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NORMAL ARCHIVE

Oral link to arthritis

Research has shown higher rates of gum disease and increased levels of an oral bacterium in individuals at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. This suggests both may be triggers for the development of the disease. The work, led by Dr Kulveer Mankia, concludes that gum disease may be a legitimate target to explore for preventive intervention in rheumatoid arthritis.

Biomedical Sciences

Major structures in foetal hearts are formed in just four days, according to a Leeds study that used the latest imaging techniques. With this knowledge, doctors could eventually be able to monitor babies during this critical development phase and intervene if problems occur. It’s thought that one in 10 miscarriages is caused by the failure of the heart to form.

The most remarkable changes in foetal hearts occur 124 days into pregnancy. Within this time, the muscle tissue rapidly organises and cardiac fibres are laid down to form the helix shape of the heart. The research team, led by Dr Eleftheria Pervolaraki, also identified two proteins critical to the heart’s development. Levels of connexin 40 and 43 increase during its growth period, helping cells to communicate.

Chemical and Process Engineering

Leeds scientists are using the principles of light to measure the strength of concrete, giving industry an understanding of when it could fracture.

In a new approach, a thin layer of ‘birefringent’ coating is applied to concrete beams. When the beam is loaded, its birefringent properties split light waves in different directions according to the stress in each area. The waves reflect back to a photonic camera which takes a picture showing where stress levels are most extreme. While the coating is not new, this is the first time it’s been used to assess the toughness of concrete against fractures. “This methodology could help assess the strength of a wide range of new composite materials in future,” says research lead Dr Joseph Antony.

Medicine

Behavioural activation can help prevent older people with mild depression from developing a more severe clinical form, Leeds research finds. A treatment was delivered over 10 weeks through face-to-face and telephone contact, and encouraged patients to re-engage with social activities that bring pleasure and improve mood. “During treatment, people are encouraged to think about alternative ways to remain mentally and physically active,” explains trial coordinator Dr Gemma Traviss-Turner.

A study compared two groups of patients aged 65 and older who had mild depression. Half the participants were given access to behavioural activation, whilst the other half visited their GP. Four months later, behavioural activation had reduced more serious symptoms of depression. Plans are now under way to train NHS therapists in this low-cost intervention.

Media and Communication

“Can you feel the music?” asked Digital media specialist Dr Joanne Armitage at the British Science Festival this year. Joanne was the recipient of the British Science Association’s Daphne Oram Award for Digital Innovation. During her prize lecture, she demonstrated how she uses vibrating (haptic) devices like bespoke belts and cushions to enhance musical experiences.

“It was exciting to be a part of the British Science Festival and to discuss my work with a new audience. I was particularly honoured to have received the award lecture in the name of sonic innovator Daphne Oram.”

Joanne is also one half of the ‘Algobabez’, a musical duo producing rave music made from algorithms. The pair use programming language SuperCollider to generate live music in clubs and concert halls.

Sociology

A June colloquium explored the public’s understanding of rising inequality. Presenting national and comparative research, speakers raised questions about how these perceptions shape support for certain political and policy responses to poverty, welfare and redistribution. The colloquium was organised in collaboration with the Leeds Inequalities Research Network which comprises 20 research centres and is complementing the establishment of a new MSc Inequalities and Social Science.

Leeds University Business School

New research into the legal profession shows that progress is being made in creating a more diverse sector but that women and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors still face career progression barriers. The research was commissioned and published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and is the most extensive of its type.

Led by Professor Jennifer Tomlinson, the research analysed data of more than 194,000 solicitors between 1970 and 2016. It showed that the proportion of women and BAME people entering the profession has risen significantly. However, career advancement remains an issue as partnerships remain male dominated with just one third of partners female. The best opportunities for females of all ethnicities to become a partner were in small firms, as is the case for BAME males.

Design

“I don’t get oily when walking,” a team of Textiles researchers were told whilst investigating the use of fluorocarbons in raingear. The comment came from a study which asked outdoor enthusiasts how they use their clothing. Harmful fluorocarbons are used in waterproof jackets to repel rain and oil. Their use in clothing manufacturing has raised concern from legislation bodies and environmentalists alike, with some manufacturers switching to alternative coatings.

Leeds research found that fluorocarbons outperformed newer fabrics only in their oil repellency. Water resistance, which 82% of participants considered the most important factor, was unaffected. Sustainability is a growing concern within the clothing industry and “can be achieved through better chemistry,” says Dr Richard Blackburn.

English

Twenty years ago, he taught creative writing at Leeds. Now, world-renowned West Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage has returned as the University’s first Professor of poetry. Dr Fiona Becket, Head of the School of English, said: “Current and future students for many years to come will be extremely excited to have the opportunity to hear and talk to Simon, and to be taught by him.”

Music

The School of Music is making room for a whopping 27 new Steinway pianos. Along with a combination of uprights, baby grands and a concert grand shipped from the Steinway & Sons factory the School has been given an All-Steinway School status. Over 400 students will benefit from the £742,000 investment which will make Leeds the first Russell Group university to exclusively use the instruments.

Robotics

A conference on robot use in infrastructure brought experts from across the UK to Leeds in June. A team of Leeds and Birmingham scientists presented ‘Lucie’, a mobile long-lived robot that learns and adapts within her environment to then monitor real-world infrastructure. Other Leeds projects demonstrated a pipe inspection robot that is powered wirelessly and drones to scan and repair potholes using 3D printing.

East Asian Studies

Professor of Chinese Don Rimmington was a pioneering member of the School of East Asian Studies for several decades. Now he has a constant presence on the fourth floor of the Michael Sadler building, which has been named ‘The Don Rimmington Foyer’ in his honour. Alumni attended a special ceremony that saw Don unveil the foyer’s new plaque.

French

In September a conference marked the 55th anniversary of Algerian independence and almost two decades since the ‘memory boom’ publication of various confessional documents written by participants on both sides of the Algerian War. ‘Rupture, Repression, Repetition? The Algerian War of Independence in the Present’ examined the legacies of the Algerian War in philosophical and historical figurations of the present.

Earth and Environment

Organic matter found in deep mantle rocks from the Pacific has tripled the estimated depth limit for life. Chemical analysis of the matter, which was transported from up to 12km below the surface, resembles molecular signatures of microbial life. “This suggests the water-rich, low-temperature zones in the mantle may represent one of Earth’s largest hidden microbial ecosystems,” says Dr Ivan Savov.

Mathematics

Listeners to Radio 4’s Today programme are regularly foxed by Mathematics puzzles from Leeds. The questions originate in the the UKMT Mathematical Challenge, organised by the UK Mathematics Trust which is based at Leeds. The Trust aims to advance the education of young people in mathematics, organising events to stimulate mathematical thinking and develop problem-solving. More than 650,000 secondary school pupils participate in Mathematical Challenge events each year.

A weather eye on wildlife

Scientists are developing a technique to monitor insects using weather radar. Researchers from Leeds, the University of Exeter and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science are developing machine learning to automatically recognise and quantify the diversity of insects within weather data – unlocking a treasure trove of information about our wildlife at a time when insect populations crucial to the food chain are falling sharply.

Network of volunteers will help update dialect survey

Seventy years ago, nine Leeds researchers set out to record and map dialects from all corners of the country, carrying out the most comprehensive survey of English dialects ever conducted. Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund the survey will now be updated and digitised. Dr Fiona Douglas from the School of English, who is leading, said: “The project will preserve this invaluable cultural legacy for future generations.”

The benefits of abstinence

People taking part in Dry January feel immediate physical, psychological and emotional benefits, according to the first major study of participants’ experiences of the popular challenge. Each year, around five million adults end the festive season by giving up alcohol for January. Research led by Dr Henry Yeomans sought to understand its popularity by analysing people’s response to participating. Unlike many government health campaigns from around the world, Dry January reinforces the positive experiences of abstaining from alcohol, rather than highlighting the impacts of drinking alcohol. The study suggests a need to reshape alcohol policies in light of the popularity and apparent success of this campaign.

Helping babies eat better

New compositional thresholds for baby food are outlined in the draft Nutrient Profile Model, developed by the School of Food Science and Nutrition and the School of Medicine in collaboration with the World Health Organisation. It promotes a healthy diet in infants and young children by suggesting labelling improvements, curbing misleading marketing and tightening limits on levels of sugar and salt.

Thoughts of spring

The sights and sounds of a British spring were captured by a research project to encourage nature writing in the UK. Led by School of English staff, Land Lines invited people to document their favourite places and their observations of wildlife – such as an encounter with a fox or the sound of birdsong. Participants could upload words and photographs to a website hosted by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which funded the project.

Towards greener travel

Leeds is leading a research group examining how to rapidly decarbonise UK transport. The DecarboN8 network – including members of the north’s eight most research intensive universities – will focus on tackling emissions from cars, vans, buses, lorries and trains which, among them, create a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. It will also examine emissions from the construction and maintenance of vehicles and infrastructure.

Activism by numbers

The Mathematics for Social Activism conference took place last June, focusing on using mathematics and data to drive social progress by bringing together mathematicians, data analysts, social scientists and practitioners from academia, NGOs and government. Topics included using data and mathematical modelling to understand and tackle challenges such as climate change, poverty, inequality, social unrest and polarisation in society, effective communication and democratic decision making.

Gentleman Jack and Jill

A book by Honorary Research Fellow Dr Jill Liddington inspired the hit BBC1 drama series Gentleman Jack. Dr Liddington’s book, Female Fortune: the Anne Lister Diaries 1833–36, explores the story of the 19th century Yorkshire heiress, scholar, traveller, businesswoman and LGBTQ+ trailblazer, through her detailed and part-coded diaries. The book inspired Bafta-winning writer Sally Wainright to script the series, which also featured historian Anne Choma (MA English Literature 1994) as an adviser for the production.

Let’s get digital

A major international research centre into digital technologies in the workplace is being established at the universities of Leeds and Sussex. The £6.5 million Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (DigIT) will focus on the impact of digital technologies on employers, employees, job seekers and regulators. Its research will provide recommendations about how digital technology can be used effectively in the world of work.

The crystal amaze

This amazing image of paracetamol crystal exhibiting colours under polarised light won a string of accolades for PhD student Alexandru Moldovan. He uses computational tools and atomic force microscopy to examine the interactions between crystal surfaces.

Researchers’ Midas touch

The thinnest free-standing gold ever produced has been created at Leeds. It could have widespread applications in medicine, electronics and chemistry. Flexible gold flakes, just two atoms thick, could speed up reactions in a range of industrial processes and form the basis of components for bendable screens, electronic inks and transparent conducting displays. The material could also form the basis of medical diagnostics and water purification systems.

A sole symbol of horror

From one side, it’s the sole of a child’s shoe; turned over, a chilling symbol of the Holocaust. The sole was cut from a Jewish religious scroll when synagogues were looted after the deportation of Salonika’s Jews to Auschwitz – and is now the subject of research at Leeds. The sole is one of a number of Jewish objects and rare books amassed by pioneering scholar Cecil Roth. After his death, the University acquired the collection, which is now being made available online thanks to donor funding. Outreach activities will promote engagement with the collection, highlighting Roth’s contribution to the study of Jewish life.

Stay healthy with a tickle

Tickling the ear with a small electrical current may help to slow down one of the effects of ageing, according to new research. Scientists found that a short daily therapy delivering a painless electrical current to the ear led to physiological and wellbeing improvements. They believe it could help protect against chronic diseases of ageing – high blood pressure, heart disease and atrial fibrillation.

Protein key to brain diseases

A protein complex plays a key role in preventing the build-up of toxic plaques in the brain linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, according to new research.

Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s are linked to proteins that “clump together” in brain cells, causing progressive dysfunction and death of the cells. Working with international colleagues, Leeds researchers discovered that the nascent polypeptide-associated complex (NAC) helps prevent this happening. Professor Sheena Radford FRS, who led the Leeds team, said: “By understanding the mechanism of how NAC works, we are closer to developing a molecule to slow down or even prevent degenerative diseases.”

Examined by robots

Colonoscopy is a crucial weapon in the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer, one of the biggest killers in the west. But it can be a difficult procedure, as Pietro Valdastri, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, says: “It involves pushing a tube through the large intestine and is usually carried out under anaesthetic. Often, it becomes too painful to proceed or fails altogether.”

The alternative, developed by Pietro and his team, takes a different approach, using a robotic arm of controllable magnets to draw a thinner tube through the intestine. Being able to pivot its camera in three dimensions enables surgeons to better navigate and get a clearer picture of tell-tale polyps, which need to be removed. Clinical trials begin at St James’s Hospital in Leeds this year and, if successful, the technique could become a routine procedure in five years.