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
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.
I undertook an undergraduate degree in History at the
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/>
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/>
Here you can find out more about the Science Museum Group’s
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/>
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.
How does stress affect
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
(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
To read more about neuroimaging work, check out this website
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.
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!
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?
(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
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.
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.
Further information about smart
grid technologies can be found at the following links:
https://www.smartgrid.gov/ : A good resource on information about smart
: Details the smart grid initiatives taken by the European Union
: A cool video showing Britain’s future version of smart grids
: A link to my research group (Machine learning) at the University of
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
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
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):
A link to some of our research here at the University of
Manchester involving chemical sensors for use in Agriculture: