Thursday, 30 May 2013

Searching for honest and competent bankers during the Napoleonic Wars

Guest blog by Dr Anne Murphy, senior lecturer in early modern history

Bank of England. Five Pound Note Office
© The Trustees of the British Museum
What qualities are required of a competent and honest banker? We might be forgiven for thinking that this is a question that never crosses the minds of today’s recruiters. But their nineteenth century predecessors worked hard to find the best men for the job.

Sources preserved at the Bank of England reveal that, before being considered for employment, applicants' backgrounds, experience and integrity were all subject to the greatest scrutiny. The Bank prized individuals who were sober, virtuous, debt-free and not involved in any political activism.

Records of interviews and the test scores of over 500 men who applied to the Bank between 1800 and 1815 are being used to create a profile of the Bank's workers and explore the skills that were valued in Britain's early banking industry.

The research shows that, despite drawing applicants from all over the country and indeed the empire, well-qualified men were hard to find. Numeracy was the most elusive skill. A large proportion of applicants performed poorly in tests of both the ability to add columns of figures and the facility to accurately compute various heaps of cash.

On the job training, therefore, proved far more important to the Bank than the schooling of its workers or their prior experience. And undoubtedly, successful applicants had to learn fast. They entered the Bank during perhaps the most difficult and certainly one of the busiest periods in its history: the wars with Napoleonic France. The financial challenges of this conflict meant that their skills were soon put to a very stern test.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Jane Asher supporting autism research in Hertfordshire

Jane Asher meets KASPAR
Actress and author Jane Asher, President of the National Autistic Society and Patron of TRACKS Autism, met KASPAR at the University of Hertfordshire’s Supporting Children with Autism Healthcare Forum 2013.

KASPAR is a minimally expressive humanoid robot designed by researchers at the University to encourage communication and social interaction between autistic children and their peers.

Over 150 people who have an interest in supporting children with autism came along to hear Jane discuss the issues affecting these children and the impact on their lives and their families, and to find out more about the University’s research in this area from Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn.

For the full press release, click here.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Going the distance with online

Business man studying online in primrose hillWhy do online study?

Considering online study but don’t know much about it? Here’s our top five reasons to do your degree by online distance learning....

Get that promotion, accelerate that career change.

Getting yourself a bachelor's or master’s degree can put your career on the right track. Whether it’s to work your way up the ladder and you want to set yourself apart from the crowd, or even get into a brand new career.

graduates hertfordshireThere are certain jobs where you need a degree to get a foot in the door, or a postgraduate qualification to help work your way up. Carry on earning an income as well as making a massive contribution working towards your future by studying part time by online distance learning.

Fit study around you

No time to attend classes? Flexible, part time study can fit around your lifestyle when it suits you. Be it in evenings, on the journey to work, at the airport, in your lunch break.

There’s no such thing as an average student

herts graduationOnline study adds a richer student experience, you will meet like-minded professionals locally as well as worldwide, each bringing their own experiences and ideas to the group.  From mature business professionals, to people switching their career, to the young executive just starting out in the working world. All bringing excellent global networking opportunities too!

A little less stress on the purse strings

Online degrees tend to be a little cheaper than campus, plus with tuition fee loans from Student Finance (for UK students) to help fund your part time distance learning degree, it’s a little more financially easier to manage.


Join University of Hertfordshire graduates on this very special day at the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans. After all what seems endless hours of hard work you’ve put in, the massive sense of achievement comes to its pinnacle at graduation.  Don your mortarboard and gown and collect your degree certificate. Feel proud of what you’ve achieved.

Living in a robot world

Artists and researchers with the robots
Ever wondered what it would be like to live with robots?

Well perhaps one day in the future, we all will. Our grandchildren will probably grow up with household robots that do all the chores, pet robots that will bring back the ball when you throw it and, as they grow older, robot companions and helpers for their aging years who will care for and help them.

But last week, two intrepid artists spent a week staying in the University of Hertfordshire’s Robot House – living and interacting with the various robots that work in the house whilst creating their own artistic interpretation.

Artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May have been collaborating with University researchers, Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn and Michael Walters, to investigate social robotics and public reactions to robots as human companions.

Say hello to HARRi
Their artistic project investigates what kinds of robot companions do we, as a society, want? In August 2012 they were awarded funding by the Arts Council England to develop a new robot HARRi (Humanoid Artistic Research Robot).

Read about Anna and Alex's week-long experiences on their blog.

They became real-life guinea-pigs for the University’s Adaptive Systems Research Group as they tested the robots which are part of the ACCOMPANY (Acceptable robotiCs COMPanions for AgeiNg Years) EU project.

With sensors all around the house, the caring robots kept an eye on their new house mates - alerting them when the door bell rang, the kettle boiled, the fridge was left open or even knowing when they went to the bathroom or went to bed!

