Friday, 27 April 2012

Dracula, the king of the vampires, and Bram Stoker’s ashes

Bram Stoker Centenary Symposium at Keats House
On Friday 20th April 2012, members of the Stoker family joined scholars, novelists and critics to mark the centenary of the death of Dracula’s creator, Bram Stoker. The Open Graves, Open Minds Bram Stoker Centenary Symposium led by Dr Sam George was held in Hampstead, London and included a visit to Golders Green crematorium to pay respects to Bram Stoker’s ashes. 

The romantic, period setting of Keats House, in Hampstead, was a fitting venue for the symposium. Keats himself explored forbidden pleasures in his poem “Lamia” (1819), becoming synonymous with the female vampire. Hampstead too has its links to Stoker and vampirism, featuring a number of times in the novel “Dracula”.

Dacre Stoker (great-grand-nephew)
with Bram Stoker's ashes
Through an exclusive programme of talks and discussions, the centenary symposium celebrated Dracula as the undisputed king of vampires.  The dark gothic legacy created by Stoker standing firm against the newer trend for the “sweetie” vampires of the Twilight series and American TV shows - a new, romantic type of vampire.

The weather added to the eeriness of the occasion. A sudden bolt of lightning flashed across the sky and a deep roll of thunder made the windows and curtains quiver before the skies opened with torrents of rain –an auspicious omen before setting out for the crematorium to view the urn containing ashes of Dracula’s creator, Bram Stoker.

At the crematorium, the many tributes to Bram and his world-wide legacy of Dracula were led by Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grand-nephew, who wrote “Dracula the undead” (the sequel to the original novel).

More information can be found on the Open Graves, Open Minds website.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Sun-worshipping robot puts Bayfordbury on the world map

A robot installed at the University's Bayfordbury Observatory has just joined the worldwide network AErosol RObotic NETwork (AERONET), which is coordinated by NASA. The robot is a sun photometer, an automatic instrument for measuring the properties of atmospheric aerosols, such as industrial pollution. During the day the photometer checks if the sun is shining, and if it does, carries out a sequence of automated scans of the sky to determine the amounts of aerosol that are present.

Until recently, the observatory has been used mainly for astronomy but it is now being equipped for atmospheric measurement by the Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research.

More information can be found on the Centre for Atmospheric & Instrumentation Research website.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Can interviews influence eyewitnesses non-verbally?

Influential gestures: touching a ring finger to suggest a ring
What do eyewitnesses recall? Can interviewers influence eyewitnesses?

Research to date has showed that eyewitnesses can be influenced by misleading questions, but what impact do gestures have? New research conducted by Dr Daniel Gurney shows that gestures made during interviews can also mislead, and sometimes without the eyewitnesses even realising. The research findings were presented at last week’s British Psychological Society Annual Conference.

In the research, Dr Gurney interviewed people about the contents of a video they had watched. During the interviews, he deliberately performed misleading hand gestures to suggest inaccurate information about the detail in the video. These hand gestures included such actions as chin stroking to suggest someone had a beard, although the man in the video did not have a beard. Interviewees were three times more likely to recall seeing a beard when one was gestured to them, than those interviewees who were not gestured to.

Other hand gestures used in the research included touching a ring finger (to suggest a ring), grasping a wrist (to suggest a watch) and pretending to pull on gloves. All of these gestures implied details that did not actually appear in the video and the results were similar to those with the misinformation about the beard.

For professionals in the police, legal and other sensitive areas of work where questioning and recall of detail is important, the impact of hand gestures during interview needs to be fully appreciated.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Hertfordshire Dementia Champions form Community of Practice

Hertfordshire Dementia Champions
at inaugural symposium
Dementia is one of the biggest challenges of our time - it is a disease that steals lives and has a major impact on families and NHS resources.  Currently, there are about 750,000 people in the UK with dementia with an estimated cost to society of £23 bn; and this number is projected to rise to 940,000 by 2021

And it doesn’t just affect older people; people affected by this condition are getting younger.  So what is being done to support this and change the public perception of dementia? What is being done to improve the quality of diagnosis, treatment and care for those living with dementia?

At a recent one-day meeting, over 120 health-care professionals from across the county attended the inaugural Dementia Champions Symposium hosted by the University in partnership with the NHS in Hertfordshire and the Alzheimer’s Society. This event took place just days before the government announced extra funding for research into dementia to tackle the UK’s national crisis in care – doubling the dementia research budget to £66 m by 2015.

Hertfordshire Dementia Champions are forming a Community of Practice, hosted by the University’s Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care, to create a high quality county-wide support network for clinicians. This network will provide on-going encouragement, support and, more importantly, a framework for the sharing of information about new dementia resources and national and local policy.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Astronomer finds evidence for record-breaking nine planet system

How many planets does a planetary system need to break a record?  According to a study conducted by Mikko Tuomi from the Centre for Astrophysics Research, the answer is nine – one more than our own Solar system!  This significant discovery of the planetary system around the star named HD 10180 is the first time that astronomers have discovered a star with more planets than the Sun. Located 130 light years away, the star is not within reach of foreseeable human space travel, but in astronomical distances, it is still considered to be in the Solar neighbourhood!

An artist’s conception of the planetary system around HD10180. One of the new Super-Earth planets HD10180j is seen in the foreground (on the left hand side of the picture), with the nearby Neptune-like planet HD10180e in the background (on the right-hand side of picture with blue cloudy atmosphere). The central star and the other 7 planets can be seen in the distance, including the second new Super-Earth HD10180i, third out from the central star. Picture credit: By J Pinfield, for the RoPACS network (04/12)
Originally reported to be orbited by seven planets in 2010, re-analysed data from the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) now indicates that the star has nine planets.  The study, accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, verifies the existence of the previously announced seven planets and shows that there are likely to be two additional planets orbiting the star.

The two newly detected signals are probably those of planets classified as hot super-Earths.  These new planets are closer to the star’s surface than the Earth is to the Sun which makes them too hot to be able to maintain water on their surfaces in its liquid form.

Future observations are required to verify the existence of these planet candidates and to establish the HD 10180 star system as the richest planetary system known to humankind - certainly a star worth keeping our telescopes on into the future.