Category Archives: Science and Technology

Edinburgh scientists given multi-million pound physics funding

By Abbey Fleming

A group of physicists at The University of Edinburgh has been awarded £3 million which will allow them to take the next steps in investigating the Higgs boson particle.

It is hoped that the research will help to clarify three main areas of particle physics and help to answer some of the ‘outstanding mysteries of our universe,’ say professors at the university.

Dr Victoria Martin said: ‘By supporting our team of academics, researchers, engineers and technicians, we can take the next steps in investigating the Higgs boson particle, and in answering some outstanding mysteries of our universe, such as the existence of dark matter and how to incorporate the force of gravity into theories of quantum mechanics.’

This funding will allow members of staff, research fellows and PhD students to travel to and spend time in Geneva, working with the Large Hadron Collider over the next four years.

PhD Students working on the experiments are expected to spend between a year and 18 months in Geneva as part of the research team, made possible by the new grant.

Professor Franz Muheim, of the university’s school of physics said:  ‘Over the next few years, Edinburgh physicists are looking forward to recording and analysing even larger data samples with the ATLAS and LHCb experiments.

‘Hopefully, this will allow us to shed light on three of the major unsolved questions about how nature works, namely the origin of mass, dark matter and the asymmetry between matter and antimatter.’

The funding is part of a share of £72 million that has been distributed among a further 17 groups of UK researchers, who the Edinburgh physicists will work alongside.



Edinburgh Council Pledges First City-Wide Renewable Energy Plan

City of Edinburgh Council has unveiled a new sustainable energy action plan for the city, which aims to drastically reduce carbon emissions.

The Council’s Media Officer Noel Miller revealed that several organisations had met with council representatives on 1st December “to pledge their commitment to the City of Edinburgh Council led Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP).”

The scheme marks the city’s first energy action plan, and aims to “transform the capital’s energy use by reducing demand and encouraging local generation.”

The decision comes as world leaders convene in Paris for the ongoing Climate Change Conference.

Several prominent businesses in the city have already pledged their support to the council’s action plan, including Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University, NHS Lothian, Standard Life, and BT Scotland.

Environmental Convener at City of Edinburgh Council, Lesley Hinds said: “The SEAP is a city-wide plan, not just a council initiative. Everyone who lives and works in the city can play their part in reducing carbon emissions and the SEAP target is only achievable through city-wide support. The SEAP will seek to develop and therefore be constantly evolving to reflect this involvement with as many stakeholders as possible.

“The eight organisations who have pledged have a large sphere of influence throughout the city, and our combined efforts to find innovative solutions to energy requirements and to reduce our carbon emissions has the potential to make a much larger impact through this partnership.”

Jamie Pearson, Environment and Sustainability Manager for Edinburgh Napier University, commented that the university was “excited” to take part in the council’s scheme. “The plan itself actually ties in with a lot of what we do already at the university, though this is on a somewhat larger scale.

“What this also represents is a bigger partnership between the institutions of Napier, Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College, as well as businesses such as RBS and Standard Life.”

Professor Gillian Hogg, Deputy Head of External Relations at Heriot Watt, said: “This is a practical step towards an ambitious goal. The proposed partnership would allow our staff and students to share that expertise and hopefully offer them practical opportunities to contribute towards the wider aims of the project.”

The Paris Climate Change Conference is expected to conclude on the 11th December. Edinburgh Council hopes that the conference will play a role in spurring the wider community to participate in the new energy scheme.


Farmers reassure public over bird flu fears

By Paul Hyland and Tom Crosby

Farmers have joined health and veterinary institutions in downplaying the dangers of a bird flu outbreak in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has urged farmers to be vigilant after the outbreak of bird flu in England.

The newly discovered H5 strain of avian influenza was found in East Yorkshire earlier this week, joining a glut of international cases in The Netherlands, Germany and South Korea.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has commented following the confirmation of a case of avian influenza on a duck breeding farm in Nafferton near Driffield.

He said: “The Scottish Government is closely monitoring the case of avian influenza on a duck breeding farm in East Yorkshire, and I note the immediate and robust response by the authorities in England to prevent any potential spread of infection.

“My officials have been liaising closely with the Defra who have made it clear the public health risk is very low – and that they have ruled out the H5N1 strain that is infectious for humans. Furthermore, the latest Food Standards Agency advice is that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

“Although avian influenza has been confirmed in England only, I urge Scottish poultry producers to stay vigilant for any signs of disease – and my officials have this afternoon updated industry representatives and other key stakeholders with the latest information and veterinary advice.

