Blog

Textile Technology - Can we really grow leather in a lab?

Introduction

My name is Dana and I am a 1st year EPSRC-funded PhD student at The University of Manchester. My project is interdisciplinary, spanning across the Textiles and Biomaterials research groups. I also need to draw on the Chemistry knowledge I learned at Undergraduate level. I work within the broader Department of Materials and spend most of my time on the Sackville Street Campus. My research aims to grow leather in a laboratory using tissue engineering techniques. It is hoped that this method could potentially be more environmentally, socially and ethically sustainable than current manufacturing practices.

In Depth…

At school, I enjoyed learning about a broad range of subjects. By A Level, I narrowed my favourite subjects down to Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Textiles. Teachers advised me to drop Textiles, so I could focus on more academic subjects. However, I persevered, since I enjoyed the subject so much. Textiles is, sadly, often undervalued as a subject in schools due to a lack of understanding. It offers many more career prospects than the stereotypical fashion designer. The scientific side of the subject, Textile Technology, is a fast-growing industry, with many exciting innovations already discovered. These textile products are designed to perform specific functions, as opposed to simply looking attractive. Examples of products already developed include smart, electronic textile garments to monitor patient health or army officer location. The technology spans a wide range of industries, also including agriculture, construction and sports. In fact, it would be difficult to find an aspect of modern life without Textile Technology in action!


My journey progressed through studying a Chemistry degree at The University of Durham. I appreciated the quaint city, having originally come from a rural area, and enjoyed participation in several extracurricular societies. During my degree, I gained a strong core knowledge and skillset that would be useful in any future career path, not just scientific. I confirmed my key interests were in the Biological and Materials fields. During my Master’s, I completed a year in industry with Solvay, specialising in composite materials for high performance automobiles. This gave me valuable, first hand work experience in Textile Technology. Following graduation in 2018, I took a year out to go travelling and learn more about the world. A fascinating exhibition on ‘Fashioned From Nature’ at the V&A Museum in London really captured my interest in sustainable fashion.

Meanwhile, society has become increasingly aware of the harmful impacts that materials can have on the environment. Plastics in particular have received a lot of negative media coverage. Animal welfare activism has reached broader audiences through social media. The proportion of people classifying themselves as vegetarian, or even vegan, is growing. Even those still consuming animal products are conscious about cutting down to lower negative health and environmental impacts. I myself converted to vegetarianism a couple of years ago. Leather is a luxurious fabric used in a variety of high-end fashion and furnishing products. It does however raise animal welfare concerns as it is made from animal skin, mostly wasted in the meat industry. As more people become vegetarian, we may need other sources of leather to meet demand. We should avoid equally harmful plastic alternatives though. Human skin is already grown in laboratories for medical skin grafts, so perhaps we could use similar techniques to grow animal skin? This is exactly what I shall work on over the next few years. This topic perfectly combines my academic and personal interests.

A typical working day could involve a mixture of: laboratory work; reading literature; analysing data; writing up; presenting research or teaching. I collaborate with staff members from many different departments. This variety of work during a PhD can make it more interesting than a typical day job. I am excited to see where my research goes! Maybe one day, lab-grown leather will make high street jackets… I am very lucky to be meeting my niche subject interests through this PhD. After completion, I hope to return to industry for a while. I may either continue down the sustainable fashion route or move into lab-grown meat research.

Going Further…

If you are interested in learning more about the potential of lab-grown leather, see this paper outlining research by another group:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589234719300193

For The University of Manchester Department of Materials website, including many other interesting research projects:

https://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/research/

To learn more about lab-grown meat technologies see this news article:

https://www.economist.com/international/2019/10/12/plant-based-meat-could-create-a-radically-different-food-chain

For the unique courses available at The University of Manchester specifically in Textile Technology:

https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/09900/meng-materials-science-and-engineering-with-textiles-technology/

https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/08611/msc-textile-technology-technical-textiles/

Youtube videos introducing other textile technologies:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuXPCXEKvSo

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=smart+textiles

Career prospects:

https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/search-results?searchTerm=textile+technoloy


 

Music to your Ears

by YPU Admin on December 20, 2019, Comments. Tags: Humanities, instrumental composition, music, music composition, PhD, and vocal composition

Introduction

My name is Maria Palapanidou and I am a second-year PhD student in Instrumental/Vocal Music Composition. My research is about structuring music in a three-dimensional environment with the help of specific software. I draw various curved surfaces, colourful shapes, and rectangular planes on a virtual three-dimensional space to visualise musical parameters, such as which instrument will play first, second etc. or how loud or soft the dynamics will be. This aggregate ‘3D image’ of the shapes and planes is then used as a compositional tool to translate this image into a traditional musical score.


In Depth…

For me, doing a PhD in Music is a dream come true. I have always wanted to continue my Music studies to a postgraduate level. In order to do so, I did a Bachelors Degree in Piano Performance at the University of Macedonia in Greece, and I completed a Masters Degree in Instrumental/Vocal Music Composition at the University of Manchester. As my research is led by my own practice, it is ultimately important to myself as a developing composer and musician. It focuses on the way I understand time, space, shapes and their connection, and how I translate them into a piece of music.

However, this 3D tool I am using can have further applications in education and musical analysis. Three-dimensional visualisations can be a very helpful when explaining or describing musical terms such as register (high or low pitches), tempo (how fast or how slow) and form (the number of different sections and their order). In addition, I am currently searching how this ‘3D image’ can be used to help people with hearing loss understand what a piece of music ‘looks like’ without needing to detect vibrations.

'In this piece, the performers 'walk' inside a virtual maze and improvise on their instruments according to the shapes and colours they see on the walls'

Most of my time, as a full-time student, includes composing music, listening to other composers’ pieces, reading articles relevant to my research, attending composition workshops and research forums, and collaborating with other musicians to organise concerts and rehearsals of my pieces. Being aware of current trends in composition, new instrumental techniques and new technology, as well as, receiving feedback from the players are a very important part of a composer’s life.

What is more, as a pianist, I work with other composers by performing their pieces and giving them feedback on notation and pianistic techniques. This double identity (composer-performer) allows me to understand both sides of musical creation, and helps me realise how to use notation to communicate a complicated thought through the musical symbols with precision.

'Sketching the four sections of a string quartet piece (two Violins, one Viola, and one Violoncello) in three dimensions' 

Going Further

My research has a connection to architectonic features (space, height, structure, surface, material and colours). One of the most important musicians to establish this field was a Greek composer named Iannis Xenakis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iannis_Xenakis). He worked a lot with computer based music, as well as literally translating an architectonic sketch into music. Some of his very characteristic works are:

 

Exploring Endometriosis

by YPU Admin on December 13, 2019, Comments. Tags: biology, BMH, endometriosis, Health, medicine, pharmacology, PhD, and science

Introduction

My name is Jessica Traynor and I am a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester. My research is based on producing a localised drug delivery system for people suffering from endometriosis. Endometriosis is a common gynaecological condition that affects roughly 10% of women at reproductive age. Endometriosis occurs when lesions grow outside of the uterus. These lesions can cause painful periods, pelvic pain and fatigue. Although this disease is common, the treatment options are still limited. Women are most likely to be given anti-inflammatory drugs, hormone-based therapies (such as the pill or the coil) or undergo surgery to remove the lesions. These treatment options are not ideal, especially surgery, as there is a high chance the lesions will grow back.

My lab work is trying to find a way to deliver old and new drugs directly onto the lesions. This will hopefully stop the lesions from growing as well as reduce the side effects of these drugs!

In depth

My initial interest in pharmacology (the study of drugs) began in sixth form. I knew that I was interested in science in general during my GCSEs, so I picked biology, chemistry, physics and maths. I realised that although Biology wasn’t my strongest subject, I found it the most interesting, especially topics surrounding the human body and disease. I decided to look into biomedical sciences for University, which I soon realised included a lot of other topics, such as genetics, biochemistry and immunology. When I looked at the list, I found pharmacology the most interesting subject as I wanted to learn more about the production of drugs and treating diseases. I chose to study pharmacology at Newcastle University.

In my final year at Newcastle I started my research project, which was based on lithium action within the brain and how this can help treat bipolar disorder. This made me realise that I loved the research environment; I loved researching a topic where the answer was unknown.

Overall, my degree taught me a lot of research techniques that can be brought into any research environment, of course, not all labs are the same but University provided me with the confidence to learn and master techniques that I’d never seen before!

I graduated from Newcastle in 2017 with a first class degree in Pharmacology, and if I’m truly honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do next! I knew I wanted to carry on in research, but I wasn’t certain on where or on what topic. I spent the year researching PhD topics whilst working within an NHS virology lab as a research assistant. I found this PhD online and thought it was right up my street! Not only was it a PhD based on drug design/delivery but it was also based around an under-researched disease that affects so many women. I had a skype interview with the supervisors and then was put forward for funding!

My lab group consists of people from different backgrounds, whether that is pharmacology, cancer research or pharmacy. We all work alongside other groups to gain a better understanding of disease and its treatment. We all use a variety of different techniques throughout our research, so every day is different. Personally, I find my day is split between lab work, writing papers/reviews, planning future studies and teaching!

After my PhD, I don’t have a set plan on what I want to do next! My opinions may change throughout the years and I could learn new skills that change my perception on what I want my career to be!

Going Further

If you want to find out more about endometriosis and its effects on women, the BBC have recently produced a popular article explaining what endometriosis is and the idea of the ‘gender pain gap’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-49925760/endometriosis-the-condition-that-can-take-over-seven-years-to-diagnose)

To learn more about the research that is happening in my faculty: (https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/)

If you want more information about Biomedical Sciences/Pharmacology you can find that here (https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00532/bsc-biomedical-sciences/) and here (https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/what-can-i-do-with-my-degree/pharmacology)

Something that sparked my interest in the treatment of disease was a podcast that talks about medical history, you can give it a listen if you’re interested, too! (https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/


 

Unnecessary Amputations - what are the social, ethical and legal implications?

by YPU Admin on November 29, 2019, Comments. Tags: bioethics, Humanities, jurisprudence, Law, PhD, and philosophy of law

Introduction

My name’s Richard Gibson and I am a third year PhD candidate in Bioethics & Medical Jurisprudence in The University of Manchester Law School. My research examines the social, ethical and legal implications of allowing people to have their limbs amputated when there is nothing medically wrong with them. In short, if you wanted to make yourself impaired or disabled, what arguments exists to support or refute such a decision. In addition to my research I also work as a teaching assistant on the Jurisprudence (more commonly known as philosophy of law) course.


In Depth

In all honesty, I am not sure how I ended up being based in a school of law, especially given that my background isn’t in law but philosophy. My A-levels were in Psychology, Biology, ICT and Photography but after finishing sixth-form I didn’t go straight to university. I took several years out working in various jobs before finally accepting an offer to study Philosophy at the University of the West of England; a subject that I picked slightly at random. It was here that I became interested in ethics and the ways in which we come to understand what makes decisions right and wrong, good and bad. When I graduated, I took another couple of years out from education to work and travel before being awarded a place on the newly formed master’s programme in Bioethics & Society at King’s College London. It was here that my interest in ethics was combined with the biological sciences, and specifically, the concept of human (dis)enhancement. Again, after graduating from here, I took a couple of years out to work in a variety of roles, to travel more and enjoy life, before finally making my way to Manchester and the PhD project on which I currently work.

The project I work on looks to examine what reasons we have to refuse the request of someone wanting to make themselves impaired or disabled, and why we have such reasons in the first place. This is important because the question isn’t a hypothetical one; there are people who wish to transition from a state of ‘health’ to one of disability and impairment and, currently, there exists little research into this topic and practically no guidance on how we should respond to such desires. This is what my work tries to change. I’m attempting to provide clear moral arguments on why such requests should, or should not, be respected. In addition to this ethical component, my research also examines the legality of such requests. For example, if a surgeon amputated a person’s leg because they wanted it gone, would that surgeon be subject to criminal prosecution, and if not, why?

My work is highly interdisciplinary and draws upon the work and theories of scholars and researchers from a vast range of subjects including philosophy, law, disability studies, medicine, biotechnology, robotics, psychology, and sociology.

Going Further

For a good introduction to the varied topics that philosophy examines, see here.

To read more about the field of bioethics, in its various forms, check out this blog by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an internationally recognised leader in the field.

For a guide to the people who wish to transition into disability and impairment, see this article

You can read about my research centre here.

And, of course, you can follow my work on twitter at @RichardBGibson!


 

My Journey into Mental Health Research

Introduction

Hi everyone! I’m Jess and I’m a PhD researcher at the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology at the University of Manchester. I’m in my second year of a 4-year biosocial PhD programme – a programme that specialises in research in both biological and social sciences. My research specifically looks at how social support affects mental health, whilst taking into account different factors. Those factors include the structure and function of the brain, wealth and education, and personality type. 

In Depth…

I have always been interested in why people act, think and feel the way they do, which is why I decided to study Psychology at university. We learned about different areas of psychology, such as developmental, social and cognitive psychology, but I had a strong interest in clinical and biological psychology – mental health and the brain. Like many people who studied psychology, at first I considered becoming a clinical psychologist, so I worked for a mental health service provider for a couple of years after my degree. 

However, I realised that my passion lies in research, so I went on to complete my Master’s degree in Edinburgh and then (after a short detour of work and travel in Japan) on to start my PhD in Manchester. I wanted to pursue a PhD in order to become an expert in a research topic and to contribute to the body of knowledge that has the potential to impact the lives of many people. This is important in the field of mental health, as the majority of people in their lifetime will struggle with their mental health, and we need to understand the biological and social mechanisms behind this and the best way to help. 

A bird's eye view of different sections of the brain from top to bottom from an MRI scan.

Currently, my day-to-day life is very varied. For my research, I am conducting a systematic literature review, which involves trying to find all the research there is on a particular topic and combining it all together. Alongside this, I teach on the undergraduate Psychology course, deliver workshops to schools and write my own blog about psychology and neuroscience research. This is one of the parts I like most about doing a PhD; you have the opportunity to get involved with different areas and build skills and confidence outside of your niche research topic. After my PhD, I want to continue to work in research, but I am also attracted to the idea of working in policy and science communication. I want my work to have meaningful and far-reaching consequences, which could be achieved by any of these career paths. Luckily I have some time to think about it before I finish my PhD!

Going Further…

If you want to find out more about different aspects of psychology, check out the links below:

-  Interested in studying Psychology? Here is the website for Psychology at the University of Manchester, which gives more information about the course and the requirements: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00653/bsc-psychology/

-  Wondering what you can do with a Psychology degree? The British Psychology Society (BPS) has some careers information here: https://careers.bps.org.uk/

-  Keen to learn more about psychology and neuroscience research? Check out my very own blog: https://brainsinaspace.home.blog/ or my own academic Twitter:https://twitter.com/JStepanous

-  Want to learn more about your mental health? This website has videos and articles on different topics: https://teenmentalhealth.org/learn/

-  Curious about what the different parts of the brain are? You can download this free, interactive app for your phone: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/3d-brain/id331399332