The Muddy Waters of Medical Humanitarianism

by YPU Admin on May 26, 2016, Comments. Tags: Humanitarianism, medicine, postgraduate, Research, and UoM


My name is Ciaran Clarke and I am studying a masters in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response (HCR). My background is far removed from the history, international relations, and sociology which forms a large part of my degree. In fact, despite studying a postgraduate degree, I am still an undergraduate! I am studying the Masters between my fourth and fifth year of undergraduate medicine.

This is known as intercalation and is traditionally pursued by medics who want to study one aspect of science in greater detail, such as physiology or pharmacology. Manchester Medical School is particularly unique in the breadth of options available for intercalation. However, the HCR Master’s degree stood out for me. I have always wanted to undertake medical humanitarian work, but the multitude of issues surrounding this field have always left me feeling uneasy. I felt that the HCR Masters would give me an opportunity to grapple with these issues and develop a better understanding of how medical aid can be delivered effectively.

In Depth

The Masters programme has been incredibly rewarding, particularly for someone coming from a science degree. The complexity of humanitarian aid has been unveiled to me, going to a depth of understanding which I never imagined reaching. This has included asking myself questions which have never before crossed my mind, such as – is providing aid always good? A year ago I would have likely said yes, but through studying disciplines such as history, ethics and public health I have come to realise that no straightforward answer exists. For instance, there are instances of aid being used to extend conflicts, when it has fallen into the ‘wrong’ hands and been sold on a black market and provided funds for armed forces.

One of the great things about the Masters is the wealth of experience I have been surrounded with. It is difficult not be inspired when you turn up on a Tuesday morning and your lecturer starts telling you about his recent United Nations meeting or her trips to war torn parts of northern Sri Lanka to provide medical assistance. As a postgraduate taught (PGT) degree, for two thirds of the year my days are a mix of lectures, seminars and private study. After handing in my essays in May, I will then have the remainder of my degree free for my dissertation.

My dissertation gives me the opportunity to study one aspect of humanitarianism in real depth. My current focus is on the development of sustainable healthcare systems following humanitarian crises. Medical aid has often been directed towards specific diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Polio, Malaria or Tuberculosis, this is known as a vertical approach. While this can tackle specific diseases, when the money dries up it is unlikely that a robust healthcare system will remain. But many of the countries that have require medical aid have limited infrastructure and trained personnel for developing an all-encompassing or ‘horizontal’ approach. The question remains, how do we approach healthcare development in a sustainable manner without spreading resources so thin that they don’t have any effect? It seems that a compromise between the two needs to be reached!

The greatest challenge for me has been learning to adapt to a completely novel set of disciplines. Getting my head around and then critiquing theories of learning, international relations and in depth history articles has been a very different challenge to memorising the signs of liver failure!

Going forward, I still hope to undertake medical aid work in the future, but the Masters has made me realise that I must wait until I am a relatively independent practitioner. Therefore, I will continue on my medical training, hopefully pass my finals and then start as a junior doctor in 2017!

Going Further

For those of you who want to find out more about the incredible staff at HCRI then click this link

Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) website

An overview on the current state of the ‘humanitarian system’

The full range of intercalation options open to medical students at UoM

For an insight into some of the problems with aid watch the film “The Trouble with Aid” (2012) 


The Psychology of Time

by YPU Admin on May 12, 2016, Comments. Tags: psychology, Research, and UoM


My name is Emily Williams and I’m currently a first year Psychology PhD student at the University of Manchester (UoM). After completing my A-Levels in 2010 (Psychology, Sociology and Computing), I went on to study Psychology at UoM from 2011 to 2014, and the following year I completed a Psychology Masters at UoM also. During my Masters studies I managed to secure funding for a three year PhD which started in October 2015. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of Psychology, and also UoM (when I finish my PhD I will have been here seven years!), but my main interest specifically is the Psychology of Time Perception – how people perceive time.

As a Time Perception researcher I believe that people have a type of ‘internal clock’ which is what gives us the ability to sense how time passes. The speed of the internal clock can be altered, which gives us the perception of time dragging when we’re bored, or flying when we’re having fun. Other things have been found to speed up the clock, including high body temperature, certain emotions, and even hearing a series of ‘clicks’ for five seconds. Time seems to pass more quickly in these situations, which makes us overestimate how much ‘real’ time has passed. The first year of my PhD will focus mainly on a certain quirk of the internal clock – people judge sounds to be longer than lights, even when they are both the exact same duration. People are also more sensitive to duration when using their sense of hearing, than touch and vision.

In Depth…

For my first experiment, my participants will be sat in a dim room in front of a computer, with their dominant hand holding a foam block containing a small vibration generator (like the one in your mobile phone) and their non-dominant hand poised to type in answers using a keypad. A green LED is attached to the foam block, and a speaker is behind it. The vibrating plate, LED and speaker will present sounds, lights and vibrations to participants, and in the first task they will have to estimate how long these lasted for.

