Fractals: What are they?

by YPU Admin on May 4, 2017, Comments. Tags: Fractals, Geometry, maths, PhD, Pure Mathematics, Research, STEM, and UoM


Hi my name is Catherine Bruce and I’m a first year PhD student in Pure Mathematics at the University of Manchester. I study the geometry of fractals, which are objects deemed too irregular for traditional geometry such as straight lines, area, etc. (They have an infinite perimeter!) During the final year of a 4 year undergraduate degree I realised that I really enjoyed research and was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to do it full time.

How I got here

After leaving secondary school I did A-levels in Maths, Further Maths and French. I was also interested in Politics and took it as an extra AS-level in my second year at college. I then applied to do a four year undergraduate degree in Mathematics at the University of Manchester. This meant I graduated with an MMATH degree which is called an integrated Masters. I enjoyed my whole degree but realised only while undertaking my final year project that research was for me and applied for a PhD. I took a year out to go travelling after graduating and returned to Manchester in September 2016 to start my research.

In Depth

Fractals are too irregular for their size and structure to be measured using classical geometry. The main tool of fractal geometry is dimension, which has many forms. A lot of research is done into finding the dimension of different fractals and the image of these fractals under different functions. Fractals are often very beautiful – they have detail at all scales which means no matter how much you zoom in to one part of the fractal it will always have an interesting structure, which is not true for classical geometrical objects like 2D and 3D shapes.

An important property of fractals is self-similarity. This vaguely means that an object looks like it’s made up of lots of smaller versions of itself. Notice that each branch of this fern looks like a smaller fern, and each smaller branch looks like an even smaller fern. This is a simple example of self-similarity.

Many things in nature have a fractal-like structure: clouds, mountain skylines and forked lightening. Fractal geometry can be applied to many different things in the real world. Examples that I know of are lasers, cancer treatments and fracking. However, I do not deal with any of these applications as I (along with all other pure mathematicians) study the theoretical side of mathematics.

In the first few months of my PhD I have been reading a lot to learn what everyone else in my field of research already knows. When I have done this I will be able to start answering questions that no one has answered before, and coming up with brand new research. This is the whole point of a PhD and is an exciting if not scary prospect!

Going Further

Learn more about what fractals are:

Have a go at constructing your own fractal:,0090,1,1,0,0,1

Have a look at the exciting research that’s going on in dynamical systems at the University of Manchester:



How we think, and how we think we think, and what does it have to do with financial regulation?

by YPU Admin on April 20, 2017, Comments. Tags: Banking, Behavioural Economics, Humanities, Law, PhD, Policy, Research, and UoM


My name is Elena and I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester School of Law. I research the ways in which the ideas of how people think and make decisions impact regulation of banks and banks’ handling of risk. This is an important matter because banks have a significant place in the economies of most countries, and their behaviour is key to the economic and financial welfare of society.

How I got here

I completed a 4-year law degree in Russia, after which I decided to continue my education in the UK. After a law conversion course (GDL) I enrolled on an International Business and Commercial Law Masters programme at the University of Manchester. I was particularly attracted to the financial regulation module because of the enormous impact financial services have on society – the crisis of 2008 being a stark example. One of the lectures included a small bit about behavioural economics – a study of how our psychological traits influence our purchasing, investing, and other economic decisions. I thought that that was a fascinating topic – and after reading more about it, decided to do a PhD on it even though I had never considered becoming a researcher before.

In Depth

To make any (not necessarily economic) decisions, our brain needs to process large amounts of information in a short amount of time. Processing all of it in a comprehensive manner would require a lot of mental effort. Considering the amount of decisions we make on a daily basis, if every one of them required a lot of time and effort we would not be able to function normally. To rectify that, our brain developed thought patterns that help us to process information quicker. One of those thought patterns is called ‘availability heuristic’. When thinking about a certain topic or the probability of an event happening, our mind immediately refers to the most prominent belief or a vivid piece of information in our memory. This can cause a mistake in judgement. For example, people start worrying about a possible earthquake a lot more if they recently saw an earthquake report in the media. Another example is people estimating the crime rate in the area a lot higher after seeing a murder report on TV. And these are just a couple of examples – there are many thought patterns, or heuristics, that make our decision-making easier but also make us make mistakes along the way.

For a large part of the 20th century, the common academic opinion was that people tend to be rational, process all available information in a comprehensive way, and only make the most beneficial decisions for themselves. This approach became popular with governments as well, particularly in the US and the UK. This view resulted in designing policies and regulations that were aimed at those perfectly rational individuals. When confronted with human irrationality, government regulations and policies failed because people did not act as they were expected to. This was a part of the reason for the 2008 crisis.

