Focus On...Archaeology

by YPU Admin on May 20, 2013, Comments. Tags: archaeology, careers, history, pathways, and study

Archaeology: Digging Up the Past

Have you ever wanted to discover ancient remains in a distant land? Do you feel excitement when watching a team of archaeologists on TV reveal human bones, bronze tools, gold jewellery and pottery? Are you riveted by the details of how a Roman bathhouse worked or how an Iron Age roundhouse was built? If your answer is yes, then archaeology might just be the thing for you.

What is archaeology?

Archaeology is the scientific study and interpretation of past peoples and their lives through studying the material remains they left behind. Archaeologists look at a wide range of artefacts from large buildings and colourfully painted graves down to small clay pots, paintings, stone arrowheads, bone fragments and even pollen and seeds.

The most common way to find past artefacts is by excavating, or by doing a field survery where you collect remains that are visible on the surface. As these activities destroy the precise locations and context of the artefacts, archaeologists record, draw and photograph all information accurately for future generations. All finds are then washed, analysed and interpreted. Finally, the artefacts need to be preserved, possibly reconstructed and stored – frequently in a nearby local museum. All of this work is rarely done by archaeologists alone, but requires a team of specialists, such as geologists, botanists, osteologists, computer specialists, and conservators. Once the analysis has been completed, the findings are published in articles, books or magazines.

Studying archaeology

In order to get expertise in archaeology, an undergraduate degree is the best way to go. Here at Manchester, we offer both single honours and joint honours degrees (with Ancient History, Anthropology or History of Art). With our teaching stretching from the Neanderthals through to modern day and our research areas ranging from Europe, the Near East, Africa through to Australia, the UK and the Pacific, we offer a truly global introduction to the discipline. Our main focus at Manchester is on exploring the social dimension of the past human experience. We offer a unique combination of theoretical enquiry, a concern with the contemporary social context, and a commitment to practical field work (You can watch a video of Manchester's archaeologists here). In addition, we have strong links to the archaeological sciences at the university and to the Manchester Museum whose collections we are able to make use of in our teaching and whose staff members regularly contribute specialist lectures.

Career paths

Archaeology is one of the most varied careers as it draws on the sciences, social sciences and arts. It is also one of the most diverse subjects as it combines activity out in the field with intellectual study and scientific analysis in the laboratory. Archaeologists can be found in the private, public and academic sectors: You could find yourself working at the shovel’s edge in charge of uncovering new sites and finds. Alternatively, you might be working in a museum, designing exhibitions, talking to the public and looking after the collections. Maybe you are employed by the council in charge of providing guidance to developers. Or possibly you are working as a lecturer at university and are undertaking your own research projects throughout the year. Depending on your interests, you might find yourself working at home in Britain, on a hot island in the Mediterranean, on a lone mountain in South America or the cold expanses of Siberia. One thing is for sure: it’s a hugely rewarding career that combines painstaking discovery with stimulating interpretations about past people’s lives.

Even if you don’t see yourself pursuing archaeology as a career, it is an excellent foundation for your future that will serve you well in a wide variety of interesting careers: studying archaeology alerts you to the great diversity between people and social practices; it provides a rigorous training in evaluating evidence and ideas; it encourages the development of creative and critical thinking, verbal and written communication, and a wealth of practical and team working skills that are sought after by employers. As a subject it is challenging, intriguing, satisfying and hugely enjoyable.

The Archaeology of beer!

One recent project carried out by archaeologists (with the help of archaeology students) at Manchester has been the excavation of a Bronze Age beer production installation on Cyprus. A two by two metre domed mud-plaster structure (shown in the picture) was used as a kiln to dry malt for the production of beer three-and-a half-thousand years ago. The beers were brewed from malted barley, and fermented with yeasts produced from fruits such as grape or fig. All the ingredients have been found as carbonised seeds at the site, along with stone tools for grinding the grains and pots for heating the mixture.

Additional clues on beer production on Cyprus come from large decorated pottery bowls like the one shown in the image. You can see people grinding grain and a couple sitting relaxing drinking beer from bowls!

Find out more about archaeology…

To check out Archaeology at Manchester, go to the department's webpage

The Council for British Archaeology supports archaeology across the UK and you can find out about the latest finds, excavations and the Young Archaeologists’ Club from their website.

For up-to-date news about archaeology as well as articles about different topics, go to:

A recent BBC series uses planes to detect archaeology. Find out more with the ‘flying archaeologist’ blog.

BBC History has excellent website about archaeology (and some self-test quizzes).


Smoke screen

by YPU Admin on May 13, 2013, Comments


Hello, I am Simon O'Meara, I'm a PhD student in my first of three years at the University of Manchester. 

research atmospheric science, which involves the gases (like nitrogen), liquids (like water droplets) and solids (like dust) that make up the atmosphere. Have you ever been on a street when a vehicle emits a load of smoke?  If enough smoke is released it can even decrease the visibility of objects behind it.  

My research is all about particles in the atmosphere such as those produced by cars.  When I say particles here I don't mean single molecules or atoms; rather, I mean solid or liquid objects that need a high power microscope to be seen.  The reason these are important is that, when particles enter the atmosphere they can reduce how much sunlight reaches Earth's surface by reflecting it back into space.

In Depth

What degree did you do?

After doing A levels in biology, chemistry, physics and maths my first degree was Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia, which is in Norwich.  After that I did a masters course at the University of Leeds.  Having come from Birmingham, my studies have let me experience living in a variety of British 


What was the highlight and biggest challenge of your degree?

The biggest challenge was being responsible for my own study because I was used to being set most of my work by teachers.  The highlight was the final year project where we did our own unique research into an area we found interesting.  It was this opportunity that made me realise I wanted to do a PhD. 

What impact will your PhD have?

If less sunlight reaches Earth's surface the surface will cool down - the opposite effect to greenhouse gases.  

The particles emitted during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 (pictured) cooled the global temperature by around 0.2 oC.  These particles might be really important factors in determining the temperature at Earth's surface and therefore the climate we experience.  At the moment the Earth's temperature is rising because of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, but these particles are probably limiting the amount of temperature rise.  In order to understand past, present and future climates we need to know what these particles are made of to estimate what effect they have on Earth's temperature.  My research we help to show the composition of particles.  Climate affects everybody, so this research will be of benefit to society, which is motivational to my work.

What's a normal day like?

Having cycled in I write down the main things I did the previous day and list the next actions that need to be taken.  Often an action will be finding and reading a piece of work with an answer to a question I have, such as whether a specific chemical has been measured in the atmosphere.  My work also involves laboratory measurements so I might make some of these, for example measurements of the vapour pressures of chemicals.  Most evenings I train with the University's cross country club. 

Going Further

The website of my department (School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences) gives information about what students can study, including the exciting field trips they get to go on.

My department also produces a podcast (The Barometer) where some of our scientists talk through everyday atmospheric issues in an easy way to understand 

The Royal Meteorological Society have introductory articles about climate, including how particles (scientific name aerosols) affect it.  You can calculate your carbon footprint from this page too.

NASA doesn't just look into space, it also looks down at Earth.  NASA satellites provide information about temperature and particle emissions as well as many other variables.

To find out more about climate check out the information sheets produced by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

You can see what some other scientists are up to at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, which organises research campaigns and employs scientists to study atmospheric issues. 

Finally, Bright Knowledge has lots of useful information about studying courses relating to Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (including Chemistry, Physics, and Environmental Studies), as well as guides to careers in those areas. 


Researching Religion

by YPU Admin on May 7, 2013, Comments. Tags: Religion and Research


My name is Francesca Frazer and I am currently studying for a PhD in Jewish-Christian relations. I’ve always found studying religion fascinating as it’s a way of looking at the world through the eyes of others and understanding what motivates people to believe what they believe and do what they do. I’m especially interested in the relationship between Christians and Jews. They have a shared heritage – the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament – and yet they’ve fought for centuries. Jewish-Christian relations is a massive area that has become especially important since the events of the Holocaust. Repairing such a fractured relationship has been difficult, but one man, an American rabbi called Samuel Sandmel (1911-1979), was a pioneer in this area and I have chosen to spend three years of my life researching his impact on the world of Jewish-Christian relations.

In Depth

I came across Samuel Sandmel’s many books when I was studying for my first degree in Religions and Theology and then in my Masters degree in Biblical Studies, both at the University of Manchester. I was impressed by his tolerance and his respectful explanations of beliefs which were different to his own, especially so soon after the atrocities of the Holocaust, and at a time when Jews were still being persecuted. At that time, universities were mainly Christian institutions and very few Jews were allowed to teach at them. Sandmel was one of the first Jews to undertake a PhD in New Testament studies and, even more rare, to become a Professor in this field. He wrote not only textbooks about the history of the troubled relationship between Christians and Jews, but also popular books in common-sense language, which could be easily understood by ordinary people of both faiths. He explained about the misconceptions each religion had about the other and showed how through looking at the beliefs of another, they could understand and appreciate not just their differences but also their similarities.

In order to assess how much influence he had on Jewish-Christian relations, I have to know everything about Sandmel. Researching someone’s life means really investigating every detail about them, not just what books and articles they published, but finding out their thoughts and actions. So, last year I went to the USA to an archive where his wife had donated all his personal handwritten diaries and letters he’d written to her and his children. I’ve spoken to one of his children and students that he taught to find out more about him. So, researching involves a lot more than just reading books!

The more people understand about other religions, the more tolerant they become and hopefully we can act to make sure attitudes like those perpetuated in the Holocaust are never allowed to happen again.

Because of this I also spend part of my time working for the International Council of Christians and Jews and coordinating the International Abrahamic Forum, which promotes Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations. These two organisations are made up of thousands of members from 38 different countries. My job is to organise conferences and events where students, academics and religious leaders can all come together to learn about people from other faiths. It’s incredibly rewarding.

I also teach at the University and give talks about the study of religions to local schools and colleges. I’m passionate about improving understanding and therefore tolerance between religions, so after my PhD I will pursue a career in either interfaith work or teaching.

Going Further

To find out more about the relationship between Christians and Jews, you can become a member of the Council of Christians and Jews. You can also join the International Council of Christians and Jews and the International Abrahamic Forum, which promotes Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations. 

To find out more about academic study of Jewish-Christian relations, there is a really good website, called, which is full of all sorts of articles, news stories, book reviews, statements and other interesting information. 

The Brightside Trust provides information about studying for a degree in Religious Studies

If you want to know more about studying religion at the University of Manchester (I can highly recommend it!), have a look at our Centre for Jewish Studies and our Religions and Theology department webpage.


Call the Doctor...

by YPU Admin on April 29, 2013, Comments


I am Danielle, a medical student in my fifth year of study.

However, this year I am not in clinical medicine and instead undertaking a Masters in Medical Sciences. My research explores how swallowing function changes as we age and whether certain genetic factors may play a role in that change.

In depth

Why did you decide to do research?

Medical students have the opportunity to take a year out and study another medical related subject in depth and gain an extra degree, which is called an intercalated degree. I chose to do a research masters to gain research experience and skills needed to help my career development. I also knew it would be a pleasant change before I undertake my final exams in fifth year, which are supposed to be incredibly stressful! I found my third year placement in gastroenterology (the area of medicine that covers the digestive system) incredibly interesting. This was why I decided to undertake research in this area.

What is your research about?

Everybody swallows around 2000 times a day and it is essential to life! Despite this we do not fully understand how it works. However, we know it does involve a lot of muscles and quite a few areas of the brain.

As we age our swallowing gets worse and many elderly people develop swallowing problems. The issue is quite common and has been shown to affect approximately 11% of elderly people living in the community. This is important because the treatment for swallowing problems is limited.

The first part of my research explores how swallowing function in elderly people changes over time. A questionnaire has been sent to people over the age of 80 that allows them to self report the extent of their swallowing problems, if they have any. The same questionnaire was sent to the same people three years ago and this therefore allows me to analyse if their swallowing has changed over time.

The next part of my research is investigating why only some people develop swallowing problems as they get older. Certain inherited factors, called genes, could play a role in the development of swallowing problems in otherwise healthy elderly people. This could mean that if you inherit a certain genetic factor from your parents, you are more likely to develop swallowing problems as you age.

This is important because it increases our understanding of swallowing and perhaps one day we may be able to predict who will develop swallowing problems. Ultimately, my research will help towards developing new treatments for those with swallowing problems and result in better care for patients.

What have you enjoyed most about your masters?

This year has been one of my favourite years in medical school! Being able to gain experience in research methodology and analysis in an area I find fascinating has given me a better idea of what I would like to do in the future. Sometimes it can feel as though we are being rushed through medical school so that we can start practicing as doctors as soon as possible. Having this year to do something different has definitely helped me reflect on my previous medical school years and consider what I want from my career.

Also, having the opportunity to network with world leading researchers has increased my confidence. Having such great figures as mentors has helped me with my current research and allowed me to think in a different, more critical way. Lastly, doing research has helped develop my organisation and time management skills. This has meant that I have been able to make the most out of this year by participating in extra-curricular activities and even start the gym.

What will you do after your research?

After completing my masters I will return to my fifth and final year of medical, which I am anticipating to be quite hard and challenging. Following that I will graduate and become a doctor. I hope to do some more research in the not so distant future.

Going further

If you would like more information on research in swallowing, please look at the following relevant websites:

A video that shows what a normal swallow is like 

The NHS website explains swallowing problems and how they can be treated in further detail. 

Stroke is the leading cause of swallowing problems and is common. More information about stroke can be found here

There's also more here about the gastrointestinal research that takes place at University of Manchester. 

To find out about studying medicine at The University of Manchester, you can look at the department's webpages

The Brightside Trust's Bright Knowledge can also help you to think about pursuing medicine and healthcare- related careers. 


Fracture Mechanics

by YPU Admin on April 23, 2013, Comments


My name is Huw Woodward and I am currently in the second year of my PhD at the University of Manchester.


My research can be divided into two elements: fracture mechanics and computational modelling. Fracture mechanics is the study of cracks within structures. The presence of a crack within a structure can reduce its strength significantly and lead to its failure at loads much lower than would otherwise be expected. Be it the wing of an airplane or a high pressure vessel in a nuclear power station, understanding the behaviour of these cracks is vitally important to ensure their safe design. Computational modelling involves the use of computers to run mathematical models which predict the behaviour of complex systems. Engineers use computational modelling as a tool to analyse the behaviour of structures under different loads; for example, it can be used to predict the failure loads of a structure. My research focuses on developing a new method for the modelling of cracks within structures with the aim of improving on current techniques. My research is partly funded by EDF Energy so my research is particularly geared towards the study of cracks within high pressure pipes that are used in nuclear power stations.

In Depth

Due to current limitations in the analysis of fracture mechanics problems, power stations are over-engineered. This means that parts of the power station are designed to be much stronger than is necessary in order to account for the uncertainty that exists in the understanding of these cracks. Improving the accuracy of our models will allow for more efficient designs of these power stations, leading to improved safety standards and reducing costs.

Computational modelling might sound complex; however, it is based on a simple principle: a large and complex problem can be solved by dividing it into many smaller parts before solving each part individually. For example, analysing the stresses within a large structure such as a suspension bridge would be near impossible when considering the structure in its entirety. Imagine building a suspension bridge out of Lego blocks. Each Lego block is small, of a simple shape, and is therefore easy to analyse. Using a computer’s ability to solve thousands of simple equations very quickly makes it possible to analyse each block individually in order to build a solution for the entire bridge. This is essentially what is done when modelling a structure computationally.

My interest in computational modelling was sparked during my third year project as part of my undergraduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at the University. My project involved an attempt to computationally model a tornado. The project introduced me to the elegant techniques used to model problems of seemingly impossible complexity. The mathematics behind such techniques still fascinates me. The fact that my work will have real-world, practical implications adds to my motivation and is one of the reasons why I chose engineering over a science degree. Applying your knowledge to improve on our current capabilities is what engineering is all about!

Going further

The importance of fracture mechanics suddenly became apparent during the Second World War when problems occurred with the American-built “Liberty” Ships.

Due to some major design flaws some of these ships literally broke in half due to huge cracks that formed through the hull. This sparked a huge increase in the focus given to the study of fracture mechanics. You can read more about these ships at Bright Hub Engineering.

This video shows the simulation of a car crashing into a bollard. Towards the end of the video you can see how the complex structure of the car has been divided into many smaller pars of simple shape.  

For more information on many various Engineering-related topics, Bright Hub Engineering is a great resource. The Brightside Trust also has information about studying subjects that can lead to careers in Engineering. 

For further information about studying Engineering at the University of Manchester, the department website provides a lot of useful information.