A spokeswoman for the Foods Standards Agency (FSA) in Scotland also described the risk as “pretty low” and that the disease didn’t “pose a risk to food safety.”

This was mirrored by The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Veterinary Poultry Association (BVPA) mirrored the FSA’s.

In a press release they said: “the risk to public health is very low and there is no risk to the food chain. We would also point out that the strain of flu has been identified as H5 avian flu and NOT the more serious H5N1, which has caused disease in some people.

Bob Carruth, Communications Director with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland said: “It tends to be with poultry flocks, whether their flocks are producing eggs, or whether their flocks are for the table, farmers tend to keep a very close eye on these birds anyway, so it’s just a matter of keeping a good look at the birds.

“If there are birds that are showing signs of being ill or groups of birds that suddenly stop laying eggs, that kind of thing, its to make sure you take the time to have these animals tested to see what the problem might be.”

He also noted that farmers were well equipped to deal with any potential outbreak.

He said: “Most poultry units have very good levels of bio security on the farm anyway so they are very careful about who they allow onto the farm. Those who do come onto the farm whether they are working with the birds or whether they are, say, bringing on supplies do tend to go through disinfection methods anyway so vehicles and boots will all be disinfected when people come onto the farm.

“What Scottish farmers will be doing is be watching very closely the situation in East Yorkshire. Obviously they are aware that there was cases in the Netherlands and a case in’s maybe linked into migratory birds, there’s always a higher risk this time of year because it’s a time when birds are migrating.

“So we’ll wait and see the outcome of the testing in East Yorkshire, they are obviously doing monitoring within 3km… and in Scotland there is concern but we’ll wait and see what the outcome of that testing in Yorkshire is, and certainly we would ask Scottish poultry keepers to keep a very close eye on their birds in the next few days.”

Prof. Paul Digard of the Roslin Insitute, University of Edinburgh, specialises in research surrounding influenza viruses, said the risk was “very low, verging on none”.

With regards to the food chain, he said: “Even if it was a strain of virus that was risky for humans…even if it was H5N1, cooking makes it utterly safe.

“You will not catch bird flu from a boiled egg.”

Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas, said:

“As always, all poultry keepers should continue their efforts to maintain high levels of biosecurity and monitor their birds for any signs of disease. Avian influenza is a notifiable disease, and so any suspicion should be reported immediately to the nearest Animal Health office.

“As part of routine wildlife disease surveillance post-mortem examinations of birds are undertaken in incidents where five birds are found dead in the same location and at the same time. Members of the public are asked to report any such incidents by calling the Defra national helpline on 08459 33 55 77. Scottish Government advice is not to handle dead wild birds where possible.”


Affordable Contraceptive Announced

By Mariana Mercado

A new form of contraceptive injection will be available for women in developing countries.

The ready to use contraceptive injection will help women living in 69 of the poorest countries.

The news of the development of this new affordable contraception was released by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Dr. Chris Elias, President of Global Development Programs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said: “When women are able to plan their families, they are more likely to survive pregnancy and child birth, to have healthier newborns and children, and to invest more in their families’ health and wellbeing.

“We are proud to be part of this innovative public-private collaboration that will help more women around the world — even in remote areas — plan their lives and their futures.”

The Sayana injection combines a long-acting, reversible contraceptive with an all-in-one prefilled single use, non-reusable injection system that eliminates the need to prepare a needle and syringe. The injection can easily be administered by health workers to women at home or in other convenient setting.

The drug will be sold for $1 (0.65p) per dose to qualified purchasers who can help enable the poorest women in these countries to have access to the contraceptive at reduced or no cost.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 222m women in developing countries would like to delay or stop conception, but are not currently using any form of contraception.

Michael Anderson, Chief Executive Officer at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation said: “Far too many women die or are harmed because of unwanted pregnancies,”

“This important partnership expands the choice of affordable contraceptives. We believe this will further support CIFF’s mission of enabling more women and children to survive and thrive.”

The contraceptive program saw over 75000 Sayana Press units distributed to health facilities in the introduction countries, and aproximately 2500 health care providers have been trained on the administration of the contraceptive.

Since the introduction of the program in Burkina Faso in July, a study revealed that over 5700 women are using the injection, 1659 of these women are new users of family planning.
Justine Greening, International Development Secretary for the Department for International Development (DFID) said:“Access to modern, safe and reliable family planning methods is vital in helping women to control their lives and their futures. Without the ability to choose when they have children and how many they have, too often women lose the opportunity to participate fully in their economies and societies.”

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health at the U.S. agency for International Development (USAI) said: “USAID has invested in Sayana Press for many years, and we are thrilled that these efforts have finally come to fruition. This public-private collaboration will now help more women access injectable contraceptives. Expanding contraceptive choice is crucial to helping women plan and space their pregnancies, which we believe contributes to the health and economic wellbeing of families and communities across the globe.”

The drug is expected to be regularly available in all 69 of the developing countries by 2020.



New Consoles Launch Amid Poor Review Scores and Developer Pressure

By Alasdair Crews

Microsoft's Xbox One, which launched earlier this month.  Credit: Microsoft
Microsoft’s Xbox One, which launched earlier this month. Credit: Microsoft

The successful launch of the new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles has been overshadowed by poor game review scores. Both consoles launched in the U.S. earlier this month with both console producers, Microsoft and Sony, proclaiming that thier machine have sold more than one million units in North America within 24 hours of going on sale.

Unfortunately, the successful sales for both machines have been dulled by a succession of poor review scores for their flagship games. PlayStation 4 exclusives “Killzone: Shadow Fall” and “Knack” and Xbox One-only offerings “Ryse: Son of Rome” and “Zoo Tycoon” have received mixed reviews across the gaming press.

The added pressure game developers are under when working with new hardware could have contributed to the poor review scores.  An assistant producer with Ninja Theory, Colin Chang,  said: “With development of those titles having lasted at least two years and working on theoretical hardware (that changed as time went on) at the beginning of the next-gen SKUs. [It’s a challenge], especially if you’re a launch title with such a constrained deadline.”

Having to develop parallel versions of games for the new consoles, as well as the consoles already being on sale, has also affected quality.  Chang said: “I can imagine this would have affected third party publishers and developers like Activision and EA the most as they would’ve shipped 4-5 SKUs of games such as Call of Duty Ghosts and Need For Speed Rivals.”

Alongside the middling review scores, technical issues have plagued both new machines. Faulty disc drives in the Xbox One have led to Microsoft offering affected customers a free game download; whilst Sony has had issues with a blue light on the PlayStation 4 causing the console to reset itself and cause other operational issues.

Both companies maintain that the issues affect less than one percent of the consoles sold so far. With both consoles expected to be top sellers this Christmas, Microsoft and Sony hope that these issues remain isolated.

Related Story: Retailers Braced For PlayStation 4 Launch

Drug Discovery Institute announced by Alzheimer’s Research UK

By Alicia Simpson

image source: reuters
The Drug Discovery Institute will develop new treatments for dementia (image source: reuters)


Alzheimer’s Research UK  announced a first of its kind in Europe this week with the launch of a Drug Discovery Institute to develop new treatments for dementia.

With the G8 Dementia Summit one month away, the UK’s leading dementia research charity will fund the new institute to address a gap it says the pharmaceutical industry has failed to fill. It will unite the divide between academic research, which provides much of the fundamental insight into neurodegenerative disease, and the development of new treatments.

The charity has today called  for the UK’s foremost universities to apply to host the Institute. Its work will be guided by Alzheimer’s Research UK and leading drug discovery experts from the dementia field, and is set to have its lead scientists in place by next year.

The Director of Research for Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr Eric Karran, is launching the Drug Discovery Institute. Dr Karran said: “We currently have no treatments that act against the disease processes that cause dementia; this Institute will change that. The Institute will be the first of its kind in Europe, and will follow successful models established in other disease areas like cancer. As the population ages, numbers of people living with dementia will grow; the need for treatments that can improve quality of life or slow or stop diseases like Alzheimer’s cannot be overstated.”

Finding medicines for complex diseases such as this solicits an amalgamation of clinical expertise, pioneering basic science and patient involvement. The new Drug Discovery Institute will aim to combine all three by setting up its home with a leading academic group that has close access to clinical research units and hospitals.

Dr Karran said: “The Drug Discovery Institute is the missing link between the UK’s considerable expertise in fundamental science, and industry who can turn discoveries into benefits for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK is in a unique position to bring the academic and industrial sectors together in the interests of tackling our greatest medical challenge and it is the right time to launch this drive.”

Dementia currently affects at least 35.6 million people worldwide, and the numbers are projected to almost double every 20 years, according to the World Health Organization. 60,000 deaths a year are also directly attributable to dementia.

Professor Bart de Strooper was awarded the MetLife Foundation Award for Medical Research in 2007 for his contribution to dementia research. De Strooper said: “The Drug Discovery Institute is exactly the kind of long-term thinking that we need to develop effective new treatments for people with dementia. Dementia researchers from across Europe and beyond will be watching its progress with anticipation.”

Dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year, which is more than both cancer and heart disease combined. It is hoped that the launch of the Drug Discovery Institute will enable reductions to the economic cost, as well as the huge personal cost, of dementia.

Rosemary Goddard is the Alzheimer’s Research UK champion. Her husband was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s seven years ago. Goddard said: “I’m delighted to see Alzheimer’s Research UK taking the lead in this search for more effective drugs. With the population living longer, dementia is hanging over us all like the sword of Damocles, and I have to hope that research will defeat this dreadful condition.”

Video games industry adapts as 20 more filesharing sites are blocked by courts

By Alasdair Crews

As the music industry welcomes a court ordered block of filesharing sites, the games industry is taking their own measures to deal with the problem.

The British Phonographic Industry have welcomed a court order for all internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK to block access to more than 20 filesharing sites.

The chief executive of the BPI, Geoff Taylor, stated that they felt that the block, along with those already in place for other sites will “significantly reduce” the use of the sites in the UK.

The other major entertainment industry in the UK, the video games industry, is taking a different approach.

A recent survey by Tiga, the trade industry body for video games, stated that although almost 60 percent of their members see piracy as a problem, only 10 percent see cracking down on filesharing sites as the best option.

Instead, the majority think that “new business models” are the way forward.  The “free-to-play” model – also known as F2P – where players can play a base game for free and pay money to acquire new items and progress quicker, has become the model of choice for developers, especially on mobile devices.

A look at the statistics suggest that this model is fruitful for developers – EA Games announced yesterday that their premier F2P mobile title – “The Simpsons Tapped Out” – has generated more than $100 million in revenue since it’s launch in 2012.  Estimates given this month state that “Candy Crush Saga”, made by King Games, earns over $800,000 daily.

Mobile devices are not the only place where this model has been successful.  Valve Corporation made their popular PC game “Team Fortress 2” game free-to-play in 2011 and they estimated that their gross from the game has been “12 times more” than if the game remained a full-priced purchase.

However, not all developers are taking this action.  The CEO of Deep Silver, Dr. Klemens Kundratitz, who make the popular “Saint’s Row” series, admit that piracy is generally “ignored” in their business plan and that they just, “live with it [as it has] been part of our business for decades.”

EA Games' "The Simpsons Tapped Out" has grossed $100 million in revenue since it's launch
EA Games’ “The Simpsons Tapped Out” has grossed $100 million in revenue since it’s launch

Councillors pedalling fast to fight pollution

Gordon MacKenzie speaks to Spokes supporters at the 2012 local election hustings.
It’s campaign time  and on May the 3rd  voters will  choose the future of the city transport. 

 Transport had been in the spotlight in recent years due to the troubled tram project.  Now Edinburgh faces another challenge with European Union strict standards on air pollution.  The Green party have highlighted the deadline for the city to reach acceptable air pollution levels by 2015.  If the council do not meet these targets the taxpayer will face a heavy financial penalty.  

Spokes is an Edinburgh charity organisation that focuses on bicycle transport but also green issues.  A hustings was held on Thursday  29th  March to question the councillors responsible for this important issue.

Gene linked to life threatening flu

A lack or low content of the protein IFITM3 due to genetic mutation can change a harmless flu into a life-threatening disease. This information was announced in a collaborative study which included contributions from Edinburgh University and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute among others.

While most people recover well from a flu, some have to be hospitalized with life-threatening symptoms.”We had little idea why this small number of people was so severely affected,” says Professor Tim Walsh from the Critical Care Medicine Department at the University of Edinburgh. Previous studies showed that protein IFITM3 plays a crucial role in blocking the growth of influenza viruses. The protein, which sits in the membrane, is suspected to hinder viruses from entering cells and subsequently their replication.

The initial study was done on mice lacking the IFITM3 gene and showed that these mice were more likely to express severe symptoms of flu when exposed to the viruses. A subsequent screening of patients who had been admitted to hospital with severe flu revealed a mutation in the IFITM3 gene in some of the patients.

“Our research is important for people who have this variant as we predict their immune defences could be weakened to some virus infections. Ultimately as we learn more about the genetics of susceptibility to viruses, these people can take informed precautions, such as vaccinations to prevent infection,” says Professor Paul Kellam from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Relating the genetic composition of a person to their susceptibility to viral infections will help scientists find the best cure for patients.

Aberdeen gas leak “no problem”

An oil rig in the North Sea has been evacuated after the discovery of a gas  leak on Sunday 150 miles (240km) off the coast of Aberdeen.

Total E&P UK (TEP UK), operators of the platform, has stated that 238 people have been evacuated from the rig, and no injuries have been reported. The platform is currently unmanned and powered down. The reason for the leak is still unknown.

The Aberdeen Coastguard has confirmed that the situation is still ongoing, and that there have been reports of a sheen from a possible leaking of gas into the water around the rig. They also stated that Total is attempting to ascertain  what to do next.

“Investigations are continuing to determine the cause of the ongoing gas leak and TEP UK is monitoring the situation closely,” said a spokesman for Total.

The spokesman also said that they are “cooperating fully with all relevant authorities including the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).”

The city of Aberdeen has released no warning to the public. They have said that “It is miles and miles off shore, so there is no problem. In fact it is a beautiful day for a paddle.”

10,000 to participate in Lung Cancer trial

Ten thousand smokers will participate in a new lung cancer screening trial, according to Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer.

Sir Harry Burns announced the trial will test the cost-effectiveness of EarlyCDT lung, a simple blood test used to detect the disease in its earliest stages.  Current screening methods only detect advanced lung cancer.

The trial will involve people who have smoked the equivalent of 20 cigarettes a day for 20 years.

Half the participants will receive the EarlyCDT test, while half will not be screened.  At the end of the trial, the clinical outcomes and the overall cost of care for both groups will be compared.

Sir Harry Burns said: “The earlier a cancer is diagnosed the greater the chance it can be treated successfully, and currently 85 percent of patients with lung cancer remain undiagnosed until the disease has reached an advanced stage. . . By testing those at greatest risk of developing lung cancer, and diagnosing it at its earliest possible stage, we stand a better chance of being able to treat the cancer successfully.”

According to government statistics one in five deaths in Scotland are smoking-related.  Illness associated with smoking costs NHS Scotland over 400 million annually.

EarlyCDT-Lung testing has been used in the United States for two years.  According to Oncimmune, the pharamecutical firm that developed the test, it is “performing commercially as expected” there.

Burns hopes that use of new testing procedures will help NHS Scotland increase early detection of Lung cancer by 25%.

Dr. Dance one of many to headline Edinburgh Science Festival

Dr. Dance will be exploring the psychology and the genetics of dance.
Photo: Edinburgh Science Festival

Come rain or shine, this week will see the kick off of the 25th annual Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Preparations for the March 30th opening are going “pretty good” according to Frances Sutton, PR manager for the festival, as works are continues to set up for the nearly 200 events being offered this year.

Final event speakers have been put in place,  particularly with the Edinburgh  event on March 31st, which boast a great range of 13 speakers including Suzy Glass, talking about the art of creating through trial and error, and Dr. Peter Lovatt, who will be looking at the science of dance.

“I am a Peter Lovatt fan, always have been,” said Sutton. “He is Dr. Dance, a professional dancer turned scientist. ”

The Science Festival will run for two weeks and will host events for all ages to experience. The festival is one of the worlds largest celebrations of science in technology, and it aims to inspire individuals to explore the wonders around them. The events are held all across Edinburgh, and are easy to get to from any part of the city.

With everything coming into place during the last few days, there have been a few changes. NASA astronaut Douglas Wheelock, who has taken many of the images from the International Space Station, has had to cancel his appearance. However, for the most part, everything is progressing  as planned, according to Sutton.

A few events have sold out, but there are still  spaces available for most ticketed events. The festival staff recommends booking in advanced to be sure that you have a place.

Bookings can be done online quick and easy at the Festival Website, but also by phone by calling the box office at 0844 557 2686, or on person at the box office on the Fringe.

“We are all very excited,” says Sutton,  “Let’s get on with it, let’s go. It is 2 years worth of work. We build it, design it, but putting it on is what we do.”

Though the festival may have to compete with the rising  warm temperatures and sunny sky’s for the opening.

“The irony is that the weather doesn’t help. We are hoping for rain.”

More on this story:

Images signal the start of Science Festival

Daylight-saving time on the proof

Every year we turn our clocks forward by an hour at the last weekend in March. This year the change to daylight-saving time, or summer time as many people call it, took place yesterday, on March the 25th.

Summer time will reduce energy costs by aligning the time we spend awake and working with daylight. Since it’s introduction in 1916 the clock change has caused many debates and has resulted in many research studies. Research teams have proposed health risks due to the change in clock time twice a year, saying it has similar repercussions to jetlag, shift work and sleep deprivation.

