Blog posts

Imperial in the news: sterile sperm

As February takes hold and it becomes harder to maintain the resolutions to lose weight and do more exercise, Professor Lord Robert Winston allayed the concerns of those fearing a return to a sedate lifestyle could impact their fertility.

The ‘Child of Our Time’ presenter, who is Professor of Science and Society at Imperial, explained in the Guardian that there is little scientific basis for claims that inactivity on a leather sofa or watching television would reduce the amount of sperm or eggs an adult produces. This is in response to a study of nearly 200 university students by researchers at Harvard stating otherwise, although it’s worth pointing out that no one claimed correlation implied causation.

Imperial in the news: asthma research

This week has seen the publication of two important studies about asthma – one relating to the fall in the number of children being admitted to hospital with asthma since smoke-free legislation was introduced in England in 2007, and one on occupations where workers are likely to develop the disease.

The study about the reduction in hospital admissions for children was led by Dr Christopher Millet [School of Public Health] who was interviewed by the BBC. The story gained a lot of coverage, including the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Huffington Post, Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Independent featured an editorial.

Imperial in the news: music and medicine

An innovative collaboration between Professor Roger Kneebone [Surgery & Cancer] and Professor Aaron Williamson, of the Royal College of Music, explores the similarities between surgeons and musicians in performance.

Surgeons and musicians are both required to perform perfectly under pressure. Both go through routines in advance of their performance, which also closely match their mental preparations.

Professors Kneebone and Williamson discuss the parallels between the groups, including instruments, techniques and the theatres in which they perform, and the stress and tensions that they might be experiencing.

This documentary on BBC Radio 3 features the thoughts of junior surgeons and young cellists about how they get ready and focussed for their work, as well as what they consider during their performance and the distractions that they need to manage.

Imperial in the news: Quandrantid meteor shower

Although you may have missed your chance to see the Quandrantids meteor shower at 5am this morning, Dr Simon Foster [Physics] told Daily Telegraph readers a little bit about this heavenly spectacle.

The meteors come about when the earth passes through the debris trail of an ancient comet around this time each year. In a video on the media outlet’s website, Dr Foster explained the best places to see the shooting stars is in the countryside and away from light pollution.

He said the best direction to look to observe the shower is towards the North West, at any dark patch of sky close to Ursa Major, the constellation known as ‘The Big Dipper’.

Imperial in the news: three million dollar boson

Over the last few years, particle physics has been the science subject on everyone’s lips, with the probable discovery of a Higgs boson this summer the icing on the expensive, but ultimately enthralling, cake.

Adding to the glamour of rigorous study of particles unimaginably small and hard to pin down, Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner has taken it upon himself to award multi-million dollar prizes for scientists working in the field.

The New York Times reports that one of his latest prizes, worth $3 million, has been dedicated to the groups working at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, including the particle detectors Atlas and CMS.

Imperial in the news: electric cars

When the Racing Green Endurance team drove their SRZero down the Pan-American Highway in 2010, they drastically altered the image of electric cars across the world.

They proved that long journeys were possible, with the right supporting infrastructure, and, perhaps just as importantly, that electric cars don’t have to look like a G-Wiz or operate like a golf buggy. They can be sleek and sexy too, as illustrated by the growth of demand and production from manufacturers such as Tesla, Fisker and Venturi.

The Guardian blog interviewed Clemens Lorf and Alexander Schey [both Mechanical Engineering], who were part of the team prior to a talk about the project and the future of the industry, focusing especially around fuel cells and energy sources.

Imperial in the news: sibling rivalry

A new ‘cinematic MRI’ machine used at the Robert Steiner MR Unit at Imperial’s Hammersmith campus is being used instead of ultrasound to gain an even greater picture of fetal development in twins.

Importantly, it picks up changes in brain development that could indicate that one fetus is receiving more nutrients than the other. In cases of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), where the twins share a placenta rather than have one each, it can identify earlier whether there is a need for treatment that could save the lives of both fetuses.

Dr Marisa Taylor-Clarke [Surgery & Cancer] spoke to Reuters in a video about the technique, which was featured on the Huffington Post website.

Imperial in the news: childhood obesity calculator

Stories around child health consistently capture the attention of the public and press alike. A new study published in PLOS ONE that estimates the chances of children becoming obese has been picked up by a number of national and international media organisations.

The research, led by Professor Philippe Froguel and Professor Marjo-Riitta Jarvelin [both School of Public Health], has generated a formula whereby parents can predict the likelihood of their child becoming obese.

Outlets including the BBC, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Metro here in the UK led with the story prominently featuring on their health pages this morning, while international news agency Reuters and leading Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star also placed a special importance on the item.

Imperial in the news: stroke and spatial neglect

Earlier this month, Dr Paresh Malhotra [Medicine] had a study featured in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. His research demonstrated how stroke patients achieved better results in tests of visual attention if offered a reward for being successful, being given a pound for every correct circle they drew. Where there was no reward, the patients showed no discernable improvement.

Between a third and half of stroke patients are affected by some form of spatial neglect –their brain ‘ignores’ the activities taking place on one side of their body. Dr Malhotra explained the condition to the Guardian in a video featuring patients including Alan Burgess, one of his patients, who had a stroke in November 2007.

Imperial in the news: chemical detection

Researchers from the College have developed a technique which could be used in devices to detect tiny concentrations of chemicals by police or security staff.

Postgraduate researchers Michael Cecchini, Jack Paget and Vladimir Turek, led by Dr Joshua Edel and Professor Alexei Kornyshev (all from the Department of Chemistry) have created a self-assembling sheet of metal nanoparticles to capture ‘harmful’ molecules and identify them using Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) of light – a technique that has been well understood since the 1970s. The new system is effective at identifying the trace amounts of different chemicals and is an improvement on current technologies to create nanoparticle sheets, the solid structures of which are difficult to manufacture.