Friday, 30 March 2012

Mind-pops more likely with schizophrenia

Have you had a mind-pop experience today?  Were you cleaning your teeth this morning and thinking about what you were going to wear for work when all of a sudden an unrelated word or tune popped into your mind? Did you think “where on earth did that come from”?

Almost everyone reports experiencing mind-pops at some time or another, but some experience them more than others according to research conducted by Professor Keith Laws, Professor Lia Kvavilashvili and Dr Ia Elua from the School of Psychology

Mind-pops are those little thoughts, words, images or tunes that suddenly pop into your mind at unexpected times and are totally unrelated to your current activity.

In the paper to be published in Psychiatry Research, findings suggest that mind-pop experiences are related to hallucinations in those people suffering from schizophrenia.

The researchers compared the frequency of mind-pops in people with schizophrenia, people with depression and mentally healthy individuals. Their study found that all 100% schizophrenia patients reported experiencing mind-pops, compared to 81% of the depressed patients and 86% of the mentally healthy individuals.  In addition, schizophrenia patients experienced mind-pops significantly more frequently than depressed patients and mentally healthy people.

Based on the findings of the research, the team has suggested that verbal hallucinations, the chief symptom of schizophrenia, may be related to the mind-pop phenomenon that almost everybody experiences, but just manifests itself in a different way!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Milky Way image of one billion stars

Two sky surveys of the Milky Way led by Dr Phil Lucas from the School of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics have been combined to show more than one billion stars in a near-infrared image.  British-built telescopes were used to take the images: the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) based in Hawaii covered the northern part of the Milky Way; and the VISTA telescope in Chile covered the southern part.

Detail of the star-forming area known as G305 in the Milky Way
This combined data on over a billion stars represents a scientific legacy that will be exploited for decades in many different ways. The image provides a three-dimensional view of the structure of our spiral galaxy - showing the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, which is often described as looking like two fried eggs back-to-back, with a bulge in the middle! Many structures of our spiral galaxy can be seen in the image, such as star clusters, gas and dust clouds where new stars are forming, and also stars all the way over on the far side of the galaxy.

The image has been published online with an interactive zoom tool. Zooming into the image reveals the wealth of detail on the small structures.

The UKIRT study (the UKIDSS Galactic Plane Survey) was led by the University of Hertfordshire, while the VISTA study (VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea, or VVV) was co-led by astronomers in Chile at the Pontifica Universidad Catolica and at the University of Hertfordshire. The picture itself was put together by the survey archive team at the University of Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Honorary professorship for Hertfordshire plant pathologist

Dr Avice Hall receiving honorary professorship
On a recent trip to China, Dr Avice Hall MBE, from the School of Life Sciences, was awarded an honorary professorship by the Inner Mongolia Academy of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. She receives this honour in recognition of her achievements in plant pathology for the benefit of the agricultural and horticultural industry in both the UK and China.

During her time at the University, Dr Hall has established an international reputation for her work as a plant pathologist. Her ground-breaking research into strawberry powdery mildew has assisted growers and furthered knowledge of fungal diseases on our most valuable soft fruit crop.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Did you attend the 1971 Stansted Summer School?

Gorsefield House, courtesy of
Gorsefield Rural Studies Centre
Do you remember those days back in 1971?  When hot-pants, bell-bottomed trousers and platform shoes were the fashion must haves; Walt Disney opened their theme park in Florida; we switched to decimal currency in the UK; the Osmonds, Jackson 5, Bread, Elvis Presley, Hot Chocolate, the Bee Gees, Bill Withers and The Temptations were among the top hits list; Intel released the world’s first microprocessor; and Texas instruments launched the first pocket calculator.

In 1971, were you an eleven to thirteen year old girl who lived in London and attended a summer camp at Gorsefield House? Did you live in Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Camden, Westminster, Greenwich or Islington at that time? Or have you heard your mum or aunt talk about a summer camp that they went on when they were young? Or perhaps you were a member of staff working at this summer camp in 1971?

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire would like to hear from women and staff who joined the Stansted Summer School in 1971 at Gorsefield House. It may seem a life-time ago but, forty years on, we’d like to hear about your memories and experiences of taking part at this innovative three-week summer school.

If you or anyone you know attended this three-week summer school in 1971, we would like to hear from you. Please contact Ruth Towell, Researcher on or call her on 01707 286390.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Simulation training for nurses

Project Team Partners
How do you educate and train nurses, today and into the future? How can you provide safe clinical practice in an increasingly complex healthcare environment? How do you ensure adequate clinical experiences so students are prepared for a wide, and often complex, variety of scenarios?

That’s where simulation training comes in! However, despite significant progression in technology and education around simulation, there are many countries still to adopt scenario-based simulation training for their nurses and other healthcare professionals as common practice.

Through a European-funded project, Professor Guillaume Alinier, from the School of Health and Emergency Professions, has been sharing his expertise and knowledge of simulation practice with project partners from Turkey (led by Dr Fusun Terzioglu) and Italy (led by Professor Filippo Festini). 

The twenty-four month project, which is due to complete by the end of 2012, has brought nursing tutors from Turkey (Hacettepe University, Kafkas University, Mugla University, University of Ataturk, Association of Research and Development in Nursing) and Italy (University of Florence) to the University’s Clinical Simulation Centre to learn about simulation training through the development of trauma care scenarios.

As part of the project, experience from the University is being transferred to help partners in Turkey set up a new simulation training facility at Hacettepe University and become a model for all nursing programmes in Turkey - work on this is well under way!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Eat your greens to keep your blood pressure low!

Blood pressure measurement being taken
Do you have high blood pressure or hypertension?  Do you have a balanced diet?  Do you eat your greens as your mother always told you to do?   Having elevated blood pressure or hypertension is a major risk factor for mortality from cardiovascular and renal disease.  And causes of hypertension include (but are not limited to) smoking, sedentary lifestyle, a diet high in sodium and an inadequate intake of other minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.

In a paper published in advance online in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a team of researchers led by Lindsy Kass, from the School of Life Sciences, has found that magnesium supplements may offer small but clinically significant reductions in blood pressure.

The team conducted a meta-analysis by identifying 141 papers, of which, twenty-two trials involving 1,173 people were used to assess the effects of magnesium on blood pressure.  The primary outcomes measured were systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure at the end of the follow up period.

In the trials, the magnesium supplementation doses ranged from 120 to 973mg.  Although not all individual trials showed significance in blood pressure reduction, the overall data (when combined) indicated that magnesium supplementation reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.  With the best results observed at the higher dosages.

If you want to ensure that you’re taking enough magnesium, dietary sources of magnesium include meat, grain, nuts, starches, milk and green, leafy vegetables – so dietary supplements aren’t always necessary.

So remember to eat your greens to keep your blood pressure low!

The full research papers can be viewed online at the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition at  and will be available in the July print issue.

Monday, 12 March 2012

First international conference on designer drugs

The emergence of new recreational drugs, combined with the internet’s ability to spread information quickly, is a new challenge for public health.  These new drugs, also known as “designer drugs” or “legal highs”, are advertised online as “safe” and “legal” alternatives to the most common controlled illicit drugs (like cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, etc.). 

The first international conference on these novel psychoactive substances is taking place this week (12-13 March) in Budapest, Hungary. ‘The Ever-Changing World of Psychoactive Drugs’ conference is co-organised by Professor Fabrizio Schifano and Dr Ornella Corazza from the School of Pharmacy, and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

This event is an opportunity to share scientific knowledge on the nature of these new substances as well as the forensic, clinical and legal challenges faced today. From novel prevention models to a widely accessible online marketplace, all of these issues have become increasingly prominent in the fields of drug policy, substance use research and public health.

The ReDNet and previous Psychonaut research projects, headed by the University of Hertfordshire, and funded by the European Commission have identified more than 450 novel compounds and combinations. These include new piperazines, synthetic cathinones, synthetic cannabinoids, phenethylamine, various ethno-drugs and hallucinogenic compounds.

For further information on the conference, please visit the ReDNet project website at

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Happiness: it’s not in the jeans

How many times have you got up in the morning and wondered what you were going to wear?  Do you choose something based on how you feel? Or do you just throw something on without much thought? According to a recent study conducted by Professor Karen Pine, a woman’s choice of clothing is heavily dependent on her emotional state.

One hundred women were asked what they wore when feeling depressed and more than half of them said jeans - that staple item of casual wear in almost everyone’s wardrobe. Only a third would wear jeans when feeling happy. On the other hand, women revealed that they would be ten times more likely to put on a favourite dress when happy then when depressed.

However, jeans don’t suit everyone. They are often poorly cut and badly fitting, and can indicate that the wearer isn’t bothered with their appearance. People who are depressed often lose interest in how they look, so the correlation between depression and wearing jeans is understandable. On the contrary, ‘happy’ clothes (ones that made women feel good) are well-cut, figure enhancing, and made from bright and beautiful fabrics.

Many of the women in the study felt that they could alter their mood by changing what they wore - demonstrating the psychological power of clothing and how the right choices can influence a person’s happiness. So wear clothes that you associate with happiness, even when feeling low.

Friday, 2 March 2012

New funding to mentor healthcare researchers

Nurse-led innovation and research can improve the care and services provided to patients as well as saving money at a time of great financial pressures on the NHS.  Thanks to funding secured after several years of collaboration, the next generation of world class healthcare researchers will receive mentoring to help accelerate their success and improve patient care in the coming years.

Professor Sally Kendall and Dr Geraldine Byrne, from the University’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, worked alongside the Academy of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting Research (UK), Imperial College and the Allied Health Professions Research Network to secure £189,719 from the Department of Health’s Chief Nursing Officer Directorate to cover three years of funding for the programme.  One of the key goals of the programme is to develop nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals as clinical academic leaders.

This means that an elite group of around 30 researchers, who have been awarded national research fellowships under the Department of Health Chief Nursing Officer’s  ‘Clinical Academic Training’ (CAT) and CSO Healthcare Scientist programmes, will be eligible for regular mentoring from experts at the top of the healthcare professions.  It will include: one to one mentorship support for Senior Clinical Lecturers and Clinical Lecturers; face-to-face and online mentorship training; and activities such as an annual event, regional hubs and professional networks.

Highly qualified and experienced in their healthcare fields and with backgrounds as nurses, midwives and health visitors, the researchers are often at the bedside, looking at aspects of care to make a real difference to patients’ lives.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

KASPAR at The National Autistic Society’s (NAS) Professional Conference

KASPAR, the interactive humanoid robot designed by Dr Kerstin Dautenhahn and her team from the School of Computer Sciences, made its appearance at The National Autistic Society’s (NAS) Professional Conference in Manchester this week (28-29 February).

Senior autism professionals from the across the UK were delighted to see KASPAR, an innovative therapeutic toy, helping children with autism to develop their communication skills.  KASPAR (short for Kinesics and Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics) can be controlled and tailored to meet an individual child’s development needs.

While KASPAR is obviously non-human, it has simple human features, minimal expressions and predictable movements.  Its simplistic facial expressions are designed to help children with autism interpret people’s feelings and emotions – something which other children take for granted.  By engaging children in simple turn-taking and imitation games, the children are encouraged to interact with the robot and also with other people.  KASPAR has the potential to transform the social and educational development of children living with autism in the future.