Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Oilseed rape crops under threat

Professor Bruce Fitt
New strategies are needed to manage oilseed rape diseases, according to Bruce Fitt, professor of plant pathology at the University of Hertfordshire’s Crop and Environmental Protection Research Group. In his presentation at last week’s HGCA Agronomist conference, Professor Fitt urged industry and academics to work together to protect genes for resistance against diseases in oilseed rape.

Disease resistance genes in oilseed rape crops are often effective when initially introduced into commercial crops, but new pathogen races arise that are able to overcome them in a relatively short period of time – causing crop losses.

Phoma stem canker was responsible for more than £140m of oilseed rape crop losses in England in 2010.  And with current production methods putting a great strain on those crop varieties that are disease resistant, the crop losses can only get bigger – putting our future food security at risk.

Field of Oilseed rape
Image credit: Baum im Feld von Petr Kratochvil
With the range of diseases and their pathogens under constant change, there is a need for good resistance against these pathogens.  We need to exploit new genetic information to improve resistance as well as devising new strategies to manage and control oilseed rape disease.

In Australia, the oilseed rape industry is working together to protect their disease resistance genes.  By monitoring the regional distribution of the races of phoma stem canker pathogen, the farmers are then advised to grow the oilseed varieties which have effective resistance in their area.  Similar schemes operate in France and Canada.

A study to better understand the disease resistant crops in the UK is currently underway.  The ongoing BBSRC LINK project is investigating factors affecting resistance against phoma stem canker under field conditions. The UK oilseed rape production industry, including farmers, breeders and researchers, needs to work together to protect our disease resistance genes in oilseed rape.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Common myths about Online Distance Learning*

Studying a degree by distance learning isn’t a new concept- it’s been going on for decades. Our perceptions about distance learning can be a little dated though. So here’s some of the common misconceptions dispelled…

Common myth #1 “An online degree is not a ‘proper’ degree”

Not true. Distance learning degrees go through the same rigorous academic quality standards as campus based degrees. And if there is a campus-based equivalent to the online degree, the entry requirements are the same. You also join all the other University graduates at a lovely cathedral in St Albans when you graduate (or at the University if it's a postgraduate degree).

Common myth #2 “Online degree- can’t I just buy one of those off the internet?”

We suspect these are not real. The same goes for the ‘free’ ones. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Common myth #3 “I will just be reading textbooks and writing essays”

Some of our eLearning Technologists at UH Online
Online distance learning or ‘eLearning’ presents materials in an engaging way, and is accompanied with interactive activities to test your understanding.

Enter a team of eLearning Technologists. These specialists have the technical expertise as well as a firm understanding of online pedagogy (the science behind teaching) to develop the distance learning materials.

eLearning Technologists work with University teaching staff to develop engaging online study materials and activities. (We actually run an online eLearning Technology Master’s degree that teaches all about this).

We’ve got a little example on our website you can register to try, to see the sort of activities students can undertake.

Common myth #4 “It’s so isolating- I’ll be studying on my own”

There is, like on campus degrees, independent study involved with your distance learning qualification, but students also benefit from collaborative study so we encourage and actively make provisions for it. Discussion forums form a great way to share ideas with colleagues from all sorts of professional backgrounds - giving a richer experience to you.

Common myth #5 “It’s not really 100% online- I need to turn up for workshops and exams”

uherts_18751569211 smaller again
Unless otherwise specified, the degree is studied 100% online. Teaching is online, the materials are online (of course we may post you a physical textbook as well as your electronic materials), assessment is also completed online.

Common myth #6 “It’s easier to cheat on an online degree”

Plagiarism, collusion and cheating can happen anywhere - online or when studying on campus.  The methods of assessment and verification for online distance learning moves away from the traditional ‘one exam at the end of the year’ to ongoing assessment throughout the course instead.  Tutors online get to know their distance learning students at a deeper level than they tend to on campus, which makes any ‘out of character’ behaviour prominent.

To find out more about studying by distance learning visit: go.herts.ac.uk/online

 *Well, they’re myths at UH Online, we can’t speak for other guys...

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Hertfordshire psychologist reviews psychology exhibition on BBC Radio 3Night Waves

The new “Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology” exhibition, based at the Science Museum, was reviewed on BBC Radio 3 Night Waves programme.  Keith Laws, Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire was invited to join the show hosted by Philip Dodd and give his expert review of the new exhibition.

The exhibition, supported and set up by the British Psychological Society (BPS), explores how mental health conditions have been diagnosed and treated over the past 250 years – looking at key breakthroughs in scientists’ understanding of the mind and the tools and methods of treatment that have been developed.

During the Night Waves programme, Keith described how it was a great exhibition which was more about the technology and tools that were used to apply electrical and magnetic stimulation to various parts of people’s brains, rather than about people’s experience of the various therapies.  It tries to convey the notion that we are more humane in our treatments.  Towards the end of the exhibition, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and the idea of avatar therapy is introduced which is more about engaging with the person undergoing treatment and less about doing things to the person.

The “Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology” exhibition, opened yesterday (10 December 2013) and runs until 12 June 2014 at the Science Museum in London.

Listen to Professor Keith Laws on Night Waves here.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Experts recommend Ketamine should be a Class B drug

Ketamine. Image is licensed under the 
Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal 
Public Domain Dedication
The increase in recreational use of the drug ketamine is a cause for concern.  So much so that in the latest report published today (10 December 2013), the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is recommending that the drug ketamine should be upgraded from a Class C drug to Class B.  Under this new classification, illegal possession of ketamine could lead to a five-year jail sentence and suppliers could face fourteen years.

The new report, “Ketamine: a review of its use and harm”, builds on the evidence of a previous report published in 2004, and covers public health issues – in particular new evidence on severe damage to bladders which, in the most serious cases, users have had to undergo surgery to have their bladders removed.

