Blog

Research for the British Heart Foundation

Introduction

Hey I’m Claire, a second year PhD student here at the University of Manchester looking at how the cardiovascular system, the heart and blood vessels, works. With cardiovascular diseases being the leading cause of death worldwide, contributing to over 30%, research into the heart and blood vessels is very important.

The heart is an amazing organ. Working as a pump, the heart beats one hundred times a day to move twenty three thousand litres of blood around the body. This job is hugely important as the movement of blood around the body not only delivers oxygen and nutrients but also removes waste.

So, for the heart to do a pretty good job it must continuously pump in a regular pattern.  When the heart begins to beat strangely - too fast, too slow or in an odd rhythm- things begin to go wrong. These abnormal heart rhythms are called arrhythmias and are the focus of my work.

In depth

How common are arrhythmias? Very! The chances of you knowing someone who has an odd heartbeat is highly likely. In the UK alone, one million people experience a heart rhythm problem every year, making it one of the top 10 reasons people go to see a doctor. Arrhythmias also play a part of half of heart failure deaths, so understanding how they develop is crucial to tackle the major heart disease problem.

What causes abnormal heart rhythms? Arrhythmias are really complex and can be affected by many things including diseases, your lifestyle choices but also your genetic makeup. Your genes are the codes which decide your unique characteristics, acting as a sort of blueprint or set of instructions. Now your genes not only decide how you look, but they also influence your chances of developing certain diseases, including arrhythmias.

So my research aims to identify certain genes or codes which make your heartbeat irregular, hoping to uncover why some people are more likely to get odd heart rhythms.

How do I look into a role of a gene in the heart’s natural rhythm? I mess around with the genetic blueprint of heart cells in both human and animal cells.

Animal models can be controversial to use, but are hugely important in science research. They allow me to look at the bodily effect of gene by removing a gene from the heart of a mouse- something which I defiantly couldn’t do in a human!! Comparing normal mice with those who have a certain gene missing from there heart, I see how that specific genetic instruction affects how the heart pumps blood. Therefore, I can see if having or not having a single gene can make you more or less likely to get an abnormal heart rhythm!

Can this help fight cardiovascular disease?  By knowing how our genetic makeup affects our chances of getting heart diseases, can help us not only identify the people who are most at risk but may also help in developing  new drugs and treatment for abnormal heart rhythms and even heart failure!

Why I do it? While I may not have always loved science at school, I have always been fascinated by the world around us, especially how our amazingly intricate bodies work and what happens when things go wrong in diseases. As mentioned, cardiovascular disease is a major health problem. Being able to be part of the fight against it is truly rewarding and astounding.

Like a lot of scientists, the main thing that attracted me the world of science research is the excitement of the unknown, knowing that no one has ever done what I am doing is an amazing feeling!

Going further

I hope you are now fascinated by the world of science research and the cardiovascular system! Here are some ways to further delve into the area I am studying -

My work is kindly funded by the British Heart Foundation, and there website is great for learning more about the different conditions and what research they do.

·  Here you can find out lots of basic facts about the heart:

·  http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/how-your-heart-works.aspx

·  This section explains more about abnormal heart rhythms:

·  http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/abnormal-heart-rhythms.aspx

·  And here is a link to information about some of the other research they support: http://www.bhf.org.uk/research/our-heart-research/our-researchers.aspx

I am part of the Institute of Cardiovascular Science at Manchester. Here is the link to their page when you can find out more about the research going on and how you can get involved through further study: http://www.cardiovascular.manchester.ac.uk/


 

Focus on: Careers – The Manchester Graduate Internship Programme (MGIP)

by YPU Admin on July 23, 2015, Comments. Tags: careers, experience, graduate, internship, jobs, MGIP, and skills

Introduction

Hi, my name is Sarah and I graduated last summer from the University of Manchester with a 2:1 in French and Italian. I chose French because it was a subject I’d enjoyed at school and Italian because I wanted to try something new. Throughout my degree, my knowledge and passion for languages grew exponentially but I also had the opportunity to develop many key transferrable skills that would put me at an advantage in the job market.  For the past year, I’ve been undertaking a paid internship at the University, which has given me even more opportunities to develop my skill set, and I’ve now secured a permanent position at the University.

In Depth

What is MGIP?

The Manchester Graduate Internship Programme offers Paid Internships working at the University and in other businesses across Manchester. They are only open to Manchester Graduates so there is a smaller pool of applicants to compete with than most other internships and graduate schemes. They vary in length from 4 to 12 months and have different start dates between June and January.

My Internship

I applied for an Internship in the Student Recruitment and Widening Participation (SRWP) Team as I had previously worked as a Student Ambassador and I wanted to work on similar events as a member of staff.  The SRWP Team take on 5 Graduate Interns each academic year to support with their delivery of events to promote the University and provide accurate information, advice and guidance to prospective students.

My internship involves supporting the pre-16 team, in particular, the University’s Gateways and Primary Awareness programmes, who work with targeted groups of young learners across Greater Manchester to raise aspirations and promote Higher Education. The ethos of the department, that Higher Education should be accessible to all regardless of social or economic background, is something that I am really passionate about and one of the main reasons why I have enjoyed my time here so much.

Throughout the year, I have hugely developed my pre-existing skills, such as Communication, Organisation, Working as part of a Team and Time-Management but I have also gained many new skills, such as Data Analysis, Report Writing, Event Planning, Leadership and Staff Supervision. I have has the opportunity to take part in Higher Education events all across the UK and make a real contribution to the development of systems and programmes within the team. …And all of this whilst being paid!!

Going Further

I’m really glad that I chose to do an MGIP, especially as I’ve now used the skills I developed to secure a permanent position in the International Programmes Office at the University, and I would recommend it to any graduates who maybe aren’t quite sure which direction they want their career to take and want to gain new skills and experience.

To find out more about the scheme you can visit the website: 

 http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/findjobs/graduatejobs/mgip/ 

where you can read stories from other Graduate Interns as well so you don’t have to take my word for it!

Or if you need further convincing, watch this video: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siQl167z2Rk


 

Witchcraft and demonic possession!

by YPU Admin on July 9, 2015, Comments. Tags: demons, french, history, Humanities, imagery, medieval, Religion, Research, theology, and witchcraft

Introduction

My name is Tom and I am embarking on a PhD in History at the University of Manchester this autumn. I studied for my BA in History at Manchester and I’m currently finishing my masters in Gender History at the University of Glasgow. In between these courses I spent a year working as an English Language Assistant in two secondary schools in Lille, France. During my undergraduate studies I developed a passion for early modern beliefs about the supernatural and I wrote a dissertation on sixteenth-century French demonological treatises (you could call these witch-hunting manuals!). My research has now taken me to the phenomenon of demonic possession in sixteenth and seventeenth-century France and England, particularly on how possession narratives contributed to the cultural construction of the body.

In Depth

Demonic Possession may seem strange to us now, something you expect to see in a horror film, but during the early modern period it was an extremely important phenomenon. There were perhaps thousands of cases of possession and exorcism across continental Europe, including France, during the early modern period (c. 1500-1800).Young boys and girls, often teenagers or young adults, were recorded as having seizures, possessing unnatural strength, speaking in ‘foreign tongues’, levitating and spitting out objects like pins and nails. There are many cases in France where entire convents of nuns were said to be possessed by the devil. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, when Western Christianity split and Protestant churches emerged, demonic possession and exorcism acted as a vehicle of religious propaganda, a way of showing which religious denomination God favoured.

However it was also an important phenomenon for everyday people. Men and women flocked to see public exorcisms in France and there was a booming book trade which centred on stories of demoniacs (a possessed person) which would rival the best Stephen King novel. In this way demonic possession can be viewed as a type of performance, even a form of mass-entertainment. This is where my research centres. I’m interested in why demonic possession was such an important phenomenon in this period but also how it affected other areas of people’s lives. I look at the use of the body within the performance of demonic possession and how it was written about and understood. I use a wealth of documentation left behind, from the trials of witches accused of causing possession, personal and witness testimonies of possessions and exorcisms and the wealth of printed books which distributed these narratives to a mass audience. In doing so I hope to shed light on how beliefs surrounding the supernatural were connected to early modern cultural ideas about the body and the life-cycle.

I developed my interest for this area of history in my final year of undergraduate studies during a module on Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Europe and I was supported by my supervisors in developing this project. Having French language skills made this a viable PhD project and so if I could give one word of advice it would be to learn a language! Not only do languages give you a competitive edge in academia or on the job market but they’re actually pretty fun and (cliché alert) really do take you places. It was fantastic having the opportunity to live in France and practice my French for a year. I gained life-long friends and memories plus I’ve picked up practical skills in the process. It’s never too late to learn either! I started learning Latin this year and in fact your first year at university is the perfect time to experiment. Manchester’s University Language Centre lets you take a language as part of any degree programme. You may not have clicked with French, German or Spanish at school but have you ever thought about Portuguese, Polish, Chinese or even Arabic? Try it and who knows where you’ll end up!

Going Further

There really is a wealth of on-line resources out there on early modern Europe and the Supernatural. Also, in 2016 there will be an exhibition, “Magic and the Expanding Early Modern World”, at John Rylands Library on Deansgate!

15-Minute History: “Demonic Possession” in Early Modern Europe (Podcast) (http://15minutehistory.org/2013/10/23/demonic-possession-in-early-modern-europe/)

The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft (http://www.shca.ed.ac.uk/Research/witches/)

The Damned Art: The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (Internet Exhibition) (http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/specialcollections/virtualexhibitions/damnedart/)

The Many-Headed Monster (Blog) (https://manyheadedmonster.wordpress.com/)

The Pendle Witch Trial (Documentary) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv-JDUfADiw)

A helpful website on European Witchcraft (http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/index.html)

Women and the Early Modern Witch Hunts (Blog Post) (http://www.jesswatson.co.uk/post/78990856670/women-and-the-early-modern-witch-hunts)


 

Developing environmentally friendly fuel

by YPU Admin on June 25, 2015, Comments. Tags: biofuel, biotechnology, computing, electricity, enzymes, hydrogen, maths, oxygen, Physics, redox, Research, and water

Introduction

My name is Nick and I am a first year PhD student at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology. At school I studied physics, maths and computing at A-level and then went on to study physics at the University of Manchester (BSc and MSc). My PhD research involves trying to find out how the structure of redox enzymes affects their redox potential. The redox potential is an important factor that needs to be considered in the design of biofuel cells. Biofuel cells use enzymes to help produce electricity from hydrogen and oxygen, with water as a waste product.

In depth

The redox potential (E0) tells you how likely a chemical species will accept an electron. When a chemical species accepts and electron, we say it has been reduced. The more positive the redox potential, the more likely it is that a chemical species will accept an electron and be reduced. The below reaction has a positive redox potential, so a copper ion will tend to accept an electron to become a copper atom.  

Cu+  +  e-  ↔  Cu  (E0 = +0.52V)

A chemical species may have a negative redox potential. This means it is more likely to lose an electron. When a chemical species loses an electron we say is has been oxidised. The more negative the redox potential, the more likely it is that a chemical species will lose an electron and be oxidised. The below reaction has a negative redox potential, so a sodium atom will tend to lose an electron to become a sodium ion.

Na+  +  e-   ↔  Na    (E0 = -2.71V)

Enzymes are a type of biological molecule which catalyse (increase the rate of) the chemical reactions that sustain life. Redox enzymes contain a metal ion which can either be reduced or oxidised. They help control the rate of many different reactions which involve the transfer of electrons. The structure of the enzyme around the metal ion influences the redox potential of the metal ion. Below is an image of an enzyme called Azurin, which has a Cu2+ ion in its active site.  The way in which the Azurin is bound to the copper ion affects how easily it can accept an electron.

You might be familiar with the idea that electricity is the flow of charge particles. For example, electrons flow in the wires that make up the electrical devices we use. Electricity can be made in many different ways, some more environmentally friendly than others. Biofuel cells utilise enzymes to help make electricity using hydrogen and oxygen and producing water as the only waste product. The redox enzymes help transfer the electrons through the cell which generates electricity. One enzyme takes electrons from hydrogen and passes them through the cell. The other enzyme collects the electrons and then uses them to make water.

My research involves working out how the structure of the enzymes changes their redox potential. The idea is to produce a computer program that will be able to adapt the structure of an enzyme so its redox potential is perfectly tuned for use in biofuel cells. I also plan to make the enzymes and experimentally measure their redox potentials, to prove the computer program works.

Going further

Manchester Institute of Biotechnology: http://www.mib.ac.uk/

What are enzymes? http://www.chem4kids.com/files/bio_enzymes.html

What are redox reactions? http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/chemistry/reactions/redox/revision/1/

Fuel cells: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell

Biofuel cells: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enzymatic_biofuel_cell

Could biofuel cells be developed for use in our bodies? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15305579


 

An Insight Into Nature's Strongest Force

Introduction:

My name is Lloyd and I am in the third year of my PhD studying Theoretical Nuclear Physics. I am attempting to provide a better theory to describe the phenomenon of neutral pion (a relatively light, short-lived particle that is found in nuclear and particle reactions) production from a photon (light) incident on a proton (a nuclear particle that is found in the nucleus of every atom).  Before starting my research I studied theoretical physics at the University of Manchester.


Strong Nuclear forces remain to be one of the least understood processes in nature. Yet it is the source of immense energy that can power our cities, from harnessing the emitted radiation in power-plants; or level countries by concentrating radioactive materials in a bomb. The manner in which the fundamental matter particles (or quarks) exchange the strong force carrying particle (or the gluon boson) is far more complex than any of the other forces (weak nuclear, electromagnetic or gravity). Unlike the other forces, gluons themselves can carry a strong nuclear charge, known as colour charge; this allows them to interact with themselves in-between quark interactions, allowing for infinite scenarios to describe the simplest of processes. 

In Depth:

The study of the strong nuclear force is known as quantum chromodynamics (QCD), this theory helped scientists understand important properties of particle physics, mainly why we only see composite quark states in nature. In other words why you will never find a sole quark by itself, instead you will see it in bound states (hadrons) which form protons and neutrons (baryons) and lighter states such as pions (mesons). But trying to make any practical calculations with QCD is very difficult, so difficult in fact that if anyone were to solve the QCD equation into a usable form then they would win 1 million dollars from the Clay Mathematics Institute!

I do away with these complexities of QCD by only working in energy regimes where the protons and other hadrons won't break down into their constituent quarks. So we can describe proton or neutron scattering through pion exchange instead of using gluons. Furthermore, I take advantage of some symmetries present in QCD, related to the quark masses, to simplify aspects of the calculations. This is a very vague picture of the theory I work in called Chiral Perturbation Theory (ChPT).


My work has been motivated by a recent experiment in Germany at the Mainz Microtron by the A2 and CB-TAPS collaborations where they have obtained the most accurate data to date on this interaction. I am in the process of taking theories that have already been made to describe parts of this process and sticking them together to get a more complete picture of the reaction. The most important part I have included is an intermediate resonance state prior to pion emission.

This research isn't going to be part of the new fastest computer in 20 years time, nor is it going to cure diseases. But it will give us an insight in to what happens in nature at the sub-atomic level. Then maybe who knows what this might lead to in the future, 100 years from now it is impossible to predict how important this process will be in understanding nuclear fusion both in power plants or in stars. When Paul Dirac, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, predicted the existence of massless Dirac fermions in the 1920s he had no idea that a century later people would be trying to use these states within graphene to dramatically improve technology.

Going Further:

To follow exactly what it is I do I am afraid you will need a degree in theoretical physics, which you can start looking into at the University of Manchester. (http://www.physics.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/undergraduate-courses/physics-with-theoretical-physics-mphys/)

The European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) have lots of information available on particle and nuclear physics (http://home.web.cern.ch/students-educators)

The Jefferson Lab in the USA also has useful information for students and teachers (https://www.jlab.org/education-students)

MAMI, the experimental group that analyse this interaction (http://www.kph.uni-mainz.de/eng/108.php)