Researchers’ Weekly Bulletin: the Blog

News for researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow part of research project that investigates unopened letters from 17th-century Europe

November 16th, 2015

“A British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow is part of an academic research project that will investigate unopened letters from 17th-century Europe. 600 unopened letters found in a postmaster’s trunk were rediscovered in The Hague’s Museum voor Communicatie in 2012, along with 2,000 opened but undelivered letters. They date from between 1689 and 1707, just after William of Orange’s invasion of England, Scotland, and Ireland, known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’.”

“Dr Daniel Smith, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford, is involved in the team that will analyse the letters with academics from the Universities of Leiden, and Groningen, Yale, and MIT in a new project called ‘Signed, Sealed, & Undelivered’. X-ray technology from the field of dentistry will be used to read the closed letters without breaking their seals, in order to preserve unique material evidence.”

“Commenting on the new discoveries, Dr Smith said:

‘Something about these letters frozen in transit makes you feel like you’ve caught a moment in history off guard’.

‘Many of the writers and intended recipients of these letters were people who travelled throughout Europe, such as wandering musicians and religious exiles. The trunk preserves letters from many social classes, and women as well as men. Most documents that survive from this period record the activities of elites – aristocrats and their bureaucrats, or rich merchants – so these letters will tell us new things about an important section of society in 17th-century Europe. These are the kinds of people whose records frequently don’t survive, so this is a fantastic opportunity to hear new historical voices.’

‘We’ve also noticed a striking and quite wonderful variety of folding and sealing techniques used on these letters. Our team wants to preserve all of this archive’s fascinating material evidence for further study – what can the way a letter was secured shut tell you about its writer, recipient, or the era in which they lived?’”

[Source British Academy news: ]

Why we develop allergies

November 16th, 2015

“Developing allergies could be a by-product of our evolved immunity to parasites, according to a new study published in PLOS Computational Biology.”

“The research indicates that part of our immune system has evolved in order to protect against infection by parasitic worms. However, if there isn’t a parasitic infection, this same section of the immune system can become hyper-responsive and mistakenly target allergenic proteins in food (such as peanuts) or the environment (such as pollen).”

“Researchers were able to accurately predict which proteins in parasitic worms could cause an immune response similar to an allergic reaction in humans. Using computational techniques, they identified the first known example of a pollen-like protein found in a parasitic worm.”

“Due to the tools provided in this study, scientists will be better able to identify allergy-causing proteins in foods and the environment more easily, and design protein molecules for treating allergies.”

The article can be accessed here:

[Source Wellcome Trust ‘research round-up’: ]

Researchers develop test to diagnose ‘face blindness’

November 16th, 2015

“Researchers have created a short questionnaire for people who suspect they have prosopagnosia, a condition that causes an inability to recognise faces. The researchers hope the questionnaire will help improve diagnosis of the condition.”

“There are currently no tests that can conclusively diagnose prosopagnosia – more commonly known as ’face blindness’ – which is estimated to affect up to 2 per cent of people in the UK. Many people with face blindness cope by using alternative ways to recognise individuals, such as the way they walk, hairstyle or voice. It can often lead to people avoiding social situations and feeling embarrassed about actual or imagined offence to others.”

“The new 20 item questionnaire asks respondents to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with certain phrases about their facial recognition experiences. Some of the questions include:

  • I have always had a bad memory for faces
  • I often mistake people I have met before for strangers
  • I sometimes find movies hard to follow because of difficulties recognising characters
  • At family gatherings, I sometimes confuse individual family members.”

“Each question is scored out of five giving a total score of up to 100. This final score could be used to help determine the severity of face-blindness.”

The research on the new questionnaire is published in a paper published in Royal Society Open Science, which can be accessed here:

[Source Medical Research Council news: ]

The Frick Collection: Virtual Tour

November 16th, 2015


“The Frick Collection is physically located at 1 East 70th Street in New York City, sitting on the Northeast corner just next to Fifth Avenue. But for those who can’t make the trip to see the museum’s world renowned collections of paintings and fine furniture, all 21 rooms and spaces of the former mansion are available for virtual viewing on the museum’s website. To view one of them, readers may simply select a zone from the floor plan on the landing page. From there, readers may zoom in and out, as well as turn in panoramic circles that offer a full view of the rooms, hallways, and gardens of the museum. Additionally, some of the galleries, such as the Portico Gallery, feature optional audio commentary. Add to this the archival images and related links available on each page and the site provides excellent education and entertainment for readers fascinated by the intricacies of old world art. [CNH]”

[Source Scout Report, 17 July, 2015: ]

Digital Stories: Wellcome Collection

November 16th, 2015

“The Wellcome Collection, a free museum in London, “explores the connections between medicine, life, and art in the past, present and future.” This site brings the curiosities and complexities of the Wellcome to life for web users. Readers may like to begin by selecting the Mindcraft exhibit, where they will explore “a century of madness, murder and mental healing” centered on the influence of Franz Anton Mesmer, the occultist healer who claimed he had discovered a universal energy that could cure disease. Once readers have seeped themselves in the images, text, and video of Mindcraft, they may like to move on to The Collectors, an online exhibition of various collector’s, such as John Graunt, the 19th century haberdasher who, in collecting statistics on the plague that was ravaging London, may have been the first epidemiologist. [CNH]”

[Source Scout Report, 23 Oct, 2015: ]

Improving the reproducibility of biomedical research

November 16th, 2015

“The Academy of Medical Sciences has published a new joint report on how the reproducibility and reliability of research can be improved.”

“Recent reports in the general and scientific media show there is increasing concern within the biomedical research community about the lack of reproducibility of key research findings.”

“To explore how to improve and optimise the reproducibility of biomedical research, the Academy co-organised a symposium in April 2015 with BBSRC, MRC and the Wellcome Trust.”

“This exercise resulted in a report, [] Reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research: improving research practice, which proposes potential solutions to keep science in top shape.”

“The report indicates that there is no single cause of irreproducibility, and a number of measures such as greater openness, reporting guidelines and quality control measures may improve reproducibility. In addition, the report found that a ‘one size fits all approach’ is unlikely to be effective, but measures to improve reproducibility should be developed in consultation with the biomedical research community and evaluated to ensure that they achieve the desired effects. The report also highlights that journalists, science writers and press officers share responsibility with researchers to report science accurately – and not overstate the certainty of studies.”

There is a link to the report here:

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) news: ]

Cambridge research could lead to the ‘ultimate battery’

November 16th, 2015

“Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded researchers at the University of Cambridge [have] successfully demonstrate[ed] a new design for lithium-air batteries that could overcome several of the problems holding back the practical development of the technology.”

“The team reported that they had developed a working laboratory demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has very high energy density, is more than 90 per cent efficient, and, to date, can be recharged more than 2,000 times.”

“Lithium-oxygen, or lithium-air, batteries have been touted as the ‘ultimate’ battery due to their theoretical energy density, which is ten times that of a lithium-ion battery. Such a high energy density would be comparable to that of gasoline – and would enable an electric car with a battery that is a fifth the cost and a fifth the weight of those currently on the market to drive from London to Edinburgh on a single charge.”

The results of the research were reported in Science:

[Source EPSRC news: ]

A month of pogonography on the blog

November 9th, 2015

Alun Withey, Wellcome Research Fellow, writes:

“2015 has been another year in which the beard has stubbornly resisted all attempts at predicting its downfall. Despite a raft of newspaper and magazine articles claiming that ‘peak beard’ has been reached, even a cursory glance around the high street confirms that there is little sign of that decline so far. Indeed, with a new crop of celebrity beard-wearers, including Prince Harry, and the continual appearance of bearded models on catwalks and advertisements, the beard seems to be going from strength to strength.”

“This month I am assuming the mantle of ‘Pogonographer in Chief’ as the Wellcome Library blog is turned over to the history of facial hair. Over the next few weeks we will feature posts on a wide variety of topics relating to facial hair, across different time periods, countries and cultures, and from a range of academic experts working on the history of pogonotrophy (the art of cultivating facial hair) and pogonotomy (the art of shaving it off!).”

The find out more go to:

[Source Wellcome Library blog as above]

Digital Identifiers Improve Recognition and Credit: ORCID

November 9th, 2015

“Connectivity and integrated data are moving ahead as the best minds in metadata, digital identifiers and networked discovery collaborate to ensure that appropriate credit and recognition are given for scientific outputs of all types. Once connected to the research infrastructure through a personal and unique digital identifier, a researcher’s work becomes more discoverable and their need to reenter information into multiple systems to comply with funder, institutional and publisher requirements ultimately will be reduced.”

“An Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) identifier is a unique digital identifier for a researcher, akin to a personal bar code. An ORCID identifier unambiguously distinguishes you and your work from that of other researchers with similar names and connects your work across versions of your name. Using the equivalent of a digital name when you publish seamlessly connects you to your journal publications, newspaper or magazine articles, book chapters, dissertations, datasets, figshare items, newsletter content, grant awards, peer review activities and more. The connection is independent of how each of these entities formats your name and remains in place whether you change your name, your institution, your country or your field of research.”

[Source PLOS blog: ]

10 years of Open Access at the Wellcome Trust in 10 numbers

November 9th, 2015

“In October 2005 the Wellcome Trust became the first research funder to introduce a mandatory Open Access policy – requiring that all research outputs which arise from its funding must be made open access as soon as possible and in any event within six months of publication. To celebrate 10 years of open access at the Trust, Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at the Wellcome Library – who has been instrumental in the implementation of this policy over the last decade – provides his personal assessment of key developments in 10 numbers…”

Some of the numbers are:

  • 157 – the number of research funders who now have an open access policy
  • £31m – the amount the Wellcome Trust has spent on open access publishing (so far!)
  • 3,411,755 – the number of free-to-read papers in Europe PubMed Central
  • 20% – the volume of UK-funded research which is freely available at the time of publication
  • 100,000 – the number of views of the Homo naledi article within the first two days of publication in eLife

To read the stories behind these numbers, and find out what the others are, go to:

[Source Wellcome Trust blog as above]