Ketamine, best known by the street names K, KET, Special K and Vitamin K, is widely used in veterinary medicine and in some areas of human medicine as an anaesthetic and analgesic.    But it is also a drug of misuse and it’s estimated that in 2012/13 around 120,000 people had misused ketamine.

Professor Fabrizio Schifano, John Corkery and Dr Ornella Corazza from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Clinical Practice, Safe Medicines and Drug Misuse Research, have been studying the use and impact of ketamine, providing evidence to support the ACMD’s recommendations to the UK government.

Professor Schifano and John Corkery are part of the national programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (np-SAD) which is based at the International Centre for Drug Policy, St George’s University of London, and which contributed data to both the 2004 review and the report published today.

Dr Corazza and Professor Schifano have researched the recreational use of ketamine and its new derivative methoxetamine.  Ketamine abuse is often associated with physical and psychological side effects, of which the worst is the effect on the bladder.  More recently methoxetamine, known on the streets as Special M or MXE, provides the same effects as ketamine but slower onset and longer duration but without the bladder damage.  However, it is also associated with worse side effects than ketamine, ranging from mood disturbances and suicidal attempts to acute cerebellar toxicity. The paper  ‘From “Special K” to “Special M”: The Evolution of the Recreational Use of Ketamine and Methoxetamine’ was published in CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics.

Mediterranean diet is key in the battle against dementia

In an open letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, leading clinicians and health researchers including Dr Richard Hoffman from the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Life and Medical Sciences, have called for people to be urged to convert to a Mediterranean diet.

One of the lead authors of the letter and of an acclaimed book on the Mediterranean diet, Dr Hoffman, with his expertise and research into the effects of the diet, is calling upon the Government to improve public health as an effective weapon in the fight against dementia.  To persuade people to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil is ‘possibly the best strategy currently available’ for preventing Alzheimer’s and other memory-robbing diseases.

There is no effective treatment for dementia, but a healthier Mediterranean diet is possibly the most effective way of helping to prevent dementia and may have a far greater impact than pharmaceutical and medical interventions.

Dr Hoffman’s research included collating and analysing information from colleagues and contacts from across Europe.  The letter comes ahead of a crucial meeting in London on Wednesday this week where dementia experts from the G8 group of countries convene to plan a new approach in the research and treatment of the disease (G8 Dementia Summit).

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

“GORDON'S ALIVE!” – Brian Blessed talking about Flash Gordon

Guest blog: Howard Berry, Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities Research Institute

Brian Blessed at the screening of Flash Gordon
When The Elstree Project launched in September 2010, I had no idea I would be sitting on stage three years later listening to Brian Blessed doing an impersonation of the Queen.  However, that’s exactly where I found myself following the opening screening of the third Elstree Film Season.

Brian was in attendance at the Weston Auditorium, at the University of Hertfordshire’s de Havilland campus, to talk to the audience about his role in the making of Flash Gordon, in which he played the memorable character Prince Vultan - complete with a gold Viking-style helmet and giant bird wings.  The film was partly filmed at the nearby Elstree Studios, which was also home to Star Wars and The Shining at the time of production.

Conducting research into the history of classic productions, such as Flash Gordon, is always rewarding because you never know quite what information you are going to find.  Oral history interviews are a wonderful way to connect with the past, and each interview is unique because it is a personal memory being shared.

This summer I interviewed Brian on behalf of The Elstree Project, in the preview theatre of the studios, and he told me about how the Hawk Men were winched up into the roof of the soundstage against a blue backdrop in order to achieve the flying sequences.  Many crew members would feel ill from the heat of the studio lights or from having just eaten lunch, and toilet breaks involved having to winch everyone back down again.  The process apparently took ages!

One of the most interesting stories Brian told me was about how - after being an actor for the BBC - working for “the other side” (ITV) was always seen as disloyal and frowned upon.  When Brian first started to make guest appearances in The Avengers and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) at Elstree, he was told off and felt guilty.  However, he enjoyed the freedom and soon came to regard Elstree as a hugely enjoyable place to work; he would even cycle to the studios if the car to collect him didn’t arrive.

The video of Brian talking to The Elstree Project can be found online here.

Brian was a fascinating interviewee, and the added bonus of having him launch our third Elstree Film Season was a wonderful treat for our audience.  Next week we get to screen an episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and I have the joy of sharing a new interview we have recorded with Kenneth Cope before the screening.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Happy Birthday to us

UH Online admin team
UH Online admin team at a recent online open day
UH Online is a year old this month!

Distance learning has been running at the University of Hertfordshire for a number of years (especially by our veterans in Computer Science) but it’s been just the past year we’ve brought the university’s pockets of online expertise altogether centrally to create UH Online.

It’s been a great year, with new courses being launched, the team growing and superb facilities installed to help us develop even better distance learning materials.  We’re excited about what the future holds for UH Online and distance learning.

cakeTo celebrate we're treating the UH Online team to tea and cake, and just for you, we’ll give you five facts about UH Online : )
  • 64 is the number of different countries our students come from.
  • Over 1,200 is the number of distance learning graduates to date.
  • 28 is the average age of our students. Our oldest student is in their 60’s.

  • 9 is the number of years our BSc Computer Science course has been running: our most popular UH Online course.
  • 19 is the number of days it will take us to burn off these cakes...
Thanks for a great year!