Monday, 20 May 2013

New contract for Research Design Service East of England

Crown Copyright
A new £5 million contract to continue supporting researchers with a collaborative service to produce high quality research focused on the needs of patients and the public has been signed.

Contracts have been awarded to the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Research Design Service (RDS) for a period of five years, commencing 1 October 2013. RDS East of England is an active and dynamic network of five universities (including the University of Hertfordshire) and four NHS Trusts covering Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk and was launched in October 2008 as one of ten nationwide Research Design Services.

Crown Copyright
This £5 million contract is for the RDS East of England to continue for a further five years enabling researchers’ access to expertise and support across the region.

The NIHR is transforming research in the NHS to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. Researchers applying for NIHR funding can access the services provided by the RDS so that they can submit their best applications to the NIHR and others for funding.

The RDS East of England plays a key role in supporting health and social care researchers in the region to develop high quality research proposals with potential to improve patient care. It is through such advances in research that we can improve health outcomes and quality of life for patients and the public.

The RDS East of England Hertfordshire Unit is based at the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Lifespan and Chronic Illness Research (CLiCIR).

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Enjoying the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is well known for its health benefits against cardiovascular disease and cancer. But how relevant is it for the UK?

In a recent article for Nutrition Reviews, Dr Hoffman highlights how to maximise the taste and health benefits of this nutritious diet for the UK population.

Top tips include using virgin olive oil instead of other oils, eating more dark green leafy vegetables and seeking out cheeses made from goat or sheep milk (such as feta and manchego).

The benefits of this diet are discussed in his book The Mediterranean Diet: Health and Science.

Richard continues to spread the message of the benefits of this diet at the forthcoming Primary Care Conference at the NEC, Birmingham 22 May, and by leading a one day course on the Mediterranean diet at the University of Hertfordshire 20 July 2013.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

New study to improve healthcare in care homes

© Monkey Business Images
In England, most long term care for older people is provided by independent care homes. These care home residents have a complex range of health and social care needs. They rely on primary healthcare services for their medical care and also for nursing, specialist services and secondary healthcare. But their access to these NHS services is inconsistent.

Recent research shows that access to healthcare is determined by local custom and practice rather than the particular needs of the care homes residents.

What is needed is better ways of working between healthcare services and providers of care which benefit care home residents, their families and the care home staff, as well as making the best use of NHS resources.

A new three year collaborative project, led by Professor Claire Goodman at the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care, will look at ways of improving the delivery of existing NHS services to care homes.

The study will look at the key features of existing health service delivery to identify methods of effective working for all care homes. This could inform future commissioning of services and be applied to influence and evaluate the delivery of optimal care.

The project is in collaboration with University of Nottingham, University of Surrey, Brunel University, City University, Kings College London and University College London. It is funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research Programme (project number 11/1021/02).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Children’s “healthy” foods marketed at children are higher in fat,sugar and salt

© Pavel Losevsky |
Parents may think that foods marketed for children, using cartoon characters and promoted for lunchboxes, might be healthier options than the equivalent foods marketed more for adults. However, a new study led by Dr Kirsten Rennie from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Lifespan and Chronic Illness Research has found that it is the opposite.

With the rise in childhood obesity across Europe, there has been much attention on how governments can reduce the advertising of products with high fat, sugar and/or salt levels directly to children. Much of the focus has been on snack foods like confectionery and soft drinks.

However, the study found that foods marketed to children that are often considered to be ‘healthy’ foods, such as yoghurts, cereal bars and ready meals, were still found to be higher in fat, sugar and salt than those marketed to the general population.

These foods often had substantially more fat and sugar per 100g than similar adult-version products. This is very worrying for parents when they are choosing appropriate healthy foods for their children.

Now is a good time for food manufacturers to look at their child-orientated products and think about how they can improve them.  But are more guidelines needed in regulating food marketed to children?

The research paper “Marketing foods to children: A comparison of nutrient content between children's and non-children's products is published in Public Health Nutrition Journal.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Meet us online

NathanExcitement is brewing in the UH Online office. We’re launching our first ever online open day. We’re running it for BSc(Hons) Computer Science (online) on Wednesday 5 June 16.30 (BST).

We’re working with key online teaching staff at the School of Computer Science – these are the very people who deliver the BSc course. The Computer Science team will be talking to you about the degree, what you will study and how it works by distance learning. Meanwhile, our technologists will be tinkering away in the background, collecting your questions for the team and helping things (hopefully!) run smoothly.

We’ll use Adobe Connect. It’s an online classroom where you can view and hear our teaching staff as well as their presentation slides. There’s also a chat feature where you can type in your questions, which we hope to answer live on air.

This is a really interactive way to learn about the BSc(Hons) Computer Science (online) course and will give you a great insight into what online study is all about. Starting online study is a large commitment- so we thought it would be helpful if you can meet some of the staff online; ask them your questions and get a general feel for what the University of Hertfordshire is all about.

Find out more about the online open day for BSc Computer Science (online)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

UH Online Student Blog Archives: Gareth - Settling into Online DistanceLearning

Gareth - an online student at the University of HertfordshireGareth started his MSc Computer Science (online) in Autumn 2011, we asked him to capture his distance learning experience through a series of blogs, here is his post about settling into distance learning..

Settling into Online Distance Learning

After what seemed like a long, slightly nervous wait to start my MSc over the summer, I’m now two months into the course and can barely remember what life was like before!

How I would make time for my studies while still working full time was one of the things that concerned me the most, but this hasn’t turned out to be as tough as I thought it might. If you’re smart about it, it’s surprising how much time you can find without having to make to too many sacrifices in other areas.

Going to the gym
For example, I now eat my lunch at my desk and watch video tutorials 4 days a week (Fridays off, obviously!). A couple of days I’ll also start work an hour early or finish late to spend a little more time on my studies and instead of watching TV in bed,  I’ve been spending a couple of evenings reading about what factors make companies like Flickr and Facebook successful instead.

That amounts to around 10 hours study time without really trying too hard. Not bad! Sure, I still commit another full evening a week or half a day at the weekend to get my work done, but that still leaves me with plenty of time for the gym, cycling and relaxing with the missus.

So, I’d say distance learning and a happy work/life balance is easily attainable if you give it a little thought. Look at where you can fit in ‘bite-sized’ study sessions; make sure you plan in enough time at the start of the week to cover what you need to do (and stick to it!) and finally, tell your colleagues about your studies – then when you plug in your headphones at lunch time they’ll see you as an ambitious go-getter, rather than some sort of overgrown sulky teenager!

Until next time…



Gareth is from Belper in Derbyshire, UK and studied MSc Computer Science (Online) with the University of Hertfordshire.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Hertfordshire psychologist gets off the couch at Chinwag Psych

Getting off the couch to do something different and change behaviour is the focus of Karen Pine’s presentation at the Chinwag Psych conference on 9th May 2013 in London.

Karen Pine, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and co-author of Flex: Do Something Different, will be sharing her research on how making small positive changes can trick the brain into shifting gear. Humans can only grow and develop by increasing their behavioural flexibility. But how can we change and expand our behaviour when our unconscious brain is a habit machine designed to turn us into coach potatoes?

The Chinwag Psych conference covers psychology, neuroscience and machine learning for business and marketing - bringing together academia and business to explore how these techniques can be used in business and make complex topics accessible for marketers and their organisations.

New on-site asbestos detector improves work place safety

One hundred thousand people a year die from occupational exposure to airborne asbestos according to the World Health Organisation.   Tradespeople, such as roofers, plumbers and electricians working in older buildings inadvertently disturb asbestos and make the toxic fibres airborne – causing lung problems and early death when inhaled.

Today it is a banned material in most industrialised countries. But the threat of asbestos still lingers in the ceilings, walls and floors of old buildings where it was used extensively for its toughness, sound proofing and fire resistance properties.

This image shows light scattering from a thin fibre particle illuminated by a laser beam. In this case the fibre is not asbestos. Light patterns such as these can be used to identify the shape and orientation of airborne particles. Credit: Paul Kaye University of Hertfordshire
Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research have developed and tested the first portable, real-time airborne asbestos detector to provide a low-cost warning device to tradespeople.

By exploiting a unique magnetic property of asbestos, the new detection method provides on-site, real-time identification of the dangerous asbestos fibres. When airborne asbestos fibres are exposed to a magnetic field, they tend to align with the field. This alignment can be detected by analysing laser light scattering patterns from each airborne particle. 

‘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.

Prototype units are undergoing field trials at various asbestos removal operations locations – with an estimated twelve to eighteen months to get the first production units for sale. 

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 paper ‘Real-time detection of airborne asbestos by light scattering from magnetically re-aligned fibers’ is published in the Optical Society’s (OSA) journal Optics Express, Vol. 21, Issue 9, pp. 11356-11367 (2013).

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Typography Lecture: Learning from history

Online Art and Design students: here's a typography lecture from Dr Barbara Brownie given to MA students at the University of Hertfordshire.

The lecture explores how contemporary kinetic typography relies on historical developments such as 3D woodblock print, Romain du Roi, and Modernist modular lettering. Students are encouraged to let their design work respond to historical research. This does not mean creating something that looks old or retro, rather creating something innovative and new by re-imagining historical ideas in light of new technologies and contexts.

Dr Barbara Brownie is the online tutor for MA Illustration (online) and MA Graphic Design (online) at the School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire.