Catch-up with the latest news and insights on education in the UK.


BU archaeologist appointed as Royal Commissioner
Jun 2021

Bournemouth University’s Professor Tim Darvill OBE has been appointed by Her Majesty the Queen to serve as a member of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW).

Professor Darvill is one of two new appointments announced this week and, together with Sarah Perons, will join the Commission for an initial five-year term to work with the five existing Commissioners. The Royal Commission, founded in 1908, is dedicated to the authoritative recording and interpretation of Wales’ archaeological and architectural heritage.

A Professor of Archaeology at BU, Tim Darvill is a world-expert on Stonehenge and has worked extensively on the origins of the Stonehenge bluestones in the Preseli Hills of West Wales. He has extensive experience of Welsh archaeology and will help guide the Royal Commission’s work to support Welsh Government policies on culture, health, and learning.

Welsh Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden, said, “I’d like to congratulate Professor Darvill and Sarah Perons on their appointments as they join a specialist and committed group of commissioners, and a dedicated, highly skilled team of staff. I wish them and the Royal Commission every success in the valuable work they undertake to safeguard the rich and varied historic environment of Wales.”

Speaking on the day of his appointment, Professor Darvill said, “I’m delighted to have this opportunity to work with the Welsh Royal Commission, especially in relation to developing uses of our cultural heritage to support and enhance well-being.”

Cooling experts plot sustainable route to carbon zero for UK supply chain
Jun 2021

Sustainable cooling experts are creating a roadmap to help reach the UK’s 2050 net zero carbon emissions target, while maintaining food security for consumers and economic opportunity for the country’s food industry.

Backed by £1.4 million of UKRI funding announced today, the four-year Zero Emission Cold-Chain (ZECC) project will create the first detailed roadmap to allow the UK food cold chain industry to identify opportunities to reduce emissions.

Led by the University of Birmingham, the project includes experts from Cranfield University Heriot-Watt University and London South Bank University, highlighting ways in which the industry can become more competitive while heading towards zero carbon.

Cranfield will be bringing its expertise in postharvest biology, technology and management in order to optimise cooling needs across the supply chain, while ensuring their quality and safety.

Dr Natalia Falagán, Lecturer in Food Science and Technology at Cranfield University and co-investigator of this project, said: "Food security is an integrated global challenge. Connecting fresh produce cooling needs with energy across the supply chain will optimise the system, reducing emissions and food losses".

Project leader Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Much of UK’s food is dependent on the cold food chain, which is also a significant contributor to the country’s energy demand. Our project is about thinking thermally and analysing engineering, energy resources, food quality and safety, finance and business aspects to crack the conundrum of sustainable decarbonisation of cooling and the cold-chain."

The project aims to deliver energy savings, significantly reduced postharvest food losses and better quality of product to UK industry and policy makers, as well as reduced emissions related to crop loss, by:

  • Updating information on energy usage and CO2 emissions;
  • Assessing how to maintain the quality and safety of fresh produce in the supply chain;
  • Designing strategies to reduce food loss;
  • Evaluating future cooling energy consumption demands and their impact on UK energy;
  • Using a systems approach to explore how to manage cooling demand; and
  • Determining areas of intervention, considering available energy and thermal resources, emission targets and other commitments as well as costs.
Aston University bioenergy expert leads on green change at Climate Expo talk
May 2021
  • Professor Patricia Thornley spoke about how biomass can be a key source of energy
  • Climate Exp0 showcased the latest thinking and most relevant international research on the run-up to COP26
  • Virtual event connected policymakers, academics and students from around the UK and Italy


A leading academic on bioenergy from Aston University has spoken at an international conference on climate change ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

Professor Patricia Thornley, director of the Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI), spoke at the Climate Exp0 about the importance of green recovery.

Her talk, ‘Solution Stars’, explained how biomass, such as plants and trees, can provide a low carbon source of energy, fuels and chemicals. She demonstrated the potential for clear climate benefits of bioenergy solutions, but also warned against the need to be careful about trade-offs with other environmental, social and economic consequences.

Professor Thornley said: “It is important that we focus on simplifying some of the complex mathematical models of these impacts to allow us to move forward: getting beyond “analysis paralysis” to implement systems that will not deliver the elusive perfect solution, but will allow us to move closer to our climate ambitions while delivering societal, economic and wider environmental benefits.”

Hundreds of academics and researchers from across the UK attended the virtual event which was put together to create a better outcome for the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference being held in Glasgow this November.

Professor Thornley added: “It was important to hold this event so we are able to prepare for COP26 and synthesize the current cutting edge knowledge in the global academic community around climate change.  This is a UK first that aims to engage a wide range of academic, policy and societal stakeholders in advance of the COP negotiations.”

Westminster’s Active Travel Academy publish new reporting guidelines for road collisions
May 2021

The Active Travel Academy and Laura Laker suggest that much of the reporting around road incidents in the UK portrays collisions as unavoidable, obscures the presence of certain actors or omits crucial context as to why these crashes happen and what can be done to prevent them. The guidelines were produced in consultation with road safety, legal, media and policing organisations and individuals to supplement professional codes of conduct and support the highest standards of reporting across all media formats.

Within the guidelines, the researchers have produced ten key clauses which focus on core journalistic principles of accuracy, fairness, non-discriminatory practice and justice. For example, the guidelines urge journalists to avoid the use of the word ‘accident’ until the facts of a collision are known, and using ‘crash’ or ‘collision’ as alternatives leaves the question of who or what is to blame open, pending further details. They also suggest that journalists refer to drivers rather than cars and considering the impact on loved ones when publishing collision details.

The researchers have also included examples of road collision reporting, the details missed that they should consider, and the ways they can improve their reporting through considerations of the language used. By publishing these guidelines, the Active Travel Academy and Laker aim to alter public perceptions when reporting on sensitive matters and create a new industry standard for reporting on road collisions.

Talking about producing the guidelines, Professor Rachel Aldred, Professor of Transport and Director of the Active Travel Academy, said: “‘We are pleased to be launching these guidelines. There is growing evidence that how road collisions are reported can shape attitudes towards road safety and road users. Bad reporting can stigmatise and obscure the underlying causes of crashes, but conversely good reporting can be crucial in helping building public understanding about how we can avoid many of these deaths and serious injuries.”

Students learn new skills at May Workshops Festival
May 2021

Last week Falmouth opened up its world class facilities to students for the 2021 May Workshop Festival. Students were able to choose from over 100 different workshops, with a mix of in-person and virtual activities on offer throughout the week. 

The Workshops Festival embodies Falmouth’s transdisciplinary approach to study, giving students an opportunity to explore interests beyond their core discipline. The sessions are divided into six different categories – Employability Coaching, Image Making, Printing, Sound & Vision, Tech & Coding and Making & Creating, with each session run by a subject specialist.

The goal is for students to learn new skills, broaden their academic horizons and engage with areas of the University that they may not otherwise encounter.

The Festival is a calendar highlight for students, and this year proved to be no exception. Feedback, which was submitted to festival organisers anonymously, was overwhelmingly positive. Of the festival, students reported that it “was great to create something and learn a new skill”, and that they were “so happy to get back on campus and be in person for the festival”, with one student writing that they “will definitely be going to more next year!” 

"I was so happy to get back on campus and be in person for the festival… I will definitely be going to more next year! "

This year, the University has also provided an online video bank of recorded workshop content, enabling students to learn new skills in their own time. The resource has been highlighted by students as a “fantastic” addition that gives students the opportunity to review “more in-depth videos if we need more information on certain key areas.” Students also praised the recorded workshops for being “clear and well explained”.

Could working from home put a strain on UK’s climate change targets?
May 2021

Scientists from Cardiff University are exploring whether a new ‘working from home’ culture, coupled with rising temperatures, is likely to impact the UK’s target of achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

Increased temperatures and more people working from home in the long-term is likely to drastically increase the demand to cool our homes, the team says, putting an added demand and strain on the UK’s electricity system.

Demand for cooling is expected to increase in commercial and civic buildings too, such as hospitals, schools, offices and shops, allowing us to stay comfortable, provide productive workplaces and to carry out day-to-day tasks.

It is estimated that up to 10 per cent of all UK electricity is used for cooling and air conditioning at the moment, a figure that is likely to get bigger with an expected temperature increase between 3 and 5°C for the average regional summer by 2080 and an increase in the number and frequency of hot spells.

The new £1.1m interdisciplinary project ‘Flexibility from Cooling and Storage (Flex-Cool-Store)’, funded by the EPSRC, will investigate the impacts of a growth in cooling demand and how it can be managed through the design of new cooling and energy storage systems that require little to no carbon.

“Cooling decarbonisation has not previously received significant attention, but this is changing due to population increase and climate change,” said Principal Investigator on the project Dr Carlos Ugalde-Loo from Cardiff University’s School of Engineering.

“Summertime cooling of buildings is becoming increasingly important, particularly as more and more of the population choose to work from home and the demand for greater comfort levels within our homes increases.

“Even though significant reductions in emissions have already been achieved in the electric power sector, progress has been limited in other areas, such as heating and cooling, which account for over a third of UK emissions.”

According to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), implementing energy-efficient cooling appliances could avoid nearly eight years of emissions, which is as much as 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases worldwide.

The report states that energy-efficient air conditioners could bring a saving of £2.3tn in reduced electricity generation by 2050, and stresses the need for around 14 billion cooling applications worldwide by 2050, with some 3.6 billion air conditioners being already in use.

Flex-Cool-Store will give recommendations on how cooling will contribute towards a sustainable, low-carbon and net-zero transition by 2050, and inform the energy sector, government and individual consumers on the cooling challenge that lies ahead.

It will aim to quantify the extent to which cooling will affect peak electricity demand and what this means for reinforcing the energy network. In particular, the researchers will consider how the country’s power systems can be balanced with a surge in photovoltaic energy generation also expected within the summer months.

With this in the mind, the researchers intend to study how cooling and electricity systems can be integrated with energy storage in buildings to maximise flexibility.

The project will also explore public perceptions towards the adoption of cooling technologies within households, buildings and communities via interviews and public workshops.

“Significant investments in the modernisation, digitisation and automation of cooling infrastructure and buildings are needed to ensure a safe, efficient, reliable and sustainable system.

“By assisting future energy policy decision making around cooling, providing strategic expert input to relevant stakeholders, and by supporting the delivery of net-zero targets by 2050, the project has a potential transformational impact,” continued Dr Ugalde-Loo.

Minister for Climate Change Lord Callanan said: “The way we use energy in our buildings makes up almost a third of all UK carbon emissions. Reducing that to virtually zero is going to be key to eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050.

“That’s why it’s important that innovative projects like Flex-Cool-Store in Cardiff receive backing to develop new and effective ways to heat and cool our homes and workspaces, helping drive down the costs of low-carbon technologies so everyone can feel the benefits of cheaper and greener energy.

Breakthrough in 3D magnetic nanostructures could transform modern-day computing
May 2021

Scientists have taken a step towards the creation of powerful devices that harness magnetic charge by creating the first ever three-dimensional replica of a material known as a ‘spin-ice’.

Spin ice materials are extremely unusual as they possess so-called defects which behave as the single pole of a magnet.

These single pole magnets, also known as magnetic monopoles, do not exist in nature; when every magnetic material is cut into two it will always create a new magnet with a north and south pole.

For decades scientists have been looking far and wide for evidence of naturally occurring magnetic monopoles in the hope of finally grouping the fundamental forces of nature into a so-called theory of everything, putting all of physics under one roof.

However, in recent years physicists have managed to produce artificial versions of a magnetic monopole through the creation of two-dimensional spin-ice materials.

To date these structures have successfully demonstrated a magnetic monopole, but it is impossible to obtain the same physics when the material is confined to a single plane. Indeed, it is the specific three-dimensional geometry of the spin-ice lattice that is key to its unusual ability to create tiny structures that mimic magnetic monopoles.

In a new study published today in Nature Communications, a team led by scientists at Cardiff University have created the first ever 3D replica of a spin-ice material using a sophisticated type of 3D printing and processing.

The team say the 3D printing technology has allowed them to tailor the geometry of the artificial spin-ice, meaning they can control the way the magnetic monopoles are formed and moved around in the systems.

Being able to manipulate the mini monopole magnets in 3D could open up a whole host of applications they say, from enhanced computer storage to the creation of 3D computing networks that mimic the neural structure of the human brain.

“For over 10 years scientists have been creating and studying artificial spin-ice in two dimensions. By extending such systems to three-dimensions we gain a much more accurate representation of spin-ice monopole physics and are able to study the impact of surfaces,” said lead author Dr Sam Ladak from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

“This is the first time that anybody has been able to create an exact 3D replica of a spin-ice, by design, on the nanoscale.”

The artificial spin-ice was created using state-of-the-art 3D nanofabrication techniques in which tiny nanowires were stacked into four layers in a lattice structure, which itself measured less than a human hair’s width overall.

A special type of microscopy known as magnetic force microscopy, which is sensitive to magnetism, was then used to visualise the magnetic charges present on the device, allowing the team to track the movement of the single-pole magnets across the 3D structure.

“Our work is important since it shows that nanoscale 3D printing technologies can be used to mimic materials that are usually synthesised via chemistry,” continued Dr Ladak.

“Ultimately, this work could provide a means to produce novel magnetic metamaterials, where the material properties are tuned by controlling the 3D geometry of an artificial lattice.

“Magnetic storage devices, such as a hard disk drive or magnetic random access memory devices, is another area that could be massively impacted by this breakthrough. As current devices use only two out of the three dimensions available, this limits the amount of information that can be stored. Since the monopoles can be moved around the 3D lattice using a magnetic field it may be possible to create a true 3D storage device based upon magnetic charge.”

The study was led by Cardiff University and included researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

International research team discovers that it takes some heat to form ice on graphene
May 2021

A new study from the University of Surrey, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and Graz University of Technology (Austria), reveals that energy is needed for water to proceed through the first step of ice formation on graphene.

In a paper published in Nature Communications, the research team details the complex physical processes at work to understand the chemistry of ice formation. The molecular-level perspective of this process may help in predicting the formation and melting of ice, from individual crystals to glaciers and ice sheets. The latter being crucial to quantify environmental transformation in connection with climate change and global warming [1].

The team was able to track down the first step in ice formation, called nucleation, which happens in an incredibly short length of time, a fraction of a billionth of a second, when highly mobile individual water molecules find each other and coalesce. However, conventional microscopes are far too slow to follow the motion of water molecules, so it is impossible to use them to monitor how molecules combine on top of solid surfaces.

The research team used a state-of-the-art Helium Spin-Echo (HeSE) machine to follow the motion of atoms and molecules. The team used HeSE to study the motion of water molecules on a model pristine graphene surface [3,4]. The researchers made a remarkable observation: the water molecules repel each other and need to gain sufficient energy to overcome that repulsion before ice can start to form.

It is the combination of both experimental and theoretical methods that have allowed the international team of scientists to unravel the behaviour of the water molecules. Together these have captured, for the first time, exactly how the first step of ice formation at a surface evolves and allows them to propose a previously unknown physical mechanism.

Dr Marco Sacchi, co-author of the study and Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Surrey, said: “Our results show that water molecules need to overcome a small but important energy barrier before forming ice. We hope that our unique collaborative project will go some way to helping us all understand the dramatic changes that are happening right across our planet.”

Dr Anton Tamtögl, lead and corresponding author, from Graz University of Technology, adds: “The observations completely alter our understanding of ice nucleation. The HeSE results looked very promising, but the motion of water was incredibly complicated and suggested counter-intuitive new physics. We decided that atomistic simulations were needed to interpret the results.” 

Dr Andrew Jardine a Reader in Experimental Physics from the University of Cambridge, one of the developers of the HeSE method, said: “The technique is completely revolutionising our ability to follow physical and chemical processes at the single-molecule level.”

Dr Bill Allison, also from the University of Cambridge, said: “Repulsion between water molecules has simply not been considered during ice nucleation - this work will change all that. The newly observed interactions also change the rate at which nucleation takes place, and hence at which ice can form.  The work will therefore have important consequences in preventing ice formation, which is relevant to fields as diverse as wind power, aviation and telecommunications.”

Research argues older workers should pay higher taxes than younger workers in US
May 2021

A new research paper from the University of Kent and Northwestern University (Illinois, USA) claims that on average workers become more productive over their working life, as they are able to learn-by-doing and accordingly should pay a higher rate of tax as they become older.

Using a model capturing the key features of the US economy, researchers determined that the average tax rate paid by earners in the age bracket 45-65 should be 5% higher than the average tax rate paid by workers in the age bracket 20-44 of the United States.

The research carried out by Professor Miltos Makris (Kent’s School of Economics) and Professor Alessandro Pavan (Northwestern University) advises that reforming the current US tax code by adopting such tax differences across age brackets could bring welfare gains to each taxpayer equivalent to those brought in by a 4% increase in annual consumption throughout their entire work life.

Such gains are significant to warrant the policymakers’ consideration and shape the debate on how to best reform existing tax codes in the US and other developed economies.

Professor Makris said: ‘Our motivation was to understand the implications for the design of income tax code and the alleviation of inequality of taking into account that learning-by-doing is an important determinant of workers’ productivity.’

Professor Pavan said: ‘Due to learning-by-doing, workers tend to become more productive the more they work. A reduction in the taxes levied on young earners paired, where necessary, with an increase in the taxes levied on older workers may bring significant welfare gains. This is because age-dependent taxes permit the Government to generate tax revenues more efficiently by reducing the distortions in labour supply of those workers, the young, whose investments in human capital count the most. Furthermore, by incentivising the young to work more to boost their productivity, the Government can take advantage of a more productive population when the young turn old, collecting taxes from them in a less distortionary manner, which also brings non-negligible welfare gains.’

Hacking and loss of driving skills major consumer concerns for self-driving cars
May 2021

A new study from Kent Business School, Toulouse Business School, ESSCA School of Management (Paris) and ESADE Business School (Spain) has revealed the three primary risks and benefits perceived by consumers towards autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars).

The increased development of autonomous vehicles worldwide inspired the researchers to uncover how consumers feel towards the growing market, particularly in areas that dissuade them from purchasing, to understand the challenges of marketing the product. The following perceptions, gained through qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys, are key to consumer decision making around autonomous vehicles.

The three key perceived risks for autonomous vehicles, according to surveyed consumers, can be classified as:

  1. Performance (safety) risks of the vehicles’ Artificial Intelligence and sensor systems
  2. Loss of competencies by the driving public (primarily the ability to drive and use roads)
  3. Privacy security breaches, similar to a personal computer or online account being hacked.

These concerns, particularly regarding road and passenger safety, have long been present in how automotive companies have marketed their products. Marketers’ have advertised the continued improvements to the product’s technology, in a bid to ease safety concerns. However, the concerns for loss of driving skills and privacy breaches are still of major concern and will need addressing as these products become more widespread.

The three perceived benefits to consumers were:

  1. Freeing of time (spent instead of driving)
  2. Removing the issue of human error (accidents caused by human drivers)
  3. Outperforming human capacity, such as improved route and traffic prediction, handling speed.

Ben Lowe, Professor of Marketing at Kent Business School and co-author of the study said: ‘The results of this study illustrate the perceived benefits of autonomous vehicles for consumers and how marketers can appeal to consumers in this growing market. However, we will now see how the manufacturers respond to concerns of these key perceived risks as they are major factors in the decision making of consumers, with the safety of the vehicles’ performance the greatest priority. Our methods used in this study will help clarify for manufacturers and marketers that, second to the issue of online account security, they will now have to address concerns that their product is reducing the autonomy of the consumer.’

The study ‘Delegating Decision-making to Autonomous Products: A Value Model Emphasizing the Role of Well-Being’ is published by Technological Forecasting and Social Change (Professor Laurent Bertrandias, Toulouse Business School; Professor Ben Lowe, University of Kent; Professor Orsolya Sadik-Rozsnyai, ESSCA School of Management; Professor Manu Carricano, Esade Business School).

Nanostructured tin gas sensors could help the world tackle the climate crisis
May 2021

Researchers from the University of Surrey believe that tin-based gas sensors could help track and control harmful nitrogen (NO2) gases that pollute our planet.

In a paper published by the Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (PCCP) journal, researchers from Surrey, in collaboration with colleagues from São Paulo State University (UNESP), Brazil, detail how gas sensor devices can play an important role in the fight against climate change by monitoring emission sources such as nitrogenous gasses.

The research team used different combinations of the tin oxide system and constructed two device groups: devices containing a single structure nanofabricated in a Dual Beam Microscope; and a number of them in a “carpet” mode. The two devices configuration allowed the researchers to estimate the materials depletion layer (Debye length), and to propose gas-solid interaction mechanisms between the NO2 and the reduced/stoichiometric surfaces.

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the Advanced Technology Institute and Head of the Nano-Electronics Centre at the University of Surrey, said: “Our remarkable team of researchers at Surrey and colleagues in São Paulo have been assessing and developing gas sensor devices to help tackle the climate crisis – the top priority of our time. We will do all we can to help the world reach net zero by 2050.”

Mateus Masteghin, the lead author of the study and PhD student at the University of Surrey, under the supervision of Dr David Cox (co-author in the publication), said: “The internship that allowed this work to be done was an opportunity of a lifetime and I am very grateful for that. I was an M.Sc. student in Brazil supervised by Professor Marcelo Orlandi (UNESP), and came to spend about three months at the University of Surrey under the supervision of Professor Ravi Silva. I had the chance to work with amazing researchers at two prestigious universities, from whom I learned so much. We hope that this study furthers the understanding of tin oxide-based NO2 detectors.”

Microplastics affect individual fish differently study finds
May 2021

It appears all fish might not be equal when it comes to how they are affected by microplastics, according to new research from the University of Essex.

A new study shows that within the same species of fish there are differences in how much microplastic they individually ingest. It also found the fish that ingested the largest amount of microplastic may be more vulnerable to predators as their startle response was slower.

The rising tide of plastic debris in the world’s oceans has become one of the main ecological issues of our time. Microplastics, which are particles of less than 5mm diameter, are especially problematic as they are widespread in our oceans and their small size make them available for ingestion by a wide range of marine organisms.

Animals in their early stages of development, such as tiny fish larvae, are particularly vulnerable and may mistake microplastic particles for food.

Essex researchers, working with colleagues from the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Israel, carried out a range of controlled experiments where they repeatedly exposed early-stage sea bream to equal concentrations of microplastics.

The study, led by Dr Gerrit Nanninga, from the University’s School of Life Sciences, found some of the fish consistently consumed large numbers of microplastics, while others consistently avoided them.

“More importantly, we also found that fish which had ingested large quantities of microplastics exhibited a reduced startle response – which means they could be at greater risk of predators,” explained Dr Nanninga. “Such variation could have a strong impact on the way that microplastic pollution affects populations – some individuals may be more/less affected, simply because they have an innate tendency to consume/avoid these potentially harmful particles.”

Dr Nanninga said the level of microplastic ingestion could be related to certain personality traits of individual fish – with more active individuals ingesting more particles than less active fish.

The study, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, suggests that the impact of microplastic pollution may not be the same across populations. Instead some individuals may consistently be more affected than others due to differences in feeding behaviour. With plastics increasingly replacing real food items this could mean individuals that should  naturally have a selective advantage due to their feeding efficiency may now be the ones most impacted by microplastic contamination.

Dr Nanninga added: “Ignoring inter-individual variation in microplastic ingestion during experiments may lead to inaccurate conclusions about the consequences of microplastic exposure on fish.”