We hope to see you online soon.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Comet ISON begins final stage of its fiery plunge towards the sun

Guest blog: Dr Mark Gallaway, Bayfordbury Observatory

When it was discovered at end of 2011, the comet known as C/2012 S1 aka ISON caused quite a stir in the astronomical community.  ISON had a very similar orbit to the Great Comet of 1680 which was very bright - reputedly visible even in daytime – and was noted for its spectacularly long tail.
ISON’s characteristic green colour - thought to be caused by gases escaping, most likely cyanogen and diatomic carbon, and fluorescing in the sunlight. Image credit: David Campbell, Bayfordbury Observatory, University of Hertfordshire
Astronomers thought that ISON could become a daylight comet, or at least a very bright twilight object, with a large arching tail. However, there was always a caveat. Comets are fickle things especially one that has not been observed before.

Living in the outer reaches of the solar system, comets are balls of rock and frozen gases, often described as a dirty snow ball and are the remnants of the formation of the solar system. Occasionally a comet will be disturbed and begin the long fall towards the Sun. As it reaches the orbit of Mars, the light from the Sun begins to warm the comet enough to begin to melt the trapped ices (which turn straight to a gas).

At first this gas forms an atmosphere, known as the coma, around the comet. As the comet gets nearer the Sun, the solar wind begins driving the coma back like a wind sock at an airport. This forms the tail, which always points away from the Sun, and may, for a while, be the largest object in the Solar System.

In many ways ISON has been a disappointment being nowhere near as bright or active as astronomers hoped. Already past the Earth and nearing its close approach to the Sun (perihelion) on the 28th November, ISON is just visible with the naked eye before sunrise but is an easy target for a pair of binoculars.

ISON will pass within 1,165,000 km of the surface of the sun before swinging back round and into interstellar space, never to return. However, the stresses and temperatures of such a close pass to the Sun may very well be too much for ISON and it might break up; only time will tell. If it survives it may yet put on a spectacular show.

ISON has been imaged a number of times by the staff at the University of Hertfordshire’s Bayfordbury Observatory. The latest was taken last week by David Campbell and shows ISON’s characteristic green colour. This is thought that this is caused by gases escaping, most likely cyanogen and diatomic carbon, and fluorescing in the sunlight.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Hertfordshire professor writes chapter for chief medical officer report

Image courtesy of
Lusi via www.sxc.hu
Much more needs to be done to improve children’s health in the UK as the chief medical officer’s latest independent report shows that the UK has five excess child deaths per day when compared to Sweden.

The report from Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser from the Department of Health, focuses on how to improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people.  “Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays” includes a chapter on healthcare in school-aged children written by Professor Fiona Brooks from the University of Hertfordshire.

Professor Brooks, head of adolescent and child health research at the University’s Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC), looked at the drivers of resilience and well-being in children and adolescents aged 5-15 and how to improve the health of this particular age group.

Her chapter (Life stage; school years) highlights the need for society to support children to build emotional resilience, supporting children through better communication to learn from their mistakes and deal with life’s inevitable ‘ups and downs’.

The report, “Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays”,  includes twenty-four recommendations made after consultation with a broad range of experts, academics, clinicians and services providers, and listening to the opinions of children and young people.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Learn more about business

The 100% online BA(Hons) Business Administration degree form the University of Hertfordshire is ideal to give you a broad understanding of business and management. It's also particularly useful if you're not quite sure where you would like to take your career and wish to explore different disciplines in business. Modules include marketing, accounting, strategy and leadership to name a few (find out the other modules you would be studying). There is also a module designed especially for your career plan: 'enhancing employability'. Quite helpful we think.

Being 100% online you can fit study around your work and other commitments plus an option to start at level 6 if you already have a foundation degree. There may also be opportunities to speed up the rate of study and complete the degree quicker. There's more information about this course, from Karen Trimarchi the programme tutor for BA(Hons) Business Administration (online), take a look in this short video.

Find out more about the online business degree

Not looking for a degree? How about some business training from entrepreneurs?

If you're keen to strengthen your core business skills online in a handy short course, take a look at Dragons' Den Online Educational Programme. An interactive way to build your skills and visibly see your progress throughout the course, find out more about Dragons' Den Education.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Chapter on “legal highs” reaches milestone – with 5,000 downloads

A paper on mephedrone-related fatalities in the UK has achieved impressive readership results.
John Corkery

Published as a chapter of the open access book “Pharmacology” in March 2012, the paper has been accessed over 5,000 times – showing the significant impact of the work by University of Hertfordshire researchers John Corkery and Professor Fabrizio Schifano.

At the point of the paper’s publication, the misuse of mephedrone had been greatly increasing in Western countries, especially in the dance and club scenes, and had been implicated in a rising number of deaths, particularly in the UK.

Professor Fabrizio Schifano
Mephedrone, sometimes called ‘meow meow’, ‘bubbles’ or ‘MMC Hammer’ is a powerful stimulant and is part of a group of drugs that are closely related to the  amphetamines, like speed and ecstasy.  It is readily available over the internet and in head shops – often advertised as a ‘legal high’.  As typical use of this drug is to experience psychoactive effects, many deaths occurred following recreational use of the drug.

The chapter highlighted the dangers associated with mephedrone consumption, especially with regard to recreational use.  The study represented the most detailed analysis at the time (and currently) of the largest number of mephedrone-related fatalities worldwide.

The paper, Mephedrone-Related Fatalities in the United Kingdom: Contextual, Clinical and Practical Issues (DOI: 10.5772/32935), was published in Pharmacology book ISBN 978-953-51-0222-9, Published: March 14, 2012, chapter 17.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Hertfordshire astronomers discover largest star known tearing itselfapart

Guest blog: Dr Nick Wright, Centre for Astrophysics Research

Images of the final death throes of the largest known star in the Universe have been taken by a team of international astronomers as part of the VPHAS+ survey of our Galaxy led by my colleague Professor Janet Drew at the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Astrophysics Research.