In the second task they will be given two of these (e.g. a light and a sound, or two vibrations) and have to answer ‘which was longer’, and on the final task ‘which came first?’.

I will then look at people’s answers for these tasks, and check whether the classic overestimations of how long sounds were when compared to lights are present. I will then try to see if there is a relationship between how accurate people are in their estimations, and how well they can answer which was longer and which came first. My guess is that the better people are at estimating time using one sense (e.g. vision, touch or hearing), the better they are at telling whether time in this sense was longer than another sense, and whether this sense came first. What do you think?

Next year, I will be broadening my scope to other things that affect the internal clock. I will also be looking at possible applications for my research. For example, the ‘clicks’ that I mentioned earlier have been found to not only affect how we perceive time, but have the added bonus of increasing the amount of information we can take in, and also speed up how quickly we can react to things! Although these are quite short-lived bonuses, I might be able to invent a way to help people revise for exams, or be better at video games, using a series of simple clicks.

Going Further…

Visit this website if you’d like to know more about the Psychology of Time Perception, including how it may work in the brain. It has a great section on ‘temporal illusions’ where it explains many things which change the speed of the internal clock, making your perception of time seem faster or slower.

Take a look at this article on Time Perception by the BBC, which features an interview with Professor John Wearden, a notable time perception researcher, who also used to be Head of Psychology at UoM!

This YouTube channel shows lecturers at UoM talking about common misconceptions about Psychology, and highlights of their research.

If you’re interested in the other types of Psychological research going on at UoM, click here.

Finally, have a look at a previous Young Person University blog about Psychology.


Collecting Cobalt and Developing a 'Green Energy Economy'

by YPU Admin on April 28, 2016, Comments. Tags: Cobalt, Earth Science, Green Energy, Metal, Research, and UoM


My name is Ed Thomas and I am a first year PhD student studying Geomicrobiology. This involves looking at how bacteria and microbes interact with rocks, minerals and metals in natural environments.

Geomicrobiology is relatively new scientific field but is rapidly growing; it has strong applications in answering many of Earth Sciences most pressing issues including: remediation of contaminated land, nuclear waste treatment and disposal, and reducing the environmental impact of mining and metallurgy industries.

My A-levels were in Geography, Chemistry and Maths, and I’ve always had a keen interest in all things Natural Sciences. I went on to do an integrated masters degree in Earth Sciences at the University of Manchester where my thesis was on the geochemistry of soft tissue fossils.

This is where I found my passion for studying the relationships between the biosphere and geosphere and I subsequently made the switch to studying Geomicrobiology. In September 2015 I started my PhD which looks at understanding the bioreduction process of Cobalt with a hope of ensuring a secure and sustainable supply of this crucial metal into the future.

In Depth…

Why Cobalt?

Cobalt is one of only 4 elements classed as an ‘Energy Critical Element’ by the U.S. Department of Energy, the American Physical Society's Panel on Public Affairs and the Materials Research Society, and the European Union.

Due to its uses in the blades and magnets of wind turbines, in photovoltaic solar cells, and in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles, ensuring a continuous and sustainable supply of cobalt is crucial to developing a ‘Green Energy Economy’ in the future.

What’s the problem?

Almost all of the cobalt mined in the world is as a secondary product, this means that we only find ores coexisting with other metals, usually copper or nickel.

In order to separate out and concentrate the different metals from the ore metallurgic processes often run at high pressure or very low pH. Then the metal compounds are reduced to obtain the pure metallic form.

These processes of acid leaching, froth floatation, and reduction often create hazardous and toxic products which are harmful to the environment and difficult to dispose of safely, as well as using lots of energy and electricity.

How is Geomicrobiology the solution?

Microbes and bacteria are constantly reducing and oxidising metals in the environment. Often these are very complex systems involving many species of bacteria and multiple metals and redox reactions.

If we can isolate individual species of bacteria that reduce certain metals in specific ways, then we can design reaction series to maximise the efficiency of the metal recovery process. By recreating and scaling up these naturally occurring reactions that have been perfected over millions of years of evolution, we will drastically be able to reduce the environmental impacts of the mining industry.

Additionally, there are certain unique reduction pathways that result in specialised end products such as nanoparticles which have a variety of uses. For instance, cobalt nanoparticles have potential uses in hydrogen fuel cells, medical sensors and imaging, cancer treatments, and high performance magnets.

Going Further…

For updates on my specific research follow @thatedthomas and @CoG3_tweets on twitter.

Or alternatively, follow the research of the whole Geomicrobiology group at Manchester on wordpress and twitter.

Information about the CoG3 project can be found on our project partner, the Natural History Museum, website.

To find out more about mining and metallurgy: BBC bitesize offers good introductory level information. Or else provides more specialist information.

For information on cobalt nanoparticles and their potential applications there are many open access journal articles available including:

And if you want to consider pursuing a career that will help us to understand and answer some of the biggest unsolved problems facing Earth, please consider studying Earth Sciences at university.


Belly and the Brain: Research into nerve endings and the gut

by YPU Admin on April 14, 2016, Comments. Tags: Digestion, Digestive Tract, Guts, Life Sciences, Research, and UoM


Hi, my name is Victoria Kinsley and I am just starting my third year as a PhD student in Neurosciences here at the University of Manchester.  I finished my Masters in Immunology and Immunogenetics in 2012 and started my PhD in 2013.  My PhD involves studying the nervous system in the gut and investigating a possible link between nerves and the immune response.  Hopefully this will help us to better understand how and why diseases of the digestive system occur and why some people are more susceptible than others. 

In Depth

The gut, or gastro-intestinal tract, is responsible for taking nutrients from food, and also for making sure any bugs we inadvertently digest are recognised by our immune system and eliminated quickly.  However, we all have naturally occurring (commensal) bacteria in there too that we need to tolerate in order to be healthy.

The gut is full of nerves, so many in fact that it is known as the ‘mini-brain’.  It is controlled by these nerves along with input from the brain; however the mini brain is capable of working alone. Nerves are important to keep the gut moving and push through the contents, but it appears they may have another role as well; we know that there is a cross talk between this ‘mini-brain’ and the immune system to maintain a healthy gut environment, but this is not yet fully understood.  Some receptors and soluble factors are shared by both nerves and immune cells and these may work together to keep the gut healthy, but we don’t know yet how this impacts the progression of disease and recovery from illness.  Many people suffer from diseases and disorders of the gastro-intestinal tract and some, such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, have no known cure.  These patients seem to have slightly different gut nerves than those who are unaffected, and it may be that the nervous system in the gut plays an important role in driving the disease.  The gut is also affected in conditions such as diabetes, and changes in gut commensal bacteria have been linked with autism and depression, but further research is needed.

My research

My research aims to look at the nerves in the gut and investigate what is happening during and after infection to see if there is a long term impact on the nerve ‘maps’ that may then affect the way our guts respond to future infection or disease.  During the course of ordinary life our gastro intestinal tract works hard; we all encounter the odd bout of gut infection. Might this change our gut nerves and then affect our immune responses in the future? Might this be why some people get chronic gut disease and some people don’t? If we can understand the nervous system of the gut a little better we may get closer to being able to answer some of these important questions, and we may be able to help people suffering from gut disease.

Going further

To find out more about my research image, click here-

To find out more about studying neuroscience at the University of Manchester, have a look at this-

Look here if you are interested in what type of research is going on in the Faculty of Life Sciences-


Money Money Money: How do banks do it?

by YPU Admin on March 31, 2016, Comments. Tags: Banking, finance, Humanities, Law, Money, PhD, Research, and UoM


Hi, my name is Max and I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester School of Law. I have been a university student for the past 6 years now and I have really enjoyed my experience. University provides you with the opportunity of learning new things, meeting new people, experiencing a new environment, and finding what it is you want to do in life. For me, particularly the last question has always been difficult: it took me a long time to realise what I wanted to do in life, but pursuing a masters degree after my undergraduate degree gave me an idea. I decided to do research in financial services regulation. I will give you an idea of what this entails. It’s all about money.

In Depth

Financial services significantly affect all members of society. You all use money to pay for different things, such as clothes, shoes, sweets, books etc. If it wasn’t for the financial services industry, money wouldn’t be readily available in the form that we use it today. Let me give you an example:

I imagine that some of you have bank accounts in which you can place your money. You can save money in your bank account and later withdraw it if you decide to spend it. This is referred to as a ‘deposit’, as you deposit your money in your bank account. Your bank can then use this money to create loans to give out to different people. A loan is simply an agreement between a bank and an individual or a company. The bank gives the individual a sum of money and the individual agrees to pay the money back over a certain period of time. For the bank to benefit from this transaction, the individual is required to pay an additional sum of money over the time period. It is up to the individual to decide what to do with the money they receive. They can spend it on clothes, shoes, sweets, books, or something substantially bigger like a car or a house. This bank, therefore, made money readily available to the individual. The money that you deposited is also still available to you. You can withdraw it at any time. All banks put together make up the financial services industry. They are an important part of the money available to us. They significantly influence how money is readily available to all members of society.

This seems like a good thing doesn’t it? Sadly, however, this system comes with its problems. Consider this: what if the individual is unable to repay their loan within the time period agreed upon? What if the bank gives out so many loans that there is no money left for you to withdraw when you want to? How does the bank decide who is suitable to receive a loan? Does the bank use any other means to finance its loans? All of these questions are addressed in financial services regulation. Research in this area essentially tries to make the financial services industry reliable and stable so that money is as readily available as described above. Many of the issues get very complex. It can be very difficult for researchers to keep up with everything that happens in the financial services industry. This is precisely why I believe this to be an interesting research area. New developments arise constantly that require addressing. Different researchers come up with different ways of addressing these issues. I have found myself able to add my own thoughts to this interesting area. It is a very rewarding experience.

Going further

Here is a YouTube link to an interesting explanation of banking –