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Sci-Tech bulletin

Christmas Conference 2007

A date for your diary: this year's Christmas Conference, featuring guest speakers, talks from Science and Technology departments and a poster competition for postgraduate students, will be held on Tuesday 18th December in the George Fox Building.

RCUK Business Plan Competition

The UK Research Councils' Business Plan Competition is open to UK-based postgraduates, postdocs and academic staff who have a business idea arising from their research that they want to develop further.

To enter you'll need to prepare a one page summary of your business idea and complete the application form (MS Word). Once accepted for the competition you will benefit from training through a two day commercialisation workshop.

The second phase of the competition will provide you with access to highly skilled experts with experience of research commercialisation. They will help to guide you in the preparation of a high quality business plan - the essential requirement for marketing your business idea to potential investors.

Prizes of up to 25,000 will be awarded to the business plans judged to have the best potential to help turn business ideas into reality.

MSc (by Research) Opportunities in Engineering

Lancaster Product Development Unit (LPDU), the Outreach Team of the Engineering Department, has five MSc Engineering (by Research) opportunities, each with a Significant Living Allowance. Three are focused on rapid manufacturing and two on sustainable product development. The titles of each one are given below:

Each one attracts a studentship that covers the Home/EU course registration fee and which provides a maintenance living allowance of 8500. Further details can be found here.

Funding Roundup

Newly funded research from across the faculty:

Grown your own - Health risks and benefits of producing and consuming your own food in urban areas

Barbara Maher - Geography - 8,866 - NERC

In the UK there are over 250,000 allotment holders, many in urban areas, and in city gardens fruit and vegetables are often being grown in regions known to have a legacy of environmental pollution.

Cultivating and eating 'home-grown' foods holds both risks and benefits. The most important pathway of pollutant transfer from urban soil to humans is through consumption of vegetables, fruit and herbs grown in gardens and allotments, and soil ingestion. There remain significant uncertainties about the risks posed by growing and producing food in urban areas (for example, the FSA 2006 chose only 6 urban allotment plots for a UK-wide risk assessment). However, producers of 'home grown' food can gain psychological and physiological benefits through physical and social activity, improved nutrition, self empowerment, and engaging with nature.

This pilot study sets out to identify and begin to address key questions, including: How do we assess simultaneous health risks and benefits of urban cultivation? How reliably can we quantify risks and benefits? How do we design research strategies that deal effectively with the extreme spatial heterogeneity of pollutants in urban allotment and garden soils? Can records of contemporary deposition and/or depositional history such as those recently obtained through bio-monitoring pollutants in trees and on leaves (Matzka & Maher, 1999) contribute to resolving spatial variations in city-wide pollutant concentrations?

Statistical advice and analysis for the NEOERICA dataset

Peter Diggle - Dept of Medicine - Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust - 65,912

NEOERICA is a collaborative project between the renal departments of Royal Salford (Hope) and Canterbury hospitals, which aims to develop better methods of early detection of incipient end-stage-renal-failure using routinely collected clinical primary care data.

Data from GP practices are transferred daily to a central server located within Hope Hospital. Currently, the data can be queried manually, and clinical data for any patient can be extracted for off-line analysis.

NEOERICA aims to develop and implement algorithms that can run automatically overnight. The system could then automatically identify patients whose clinical data suggests a need for intervention and alert GPs accordingly.

Aerosol coupling in the earth system (ACES)

Rob Mackenzie - Environmental Science - NERC - 149,421

Aerosol particles are microscopic particles that are suspended in the air. In the outside air, these particles come from a wide variety of sources: dust, sea spray, car exhausts, and so on.

On a global scale, carbon-containing compounds released by plants can contribute a large part to the mass of aerosol particles. This happens indirectly: the plants emit the carbon compounds, the compounds are chemically changed by reactions in the atmosphere, and the resulting compounds condense onto aerosol particles.

The details of this indirect pathway are not well known and, in order to improve our understanding of the processes, Rob MacKenzie and Nick Hewitt have been awarded 149,421 by NERC, as part of a 3 year consortium grant entitled "Aerosol coupling in the Earth system" (ACES).

The aerosol particles formed by the action of atmospheric chemistry on plant emissions can have effects on climate. The particles directly reflect incoming sunshine but also change the properties of clouds, making the clouds more reflective too. Since plant growth and emissions are sensitive to sunshine, the aerosol particles result in a connection, a 'coupling' or feedback, between plant emissions and climate. The ACES consortium, led by Gordon McFiggans at Manchester University, will look at this coupling, using laboratory studies and field measurements, with the Lancaster team providing laboratory studies of the plant emissions and computer modelling studies of the atmospheric chemistry.