Image credit: ESO/VPHAS+ Survey/N. Wright
The discovery, as just published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is a vital step in understanding how massive stars return enriched material to the interstellar medium (the space between stars) which is necessary for forming new planetary systems.

Stars with masses tens of times larger than that of the Sun live very short and dramatic lives compared to smaller stars. Some of the most massive stars have lifetimes of less than a few million years before they exhaust their nuclear fuel and explode as supernovae. At the very ends of their lives these stars become highly unstable and eject considerable material from their outer envelopes. This material has been enriched by nuclear reactions deep within the star and includes many of the elements necessary for forming rocky planets like our Earth, such as silicon and magnesium, and which are also the basis for life.

Using the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) based in Chile, the VPHAS+ survey has been searching our Galaxy for ejected material from evolved stars and we were very excited by what we saw when observing the super star cluster Westerlund 1.

Westerlund 1 is the most massive cluster of stars in our Galaxy, home to several hundreds of thousands of stars, and about 16,000 light years from Earth in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar).

When we studied the images of Westerlund 1, we spotted something truly unique. Around one of the stars, known as W26, we saw a huge cloud of glowing hydrogen gas, shown as green in this new image. Such glowing clouds around massive stars are very rare, and are even rarer around red supergiants such as W26 — this is the first ionised nebula ever discovered around such a star.

On investigating the star W26 in more detail, we realised that the star was probably the largest star ever discovered with a radius 1500 times larger than that of our Sun, and one of the most luminous red supergiants known. Such large and luminous massive stars are believed to be highly evolved, all of which suggests that W26 is coming towards the end of its life and will eventually explode as a supernova.

The paper, ‘The ionized nebula surrounding the red supergiant W26 in Westerlund 1’, is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Getting the most from Environmental Impact Assessments

‘Furthering environmental impact assessment: towards a seamless connection between EIA and EMS’ is the first book to examine the link between environmental impact assessments (EIA) and environmental management systems (EMS).

Co-edited by researcher Lisa Palframan from the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Life and Medical Sciences and being launched today at the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) in Lisbon, the new book gets to the heart of effective practice, by examining the theory of how they should interact and delving into real-life examples.

Aimed at helping environmental professionals, academics and students all over the world, the book shows how companies are making the best use of the environmental tools that they have available – those which save them time and money.
Lisa Palframan

Environmental professionals in consultancies, contractors and large developers will gain a better understanding of how to manage environmental risk during the design, consenting, construction and operation of major new development projects.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Engineering success

Multiracial engineers at industrial site reading plansJust launched! Two new online engineering Master’s degrees:
  •  MSc Manufacturing Management (online)
  • MSc Operations and Supply Chain Management (online)
After running these two courses successfully on campus for six years the School of Engineering and Technology were keen to launch the two Master’s degrees online as well for those who are unable to get to university be it due to work, visa or family commitments.

The programmes have been specifically designed to equip you for a career in manufacturing. Depending on which course you choose, the development of your skills and advancement of your knowledge focuses on areas such as:
  • the broad areas of business and operations management

  • design orientated tasks, including analysis and synthesis, to develop relevant and applicable procedures and processes to resolve technical and ultimately business problems

  • case studies, including analysis and synthesis, contribution to profitability, understanding of purchasing, procurement, and logistics

  • critical review of strategic value, procurement, and supply chain management

Starting in January 2014, the programme has two intakes and is delivered 100% online.

Application deadline is 1 December 2013 for January 2014 start.

Find out more and how to apply visit the UH Online website.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The importance of a loving touch

Most people like to feel that special, loving touch which is instinctive between a mother and her child or between romantic partners.  Typically a slow speed, light-stroking of the skin, the loving or affective touch has been linked with pleasant emotions as well as improving symptoms of anxiety and other emotional symptoms.

But how important are these emotional signals from the body? What role do they play in forming how we view our own self?  External signals, such as vision, influence our own mental image of ourselves.  Looking in the mirror, for example, effects how we think of our body – influencing how we form mental images and representations of our own body.

Dr Paul Jenkinson
Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire’s Department of Psychology, Dr Paul Jenkinson and PhD researcher Laura Crucianelli, together with Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou at University College London, set out to test whether affective touch would affect the brain’s understanding of the body and sense of self.  The study incorporated four different types of touch: slow, affective touch in both regular and irregular stroking patterns; and a faster, neutral touch again in both regular and irregular stroking patterns.

Laura Crucianelli
The results confirmed that slow, light touch is more pleasant than fast touch – providing new evidence that the feelings and emotions created by a loving affective touch play a bigger role in our perception of how we feel about our body than originally thought.  The slow caresses or strokes in close relationships build a person’s sense of their body ownership which helps create a healthy sense of self - a previously crucial and neglected part of the process.

So the way we feel about our body from within may be more important than the way the body looks from the outside - having implications in the wider media and particularly around issues of body image and self-esteem.

You can read more about this research on Science Daily.

The paper “Bodily pleasure matters: Velocity of touch modulates body ownership during the rubber hand illusionis published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hertfordshire professor goes to 10 Downing Street

Professor Fiona Brooks, head of adolescent and child health research at the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC), was invited to participate in a workshop on child health held at 10 Downing Street.

Entitled ‘Building Character and Raising Wellbeing in Young People’, the workshop brought together national and international experts on child health and wellbeing, and key policy makers from the Department of Health, Education, Public Health England and the Cabinet Office.  The workshop set out to explore how to define the resilience in young people, examine the evidence available and identify examples of practical responses both nationally and internationally.

Fiona spoke about her research into resilience and young people that she has been doing on behalf of the Department of Health – drawing on her report into the Health Behaviour in School Children (HBSC).

She drew attention to the need for young people to have access to constructive and supportive relationships with the key adults in their lives – including parents and teachers – as a way of enhancing young people’s health.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Expert in social robotics comments on BBC1 Sunday Morning Live

Professor Dautenhahn - expert in social 
robotics on BBC1 Sunday Morning Live
Kerstin Dautenhahn, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Computer Science and Informatics Research (CCSIR), was invited to comment on last week’s Sunday Morning Live discussion on ‘Can we trust robots with our future?’ (Sunday 22 September).

Recognised as an expert in social robots, Kerstin provided her views via Skype on the ethics and role of robots within eldercare.  Many people fear that robots will replace humans and potentially become isolated, but in fact it is up to the care providers to decide as to how robots are used.

She believes that we need to move away from the idea of fully autonomous robots and to start to think of robots as part of a human-robot team where robots and people collaborate with each other – each of them focusing on their own strengths.  Robots should focus on time-consuming or physically-demanding tasks such as helping older people getting out of bed or helping them to stand up; whereas humans, the professional carers, doctors and family members, should focus on providing what humans do really well, which is to provide emotional and social support.

The crucial point here is that the decisions around the use of robots and how they get used is ours, as humans, to make.  We’re not making replica humans but designing robots for specific time-consuming and physically-demanding tasks – freeing up our time so that we can provide that critical emotional and social support that older people need.

Sunday Morning Live is a religious and currents affairs discussion programme produced in Belfast and broadcast on BBC1.  It features studio guests, filmed inserts and interactive viewer input from text messages, videophone, Skype, telephone and e-mail.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

International expert advises South Korea on electricity sector

A recent spate of power supply shortages in South Korea has prompted its government to consider alternative policies and solutions in the country’s electric power industry by hosting an international symposium “Electric Power Industry in Crisis: What are the options?”

Hulya Dagdeviren, professor of international economic development at the University of Hertfordshire and an expert in privatisation of public services, was invited to speak at the symposium and share her knowledge and experience of countries that have privatised their electric power industry – to help influence public opinion and policy direction.

In an interview with one of the leading newspapers in Korea, Hulya pointed to the problems with the South Korean government’s intention to introduce and expand market competition in the electric power industry.

Many countries have made efforts to privatise their electric power industry.  However, the long-term benefits of privatisation have been doubtful. In particular, motivating the private companies to invest sufficiently in the sector has been a real challenge, leading to capacity shortages and hence, price hikes. For example, the electric power industry is completely privatised in the UK.  Although UK prices fell initially during privatisation, much to the consumers delight at that time, today they are amongst the highest in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A word from the boss...

University of Hertfordshire Online web team photographs 13Feb 2013
Karen Barton
Head of UH Online, Karen Barton welcomes in the new academic year...

It seems odd to be thinking about a wishing everyone ‘Happy New Year’ in September, but a new year it is: a new academic year at least. And it is shaping up to be a good one.

Our team at UH Online have had a busy summer dealing with exam results; organising graduations; hosting online open days; and dealing with new applications and registrations to our established courses plus a crop of new programmes we’re offering for the first time this year.

Along with our Computer Science and Business degrees we will now be welcoming new students in Public Health, Mental Health & Social Inclusion, plus Engineering students from January too. It’s a truly international student group, with over 45 countries across the globe represented. And that’s one of the great advantages of studying one of our online courses: the chance to meet so many new people from every corner of the world.

So, if you’re new to the University of Hertfordshire and UH Online I’d like to welcome you to our University and your chosen programme. I’m sure you’ll love the opportunity to engage with fellow students from so many different cultures and share some of your local knowledge and professional experience of your own country with them too.

If you’re joining us again after the summer break, it’s great to have you back with us. I hope you are feeling refreshed and re-energised; looking forward to meeting old friends, making new ones and most of all enjoying the course. If you’ve been with us before, you’ll also notice that StudyNet has had a face lift. We think it’s terrific and hope you do too. We’d welcome your feedback on what you think of it to feed into further developments in the coming year.

uherts_18751173264In the meantime, and to get you back into the studying frame of mind, here are some useful tips from a student who recently took up an online course which might help you think about re-focussing again for the year ahead. What do you think? Is he right? Are there are any good tips you’ve found worked for you that you’d like to pass on? We’d love to hear from you!

We look forward to seeing you online.

Karen Barton

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Prawn nebula and new stars seen in high resolution

The fantastic new image of the Prawn Nebula containing clumps of hot new-born stars is one of the largest single images released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) - and is the first of many likely to come from the VPHAS+ public survey of the entire southern plane of the Milky Way. This high-resolution digital survey is using the power of ESO's VLT Survey Telescope (VST) to search for new objects including young stars, planetary nebulae and distant, very luminous stars.
Credit: ESO. Acknowledgement: Martin Pugh
The image was taken with ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope which is based in Chile as part of the VPHAS+ public survey led by Professor Janet Drew from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Astrophysics Research (CAR).  It testifies to the VST with its 32-CCD mosaic camera, OmegaCam, being the world's best optical imaging facility on the ground at this time.

Located around 6000 light-years from Earth, the Prawn Nebula is around 250 light-years across, covering an area of sky equivalent to four times that of the full Moon. Despite this huge size it has not been a frequent target for observers due to its faintness and because most of its light is emitted at wavelengths where the human eye is not sensitive.

The very sharp VST images taken in two broad red bands and narrowband H-alpha (a line of hydrogen that is very good at picking out hot ionized gas) were further enhanced to bring out the colour by including additional high quality imaging through a blue filter taken by Martin Pugh, a very skilled amateur astronomer observing from Australia using 32-centimetre and 13-centimetre telescopes.

It is interesting to notice that Martin Pugh had to dedicate 8-9 hours of exposing time to just this one filter, whereas the VST total exposure time for all three filters was under ten minutes. Amateur astrophotographers are unsung heroes, and a 2.6-metre telescope on a good high site with active optics and a state-of-the-art camera is very efficient!

These images and especially the photometric measurements derived from them, will provide a springboard to a better understanding of how stars evolve and of how the Milky Way’s stellar disc is organised. The data-gathering phase of the survey is unlikely to end before 2016, and taking the data is the easy bit!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Computer Science online mastery

Distance learning studentAs we’re knee deep in the digital age, a Computer Science Master’s degree is a useful way to upgrade your skills or help with a complete career change. In this blog post we take a look at the MSc Computer Science (online) plus the specialisms available to study online.

You’re in capable hands

The School of Computer Science was one of the first in the world to offer Computer Science degrees (that was back in 1965!). The School also has a considerable amount of expertise in developing and running online courses:
  • They’ve been running the online BSc since 2004; and the online MSc since 2007

  • More than 1,200 graduates to date

  • Currently 650 students from 64 different countries!

The gift of choice

After recently questioning our students*, two of the main reasons for choosing to study our MSc Computer Science course online were (trumpet blowing time):
  1. because of our expertise in Computer Science and

  2. the range of optional modules available.
If you are a BSc Computer Science graduate there are 14 optional modules to choose from when you study MSc Computer Science (online) and only two core modules, one of these being your specialist project.  These include:  Advanced Databases; Mobile Standards, Interfaces and Applications; Secure Systems Programming and Web Services.  See the full list.

Computer Science MSc Specialisms

There are also a number of specialisms in Computer Science if you’re keen to steer your career in a specific path. By studying specific modules means you could specialise in:
These specialisms are great for the CV to show your expertise in a certain area. If you’re not after a specialism you can study the main award and graduate with MSc Computer Science.

Computer Science MSc UH Online
New to computer science?

Even if you don’t have a BSc in Computer Science, there is a Computer Science or eLearning Technology Master’s available for non-computer science graduates, which includes more core modules to get you up to speed. Ideal if you’re eager for a career change.

Want to find out more? Join us at our next online open day

Come to our next MSc Computer Science online open day on: Wednesday 16th October 2013, 17:00 (BST). Register your place and join us online: meet some of the teaching staff, learn more about the course and ask any questions you may have. Register now

We hope to see you online soon!

*Skype interviews were carried out in Spring 2013, questioning students about why they choose the University of Hertfordshire to study Computer Science online. The top answers were: optional modules; course content and flexibility of study; positive reputation from rankings and recommendations.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

World experts convene for second international conference on novelrecreational drugs

This major international conference will examine the latest scientific evidence and research on novel recreational drugs including presentations from Professor Fabrizio SchifanoDr Ornella Corazza, John Corkery and Jacqueline Stair from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Clinical Practice, Safe Medicines and Drug Misuse Research.

Following the successful inaugural conference held in Budapest, Hungary in March 2012, the second international conference on novel recreational drugs takes place this week (12-13 September) in Swansea - bringing together world experts to examine and share the latest scientific research on these drugs.

Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are an ever growing group of recreational drugs such as MPA (Methiopropamine) and 5-MeO-DALT (N.N-diallyl-5-methoxytryptamine) which are often advertised as being safe.

Frequently referred to as “designer drugs” or “legal highs”, these drugs are sold as legal alternatives to illicit drugs but they can be just as harmful and addictive as illegal drugs like cocaine or amphetamine.  They may have similar effects but they are also associated with significantly different and unexpected side-effects.

Not controlled under international drug treaties, they are very easily bought over the internet.  Already some 700 NPS have flooded onto the market, but as soon as authorities ban them, the manufacturers rapidly produce and promote alternative new drugs.

The conference is co-organised by Professor Fabrizio Schifano and Dr Ornella Corazza in collaboration with Swansea University and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).   It will be of interest to health professionals, youth workers, social care workers, law enforcement officers, educators, policy makers, academics, and people involved in the prevention and treatment of drug addiction.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day – 4 September 2013

The image of a far-away caterpillar-shaped cloud captured by the IPHAS Survey on the Hubble Space Telescope is today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day!  And somewhere inside this interstellar cloud, a new star is forming!
IRAS 20324: Evaporating Protostar
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and IPHAS
This strangely-shaped, seething mass of gas and dust is known as IRAS 20324.  And is the subject of a study of a group of international astronomers being led by Professor Janet Drew and Dr Nick Wright from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Astrophysics Research (CAR) as part of the IPHAS Survey (INT Photometric H-Alpha Survey).

At about 4,500 light years away from us in the star constellation of Cygnus, this interstellar cloud is about one light year across.  Take a trip across the sky with this video as it zooms in on this caterpillar-shaped collection of dust and gas.

What the star will look like once all the dust has settled, no one knows. But with energetic winds and light wearing away the dust and gas that may have formed the star, we’ll have to wait and see….but that may take another 100,000 years!  And that’s a long time to wait!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Enhance your health career, online

So you’re a busy health professional looking to develop your career within the field, aiming to shape the health sector or just wanting to make a difference within the local community. UH Online have launched two health courses that maybe of interest to you:
  • MPH Master of Public Health (online)

  • MSc Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion (online)

MPH Master of Public Health (online)

NursePublic Health as a means of preventing ill health and promoting well-being is increasingly taking a key role in society. Such a topical area in health currently, you can ensure your skills are up to date with an online MPH Master of Public Health degree.

We've developed this course with lots of optional modules which gives you an excellent opportunity to specialise in both the local and global context:
  • Commissioning and leadership

  • Management of the double burden of communicable and non-communicable conditions

  • Primary care

  • Child health

  • Health system approaches to improving public health outcomes and addressing health inequalities.
We’ve tailored this online course towards the needs of diverse health professionals including doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and allied health, social care and environmental health professionals, plus the wider public health workforce in the non-governmental sector. It also supports managerial, policy and practitioner career pathways.

To find out more about the course including the University staff teaching on the course, the modules, fees and start dates visit the UH Online website

MSc Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion (online)*

This is an innovative e-learning programme developed through partnerships between experts, experienced practitioners and academics in the areas of mental health, social inclusion, leadership and recovery. The partners are:
  • University of Hertfordshire (UK)

  • New University Lisbon (Portugal)

  • The University of Torino (Italy)

  • The Maria Grzegorzewsaka Academy of Special Education (Poland)

  • Azienda Sanitaria Locale ASL AT, Asti (Italy)

  • Experts by experience

  • National Advisory Groups

  • Professor Larry Davidson, Yale University, USA.
Launching November 2013, it's a great opportunity to gain a postgraduate certificate in Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion. You will then have the opportunity to continue your studies and gain the full Master's award.

We’ve developed this course to cater for mental health professionals from all disciplines, as well as service users, carers, service managers, policy makers and those who aspire to be leaders in their areas of expertise and in their country.

Studying 100% online means you can study when and wherever you want anywhere around the globe. There are no attendance requirements, although you will be offered at least two individual online tutorials and two group tutorials, as well as regular contact with tutors.

Great news for EU students!

The EU Erasmus Life Long Learning Programme funds this Master’s degree. This means the first two modules are free for EU students for 2013 intake (subject to availability and eligibility). Non-EU students can still apply for this course but will need to pay fees.

To find out more about the course including the modules, fees and application deadlines visit the UH Online website.
*This course is subject to validation.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Finish your studies sooner: BA(Hons) Business Administration (online)

Business man studying online in primrose hillStudying for an undergraduate degree online takes a whole lot of commitment, time management and dedication. A great achievement once graduated, but at a part-time study rate of 6 years, it can be a bit of a long haul.

We understand students would like to get their studies finished a lot sooner, to continue with life and progress their career. Because of this, we are now offering an increased rate of study, so you can complete your BA Business Administration degree online in 3, 4, or 5 years instead of 6 (or in 1 year instead of 2 for the top up).

How does it work?

  1. Once you’re on the first semester studying the first two modules of the BA Business Administration (online), contact your programme tutor and express your interest in increasing your rate of study.
  2. The programme tutor will then take a look at your current performance on the course and base their decision on this, ensuring an increased rate of study will be manageable for you.
  3. If accepted, you can then study the additional modules over the third semester break.

It is a lot of work, but with time management and dedication you can complete your online business degree a little sooner.

Find out more about the online Business course

Depressed people have a more accurate perception of time

“Time seems to drag” is a phrase that people with depression often use to describe their experiences and their life.  Yet they have a surprising accuracy when it comes to estimating time intervals – more accurate than their happier peers – according to a new study just published By Professor Diana Kornbrot at the University of Hertfordshire’s Health & Human Sciences Research Institute (HHSRI).

People with mild depression underestimate their talents - often distorting the facts and viewing their lives more negatively than non-depressed people.  Their feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness and of being out of control are some of the main symptoms of depression – and for these people time seems to pass very slowly.  But they have a more accurate perception of reality than their happier friends and family who often look at life through rose-tinted glasses and hope for the best!

The study found that depressed people were accurate when estimating time whereas non-depressed peoples’ estimations were too high.    This may be because mildly-depressed people focus their attention on time and less on external influences, and therefore have clarity of thought – a phenomenon known as ‘depressive realism’.

This timing skill may be able to help in the treatment of people with depression as they are often encouraged to check themselves against reality.  It may also link to successful mindfulness-based treatments for depression which focus on encouraging present moment awareness.

The paper, “Time perception and depressive realism: Judgement type, psychophysical functions and bias”, is published in PLOS ONE.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Bayfordbury hosts BBC News

The skies over the University of Hertfordshire’s Observatory at Bayfordbury were clear last night as BBC Science News Correspondent Pallab Ghosh went along to see and film the Perseids meteor shower. See Pallab's report here.

It was a very good night for shooting stars – with many sightings of fireballs reported by our astronomers at Bayfordbury.   One particular fireball image from Bayfordbury was very impressive and left a persistent train visible for ten seconds (see Bayfordbury AllSky Camera image below) – and was also seen by the UK Meteor network.

Last night was the peak time to see the shooting stars – but for any of you who may have missed them, there is another opportunity this evening – let’s hope for clear skies again!  But do wrap up warmly as it was a little chilly outside last night!
Meteor fireball shown as streak on right-hand side taken at Bayfordbury

Monday, 12 August 2013

Shooting stars in tonight’s sky!

Bayfordbury Observatory
Keep an eye out this evening for shooting stars in the night sky!

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire’s Bayfordbury observatory will be switching on their radio reflection meteor detector this evening to detect all the shooting stars that will appear in the night sky.

Tonight’s clear forecast together with a waxing crescent moon means that the Perseids meteor shower will be at its best tonight and into the early hours of tomorrow morning – promising to make this year’s natural firework display a particularly good one with up to 200 shooting stars an hour!

Meteor showers (or shooting stars) are caused by the Earth passing through the dust trail behind a comet.  Small particles in the dust trail enter the Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds.  These particles heat the air around them which causes the characteristic streak of light that we can see from Earth – and we see the shooting stars.

The Perseids meteor shower is an annual event creating a natural cosmic firework display with the meteor material coming from the Swift-Tuttle comet which orbits the sun once every 133 years.  This comet last passed through our cosmic neighbourhood in 1992 and won’t be back until 2125!

