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Researching heritage: Transporting people to transporting minds

by YPU Admin on January 4, 2018, Comments. Tags: Heritage, history, MSI, Museum of Science and Industry, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Erin Beeston and I’m a part-time PhD Student at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) at the University of Manchester and the Science Museum Group. I’m working on a collaborative doctoral award, which means I work across two institutions: the University of Manchester and Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), Manchester.

I began my academic career at the University of Manchester in 2004, when I started a History undergraduate degree. During this time, I realised I’d like to work in heritage. The University Careers Service suggested I gain experience by volunteering and I began a placement at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium making digital records of historic botany specimens. Then I studied for a master’s degree in Art Gallery and Museum Studies whilst working part-time in museums. I used my academic knowledge, skills from my university course such as organisation, time management, accurate record keeping and presentation skills along with what I learnt though working and volunteering to start a career in museums. I worked at Salford and then Bolton Museum, mostly with social and industrial history collections. Although I enjoyed my work, I was interested in studying for PhD as I am passionate about research. I saw an advertisement by the Science Museum Group for a PhD student to work on the history of uses and perceptions of Liverpool Road Station (the site of the Museum of Science and Industry). As I had previously worked at MSI as an assistant presenter (doing fun things like children’s activities and helping with science shows), I was keen to research the museum’s rich history and applied for the project.    

In Depth

The focus of my research is Liverpool Road Station, which dates form 1830 and is the oldest railway station in the world. Whilst the early history of the station is well known, for many decades after the passenger service (1830-1844) it was a freight station – which has been overlooked by historians. I am working on both the history of the site and exploring how it was transformed into the museum during the 1970s and 1980s. I often visit archives to view primary sources about the site, these can be documents, maps or other visual sources. I have been to London to visit National Archives, to the National Railway Museum in York, viewed archives in Liverpool, Chester, Manchester and Preston. I have also recorded interviews called oral histories with people who either worked at the railway station or played a part in rescuing it and making the museum. This research is important to the museum, who are using findings to present the history of their buildings to the public, particularly the lesser known freight story. The results of my thesis are informing work on new galleries at MSI. I enjoy finding out new stories and ways of looking at the history of the site and discussing this with staff at the museum and the public. During my PhD, I have shared my research with other postgraduates, academics and the public through conferences and talks. I’ve even attended a summer school in Budapest! It’s a brilliant journey, finding out new things and developing ideas and arguments along the way.


Going Further

I undertook an undergraduate degree in History at the University: <http://hummedia.manchester.ac.uk/brochures/salc/2018/ug/history.pdf>

My master’s was at the Centre for Museology: <http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/01100/ma-art-gallery-and-museum-studies/>

<https://culturalpractice.wordpress.com/category/centre-for-museology/>

My first experience working in a museum was at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium where I learnt about record keeping, digitisation and collections care: <https://herbologymanchester.wordpress.com/about/>

<http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/collection/plants/>

Here you can find out more about the Science Museum Group’s research programme:

<https://group.sciencemuseum.org.uk/our-work/research-public-history/>

And the focus of my research - the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester: <https://www.msimanchester.org.uk/>

At CHSTM we write about our work for this blog: <https://chstmphdblog.wordpress.com/>

For example, I wrote a blog about my summer school experience at the CEU in Budapest! <https://chstmphdblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/cities-and-science-summer-school/>

Here you can find more about CHSTM and the modules available to undergraduates: <http://www.chstm.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/>

 

How Stress can have a big impact on your brain and memory

by YPU Admin on December 14, 2017, Comments. Tags: Neuroscience, PhD, psychology, and Research

Introduction

Hi I’m Liz, a second year BBSRC funded cognitive neuroscience PhD student. Since A-level I have always wanted to be able to combine my interests in psychology with my interests in physics but was always told they were too different and I would never be able to study both…. LIES! Cognitive neuroscience lets me explore psychology, in my case the effects of stress on memory, while also using neuroimaging techniques (YAY Physics!) to examine the under-lying brain mechanisms involved.  Before coming to Manchester to start my PhD, I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology with Neuropsychology and my Master’s degree in Neuroimaging at Bangor University in North Wales.

In depth…

How does stress affect memory?

Do you ever notice that some people can just handle stress really well while other people really struggle to cope and forget everything they were doing? This is known as a person’s stress reactivity. Highly stress reactive people experience much greater hormone responses when stressed than low stress reactive people, meaning that in comparison, they suffer more ‘mental blocks’ when trying to compete tasks.  More seriously, however, continual high levels of stress have been linked to serious social and health problems such as job loss, divorce, heart disease and stroke.

Similarly, have you ever sat down in an exam that you thought you were prepared for and suddenly had a complete mind blank? During stressful situations memory can sometimes become impaired leading to these sudden ‘mind blank’ moments where we are unable to remember information we previously knew. These can happen to anyone but do more commonly happen to highly stress reactive individuals who struggle to cope under pressure.

In contrast however, it has been shown that sometimes, learning under stress or intense pressure can increase memory ability. This is because stress hormones help slow the rate of forgetting which can be shown using neuroimaging the highlights brain activity in certain regions. 

What is Neuroimaging?

Neuroimaging covers a range of techniques that allow us to examine the brain and measure specific activation associated with certain tasks. The imaging techniques I use require magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. With these scanners we are able to explore different features of the brain including the size and structure of certain regions, the connectivity between these regions and the levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals) within different areas of the brain. MRI scans can also be used to explore the function (known as fMRI) of brain regions by examining levels of activation within these specific regions while completing a range of tasks. fMRI is one of the most common methods of imaging shown on medical TV shows- often they show areas of the brain ‘light up’ in response to sounds or images when people in the scanner- this isn’t exactly how fMRI works but the gist of it is about right. 

(Image 2: This is an MRI scan of my brain)

Using Neuroimaging to Explore Stress & Memory

So, using MRI we are able to compare the brain differences between high and low stress reactive people. This allows us to attempt to understand why some people can and some people cannot cope during stressful situations. We are also able to examine the activation in the brain during memory to attempt to compare brain activity to behavioural memory task outcomes. Finding any differences in brain structure or activity between stress reactive groups will help us to better understand what causes this detrimental response to stress that may then allow us to control negative outcomes as bets as possible

 

Going further…

To read more about neuroimaging work, check out this website (https://www.humanbrainmapping.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1) that explores current work using neuroimaging to discover more about the human brain.

There are lots of cool blog posts and YouTube videos that go into more detail about stress. Here are just a few to get you started:

·         TedBlog- Stress as a positive (https://blog.ted.com/could-stress-be-good-for-you-recent-research-that-suggests-it-has-benefits/)

·         TedEd- Stress in the Brain

·         TedEd- How memories form (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOgAbKJGrTA)

·         Science Central- Stress & Memory (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHl7BewJ0yU)

Finally, The Signal (https://thesignalmag.wordpress.com) is a student magazine founded by students at The University of Manchester and has some brilliant articles for young scientists interested neuroscience, behaviour, psychology and mental health. Issue 1 (https://issuu.com/thesignalmagazine/docs/issue_1_-_stress_oct17) was all about stress and is well worth a read for anyone interested.

 

 

Back to the Future? Look North – It’s Positively Medieval!

by YPU Admin on December 7, 2017, Comments. Tags: literature, medieval, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Gillian and I am an AHRC funded first year PhD candidate at the University of Manchester. The focus of my research is the medieval religious dramas (known as the mystery plays) that originated from areas of the north of England, specifically those associated with the cities of York and Chester, along with those contained in the Towneley manuscript that appear to have some connection with the Wakefield area. I did my undergraduate degree in English Literature at Manchester where my passion for medieval literature soon became apparent. Having achieved a First Class B.A., I went on to study my M.A. in Medieval Studies also at the University of Manchester. Hard work is rewarded at Manchester – I got a scholarship which enabled me to study for a Master’s with all fees waived!

 

In Depth…

Medieval literature may seem rather irrelevant to a modern society, but I believe that there are important challenges that we face today on global levels that have precedent in medieval society. Negotiating borders and boundaries, tensions inherent in religious beliefs and differences, the global economic and environmental challenges we face today – all of these, I contend, were of concern to medieval people who imagined the consequences of these challenges in ways which could appeal to an everyday, non-academic audience. The texts of the religious dramas are, on a very basic level, re-workings of Christian biblical narratives that depict the story of the bible from Creation to Doomsday. But they are also much more than that. People wrote how they spoke well into the seventeenth century (and in some cases well beyond this) and so what you can also tell from these stories is where these plays could have been best understood, in the region in which they were written. They are regional texts written with a preferred audience in mind. Part of the humour which, perhaps surprisingly, runs through these plays, depends upon local dialects – they promote regionalism as a mode of belonging just as much as any religious persuasion. My research is currently investigating the plays’ depiction of Noah and the flood from the three different regional perspectives of York, Chester, and the West Riding of Yorkshire (Wakefield). The questions I am posing are whether the differences between the plays’ dramatization of similar material is influenced by the environment of their production – do they display an acknowledgement of the very real threat of global environmental disaster caused by flooding that is of concern to everyone today? Do they promote inclusive community reaction and therefore action? Or do they display more individual responses that reveal exclusions and self-interest? During the summer months I will be visiting both York and Chester where the plays are being staged again. I want to ask the people who go to see these plays today what they get out of them, why do they still go? Why do the cities still produce these plays? What relevance do they have in today’s society? Can they be produced to appeal to a multi-faith international community, or do the choices taken by the producers of these modern versions maintain notions of civic imperialism and Christian elitism? My research will investigate these plays as transtemporal texts to suggest that each rendering of familiar material has specific differences in order to offer a very regional mode of both belonging and questioning as the following medieval images reveal. The first image is from a manuscript housed in the John Rylands library – look at all the fantastical beasts, and then see how the raven pecks at the eye of the corpse not among the chosen few on Noah’s ark. Were Noah and his family the first boat people, early refugees?

 

 There are twelve people in the image below, but only eight made it onto the ark – go figure!

 

 How do the texts respond to/replicate/question these contemporary images?

Going Further…

(www.inthemedievalmiddle.com) A really useful website detailing the lastest research areas of key medieval scholars and the relevance of medieval literature to modern society.

(www.alc.manchester.ac.uk) A key contact point for all current information regarding entry requirements, course components, etc. in the School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures at the University of Manchester.

(www.luminaruim.org) A veritable treasure trove of free to access information/essays/texts on all things medieval.

(www.medievalsociety.blogspot.co.uk) Blog from the Manchester Medieval Society which is run by current academics who are all at the cutting edge of research in their fields. All are welcome to join and join in!

 

 

Working on a smarter future

by YPU Admin on September 7, 2017, Comments. Tags: Computer Science, PhD, Research, science, sensors, STEM, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Hashir Kiani and I am a PhD researcher at the School of Computer Science. My research is titled “Wireless Sensor Networks in Smart Grids”. I work on designing algorithms which can be used to make an electrical grid smarter by analysing the data collected from the grid through wireless sensors. These algorithms are used to detect faults in the grid and then employ appropriate measures to prevent those faults. The end goal of my research is to develop methods for a more efficient and smart electricity network.


Hashir

In Depth

I did my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan. After my bachelor’s degree I was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in Communications Engineering and Networks from the UK. The main motivation behind going for a PhD after the completion of my Master’s course was the worsening situation with respect to electricity generation and distribution in my home country, Pakistan. Pakistan is facing a huge shortage of electricity and people have to go without electricity for multiple hours each day. The situation worsens in the summers as demand for electricity peaks due to cooling requirements as temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius. According to a report by USAID, Pakistan has suffered a loss of 10% of its GDP due to power shortage. The long power outages have caused great distress to the public with people resorting to rioting on a number of occasions. The distribution losses are above 20% which is more than double the global average. Therefore if distribution losses are brought down close to the global average Pakistan can solve its energy crisis.

The main objective of my research on smart grid systems is to find ways to make the electrical grid more efficient and thus considerably reduce the distribution losses. My research is focused on using wireless sensor networks in order to monitor the electrical grid so that timely decisions can be made to increase the efficiency, reliability and robustness of the grid network. Therefore my research will be very helpful in solving the energy crisis Pakistan is currently facing. 

After completion of my PhD I have plans to work at a reputable engineering university of Pakistan as an academic and a researcher. One of my objectives would be to introduce a course on smart grid technologies at the MS level and develop interest among the students in this area. I will use the knowledge I gained during my research to form a research group responsible for doing high quality research in the field of smart grid systems. The research group would strive to work in partnership with national bodies and distribution companies to facilitate the transition towards a smart electrical grid which will not only be efficient but also cost effective as it will be able to detect electricity theft and thus prevent losses of millions of dollars each year. 

Going Further…

Further information about smart grid technologies can be found at the following links:

https://www.smartgrid.gov/  : A good resource on information about smart grid technologies

http://www.smartgrids.eu/ : Details the smart grid initiatives taken by the European Union

https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/smart-future/britains-smart-grid : A cool video showing Britain’s future version of smart grids

http://www.cs.manchester.ac.uk/mlo/ : A link to my research group (Machine learning) at the University of Manchester.


 

Mimicking Nature to Create a Chemical Sensor

by YPU Admin on June 14, 2017, Comments. Tags: Electronic, Engineering, PhD, Polymers, Research, STEM, and UoM

Introduction

Hi! My name is Chris Storer, I’m a fourth (and final) year PhD student here at the University of Manchester. I’m originally from Warrington, in the North of England, and I came to Manchester to study an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Materials Science.

I find the interaction between nature and science to be fascinating, especially the way that new, cutting edge technologies take inspiration from biology. Evolution has already provided ingenious solutions to challenges that engineers face every day.

This led me to pursue my PhD in polymer sensors, where I try to understand how the sense of smell and taste work in nature. The aim is to use this knowledge to create a portable chemical sensor – just like the hand-held sensors you see scientists using to scan things in Sci-Fi movies!

How I got here




At school, I studied biology, chemistry, physics and geography at A-level. I really enjoyed all the different aspects of the sciences and didn’t want to specialise too much early on.

This led me to studying Biomedical Materials Engineering at university – an interdisciplinary science that gave me a lot of freedom to study a range of topics and keep my options open.

Following this I started my PhD in Polymer Sensors, in the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering here at Manchester. It really does go to show that you’re never stuck in one area of science – quite the opposite!

In Depth

My research takes inspiration from the binding sites found in the olfactory cells of the human nose. These very specialised receptors allow us to detect chemicals in the air and give us the sense of smell.

I recreate these receptors by imprinting the chemical molecule that I want to detect into a plastic material, called a polymer. You can imagine this is a bit like pressing a piece of a jigsaw puzzle into a piece of play dough, but on a microscopic level. When I take the chemical molecule out, only that unique shape will fit back in place. And hey-presto, you’ve got a chemical receptor!


The tricky part is how you then turn this into an electrical signal to send to a computer to measure – like how a nerve cell sends information to your brain. For this I use a capacitor to measure the build-up of charged molecules on my sensor. This acts as a transducer – changing the chemical information into electrical information for measuring the chemicals in the environment.

Going Further

A great video clip by Brian Cox on how animals use chemical sensors to navigate their environment through sight, smell and taste (BBC, “Wonders of Life” documentary):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGcBaXobEh4&list=PL50KW6aT4Ugy7sAKZGa4o4J39Os5L5tTl&index=3

A link to some of our research here at the University of Manchester involving chemical sensors for use in Agriculture:

http://www.eee.manchester.ac.uk/our-research/research-themes/newe-agri/

http://www.eee.manchester.ac.uk/our-research/research-themes/newe-agri/people/