Radioactive Research

by YPU Admin on April 15, 2013, Comments. Tags: science


Being a bit of a film and TV geek, I’ve always been fascinated by how nuclear science – be it in the form of bombs or radioactive waste – has been portrayed on the silver screen. I’ll never forget one of the first times I sat in front of the television to watch The Simpsons, with those images of Homer messing with glowing crystals and Lenny declaring ‘3 days without an accident’ beaming out at me. In a strange way, that cartoon is one of the many reasons why I decided to go into nuclear research. Thankfully, the nuclear energy industry is not run by Montgomery Burns and is one in which I am excited to be a part of.

My name is Gunther and I am currently working towards a PhD at the University of Manchester. My research focuses upon the UK’s nuclear waste inventory.


Nuclear waste is a hot topic in this country at the moment because the Government, along with the nuclear authorities, are trying to determine where we can store it without damaging the environment. You may have heard in the news recently that Cumbria County Council doesn’t want this waste stored in an underground facility, leaving the Government with few too little options now.

This waste generally contains all of the radioactive rubbish that comes out of a nuclear reactor after the fuel has been burnt up to produce electricity. Whereas some of this waste, known as High Level Waste (HLW), is highly radioactive and still generating heat, the waste I am looking at is radioactive but doesn’t give off heat; known as Intermediate Level Waste (ILW).

In Depth

Currently, we store this waste in above-ground storage facilities. The big problem we have at the moment though is where these facilities are placed around the UK, with some being built near coastlines. Subsequently, the containers are exposed to a varying amount of marine aerosol, which contains aggressive chloride salt, produced by breaking waves and water particles being thrown up into the air. As nuclear waste is held in stainless steel containers, it can corrode/rust when exposed to this marine aerosol. To help you think about what’s going on, imagine parking your car along the shoreline for a number of years. You’d probably come back to see your once shiny vehicle transformed into a palace of rust, due to the massive presence of oxygen and water along the coast. This simple process has big implications in the nuclear industry: when these containers rust badly, they may fail and become too dangerous to handle.

However, what if these harmful salts aren’t the only chemicals in the atmosphere? That is the question which forms the centre of my research. For many years it has been thought that marine waters – and aerosol - simply contained different salts. Recently, however, researchers have found that there are millions of organic species floating around in the air as well. These compounds are produced by those most unglamorous of organisms, which float around in the sea: Algae. Some of these algal species play a massive role in environmental processes and can lead to some crazy effects, including the production of vast amounts of sea foam in places like Australia. The coastline north of Sydney produces so much of this foam it’s been named the ‘Cappuccino Coast’.

My research is asking the question: what would happen if this organic gloop was placed on these nuclear waste containers? Would they protect the steel surface from all of those nasty salts, which simply want to eat away at the nuclear waste? Or would they help transport the salt to the surface quicker, thereby speeding up the corrosion process?

Going Further

Being halfway through my research these are still questions which yet remain to be answered fully but that is what is so intriguing about science. To steal a phrase from Captain Kirk from Star Trek, scientific research is so exciting because you will ‘boldly go where no man [or woman] has gone before’.

You can find out more about studying Materials Science at the University of Manchester on their website and that of the Dalton Nuclear Institute.

I am also one half of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Nuclear, a podcast and blog discussing opinions on nuclear-related topics. 


Are you an aspiring university student?

by YPU Admin on April 9, 2013, Comments

Thinking about going to university? But not quite sure where to start in terms of the application process? The University of Manchester Aspiring Students' Society (UMASS) is the ideal starting point for information on applying to university. Registration for UMASS couldn’t be easier…simply visit the website and click on the registration link. This will allow you to receive a monthly e-newsletter which focuses on important aspects of the application process to university during the periods when we feel students need the most support. Take the December edition, for example; we understand that this can be quite a stressful time of year as many students will start to revise for their January exams, so we support you with suggested revision techniques and ways in which you can manage you time more efficiently.

Back to the UMASS website where students can view graduate profiles to gain a unique insight into varying degree subjects and what career fields they can lead to. There are also more interactive resources to guide you along the application pathway to university. The UMASS podcast series offers specialist advice from professionals who have years of experience in helping students to receive those all important offers from their chosen universities. The podcast series includes topics such as ‘making the most of open days’, ‘making an informed choice on choosing your A Levels’ and ‘a guide to student finance’. The purpose of UMASS is to also provide you with an insight into student life at university and how it differs from studying at school or college. So UMASS has teamed up with a group of student ambassadors (current students at the University of Manchester) with one aim: to provide you with up-to-date personal experiences of studying and living at university. Through the new weekly postings on the UMASS blog, students are now able to find out what student life has to offer.

Remember, all the resources outlined above can be found on the website…but that is not all that UMASS has to offer!  We like to support students even further by holding a number of activities and workshops on the University of Manchester campus. These are designed to help you with writing personal statements, experiencing university lectures, revision techniques and generally just getting started with researching the different options available to you.  

The on-campus programme has been structured to support students throughout their A Level studies. Starting in the November of your AS studies (Discover University) right up until you set off for university (summer lecture series). By being involved with UMASS you will become more confident and considerably more knowledgeable on the benefits that university has to offer, wherever you choose to apply. Even when you get to university UMASS will not forget you. We ask many of our UMASS alumni to pass on their experiences to the next generation of UMASS students by providing current information on their courses for our ‘subject of the month’ section on our website. For those of you who choose to study with us here at the University of Manchester, we will encourage you to train to become a student ambassador. This will enable you to become involved with the UMASS programme (and get paid for it!) whilst you’re studying.

On behalf of UMASS we look forward to seeing you on the UMASS programme in the near future!


Psychology and Genetics

by YPU Admin on April 3, 2013, Comments


My name is Melissa Noke and I am doing a PhD in Psychology at the University of Manchester.

I am a full time PhD student so I spend most of my time organising research for my PhD, but I also teach as an e-tutor on the Manchester Leadership Programme(MLP), a programme which offers a combination of academic study and volunteering to students from a variety of disciplines.

In the past few years I have also been involved in teaching on the BSc Psychology

degree and this year I am a seminar leader for the Year 3 Health Psychology module.

My PhD is focused on the psychosocial aspect of genetics, and through my research I would like to understand how children feel after being told that they are a genetic carrier of a sickle cell disease (SCD). Although my PhD is classified as being a research degree within a Health Psychology stream, I will not be able to practice as a Health Psychologist once I have finished. However I could pursue a career in Health Psychology research, either within the NHS or a University.

In Depth…

The focus of my PhD may seem specific and you may well be wondering why I have decided to spend three years investigating such a tiny area. Well it is because SCD affect more people than you would think, and most probably someone you know! In 2010/2011 approximately 1 in 42 women were found to be a SCD carrier during pregnancy and in 2010 nearly 9,800 newborn babies were found to carry a SCD. SCD are a group of different but related blood disorders which can result in damage to vital organs and even death. SCD are genetic and follow a recessive inheritance pattern. In a family affected by SCD not everyone will have a SCD - some people may be carriers. So what is a carrier? A carrier does not have, nor will ever develop SCD, but SCD is carried in their genes which means it is not possible to tell from looking at someone whether they are a carrier. If two people with SCD carrier genes have a baby, the baby has a 1 in 4 chance of having a SCD.

In 2007, the NHS rolled out a new programme in every area in the UK. The programme enables professionals to give all newborn babies a tiny blood test at around 5 days old to see if they have one of 5 common genetic diseases; a test known as a newborn blood spot screening test. Special technology can see from the blood tests whether the baby has a SCD. But the technology can now also see if a baby is a carrier of a SCD. People have different views about whether babies should be tested to see if they are carriers. On the one hand, people think that if the technology is advanced enough to see that a child is a carrier, it is a good thing to tell so they can make informed reproductive decisions and are more prepared if they go on to have a child who is ill. But on the other hand, people think it may negatively affect a child if they know that they are a carrier, and believe some children may feel depressed, anxious or even stigmatised if they are told they are a carrier.

I really enjoy reading around the area and find it a fascinating debate. After all, if someone told me that I was carrying a genetic disease I don't know how I would feel. Do you?

Going Further…

  • Genetic counsellors talk to families before and after they have genetic tests. You can find out more about becoming a genetic counsellor here
  • Other professionals who also work with families and also go to talk to families who find out that their baby has a genetic illness through the newborn screening programme are health visitors. You can find out more about becoming a health visitor here
  • You can find out more about studying for a degree in Psychology at The University of Manchester by looking at the departmental webpages

·  More information about other illnesses which are screened within the newborn screening programme can be found here:

Cystic fibrosis

Phenylketonuria (PKU)

Congenital hypothyroidism (CHT)

MCADD (medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency)


What is Nanoscience?

by Admin on March 28, 2013, Comments. Tags: science


My name is Edward Lewis and I’m a PhD student at the University of Manchester.  Doing a PhD takes 3 or 4 years and during that time you dedicate yourself to studying one topic in great depth with the hope of discovering something completely new.  My area of study is Nanoscience.  “Nano” refers to objects of a certain size.  A nanometre (nm) is 1 millionth of a millimetre, that’s a really small distance: a human hair is 80,000nm wide! Nanoscience is all about studying things that are nano sized. Materials that are only a few nm long have all sorts of weird, surprising, and useful properties.

My work is about making and looking at nanomaterials. There are two types of nanomaterial that I’m interested in: the first are tiny spherical particles called quantum dots and the second are super thin sheets of carbon, only a single atom thick, called graphene.  Looking at really small things is surprisingly hard: we need to use massive, complicated and very expensive machines to do this. These bits of equipment are called transmission electron microscopes.

One of the reasons that I’m interested in making and seeing nanomaterials is that they could help us make better more efficient solar panels. Generating clean renewable energy is a big concern in the modern world and I think nanoscience has a big part to play in solving problems like climate change.

In depth

At school I always enjoyed science and I went on the spend 4 years at Oxford studying for a Chemistry degree. Since coming to Manchester to do a PhD I’ve not used a whole lot of the Chemistry I was taught in my degree but have had the exciting experience of learning a lot about new areas of science and working with people from completely different subjects to me. Modern scientific research is very collaborative. Some people imagine scientists as antisocial men who toil alone in the lab until, eventually, they make some amazing discovery. However, in reality, team work is a vital part of almost every scientist’s work.  The skills and knowledge needed to do cutting edge research are just too vast for any one person to have them all.  Nanoscience sits somewhere on the boundary between the traditional scientific disciplines; there are nanoscientists who work in Biology, Medicine, Chemistry, Physics, Materials Science, and Electronic Engineering.  On a day to day basis I spend a lot of time running between the 3 different labs I work in. I work in a chemistry lab making quantum dots, with physicists on graphene, and go to the materials science building to do electron microscopy.

One of the weird things about nanomaterials is that their properties are size dependent. This isn’t the case for normal materials: if you had two lumps of the same steel, one bigger that the other, they would still have the same properties (melting point, resistivity, strength etc.). However, if you have two nanoparticles, one 3nm across the other 5nm across, they will have very different properties.

For example: we can make quantum dots almost any colour simply by changing their size. 

Similarly, solar panels turn sunlight into electricity, they work because when particles of light (photons) hit the solar panel they make electrons jump up to a higher energy. Normally one particle of light can move one electron, however, in quantum dots one particle of light can move more than one electron.  These two weird properties of nano sized materials, the ability to choose their colour by changing their size and the possibility of getting more than one electron from one photon, mean that we should be able to make super-efficient solar panels in the future.

I really enjoy my PhD research. One of the best things about doing a PhD is that you are your own boss: you get make a lot of the important decisions about your work. Being able to dedicate 4 years to a single project is also very cool; by the end of your PhD there is a good chance you will be one of the world experts in the small area of science that you have been studying, hopefully you will have discovered something that no one before you knew.  I like the fact that everyday I’m learning something new and that I get the opportunity to work with interesting intelligent people from all around the world.

Going further...

If you’d like to find out more about nanoscience, Steven Fry has made a video about this exciting area of science.

One of the nanomaterials I work with is graphene; it won two Manchester scientists the Nobel Prize. This BBC news report tells you a little about it. You can see one of the electron microscopes I use in this video clip.

I’ve talked a bit about quantum dots and how they might be useful for making solar panels. Some scientists think they could also be useful in treating cancer. In this clip you can see how, as I mentioned, different sized particles have very different colours.

For further information about studying Materials Science at The University of Manchester, the department webpage provides a lot of useful information. 



by YPU Admin on March 25, 2013, Comments

Welcome to the Young Persons University of Manchester website!

This site has been set up to showcase some of the research currently being done at the University of Manchester, mainly by PhD students (graduate students who are studying for a further degree by research), and also by our academic staff. Some of the students have produced activities for you to have a go at in our ‘Challenges’ section.

These self-study activities relate to the main subject disciplines at the University: Engineering and Physical Sciences; Humanities; Life Sciences; Medical and Human Sciences. The ‘Challenges’ are designed to outline key concepts within a particular subject area, or to showcase current research being undertaken at the University.

Included within each Challenge is the option to discover more about studying related subjects at university and future career options. There are also links to additional resources related to that subject area.

The weekly blog section will be the place where more of our PhD students and other researchers from around the University will talk about their research, why it’s important (to them and others), and how you can find out more about studying at university. They will provide a taste of what it’s really like to be a researcher in the UK in the twenty-first century! Information about research developments and public engagement activities will also feature on this page.

Over the coming weeks, we will be showcasing research taking place in Archaeology, Materials Science, Medicine, and a range of other subjects. If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see on the blog, please do get in contact with us.