Now that academic and government circles have largely accepted inherent human irrationality, policies can be adjusted to reflect the reality of human behaviour. In some areas – for example, consumer protection – there is a lot of progress. But others, such as financial regulation, require a lot of modification to reflect the true nature of human decision-making. My research aims to make regulation of banks more effective by designing a behavioural framework of board-level financial decision-making that can be used as a policy foundation.

Going Further

I enjoy my research because I find learning about how humans make decisions, and how the way our brain works influences the law, fascinating. Here are some interesting websites where you can learn more about this area: - a comprehensive introduction to behavioural economics, including the primary research in the field. - a Harvard Business Review article explaining the role of the presumption of rationality played in economics. - a Financial Times article on applications of behavioural insights in public policy. - Behavioural Insights Team’s website. It’s a social purpose company partly owned by the UK government that is dedicated to devising ways to apply the insights of behavioural science to public policy. - a blog about choice architecture.


From the cold to cooties – From Medicine to Medical Virology

by YPU Admin on March 30, 2017, Comments. Tags: Health, medicine, Research, UoM, and Virus


Hello! I'm Geraldine (Gerry) Scullin and I'm a medical student currently taking a year out to study a Masters in Medical Virology, the study of viruses. These are the germs responsible for giving you everything from the common cold to other embarrassing illnesses that we don’t like to talk about. The treatment of viruses is actually really difficult, so as a medic I'm interested in what is being done to find out new ways to treat and diagnose them and how I can help.

On a typical day in my Masters I have lectures for a few hours each day and then labs in the afternoon. In labs we get to diagnose infections by growing viruses in cells and using molecular techniques. It can be quite difficult at times, because we're dealing with things that are too small for the human eye to see!

How I got here

During high school I actually wanted to be a lawyer, and then a vet. It was only when I was choosing my A Levels that I actually changed my mind and applied for medicine. To me it made sense because I enjoyed science and also had experience of seeing how hospital staff work together as my dad was in hospital when I was much younger. The two things clicked together and I haven't looked back since!

In Depth

What I enjoy most about medicine is the diversity of the degree. There really is something for everyone. You can go into research, teach, do incredibly intricate surgeries or try to unravel the complexities of the human mind.

It's also great if you want to travel. Humans are the same no matter where you go, but their circumstances and diseases will change. This is the interesting thing about infectious diseases, and viruses in particular. There are some weird and wonderful infections out there to study, and there are also lots of ways you can help people in the developing world. That was the case in the Ebola epidemic (the strange knotty-looking thing in the picture), where doctors, scientists and other healthcare professionals worked to dramatically reduce the transmission of this terrible disease. As both a medic and a scientist, I feel very privileged that I am able to learn about not only the clinical symptoms of diseases, but actually how they cause disease.

Going Further - this is the website for the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, including both Medicine and Medical Virology. You can search for different degrees that you're interested in and read up on the grades and experience needed before you apply. is a great tool for explaining concepts that are difficult to understand. I'm a visual learner and so it really helps to actually SEE how things work.

If you want some basic information about conditions or diseases, is a great website to start with. However, I'd be wary of googling all your symptoms as it can cause unnecessary panic (trust me, I know!)

If you're struggling with ideas about what you want to do later in life, is one of many websites that may be able to help you choose. is great for looking at how disease outbreaks differ throughout the world and can keep you up to date with new developments.


The Search for Alternative Energy Sources

by YPU Admin on March 16, 2017, Comments. Tags: chemical engineering, energy, Fuel Cells, PhD, Research, STEM, and UoM


My name is Romeo Gonzalez and I am a 1st year PhD student at the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Sciences. After graduating from my Bachelor degree, also in Chemical Engineering, from my home county, Mexico, I successfully applied for a scholarship from my Government to come and study here in Manchester. I started on a Masters degree called an MPhil. This is sometimes a PhD preliminary year where you research a specific field before starting a full PhD in the same research area and is the path I took to becoming a PhD student.

My PhD focuses on applying new materials, such as graphene and reduced graphene oxide, into fuel cells. Fuel cells are devices capable of generating electricity through a chemical reaction, making my speciality electrochemistry.

In Depth

Currently most of the devices we use in our daily lives require a power supply, from the kettle we use for our morning coffee to the bus we use to get to work or school. This demand of energy is increasing every single day and is one of the most worrying problems humanity is facing.

