonso Arag√≥n-Salamanca, Dr Meghan Gray and, Professor Ed Copeland are part of the multi-university team that will be interpreting the images and data from the camera in the hope that it gives some clue about the nature of “Dark Energy”, the mysterious energy that may make up 75% of the universe. (Read more)

The Victor M Blanco telecope, where the camera is installed

Sep : E.ON and University combine to develop 'super batteries'
Prof George Chen is leading work at the UoN (is collaraboration with E.ON) to develop so called “super capacitors” that can store large amounts of electricity at an economical cost. This can then be used as a reserve source of “surge” electricity when there are sudden demands on the National Grid.

The supercapacitors are constructed using carbon nanotubes that have been modified using advanced battery materials and their inherently long life (high number of charge/discharge cycles) makes them a potential technology for future rechargeable battery applications in electric vehicles, the home and for electrical equipment such as laptops.

E.ON are investigating the possibility of retrofitting supercapacitors in existing homes by using the E.ON research house (located on the main UoN campus) as a testbed. Read more here.(Read more , also fascinating presentation here)

Sep : Mutant parasite could stop malaria in its tracks
Researcher led by Dr Rita Tewari (and including Dr David Guttery, Dr Benoit Poulin and Dr Eva Patzewitz) in the Centre for Genetics and Genomics has resulted in the ability to disable one of the proteins mosquitos manufacture during their complicated life cycle - and this disabling means that the parasites cannot break through the gut wall of humans into the blood stream. The research is an important tool in the fight against maleria. (Read more, read open access paper here)

Ookinete stage of the malaria lifecycle - (i) Typcial ookinete, tip at top of organism is used to penetrate gut wall, (ii) mutated ookinete showing deformed tip. (iii) detail of typical tip showing ducts (D) and collar ( C) (iv) detail of mutated ookinete showing fewer ducts, shorter collar and less conical shape. Click to enlarge.

Oct : Nottingham retaining UKs world-class manufacturing skills
It’s worth remembering that a University can have all the academics it wants, but unless it has skilled people to, you know, make stuff, the university will not be successful. And that kind of skilled technical ability to manufacture components and equipment needs nurturing and developing over a period of years. Some time ago, the UoN realised that their retiring technicians were not being replaced by younger blood - so the UoN set up a Trainee Technician Programme to develop technicians for the future.

One indicator of how successful this programme has been is that trainees Ben Shaw and Joe Bellis, who specialise in CNC milling and CNC turning respectively, have made it to the final four of the UK heats for the World Skills competition and could end up competing with the worlds best technicians in July 2013. (Both won Silver Medals in their respective categories)

NSB wishes them all the very best. Craftsmen like Ben and Joe are the bedrock of British Engineering, and NSB salutes them.(Read more)

Nov : Rare parasitic fungi could have anti-flammatory benefits
Scientists led by Dr Cornelia de Moor in the School of Pharmacy have uncovered the mechanism by which cordyceptin ,a chemical in a rare Tibetan fungi, acts as an anti-inflammatory and may have applications in controlling asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, renal failure and stroke damage. Importantly, the chemical works in a different way to other anti-inflammatory drugs and may be of use in patients who do not respond to standard treatments.

But, showing how complicated biological systems can be, the chemical may also have adverse effects on normal wound healing and on the natural defences against infectious diseases.(Read more)

Cordyceptin, obviously...

Image Sources
Nanoparticles, ookinete, cordyceptin

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