The ACES project is designed to dove-tail with another project - called 'OP3' and led by Nick Hewitt - which will make a very extensive set of field measurements above the rainforest in Borneo and use these to estimate the effects of plant emissions on global climate.

Visualisation of nanoparticles in the environment

Kevin Jones - LEC - NERC - 19,668

The fate and behaviour of nanomaterials in the environment is gaining increasing scientific and political interest. However, a fundamental problem is a lack of tools and techniques to actually see and track nanomaterials in environmental and biological samples.

This pilot project will test a novel visualisation tool, utilising two-photon excitation microscopy coupled with auto-fluorescence (TPEM-AF). Understanding the response of living systems to foreign nanoparticles within their immediate environment is or particular importance when assessing the toxicity and inherent risk a specific nanomaterial poses, specifically at the cellular and molecular level, where insights may be gained into potential environmental storage and degradation mechanisms.

Using TPEM-AF, it has been possible to observe environmentally generated nanomaterials upon/within plants. This grant will expand upon previous research to visualise how engineered nanomaterials interact with vegetation, hopefully providing a descriptive tool for understanding modes of uptake, transport, storage, degradation and cellular or sub-cellular damage.

D-SCENT: Raising challenges to deception attempts using data scent trails

Tom Ormerod - Psychology - EPSRC - 142,308

Since 9-11 and 7-7, terrorism has been a major public concern. To ensure public safety and to protect the UK economy, research is needed that offers new methods to foil attacks before they are executed, to identify people and networks who might be preparing for or undertaking an attack, and to provide clear evidence that can be used to justify questioning, arrests and prosecutions.

The research, a collaboration between Lancaster, Leicester, St Andrews, Leeds Metropolitan and Nottingham Universities, will investigate whether deception can be identified and proved from 'scent trails', that is, coherent accounts of suspects' activities over time compiled from tracking their movements, communications and behaviours. Software will be developed to derive inferences about what activities are consistent with suspects' scent trails and what are ruled out. These inferences will allow investigators to challenge suspects, both in real time (e.g., to encourage suspects to abandon an ongoing attack) and during interviews (e.g., to point out inconsistencies between a suspect's account and scent trail evidence that might change the course of an interview).

The project will investigate scent trails in the context of people undertaking deceptive activities to gain advantage in adversarial 'treasure hunt'-type games. The games will provide a non-sensitive analogy to counter-terrorism contexts. Players will be monitored during games via positional and communication data obtained from mobile devices enabled with geospatial positioning devices.

Novel software for integrating these data will be developed to build up scent trails of players' activities during game play. Methods of artificial intelligence will be combined to derive inferences from the scent trails about what kinds of activity are possible and impossible given a player's location, trajectory, activities and links with others.

Interview will be held with players at key points during games as a simulation of interviews with suspects, eliciting from players accounts of their activities before presenting them with challenges based on their own scent trails that are either consistent or inconsistent with legal game playing. This will allow interview and analysis techniques to be improved and will provide clues as to how people subsequently change their behaviour after they have been confronted with their deception. The results will also test between hypotheses deriving from forensic psychology as to how best to detect deception.

The research also explores public awareness of, and response to, monitoring and surveillance in counter-terrorism, identifying ethical and legal issues associated with collecting and using data on peoples' movements through public spaces.

News and Events

Physics Relay

The 30th annual Physics Relay will take place this year on Wednesday 20th June. The course and rules are unchanged from last year. For more information and to enter a team go to

This annual fun run is open to teams of four. The course consists of four unequal length legs making up a circuit of campus. It is open to all. There are four prizes on offer, Mens, Womens, Mixed and "Age Corrected". Enter a team now!

From LU News:

'Magic' Bacteria hope for British Farming

Thanks to a 70,000 grant from the Horticultural Development Council, Lancaster University has teamed up with a Russian scientist to help find ways to grow crops with less water

Charity Challenge Raises 5,000

Two members of staff have braved blizzards and heavy rain to climb the three highest mountains in Britain

Lancaster staff awarded for outstanding contributions

The outstanding work carried out by university staff has been recognised with the award of the 2007 staff prizes

University offers business chemicals advice

Lancaster University is gearing up to help businesses make sense of new chemicals legislation which applies to everything from perming lotion to slug pellets