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Researchers’ Weekly Bulletin: the Blog

News for researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University

EPSRC to study diversity and inclusion barriers in ICT research

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

“Why do many women not continue a career in ICT research? What are the barriers faced by some minority groups, such as black and ethnic minorities, in pursuing an Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) research career? These are among the questions being considered in a study commissioned by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).”

“The review is investigating what the barriers are, how they manifest themselves and what can be done to support underrepresented groups in ICT.”

“Working with partners the British Computer Society, NMI and the UK Computing Research Committee, EPSRC has commissioned the Employment Research Institute at Edinburgh Napier University to complete the study which is commencing with an online survey. The purpose of the survey is to receive data from a wide range of researchers within the ICT community, not just people within underrepresented groups.”

[Source Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) news: ]

Attackers can crack Android devices within five attempts

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

“Research showing that Android phones can be cracked within just five attempts has generated widespread interest.”

“Researchers at Lancaster University, the University of Bath and Northwest University in China have demonstrated that video and computer vision algorithm software can be used to crack the popular Pattern Lock system, with more complicated patterns the easiest to crack.”

“The Pattern Lock system, which allows users to access their phone or tablet by drawing a pattern on an on-screen grid of dots, is used by around 40 per cent of Android device owners.”

“Devices become locked after five incorrect attempts to draw the right pattern, but the researchers say that is all that is needed for attackers to use the algorithm software to crack their phone or tablet.”

“Researchers believe this form of attack would enable thieves to access phones after stealing them to obtain sensitive information or install malware.”

[Source Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) news: ]

Paracetamol study could open door for way to treat liver damage

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

“Scientists have shed new light on how the common painkiller paracetamol causes liver damage.  Their findings may offer valuable insights into poisoning caused by an excess dose, which can be difficult to treat and may prove fatal.  The discovery could inform research into therapies to counteract harm caused by the drug, which is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the Western world.”

“Scientists at The University of Edinburgh studied the impact of paracetamol on liver cells in human and mouse tissue.  Tests showed that even relatively low doses of paracetamol can damage the liver by harming vital structural connections between adjacent cells in the organ.  When these cell wall connections – known as tight junctions – are disrupted, the liver tissue structure is damaged, cells are unable to function properly and they may die.”

“This type of cell damage is known to occur in liver conditions including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and cancer, but until now it was not linked to paracetamol toxicity.”

The paper ‘Low-dose acetaminophen induces early disruption of cell-cell tight junctions in human hepatic cells and mouse liver’ is published (Open Access) in Nature Scientific Reports:

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

Research reveals surprising health benefits of chewing your food

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

“Scientists have shown that chewing your food properly can boost your mouth’s immune system to protect you against illness.”

“The study led by teams at The University of Manchester and National Institutes of Health in the USA, revealed that a specific type of immune cell, the Th17 cell, can be stimulated when you chew.”

“The immune cell is important in protecting against bacterial and fungal infections that are commonly found in the mouth.  Although it has long been known that the nutrients from food can support a healthy immune system the findings establish that the action of eating itself is important too.”

“In other parts of the body, such as the gut and skin, Th17 cells are stimulated by the presence of friendly bacteria; it was previously assumed this was the case in the mouth. However, the team found that damage caused by the abrasion of chewing induced factors from the gums that could activate the same pathways as friendly bacteria and act upon Th17 cells.”

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

Nesta: 10 predictions for 2017

Monday, January 30th, 2017

“We explore the trends, social movements and technological breakthroughs set to shape the agenda during the next 12 months.”

“Declining trust in technology, future-proofing our workforce, armchair volunteers and a Brexit fairy tale. The 10 predictions presented here offer a vision for the year ahead. Like all our predictions lists, it’s a mix of the plausible and the more aspirational.”

“Not everything here is desirable, but if 2016 has taught us anything it’s that forecasts can fall spectacularly short of the mark.”

“Our hope is by imagining these possible futures we will encourage discussion, debate and, more importantly, action on how we can shape our world in the days to come.”

“We hope you enjoy this year’s list! As always, you can look back on the progress of our previous year’s forecasts. You can also read more on why we believe accuracy is not the most important measure of a successful prediction.”

To find out more go to:

[Source Nesta website: ]

Study identifies brain’s connections in keeping related memories distinct from each other

Monday, January 30th, 2017

“Neuroscientists at the University of Bristol are a step closer to understanding how the connections in our brain which control our episodic memory work in sync to make some memories stronger than others. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, reveal a previously unsuspected division of memory function in the pathways between two areas of the brain, and suggest that certain subnetworks within the brain work separately, to enhance the distinctiveness of memories.”

“The team studied the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex – two regions of the brain critical to memory function – as damage in these areas can induce severe memory loss.”

“However, both areas are connected by a complex network of direct and indirect pathways, and the challenge has been until now, how to identify the precise routes through which these brain regions interact in memory formation.”

“Researchers from Bristol’s Schools of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience and Clinical Sciences used a new novel pharmacogenetic technique to deactivate specific neural pathways from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex in rats. They then tested the rats’ memory for objects presented at specific points in time, and in specific locations, to model episodic memory function’ in humans.”

“The team found that one pathway from the hippocampus controlled the ‘temporal’ aspects of the memory such as those which enable a subject to remember when they had encountered an object, while a separate pathway enabled subjects to remember an object’s location.”

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

Manchester International Women’s Day Festival

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

“International Women’s Day recognises women’s achievements and highlights the continued struggle for equal rights and equality for women.”

“As the birthplace of women’s suffrage in the UK, Manchester has always been at the heart of the women’s movement. We’ve been celebrating International Women’s Day for more than 25 years.”

“This year we are bringing you the very first Manchester International Women’s Day Festival 2016/17, and are delighted to announce that our International Women’s Day will be part of the festival.”

“It will be a month long celebration of women throughout March and will include events and activities celebrating women, their achievements and raising awareness of women’s issues.”

[Source Manchester City Council news: ]

New walking app could make later life healthier and happier

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

Walking for Well-Being, a prototype app that makes it easy to plan less difficult, less demanding walking routes, could help people to stay fit, active and independent as they get older.”

“Accessible via mobile phone or tablet, it is one of the innovations developed and tested by new research that set out to produce practical, low-cost mobility aids encouraging older people to get out and about and to sustain healthy lifestyles.”

“The University of York led the research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing initiative. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provided additional funding.”

“By highlighting steep slopes, uneven pavements, busy roads and other challenging features that can then be avoided, Walking for Well-Being could be used to support people who want to visit friends, access shops and use local services and facilities. It could also highlight green spaces and other features that would make a walking route more pleasant and enjoyable.”

“Figures from Age UK have shown that 9 per cent of older people in the UK (around 900,000) feel trapped in their own home, while around 6 per cent (nearly 600,000) leave their house once a week or less.”

“Designed to help tackle this major social problem, the prototype app has been developed using information gathered through co-design workshops with older people, reflecting their needs and preferences. The aim is now to develop the app further for widespread uptake.”

[Source EPSRC news: ]

Laser imaging of energy transfer in photosynthesis solves decades-old debate

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

Using ultrafast imaging of moving energy in photosynthesis, scientists have determined the speed of crucial processes for the first time.

This should help scientists understand how nature has perfected the process of photosynthesis, and how this might be copied to produce fuels by artificial photosynthesis.

During photosynthesis, plants harvest light and, through a chemical process involving water and carbon dioxide, convert this into fuel for life.

A vital part of this process is using the light energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. This is done by an enzyme called Photosystem II. Light energy is harvested by ‘antennae’, and transferred to the reaction centre of Photosystem II, which strips electrons from water. This conversion of excitation energy into chemical energy, known as ‘charge separation’, is the first step in splitting water.

It was previously thought that the process of charge separation in the reaction centre was a ‘bottleneck’ in photosynthesis – the slowest step in the process – rather than the transfer of energy along the antennae.

Since the structure of Photosystem II was first determined 2001, there was some suggestion that in fact it could be the energy transfer step that was slowest, but it was not yet possible to prove experimentally.

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

How can we measure the ‘interdisciplinarity’ of research?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

A report by published Digital Science “raises questions important to the production of better indicators of research activity.”

“The study, sponsored by the Research Councils, and funded by the MRC [Medical Research Council], set out to compare the consistency of indicators often assumed to explain ‘interdisciplinarity’.  One aim was to recommend a methodology to measure research interdisciplinarity which could be used to track this characteristic over time.”

“Digital Science, in collaboration with Science-Metrix, tested a batch of potential indicators with data from a common set of disciplines and countries.  The results reveal that choice of data, methodology and indicators can produce inconsistent results.”

“Indicators used in the study, which was steered by an advisory group of evaluation experts, included: measures derived from analysis of the text of grant applications; the text of research papers; publications cited in these papers; and the departmental affiliations of the authors of these papers.”

“Previous analyses have used these criteria as indicators of the extent to which research includes ideas or expertise from different disciplines, but such analyses have tended to focus on a single type of research data or indicator in isolation.”

To access the report go to:  and to see a commentary on the findings:


[Source MRC news: ]