The meteor shower is easy to watch for most people.  You don’t need special equipment - just remember to wrap up warmly and find a dark site away from artificial light with an unobstructed view of the sky.  Or a reclining chair to look up at the sky is the way to do it in comfort!

The Dragons are back

Dragon’s Den is back on our screens. Budding entrepreneurs presenting their product or service they’ve put their heart and soul into, hoping to capture the imagination (and the wallets) of the Dragons for that life changing investment. Skinny Tan anyone?

DD_OEP_LOGO_LRHaving a Dragon on your side must be every entrepreneur’s dream. To financially plug the investment gap and have that expertise and experience on your side is priceless.

For the rest of us, it’s a tough call being an entrepreneur. We don’t have a ‘dragon’ and need to be a jack-of-all-trades: know the numbers; devise a strategy; be a marketing guru, making key decisions everyday. And, there’s only such much Googling and YouTube videos that can help…

Dragons' Den chairsThe Dragons’ Den Online Educational Programme has been a part of the University of Hertfordshire business degrees for a number of years. It helps our students make business decisions but in a safe but responsive environment, developing the very skills needed to excel in the business world.

With 25,000 past users, we’ve been working with the makers of the Dragon’s Den Online Educational Programme, Dialectyx, to launch it as a stand alone online programme for entrepreneurs. There’s very few of us that know everything about running a business, we thought this online programme would benefit those needing to expand their knowledge in strategy, marketing, finance and HR.

So even though we can’t give you your very own Dragon (sorry), we like to think this programme will help you grow and your business-grow too. And all the more better it's 100% online, so you can fit it around work and even enjoy a bowl of protein noodles whilst you're working through the programme...


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Hertfordshire researchers named as finalists in international research & innovation award

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research (CAIR) have been named finalists in the 2013 Research & Innovation Awards sponsored by Edmund Optics, a multinational optical components manufacturer.

‘Alert’ portable concept - the proposed design for the future commercialised portable asbestos detector. It is about 8” by 5” by 2” in size and was designed by researchers at the Instituto de Biomech├ínica de Valencia (IBV), Spain. Credit: Clara Solves, Instituto de Biomech├ínica de Valencia (IBV), Spain.
The accolade is in recognition of the innovative use of optics in CAIR’s development of the world’s first real-time detector for airborne asbestos fibres. This technology, due to go into production in 2014, will warn tradespeople such as builders, electricians or plumbers of the presence of airborne asbestos in their workplace and therefore help to reduce the current 100,000 global death-toll caused by inadvertent inhalation of these deadly fibres by the workers.

The new detection method was developed as part of the FP7 project “ALERT”, with funding from the European Commission ‘Research for SMEs’ grant FP7-SME-2008-2.

The competition recognises outstanding undergraduate and graduate optics programmes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at colleges and universities. This innovative work places the University in the company of institutions such as UCLA and Pennsylvania State University in the USA, Nangyang Technological University in Singapore, Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, and Cambridge University in the UK.

The competition winners will be announced in September - Good luck to Professor Paul Kaye and his team!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Annual cost of UK brain disorders estimated at £122 billion

Disorders of the brain, including dementia, stroke and mental health issues, cost the UK around £112 billion a year, according to a new report.

These costs include direct medical costs as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity due to absence form work or early retirement.

The research, led by scientists from the University of Hertfordshire, University of Cambridge and Imperial College, is the most recent and comprehensive study conducted on the costs and prevalence of brain disorders in the UK.

The study reveals the extremely high burden and cost that brain disorders have on the UK economy – largely as a result of the impact on lost productivity, rather than the direct costs of medical or social care.  But the estimated cost of £112 billion for UK brain disorders in 2010 is considered to be conservative because of the limitations in data for some of the disorders which were not included.

With the aging population, the prevalence and costs of UK brain disorders Is likely to continue to increase.  This will put greater pressures on the NHS and social services, especially the costs of institutionalised care such as specialised care homes dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The cost of dementia on the social care system is much higher than that for cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke put together.  But despite UK government recommendations saying that health research priorities should be informed by impact of the disease on the population and economy, research funding into brain disorders is much lower than that for cancer.  The researchers are advocating a change to how funding is allocated which is more closely linked to the economic burden of the disease.

The paper “The Size, Burden and Cost of Disorders of the Brain in the UK” is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.  The work was supported by the British association for Psychopharmacology, European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the European Brain Council and the Wellcome Trust.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Waitrose collaborates with Hertfordshire researchers to reduce theimpact of pesticides

Image courtesy of Apolonia 
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire’s Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU) are working with Waitrose Foods to develop a “pesticide load indicator”.

Pesticides are widely used to protect plants from pests such as weeds, diseases or insects  - to ensure a good crop yield whether in your home vegetable garden or in agricultural food production.

A pesticide can be chemically or biologically based and, although there are benefits to their use, there are also some drawbacks such as potential toxicity to humans and animals.  Everyone who uses pesticides has the responsibility to ensure that they use them correctly and effectively to minimise the risk they pose to people and the environment.  But small amounts may turn up in food supplies – and they may also turn up in the environment and drinking water.
Image courtesy of 
David Castillo Dominici at 

Waitrose has a policy of reducing the impact of pesticides used in its fresh produce.  Their fresh produce growers across the world need to be able to assess the risk of pesticide applications on human health, biodiversity and the wide environment. But an independent indicator of the risks of pesticide usage is not readily available - so, Waitrose sought the expertise of researchers at AERU led by Dr Kathy Lewis.

The collaboration with AERU will enable Waitrose to inform and improve on its policy to encourage the use of safer and more sustainable crop protection chemicals.  The pesticide load indicator will be used to evaluate crop protection plans from Waitrose suppliers all round the world.  It will give information to enable a more rational decision process for pesticide selection – therefore reducing the impact on biodiversity and the wider environment.