Imre Janszky from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in Sweden has found in a second study that the hour of clock change in the end of March has a short-term influence on the risk of suffering from an acute heart attack (also known as acute myocardial infarction). With an international team of scientists, he found that the sleep deprivation caused by the one hour of time difference resulted in a 4% increase in people admitted to the coronary care units in Sweden over a period of approximately one week. “The sleep-wake cycle appears to require several days to adjust to the official time after the shift,” he states.

The daylight-saving adjustment has also been criticized for not having a significant impact on energy consumption. Dr Simon I Hill and his team from the University of Cambridge   found that “having BST year-round would lead to energy savings on the order of at least 0.3% in the months in which the UK currently has GMT” (winter time).

This is one of the reasons for the proposed Daylight Saving Bill in the UK which received ministerial backing last autumn for a trial period of three years. The switch to the GMT+1 timezone would help aligning waking hours with daylight hours in Britain.The daylight-saving time has reportedly been found to reduce the risk of accidents. In January, however, the bill was brought to a halt due to a lack of time in the parliament and the Scottish Government has been reported to object  because of the longer duration of darkness in the morning.

The recent change of the clock is expected to raise the discussion again.

“Hibernation” Could Help Stroke Recovery

A technique which cools the human body, inducing a kind of hibernation, is to be used to see if it will help the recovery of stroke victims. The technique, which recuduces body temperature from 36.8C to between 34C and 35C has already been used to treat brain injury after cardiac arrest or birth defects.

Inducing hypothermia by use of cooling pads and intravenous fluids, the procedure has been successful in small-scale trials, but the process by which it helps is not yet fully known. Theories suggest that when cooled, the brain requires less oxygen, so giving doctors more time to help prevent damage.

The clinical trials are being run by Friedrich-Alexander-University in Germany in collaberation the University of Edinburgh and are likely to last until 2016 or 2017 . They will involve around 1500 people across Europe, with 200 from the UK.

It is hoped that if these trials are successful, the chances of a complete recovery from a stroke will be increased from 1 in 13 to 1 in 10. Currently there are few treatments available for stroke victims.

Dr Malcolm Macleod, head of experimental neuroscience at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh commented that  “every day 1,000 Europeans die from stroke – that’s one every 90 seconds – and about twice that number survive but are disabled. Our estimates are that hypothermia might improve the outcome for more than 40,000 Europeans every year.”

Currently in Scotland a third of all strokes are fatal and although survival rates have improved over the last decade they are the third highest killer after cancer and coronary heart disease.

Tea grown in panda poo most expensive worldwide

Green tea grown solely in panda excrement will command high prices worldwide.  An entrepreneur in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu plans to charge up to £2,000 per 500 grams for his product, which he claims says will make it the world’s “most expensive tea.”

An Yanshi says he chose to grow tea in panda poo after learning of its high nutritional value. “The digestive and absorption abilities of the panda are not good. . .They are like a machine that is churning out organic fertilizer. Also, they absorb less than 30 percent of the nutrition from the food and that means more than 70 percent of the nutrients are passed out in their faeces,” he said.

Because pandas only eat wild vegetation, An also claims tea grown from panda feces is truly organic.

He also says using his unique fertilizer eliminates environmental damages caused by chemical fertilizer. He hopes to promote use of animal dung by other farmers throughout China.

Some locals have expressed cynicism at An’s high prices. “It’s sold at such a sky-high price, perhaps this is just hype. I don’t think the most expensive tea in the country is sold at such a price” said 49-year-old Li Ximing.

An defended his decision to charge high prices for his tea, saying that a portion of his profits would be set up a fund used to support environmental projects.

Prepared for Spring?

With a mild winter almost behind us, the future could hold a less than mild spring.

With the rough spring that has already battered much of the United States in the form of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, Scotland must ask the questions of what spring will bring, and how prepared we are.

According to Andrew Slorance of the Sottish Government, Scotland is a mixed bag when it comes to weather with the risk being ”not so much seasonal” but that at any point there can be any sort of weather, from snow fall to rain and high temperatures.

The threat from weather in Scotland is primarily winter weather, often with prolonged periods of low temperatures and heavy rain fall. However, that is not the extent, with high winds, fog and mist, and flooding also causing problems for citizens.

Flooding is often problematic and can occur during any season,  a lot of money has been invested in flood defence to protect low-lying land.

Scottish Government have a whole range of plans in place for the possible severe weather that could come up. They are prepared, tested and published on the website Ready Scotland, which is sponsored by the Scottish Government.

”The position we hold is ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” says Slorance. ” We try to be as prepared as possible… but hope it doesn’t happen.”

Scotland deals with instances of severe weather by devolving responsiblity to the lowest level with the local responder being the primary first responder.  The idea is that the local council, the local police, fire and medial officials know the best way to keep their area safe during sudden severe weather.

They also work closely with the Met Office, in order to give as much notification as possible to the public. The Met warning system has changed within the past year, changing to a four color warning system.  They even offer detailed suggestions for what to do during each of the warning types.

Slorance does say that  every instance is different, but keeping the public safe is a top priority.

Mild winter boosts hydro power

Scotland’s hydroelectric power stations have received a boost from a warm and wet winter. Energy production in Hydro plants was revealed to be the highest since records began in the 1930s.

This data come from energy company SSE, who run more than 50 hydroelectric schemes across the Highlands, Perth, Kinross, Argyll and Bute.

The high rainfall over winter and the rapid thaw of snow were perfect for hydroelectric production. The previous record for hydroelectric production over a year was 3,890 gigawatt hours (GWh) but the figures for 2011/12 look set to pass the 4,000 GWh mark.

The winter was especially warm; temperatures in Aberdeen airport went as high as 17.2C last Tuesday.

Paul Smith, SSE managing director for generation said that the weather conditions “ensured the continuing success of hydro power as a valued source of renewable energy.”

Michael Jackson music stolen

Sony music confirmed today that a number of Michael Jackson tracks were stolen when their website was hacked.

The security breach occurred in April last year, and Sony announced that as many as 70 million PlayStation Network users’ details may have been stolen. The theft of the Michael Jackson tracks came shortly afterwards, but was not revealed until now.

Sony will not confirm which or how many tracks were taken. The music company paid Jackson’s estate £158million for the rights to his remaining songs, some of which it released in the album Michael in December 2010.

It has not been established whether or not tracks from other artists have been affected by this hack. Two British men are due to stand trial for computer misuse in January 2013.

Free Wi-Fi in Edinburgh a possiblity.

Free wifi may be available in Edinburgh City Centre by 2015.

Free Wi-Fi for “smart device” users could cover parts of Central Edinburgh, Newtown and the Meadows by 2015.

The Urban Broadband Fund will be allocate £100m between ten UK cities to help create a number  of  super-connected cities in the UK. Four capital cities, including Edinburgh, London, Belfast and Cardiff, have already been guaranteed a sizable amount of benefits. Each city was required to bid for an amount in the shares with a detailed plan of how the funds will be used. After the money is allocated to the first four cities, six other cities will battle it out through their proposals for the remaining shares of the money.

Edinburgh City council could receive between £7 million and £10 million if their proposal is accepted. This money would then be used to install open access wireless zones covering core areas of the city. With the benefits to tourist and Edinburgh residents, the hope is that this network would help increase economic growth in the city over the next three years.

The successful cities will be announced in March, while the exact shares to be allocated will be announced in July.

Average is sexy

Many people have always believed that guys have to be not only handsome and smart but also tall to be successful in reproduction.

Average is the new Sexy

However, a new study from the Netherlands shows that it is not the tallest men that have the most children, but rather men who have an average height of about 177 cm (5 feet 9).

Gert Stulp and his team from the University of Groningen examined data from highschool-graduates from Wisconsin in the US. All people in the study had finished their ‘reproductive career’ and had graduated from school in the 1950s. They found that “average height men attained the highest reproductive success as measured by the number of children ever born”.

“Sounds right.”, says David, a 23-year old worker who wishes not to give his full name. “It’s probably due to natural selection. Women probably choose the guys on a subconscious level and like average height more.”

“Average is beautiful. I mean, most people like average faces because they have a bit of everything  and everyone in them and why should it be different for height?”, says Chris P.  a Phd student in biomedical sciences.

But it’s not just a black and white story. Tall and short men shouldn’t worry about their lack of future children just because those of average height seem to be the most reproductively successful. Education and money also influence the number of children men have and at what age they have them, say Stulp and his collegues. The more educated men are, the later they marry and have children and the fewer children they are likely to have. But the greater the income, the earlier they tend to marry and reproduce.

“Taking education into account makes it slightly more believable. I mean, I’m 28 and I’m neither married nor do I have kids and I think I’m average height. But I’m in full education and obviously don’t have an income.  That’s perhaps why.”, says Tom B. an engineering student.

But inevitably, who knows what makes women and men tick. So, don’t worry too much about finding someone to reproduce with: there’s a suitable partner out there for everyone.

Self-talk in sports helps to improve performance

Talking to yourself is not always bad,
according to a recent study.

Sports and exercise psychologist Dr David Tod, from Aberystwyth University, has found that positive self-talk has beneficial effects in sports performance.

The study suggests overcoming one’s weaker self is not always easy, even if one  regularly engages in sports. Many people often either lack motivation or tend to demotivate themselves and give up too early. Negative self-talk has always been believed to be counterproductive for motivation and success in sports. But “the existing literature suggests that negative self-talk does not impede performance,” said Tod’s report.  He claimed a little chatter with oneself during a run, combined with a bit of self-motivation can help to keep a person going when sports start to become laborious.

Performance benefits were clearly seen for positive self-talk, the team found. The study differentiated between instructional self-talk, which helped to improve technical performance, and motivational self-talk, which  increased strength and endurance. Both types of self-talk were found to positively influence performance. Talking to oneself, the study concludes, is not simply an activity that people regarded as weird do, it’s a common way to interact with oneself and keep oneself motivated.

“Novice athletes may benefit more frequently from the use of self-talk as compared with their skilled counterparts,” said the report. So the next time you’re out playing sports, try a bit of self-talk, it will help you to be more motivated and might even improve your performance.

Future energy options discussed in Madrid today

by Natalia Rodríguez Domínguez

MixGenera International Conference took place today, from 8:15 to 17:45, in Madrid, Spain. It  brought together researchers, engineers and practitioners to analyse the future of electricity supply and other alternative energy  sources.

The Conference was sponsored by IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES), CIGRÉ (International Council on Large Electric Systems), Red Eléctrica de España and Carlos III University. It presented papers with new research results on the new electricity supply equipments and methods which will converge in 2020 and 2030.

Some of the topics discussed today have been the following: Introduction and control of renewable generations; perspectives for the nuclear generation, utilisation of gas turbines, CO2 and Hydro generation capture, distributed generation, smart grids and the future of electricity markets.

More info on their website:

The Language of Faces

By Sam Khan-Mcintyre

What appears to be a single face, however it is a mix of multiple different people.

Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh have found that levels of facial symmetry
can show mental decline in men between the ages of 79 and 83.

Researchers have discovered that those with less symmetry in their faces are more likely to have an increased slowdown of brainpower.

Subjects’ results in reasoning and reaction time tests at the university were used alongside the Scottish Mental Health Survey from 1932.

Dr Lars Penke, who led the work, said: “This kind of research is not meant to lead to new treatments, though facial symmetry could become a diagnostic indicator in the long run.”

He added: “Facial symmetry is only an indirect indicator of insults to developmental stability that accumulated over the lifespan, so there’s no expectation that treating symmetry could ever help against mental decline.”

Developmental stability is the ability of an organism to undergo stable development of the observable characteristics (or phenotype) under given environmental conditions.

Disease (such as diabetes or high blood pressure); toxins; alcohol and illicit drugs; lack of activity (mental or physical); stress; malnutrition; or genetic mutations during development, all contribute to developmental stability and therefore mental decline.

Robin Morton, a scientist at Edinburgh University added that stresses on a mother could affect the baby while in the womb and affect symmetry. He also explained that fingerprints can also become asymmetrical in this way.

He said: “Those with higher mental ability tend to age better due to higher thinking ability. Therefore they will have less of a decline. This could help inform a patient’s clinician.”

Comparable results have not yet been found in females, but research is on-going. Dr Penke said: “We still do some work on this topic, but there are no new results worth reporting yet.”

Scottish Scientists Make Cancer Breakthrough

By Gabriel Neil

It was announced last week that scientists from the University of Dundee have made a discovery which could lead to a deeper understanding of how cancer occurs. The research team, led by Dr Joost Zomerdijk discovered a “previously hidden link” within the ways in which human cells make the structures they need to function, a process called “transcription” – specifically the way in which genes regulate ribosomes which produce proteins vital for growth. Understanding transcription is important in cancer research as when the genes controlling it fail, cells can grow out of control, creating cancers.

Dr Joost Zomerdijk
Dr Joost Zomerdijk led the study.

This breakthrough was hailed by Dr Zomerdijk, claiming that it “advances our understanding of how normal transcription is maintained in human cells” adding that this may help to discover how to reverse the damaging “deregulation” of transcription.

Dr David Wright a biologist from the University, who was not involved in the research, cautioned that this finding is “a tiny crucial cog in a complicated machine… it is not particularly important on its own” but it “ties the information that we already have about the ways in which cancer cells go wrong to our understanding of how normal cells do their jobs” which could possibly lead to new kinds of cancer therapies.

Dundee University’s College of Life Sciencesreceives over £40million of research funding annually is renowned for research into cell Biology, having recently been ranked 1st in the UK for Biological Sciences.