So far, the solution to this problem hasn’t been found, but, most people believe that the solution lies in the use of multiple types of alternative energy sources. One of those alternative sources are fuel cells, more specifically, PEM fuel cells (proton exchange membrane fuel cells). These are small devices that can generate electricity through a reaction that takes place in the heart of the fuel cell, the Membrane Electrode Assembly. This is comprised of two electrodes stuck together with only a thin membrane separating them. The chemical reactions split a fuel - such as hydrogen, methanol or formic acid - into protons and electrons, which releases the chemical energy trapped inside that goes on to form electricity and water, thus generating power at a high efficiency with a low impact to the environment.

They are similar to batteries in the sense that both are electrochemical devices. However, in the case of batteries, they contain a set amount of power storage within them, whilst fuel cells produce a constant flow of energy as "fuel" flows through it.

So, why are we not already using them? Well unfortunately, fuel cells face different kinds of problems that need to be solved before they become as commonly used as batteries. In the case of hydrogen or formic acid, storage and handling of the fuel is a major safety issue, whilst low power production is an issue facing methanol fuel cells. Another problem this technology is facing is the use of expensive materials as a catalyst (a material used to kick start the chemical reaction), without which the fuel cells would not function. This problem is being tackled by finding alternative materials to try to improve the performance of the device. I’m looking specifically at using graphene in a number of different varieties.

So, what’s Graphene? Graphene is a relatively newly discovered two-dimension material that is known to possess multiple qualities, such as being highly conductive, highly resistant, ultra-light, transparent and is the thinnest material possible that could improve our daily life devices, including fuel cells. The objective of my PhD is to explore the use of this material in formic acid fuel cells to improve its power generation and efficiency, making it an excellent alternative source of energy.

Going Further

If you'd like to know more about fuel cells, visit this page:  

If you want to know what kind of research is being carried out into fuel cells, visit:  

If you're keen to know more about Graphene, visit the University of Manchester, the home of Graphene:  

Or if you want to know what you can do as a chemical engineer and how to become one, visit:  


Story-telling and identity through film in Spain

by YPU Admin on March 3, 2017, Comments. Tags: film, Humanities, Identity, PhD, Research, Spain, and UoM


Hi! I’m Nikki Tomlinson and I’m in my second year of a PhD in Spanish Studies. My project involves analysing films made in Spain in the past 10 years to see what they can tell us about regional identity. Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions, a bit like counties in England, but they are often much larger as there are not as many of them. I’m researching two autonomous communities: Andalusia, the largest region in the country, in the south of Spain; and Catalonia, in the north-east.

In Depth

The two regions of Andalusia and Catalonia have very different histories and cultures, but over the course of Spain’s history, they have often been unable to express an idea of what constitutes their own regional identity. Film is an incredibly powerful story-telling tool that can reach a huge number of people, so I use film to investigate what these stories can tell us about how each region perceives itself – and wants to be perceived – today. I do watch a lot of films for my research, but I find my project so interesting because I see it as combining several disciplines – cultural studies, politics, history, and even law and economics..!

At a time when debates surrounding national identity and what it involves are in the news on a daily basis, my topic feels exciting and relevant, and the field is certainly fast-paced! I have recently come back from fieldwork in Spain, where I have so far attended four film festivals in Andalusia and Catalonia. Film festivals play an important role in my research, as they can determine how many people see a film, or which countries those films are distributed to – often, if a film wins an award, it means that it can reach an international audience. I was able to see a huge number of recently-released films, as well as to meet filmmakers and discuss their work with them. I find it highly enjoyable seeing the changing shape of the film industry in the regions and the innovations that professionals are devising to continue making the films they want to make. I am able to keep in contact with the people I met at the events in Spain, and it’s very interesting to see people winning awards for their work. There are new developments every day, so it’s certainly a dynamic project to work on!

How I got here

I completed an integrated Masters in Modern Languages (specialising in French and Spanish) at the University of Manchester, which I loved. I then worked in a range of fields, from managing the development of a start-up business in Spain, to marketing, to teaching English as a foreign language! I had always thought that I wanted to take my studies of Spanish culture further, and while I was working in Andalusia as an English teacher, an idea for a proposal came to me. I finally bit the bullet and wrote to my previous lecturer at Manchester, explaining my idea. I put together a proposal and applied for funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I was delighted to receive the funding, and have never looked back!

Going Further

Manchester is very lucky to have a branch of the Instituto Cervantes, a Spanish language centre with a library, dance and culture courses and lots of activities:

There are a number of Spanish film festivals around the UK throughout the year, which are great for seeing a range of films from Spain and the Spanish-speaking world. One of these is the ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival, held at Manchester’s HOME arts centre around the Easter holiday:

For more news and information about the Catalan film and television industry:

And for Andalusia: