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Investigating Latin American Culture in Manchester


My name is Nicola and I’m in the third year of a PhD in Latin American Cultural Studies. I did A-levels in Spanish, English Literature and History and went on to study Spanish at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, spending my year abroad in the north of Chile. After returning to Chile for another year to teach English, and then doing a Masters in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester, I began my PhD which looks at how members of the British public engage with Latin American culture in the city of Manchester.

In Depth

The first thing to point out about studying Spanish (or any language) at university level is that it’s not just about the language! While your language skills are obviously important and will be developed, you will also spend lots of time studying foreign cultures and how other people around the world live and express themselves. This can involve studying literature, film, music, art, history, religion and indigenous cultures. And, in the case of Spanish, you don’t just study Spain, but also Latin America!

After doing my undergraduate degree and Masters, and living in Chile, I found myself particularly interested in how Latin America is perceived in Britain. Latin American culture, such as salsa classes, music, food and films have become popular in this country over the past couple of decades, yet Latin Americans are a relatively small immigrant population in the UK and not many people travel there, although both have started to increase in recent years. My research therefore investigates how Latin American culture is produced in the city of Manchester and how members of the public consume it.

My research focuses in particular on the annual ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at the Cornerhouse cinema. I analyse how the film festival is produced, the reasons why they choose some films over others, why they choose particular images to publicise the festival. By interviewing members of the audience, I can find out whether these choices influence the way members of the audience envisage Latin America, or if there are other factors to be considered, such as how the media portrays Latin America. My research also investigates what attracts British people to Latin American culture, especially whether it stems from a cosmopolitan concern to understand others around the world, something particular to Latin American culture and/or disenchantment with contemporary British culture and society.

Going Further

See what you think of the ¡Viva! film festival at their website:

For information on studying Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester:

For more information on Latin Americans in the UK, you might like to read this report on the Latin American community in London:


Researching safe ways to dispose of nuclear waste


My name is Robert Worth and I am currently part way through a PhD in Nuclear Engineering with the Nuclear Graphite Research Group at the University of Manchester – how did I get here? Almost by accident. It was during my A Level study in Physics that I first came across the phenomenon of radioactivity, which I thought was a bizarre and exciting process that I had not encountered before, and I needed to know more! This eventually led me to my degree in Mechanical (Nuclear) Engineering at the University of Manchester, which was very enlightening and encompassed many aspects of both mechanical and nuclear engineering. It was during my degree that I stumbled across an email containing upcoming PhD research projects – did I know what a PhD involved? Nope, not really. Did I want to do one? I wasn’t sure. I’m glad I applied, however, as it turned out that this is the sort of work I’d wanted to do all along, I just hadn’t realised it. You are no longer just absorbing information from others – I am also now doing the finding out, and helping answer questions that nobody in the world yet has answers to!

I’ve been very lucky with this PhD project, and have been encouraged to attend many prominent events and conferences around the country, talking with and working alongside some of the most inspiring people and minds in the country. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel further afield too, as far as Lithuania, where we stood on the top of a nuclear reactor core of the same basic design as the famed Chernobyl, and even over to the United States, to visit a research group at Idaho State University and to help on an experiment at a synchrotron particle accelerator in California.

My specific research project is on thermal treatment of irradiated graphite waste. It turns out that there is an awful lot of it (around 96,000 tonnes) in our small country, the UK. So far, there are good ideas about how we might deal with this large volume of radioactive waste, and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) have plans to bury most of it in a future geological disposal facility, a large controlled facility far underground that could house and contain all of our radioactive waste for thousands of years to come. Since a location for this facility is yet to be found, and it is yet to be built, you could argue that a disposal route is not set in stone. Which is where treatment comes in – can we do something else with the graphite waste to reduce the hazard, instead of burying it, which could potentially save money and may leave valuable space in the repository open for other more hazardous wastes? This is a point of controversy amongst the nuclear waste research community! 

In Depth

What is graphite and how is it used?

Graphite is a very stable hexagonal formation of carbon atoms, that can be found naturally but is also artificially manufactured to very high purities, at great expense! This involves many different processes to reach the final product including heating to around 3000oC for a number of days. It is essentially many planes of the material ‘graphene’ all layered up on top of each other, and is found in pencils; the ‘lead’ in your pencil is actually graphite, and it is these layers of carbon atoms sliding relatively easily over each other that allows you to write and draw quite easily.

Graphite is used in many nuclear reactors in the UK in the shape of enormous blocks, which can be over a metre in height, all stacked on top of each other and arranged into a large reactor core. Its purpose is to slow the neutrons in the core down, by acting as a physical barrier for the neutrons to bounce off, a little like billiard balls, so that they will react more easily with the nuclear fuel, producing energy for us to power our homes. 

Why is it radioactive?

Carbon has been selected as a fairly ‘neutron transparent’ material so that neutrons will bounce off and scatter away from the carbon atoms instead of being absorbed. This does not happen every time, however, and on occasion a neutron will be absorbed into the carbon atom, making the nucleus of the atom heavier and larger than it was previously. This can make the atom become unstable, as it can no longer physically sustain itself in a stable state, and so the atom will ‘decay’ by releasing some energy – in this instance, a radioactive carbon-14 atom will spit out an electron from the atom and transmute into nitrogen-14, which is a stable atom. Voila! This is the process of radioactive decay.

What do I actually do?

I spend a lot of time working in a laboratory with radioactive samples, taken from a nuclear reactor, wearing a white lab coat, goggles, layers of gloves, and working with tongs behind special shielding or in a glove box, like Homer Simpson. I also wear a dosimeter to record the amount of radiation I have received from the samples, so that I know I am well below safe levels for working. I then take these samples and place them in a specially designed tube furnace, and very carefully oxidise them using a gas flow of 1% oxygen to try and remove a good fraction of the surface radioactivity as a gas. The radioactive portion of this gas is then trapped and collected in a ‘bubbler system’, where the gas is forced to bubble up through a clever fluid, before it is taken away for analysis to determine how much radioactivity has been successfully removed. I can then use this data to make a reasoned judgment of how I might improve the process, by adjusting the temperature, for instance.

Going Further

More information about the array of Nuclear Engineering research in the School of MACE at the University of Manchester can be found at:

A fairly detailed overview of ‘radioactive waste management’ around the world has been produced by the World Nuclear Association, and can be found at:

A further insight into the role of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in the UK, working on behalf of the government and responsible for overseeing the clean-up of many UK nuclear power sites, can be gleaned from the following website:


Discovering the New World

by YPU Admin on February 5, 2015, Comments. Tags: Colombia, history, manchester, Research, Sheffield, sixteenth century, and South America


My name is Rachel Winchcombe and I’m a second year history PhD student at the University of Manchester. I completed my undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Sheffield, both of which were in history, specialising in the early modern period (c. 1500-1800). After leaving university I spent six months living and working in Bogotá in Colombia. It was during this time that I became interested in South American history and how the discovery of the lands of America affected Europeans. After returning to England, I decided to apply for a PhD that looked at the ways in which America was incorporated into English thought in the sixteenth century, and that is now what I’m spending three years of my life researching!

In depth

On the 12th of October 1492, Christopher Columbus first set foot on the hitherto unknown shores of the land that would become known as America. For early modern Europeans who were convinced that their knowledge of the world was complete, the discovery of these new lands must have been a huge shock. Indeed, Columbus refused to acknowledge their novelty, claiming until his death that the lands he had found were part of Asia. It was not until the completion of Amerigo Vespucci’s voyage to the New World that the idea of a ‘mundus novas’ (new world) became established. With the realisation that America represented a new and different land came a new problem. How was America and her inhabitants to be explained? It is this question that my PhD hopes to answer.

Explaining the existence of America and millions of Amerindians was no easy task. To begin with, when constructing an image of the New World, Englishmen and women relied on accounts of America written by continental authors and their own Old World knowledge of geography, cosmology and ethnography. For example, descriptions of America printed in England compared Americans to the monstrous races that the Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder had identified whilst journeying around the world in the first century AD.  Europeans also connected the people and land of America to the biblical account of the dispersal of mankind, and to Greek legends such as the lost island of Atlantis. Despite this attempt to assimilate America into the history and belief systems of the Old World, it is also clear from these early descriptions of the encounter that Europeans recognised the novelty of the new lands across the Atlantic. English representations of America were essentially a complicated mix of Old World tradition and New World experience. By looking at various aspects of Native American life, such as warfare, clothing and religion, my PhD will trace this tension between the power of the old and the pull of the new.

Going further

Visit European History Online for an introduction to the European ‘Age of Expansion’.

Visit the British Library’s image database to see the various ways that exploration has been illustrating through history.

The Hakluyt Society provides information and articles relating to all aspects of travel, exploration and cultural encounter.


What makes our bodyclock tick


My name is Adam and I am a first-year Neuroscience PhD student, studying how our bodies measure the passage of time. In fact, nearly every cell in our body contains a clock. However, it is the brain that keeps our cells in sync with the environment. Think of the body like an orchestra; each musician (cell) has the ability to create music (measure time), however without the conductor (brain), the musicians will play out of time with each other.  

An important feature of our natural environment is the 24-hour changes in solar conditions, which we can divide into day and night. The brain receives natural light information through the eyes that tells it how much light is available at different times of the day. Then, it adjusts its internal clock to the correct time of day and coordinates the rest of the body. The resulting ‘circadian’ rhythms in our behaviour and physiology, for example sleep/wake and body temperature patterns, last approximately (circa) a day (dian). Without a circadian system, we would be unable to partition our phasic biology to the day and night.


In 1972, scientists found the location of the ‘master’ circadian clock in an area of the hypothalamus, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Many SCN cells contain a network of genes, including the Period and Cryptochrome, that function like the cogs of a wristwatch; the time between switching them on and off is equal to around 24 hours. This genetic rhythm is detected in many different organs and tissues however in the SCN it is self-sustained and reset by light. We can detect these genes to identify other brain areas that may function as a self-sustained clock. As a result, our understanding of the circadian system has progressed towards a multi-clock model in which different brain regions combine circadian timekeeping with different physiological processes. One such region is the mediobasal nucleus of the hypothalamus (MBH) which has an established role in the regulation of metabolism (energy intake and expenditure).

One issue with modern life is that our daily schedules no longer correlate with sunrise and sunset, but with our working hours/social hours. Recent evidence suggests that this misalignment increases the risk of a range of diseases from obesity and diabetes to depression and dementia. The MBH, being both a clock and a metabolic controller, may play a role in this relationship between circadian disruption and metabolic disease.

My project aims to develop an understanding of how the clockwork in the MBH influences how it controls metabolism under normal conditions and with different diets. A detailed understanding of this interaction may help us develop clock-targeted treatments for metabolic diseases. 

4 tips for a healthy circadian system-

·  Expose yourself to as much natural light as possible

·  Make your bedroom dark – seal up the windows and avoid light at all costs!

·  Avoid artificial light before bedtime – that means no phones, laptops, tablets folks.

·  Sleep/wake at regular times – While a lie in at the weekend is good for catching up on ‘sleep-debt’ accumulated during the week, try not to overdo it. 

Going further

The website for the faculty of life sciences at the University of Manchester -

At the University of Manchester we have the largest group of chronobiologists in Europe! Information about this research can be found here-

How the circadian clock affects sleep – The sleep foundation


Writing a History of History

by YPU Blog on January 8, 2015, Comments. Tags: history, holocaust, judaism, manchester, memory, museum, poland, Research, and Sociology


Hi, I'm Janek and I'm a historian, sort of. I specialise in memory studies. I research how people remember the past and why the way they imagine it changes. You could say I write a history of history. After all, what we write as historians changes the perception of the past the most. You could also say that what I do is not history at all, that it's sociology or cultural science. It's very confusing, even for me!

But let’s pretend I'm a historian. After all, I did graduate in history from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Then, two years ago, I moved to Manchester to do a PhD here. I do memory studies and, in particular, I look at how the Holocaust was remembered in my home town, Krakow.

In Depth

But what does it really mean? One of my case studies is an old Jewish Town in Krakow. For years, it lied neglected but, in the past couple of decades, it has turned into one of the most popular and fashionable spots in the City. Think Castlefield. It's like Castlefield without the canals and with synagogues instead. In my research, I try to find some traces of Jewish heritage in this now fashionable area. I look at how the Jewish relics have changed over time and how they have contributed to making the place so popular.

My other case is the local history museum, like the Imperial War Museum. The History museum in Krakow has always had an exhibition about Jewish history, but, only a couple of years ago, it was turned into the most important part of the museum and its biggest attraction.  How did this happen? What did curators tell us about Jewish history at the old exhibitions and what do they tell us now? And my favorite set of questions: Why do we believe them? What do they do to back up the story they tell? How do they convince us that what they say is important?

The best part of my project is that it can actually make a difference. People often think that writing about the past is not important for the present; Scientists change lives, not historians. But with a project like mine it’s different. I get to talk to museum curators and  planners and show them my findings. So there is a good chance that next time when you go to museum in Krakow you will see an exhibition with my ideas in it!

Going Further

If you're interested in history museums: or here

And if you want to read more about the cool old Jewish District:,artykul,zydowski_krakow.html