Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Whither the star clusters

Today’s astronomy is all about the growth of structure in the Universe – how stars and planets form, how star clusters form, how entire galaxies form...  The mid-scale of clusters is as perplexing as any spatial scale. We know from observation that most star clusters are destined to extraordinarily short lives, in that 9 out of 10 vanish by the time the dense dust and gas in which they are born has dispersed (a timescale of no more than a few million years, typically – a blink of an astronomical eye). We also don’t know what to make of the larger related structures known as OB associations.  Are they star clusters on steroids, or something different?

Image Courtesy of Nick Wright
To solve this, we have to get down to the details - learning all we can about the space velocities of the stars making clusters up. Are the stars flying apart, falling in, orbiting ...moving around chaotically, or what?   If we can discover what the stars are up to now, we can foresee what will happen next.   But this is much easier said than done, as it requires the wholesale measurement of tiny stellar motions in the plane of the sky, as well as the line of sight motion revealed by the Doppler effect.  But we are on the verge of doing it, and that’s what the newly published collaborative paper The Dynamics of an Expanding OB Association” is about.

The tiny stellar motions have to be deduced from high quality sky images obtained years apart. We at the University of Hertfordshire are at the forefront in this area, via our Galactic Plane surveys. Here, data from IPHAS (INT Photometric Hα Survey of the Northern Galactic Plane) steps in. This is the first comprehensive kinematic study of the massive northern OB association, known as Cyg OB2.  The results portray a complex hierarchical structure, at odds with simple dispersal.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Getting into the Mind-set of Psychology Research

Dr Liz Kirk (centre) with her new research assistants,
Emily Stears (left) and Lisa Wheatley (right)
It's great seeing some of our students and alumni in action at the Games, but it's not just sporting successes our students face this summer. Two of our outstanding students have the golden opportunity to gain an insight into scientific research over the vacation period.

Dr Liz Kirk, from the School of Psychology, has successfully secured two research grants, enabling her to provide “hands-on” research experience to two exceptional students.

Through the Undergraduate Research Assistant Award from the British Psychological Society, Dr Kirk has been able to employ Emily Stears, an outstanding second year psychology undergraduate during the summer vacation.  Emily is working as a research assistant on a project entitled “An exploration of the relationship between symbolic gesture and pretend play in infancy”.

As well as employing an undergraduate, Dr Kirk is also employing an exceptional psychology graduate as a research assistant. Through a new research grant funded by a collaboration between the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, Lisa Wheatley, who has just completed her degree this year with First Class honours, is working on a four month research project entitled “The relationship between symbolic gesture, maternal mind-mindedness and theory of mind.” This research follows up on the baby participants from a previous PhD study into baby-signing and who are now six years old!

These two grants provide a fantastic opportunity for these outstanding students to find out more about research, as well as giving their CVs that special competitive edge.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Internet for All?

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as Broadband are becoming a bigger part of peoples’ daily lives.  Use of the internet has increased particularly with the development of innovative communications platforms such as email and instant messaging.  But with the emergence of online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, internet usage has rocketed and transformed.

With the use of ICTs changing the face of information seeking and communications in day-to-day life, governments have recognised the potential for economic growth and development.  So ICTs like Broadband are viewed as critical tools for daily life. But does everyone have the same access and ability to use these immense resources?  And what is the usage of these technologies in other countries around the world?

Not all government projects across the globe are successful at encouraging adoption and use.  And with an estimated 85% of e-government projects in developing countries being either total failures or considered as partial failures, what are the reasons for this?

Dr Jyoti Choudrie, from the Systems Management Research Unit, presented two papers on uptake of ICT in two developing countries at the recent Special Interest Group on ICT and Global Development meeting held in Barcelona, Spain.

The first paper, entitled “Culture and Gender’s Influence on E-Government Diffusion in Nigeria: A Qualitative Study”, looked to understand and explain the influence of culture and gender upon e-Government awareness channels in the three largest indigenous societies in Nigeria: Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa.  The findings showed that social interaction (based on culture and gender influences) had a large impact on awareness channels.  So to improve the diffusion of e-Government products and services, social interaction is a necessary element.

In the second paper, entitled “Adoption and use of e-Government Services in Abu Dhabi Police Force: A Qualitative Study”, the research results showed that age, education, position within an organisation and the individual’s job all contribute to either inhibit or encourage the use and adoption of e-services.