“Meerkat tunnels are more complex than the London Underground,” says Adam Booth, Lecturer in Exploration Geophysics. As a researcher on the BBC series Animals with Cameras, Adam used ground-penetrating radar to map the metropolises of mammals that live underground. “Animals only dig tunnels if they need to,” says Adam. “By mapping systematic changes to their burrow architecture we can understand more about their behaviour.” With non-invasive radar, the researchers generate images of subsurface structures whilst leaving the ground undisturbed. “Using the latest 3D positioning we can map out a tunnel down to the finest few centimetres.”
Moles, too, are the subject of Adam’s geophysical studies. Monitoring time-lapse changes to a mole tunnel network, Adam has found that the distribution of molehills at the surface belies the complex geometry of the tunnels beneath.
A biological “sticking plaster” created by the body to prevent bacteria from penetrating open wounds has been discovered. The protein film rapidly forms over a cut as part of the natural clotting process and provides protection for at least 12 hours. “We believe this bio-film gives the immune system time to marshal its defences,” says Professor Robert Ariens. His findings change scientific understanding of clotting. Until now, the precise structure of clotting fibres was puzzling – they appeared never-ending, just coiling themselves around platelets and red blood cells. But, by using powerful imaging techniques, Leeds researchers have solved the mystery. “The fibres in fact reorganise their structure from a fibrous network into a sheet-like film at the point the clot comes into contact with air – creating the plaster,” says Robert.
When the School of Design’s Dr Richard Blackburn and School of Chemistry’s Professor Chris Rayner set out to research historical dye, little did they think it could unlock new treatments for diabetes. The humble flower chamomile, commonly used as a textile dye, sparked the discovery. To preserve the integrity of the chamomile dye molecule, the pair had developed a glucose-based extraction method. But a chance chat with Professor Gary Williamson in the School of Food Science and Nutrition led to a further application of this process. “We already knew of chamomile’s ability to reduce blood sugar levels,” says Gary, “but we weren’t sure how.” Could the compounds used by Richard and Chris hold the answer? They did. The three schools collaborated to identify four specific active compounds in chamomile that are able to control carbohydrate digestion, a crucial part of diabetes management. These compounds could have the potential to be extracted for medicinal application.
The School hosted the third annual Drama Teachers’ Conference, bringing teachers together from across the region and marking the School’s ongoing commitment to arts education. The event addressed the squeeze on the arts in schools in a positive and proactive way, and provided important network opportunities for teachers to re-energise their own practice by working with HE and industry. Representatives from Leeds Playhouse, York St John University and Leeds City Council also attended.
An abandoned shoebox in Skipton’s library held the key to the North Yorkshire town’s forgotten history. Unearthed after a century, its contents included a book written by 60 of the 800 German officers incarcerated in Skipton during the First World War. Now, thanks to German Lecturer Anne Buckley, their words are being translated and given new life in a book to be published next year. Academics, students and local volunteers are working their way through the 330 pages, which also contain sketches and poems that the prisoners smuggled out of the camp. The book was originally published in Munich in 1920 and it remains a mystery how a copy found its way back to Skipton. “I believe the officers wanted to document their captivity to show the people back in Germany that they had used their time productively,” says Anne.
See more about the project here
The first Kyoto-Leeds International Symposium brought collaboration between the University of Leeds and Kyoto University. Researchers from both institutions in the fields of science and technology, Civil and Mechanical Engineering, came together to discuss natural disaster identification, mitigation, prevention and response. As well as focusing on earthquake resilience, other subjects debated at the event included hydrology, geotechnics, data analytics and artificial intelligence.
Leeds first joined forces with Kyoto in 2017 when academics from Civil Engineering and Robotics visited Japan to further existing links in earthquake engineering, and to develop new partnerships. “Beyond the specific academic benefits, we’ve also demonstrated the value of international research collaboration and the variety of ways this can be sustained,” says Dr Raul Fuentes, Associate Professor in Infrastructure Engineering. The symposium was part of the British Council-managed Research and Education Network for Knowledge Economy Initiative.
Professor Andy Bell’s research focuses on the fabrication and modelling of piezoelectric materials. “Basically, they’re substances that generate an electric charge in response to applied mechanical stress,” he says. “And it’s reversible – meaning that the material is also stretched or compressed by applying a voltage.” Andy’s company, Ionix Advanced Technologies, grew from one of his student’s final-year projects. Today it produces ultrasonic transducers for the energy, nuclear, aerospace and process sectors. “We developed a new piezoelectric material that operates at much higher temperatures than the current market leader,” he says. “So it works in environments where conventional technology fails.” The company’s products are now in safety critical, plant monitoring operations across a number of industries.
Andy’s University research team are also looking at the potential of coupling piezoelectricity with magnetism to deliver novel sensing and data storage mechanisms.
In September the University hosted the Cities Reshaped Conference, which brought together a wide spectrum of thinkers about the nature of urban life. The event aimed to develop an understanding of urban planning, migration, gender, memory, and conflict resolution within city environments. Several Leeds academics presented their work, including English Professor Tony Crowley who discussed the role of murals in shaping contemporary Belfast. Others spoke about such diverse subjects as Reshaping Riyadh, Qualitative Space, and Megacities.
Dr Andrea Taylor of Leeds University Business School and the School of Earth and Environment has taken on co-leadership of the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) High Impact Weather (HIWeather) Communications Task Group. This initiative aims to improve the provision of weather warnings for disaster risk reduction throughout the world. The WMO is the specialised agency of the United Nations for meteorology.
UK mathematics teachers attended the 36th Mathematics Teachers and Advisers Conference in Leeds last summer. The School of Education’s Dr Matt Homer presented on the new Core Maths post-16 qualification, the policy background to the qualification and its developing provision nationally. Other topics included the new higher tier GCSE and activities to encourage mathematical thinking at A-level using Python and LaTeX.
Professor Helen Gleeson was shortlisted for Outstanding Research Supervisor of the Year in the THE Awards 2018. Helen is an experimental physicist who works in liquid crystals. Four of her PhD students were so inspired by Helen that they nominated her for the award. Helen has improved the support for students from diverse backgrounds, including creating International and Women’s Postgraduate Tutors.
Machine learning is helping Leeds researchers better understand the behaviour of pedestrians – a vital consideration in the development and introduction of automated vehicles. The PEDSIM simulator, developed in the School, includes a 4 metre x 9 metre rear projected walkable urban environment. Within this setting the team can replicate and conduct experiments whose results will facilitate the design of urban infrastructure, ultimately aiming to reduce pedestrian casualties.
Associate Professor Lydia Bleasdale is officially the OUP Law Teacher of the Year 2018. The distinguished award recognises the role teachers play in educating law students, as well as rewarding outstanding achievement in teaching. Lydia, who beat five other finalists, declares herself “completely overwhelmed” to have won. As Director of Community Engagement in the School of Law, Lydia has also supported hundreds of students in their pro-bono activities.
The Royal Historical Society awarded Dr Claire Eldridge the Gladstone Prize for her book From Empire to Exile: History and Memory within the Pied-Noir and Harki Communities 1962–2012. Her work challenges prevailing claims about the Algerian war to uncover a more complex story behind the perceived silence of France’s colonial past. This is the first time that a Leeds researcher has won the award.
Food scientists have found that certain food groups could affect the age at which the menopause begins. A high intake of healthy foods such as oily fish and fresh legumes was associated with a later onset of the menopause by up to three years, while a high consumption of refined white pasta and rice had associations with an earlier start of up to 18 months.
Academics from the School of Healthcare will be gathering scientific data to improve the quality of life of nursing home residents and staff. Working with two Leeds nursing homes, researchers will join Leeds Care Association to consult staff and residents on a range of areas where research evidence could generate improvements. These include nutrition, pressure care, falls and dentistry as well as the work environment and staffing.
Dr Alinka Greasley was nominated for a Health Humanities Medal (Inspiration Award category) for her project Hearing Aids for Music. The three-year interdisciplinary project brought together researchers in the fields of music psychology and clinical audiology and was the first large-scale investigation of how music experiences are affected by deafness. The award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council celebrates wellbeing through arts and humanities research.