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
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.