Wednesday, 30 May 2018

When did the lights first come on in the universe? A galaxy close to the dawn of time gives a clue

File 20180517 26300 88ah5v.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Galaxy cluster MACS J1149.5+2223 taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. The inset image is the very distant galaxy MACS1149-JD1. ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, W. Zheng (JHU), M. Postman (STScI), the CLASH Team, Hashimoto et al., CC BY-SA
James Geach, University of Hertfordshire
It is springtime in the Northern hemisphere. Countless buds that have been waiting patiently on the stems and branches of trees and shrubs are now blossoming into life. The cosmic equivalent of this season is the time between a few hundred million and a billion years after the Big Bang. This is when the first stars and galaxies ignited, spewing light into the dark universe.

It is a time in the history of the universe that we are desperate to chart, because it represents part of the cosmological story that we have yet to understand. Now astronomers have detected oxygen in a galaxy further away than ever before – and it existed just 500m years after the Big Bang. The results, published in Nature, are hugely important as they provide new insights into when the first stars formed.

The period of this “cosmic dawn” is important not only because this is when the first galaxies were born, but a crucial cosmic transition also took place. In this process, atoms in the electrically neutral intergalactic medium – a wide sea of hydrogen gas surrounding galaxies – were bombarded with ultraviolet radiation escaping from the first galaxies. This stripped away electrons from atoms and made the gas charged, or “ionised”.

The event, called the Epoch of Reionisation, is still mysterious. We’d like to know – or better yet, see – when this process started. Part of that quest involves finding the most distant galaxies.

Artist’s impression of the Epoch of Reionisation. ESA C. Carreau

When we look out into the universe we detect light that has taken some appreciable time to traverse the gulf that separates us from other stars and galaxies. The light from the screen you are reading this on has taken about a third of a nanosecond to reach your eyes. Light from the nearest star beyond our sun takes four years to reach us. Amazingly, light from the galaxy at the centre of the new study, called MACS1149-JD1, has taken 13 billion years to be detected here on Earth. That means we see MACS1149-JD1 as it was 13 billion years in the past, around 500m years after the Big Bang.

Powerful gaze

Using a telescope called the Atacama Large Millimetre/sub-millimetre Array (ALMA), the scientists detected a strong signal (an emission line) within the distant galaxy. Just as a prism disperses the light of the sun into a rainbow spectrum, we can disperse the light of distant galaxies, too. This is called spectroscopy. Emission lines are bright spikes in the spectra of galaxies that originate from different elements that can each release light of a very specific energy.
This particular emission line came from ionised oxygen gas. Its presence tells us that the galaxy was forming stars at the time, because the energy required to ionise it must have come from massive, hot, young stars.

The ALMA Observatory. Carlos Padilla – AUI/NRAO

If we measured the same type of gas here on Earth, we would detect it at a wavelength of 0.088 millimetres. But other galaxies are receding away from us due to cosmic expansion, and this causes the light they emit to increase in wavelength during the time it takes for the photons to reach us. The more distant a galaxy is, the larger the increase in wavelength.

This is called redshift, and it ultimately tells us the ratio between the size of the universe when the light was first emitted and the size of the universe today. The oxygen emission line observed in MACS1149-JD1 is actually detected at 0.88 millimetres – its wavelength has been stretched by a factor of 10. This means that at the time the light was emitted, the universe was a factor of 10 times smaller than it is today, and just four per cent of its present age.

In this way, the ability to detect emission lines in distant galaxies allows us to pinpoint at what stage in cosmic history we are seeing them. But of course, the most distant galaxies are also the faintest – you need ever more powerful telescopes if you want to peer back further.

ALMA (consisting of 66 individual telescopes working together) is an incredibly powerful telescope – it is revolutionising our view of the early universe. Not only is it providing exquisite sensitivity, but operates in part of the electromagnetic spectrum that gives access to a wide range of emission lines.

Gravitational lensing. NASA, ESA & L. Calcada

To help matters, the team also exploited a natural telescope: a massive cluster of galaxies. Light from MACS1149-JD1 has had to pass through this intervening cluster on its journey to ALMA. This is so massive that it significantly warps spacetime, meaning that the light is “bent” in a process called gravitational lensing. Gravitational lensing amplifies the brightness of MACS1149-JD1, making it a little easier to see.

Indirect glimpse of first stars

MACS1149-JD1 is not the most distant galaxy on record, but what this new study adds to our understanding is an insight into the history of the formation of the galaxy. This happened hundreds of millions of years before the current observation, and much further back than even the most distant galaxy known.

In fact, the presence of oxygen in the galaxy tells us that star formation must have been going on for some time in MACS1149-JD1. That’s because oxygen can only be formed within stars in a process called stellar nucleosynthesis. But what we don’t know is when those stars first ignited.

By combining data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, the authors made a model of the “stellar population” within MACS1149-JD1. This allowed them to estimate the mixture of stars that give rise to the emission from the galaxy observed in certain bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The model involves estimating the “star formation history” of the galaxy, describing the rate of production of stars in the past. The modelling suggests that, in order to produce the observed emission, stars must have started forming just 250m years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just two per cent of its present age. In other words, MACS1149-JD1 was already a fairly well established galaxy, even at this early time.

This is a huge scientific accomplishment as it is currently impossible to observe galaxies that existed 250m years after the Big Bang. However, the new James Webb Space Telescope, which is due for launch in 2020, may be able to do so.

The ConversationBut until then, thanks to the new study, we now have a way of indirectly studying when stars first formed in ancient galaxies like MACS1149-JD1. In effect, by observing the blossom, astronomers have estimated when the bud first opened.

James Geach, Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 11 May 2018

The impact of music on your learning

Hi, I’m Aroona, a University of Hertfordshire Humanities graduate who is currently on a short work placement in the University’s Marketing and Communications department. Music can either be a aid or a distraction when studying so today I wanted to explore the research behind why that is the case. 

For students it is often the case that listening to our favourite songs whilst buckling down to do some work is a relationship that works together rather than in opposition. If you head to the LRC, there are plenty of students with headphones plugged in to their ears focusing on the screen in front of them as to simulate a solitary study zone that is loud as it is quiet. Music is a powerful influencer and it means that when trying to write an assignment or cram in some revision, our minds tend to wander elsewhere. Music works to occupy and fulfil our craving senses, so our minds can concentrate on our studying. It seems like the ideal partnership but is often debated how effective it is when it comes to learning as truly what are you more focused on: Encyclopedia or Eminem?

Music is of daily importance in most peoples’ lives and the impact it has on us when we study is often taken for granted or not explored enough. Music is depicted as a reflection of our personality but the same can be said of our approach to learning.  The idea that listening to classical music, known as the ‘Mozart effect’, makes us smarter has endured for quite some time but how much difference would be listening to this genre make to our exam results over listening to rock or rap music instead? 

The reality is more complex and personal. Research has shown that the number of brain areas activated when listening to music depends on the individual’s personal experience with music and the situation they are in.

Classical music is shown to improve a person’s visual perception, as vision is our most domineering sense, it means that our brain can process a lot more information seeing a picture than just hearing it being described.

For tasks that require you to exercise concentration and memory, research suggests listening to music without lyrics is far less distracting than listen to music with lyrics. However, for increasingly mundane and repetitive tasks, music with lyrics are seen to be effective in providing relief as music increases levels of dopamine in the brain, a chemical that enforces feelings of relaxation and pleasure.

Studies suggest that listening to ambient or natural music can help boost creativity. The calming, moderate sounds of listening to a river flowing are shown to improve a person’s mood and increase productivity as we come up with more creative approaches when applying our minds to new or difficult information.

Finding out the right type of music to suit you when studying can be difficult especially when trying to flick through your playlist and complete you essay late in to the night. However, picking tunes to help increase your levels of concentration are also shown to reduce stress, anxiety and fatigue.

If you’re looking for a playlist to ease you in to your study routine: why not listen to these recommendations

The University also regularly hosts events featuring live music - perfect for relaxing after lectures or even as a study break! 


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

How to maintain and increase curiosity during your studies

Hi, I’m Aroona, a University of Hertfordshire Humanities graduate who is currently on a short work placement in the University’s Marketing and Communications department. Keeping your curiosity alive is such a valuable skill for students so I wanted to share my tips today on how to keep your curiosity alive. 

For most of us, curiosity comes and goes in waves. The definition of curiosity is epitomised by another word: learning. To be curious is to want to learn and know something.

The operative word in this statement is ‘want’. This is the all-important determining factor in specifying the difference between learning your degree and studying it. It really comes down to how curious you are.

It’s often taken for granted that curiosity is as much as an invaluable skill to practise as it is to be punctual or organised. It’s easy to assume once you’ve got to university it will happen naturally. 

Truthfully, the marathon has barely started. The real struggle is maintaining and increasing your curiosity throughout your degree right to the finish line.

Being curious throughout your time at university will help develop your passion and determination whilst studying which in turn will mean you will work harder and get better results. Research shows that people who are curious about their topic, remembered what they had learnt for longer periods of time.

Here’s a few tips on how to stay positive and keep your curiosity flourishing:

Have you ever wondered why after watching an episode of a crime thriller, your mind is still whizzing about who the potential assailant is? This of course is the power behind curiosity which keeps you hooked on the edge of your seat. This same principle applies when writing an assignment: if you treat an assignment question or an exam as a mystery that needs solving then you are more encouraged to find the answer. This will help your ideas to evolve and potentially come up with surprising results when writing your assignment. 

The ‘right’ question

Asking questions is a must if you want to steer the curiosity wheel in the right direction. You don't need to ask a question for the sake of it but asking ones that really matter to you. The most effective questions begin with ‘why’, ‘what if’, and ‘how’. 

Learn from others

Curiosity is contagious. Spread your curiosity widely (not thinly) with others, especially when working on group projects. This means showing a genuine interest in the knowledge and skills of others and showcasing some of your own. This will fill any gaps in your own knowledge and further increase engagement and collaborative involvement with your teammates.

Be Informed 

Be fearless with how far you aim. Reading news reports probes you to ask questions about the causes and impacts of societal problems and conflicts around the world. Take an interest in other cultures and societies. How do your values and beliefs relate and differ to others? To what extent are these influenced by religion, emotion or tradition?


Practising how to retrieve information is an effective way of increasing curiosity. Take a thrill in the potential that you might discover something new. Browse the bookshelves in the library, search the aisles in the supermarket, or simply find an alternative route to your destination. Google can wait for an emergency.

Your degree after all is an adventure. The best suggestion in keeping your curiosity alive is to treat it like it one! A good way to keep your curiosity alive during your degree is to engage in extracurricular activities outside your degree (like volunteering, or joining a society). The University's Go Herts Award also recognises all these activities ensuring that your CV will stand out even more by the time you finish your degree! 


Monday, 7 May 2018

The journey of student commuter

Hi, I’m Aroona, a University of Hertfordshire Humanities graduate who is currently on a short work placement in the University’s Marketing and Communications department. Throughout my time at the University of Hertfordshire I've always commuted so I wanted to share some tips that will help your experience as a commuting student. 

Before I embarked on my university course in 2014 I had never been for familiar with the term ‘commuter’ nor what it meant or entailed. The idea of applying for student accommodation was appealing – I had always studied locally beforehand but for me it did not make sense financially. 

The choice of staying at home whilst studying at university is becoming more of a feasible choice for students - with more than 50% of all UK undergraduates being commuters.

I was told by mutual friends of mine about the bus service Uno that went directly to university from my home which for students only cost five-pounds for a day ticket. It was a done deal - I would commute for the next three years. 

It can be harder for commuting students to feel integrated with their peers when it comes to experiencing the full thrall of living on campus. It can seem like students who live on campus have more opportunities to rub shoulders and make friends and share experiences outside seminars and lectures.

However, there are many options available to commuting students at the University of Hertfordshire to get more social and practically involved in different aspects of university life and all that it has to offer.

Here’s a guide to making the best use of the facilities at university:

Short stay

It’s easy to feel like you’re missing out on the buzz and thrill of student night life if you’re a commuting student. It shouldn’t have to be a compromise between staying out late with your friends at a student union event and missing the last bus home. 

To help fix this dilemma the University does offer students temporary accommodation upon request. To check prices and availability contact accommodation by email:

Car hire 

Car sharing is great idea to make journeys to and from university that more fun with your friends…but what if you don’t have a car? At University you can hire a car as and when you need it. The E-Car Club based around the University of Hertfordshire have a fleet of electric cars which you can borrow for any length of time (minimum for 1 hour) for 5.50 per hour or 24.00 per 24 hours including insurance cover. You can sign up here: E-Car Website.

Active students

Active students is a fantastic way to meet new people, take a break from studying and get fitter- and all for free! The Active Students programme offer up to 75 hours of activities across both de Havilland and College Lane campuses so there is plenty to choose from. All you need to bring is your Student I.D.


There is ample opportunity to take part in volunteering projects at the University and the local community. Volunteering is the ideal way of giving back to the community, meeting new people and boosting your confidence as well as developing skills to show off and add to your CV. The Student Union allows you to register as a volunteer and log in your hours to create a solid volunteering profile and get certificates. You can also log your volunteering as part of the University's Go Herts award.

Image: Students volunteering their time at the University's community garden. This image is a still from the short film ‘Gardening for your mental health’ produced by Groundwork East.


The University’s events’ calendar is packed the whole year round and features a range of events from lectures, conferences, performing arts, movie nights to

Whether it is an event to support your studies or just for fun and laughs, the options are endless. Check out the University events' programme hereUH Arts also hold a variety of events including theatre, dance, and creative workshops and short courses.


Friday, 4 May 2018

Inventive revision and study tips

Hi, I’m Aroona, a University of Hertfordshire Humanities graduate who is currently on a short work placement in the University’s Marketing and Communications department. 

Revising for exams can be a hectic time. Trying to cram a lot of information in preparation for your exams is hard enough to think about let alone actually do. Making studying ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’ is not easy but can be done if you apply the right techniques that suit you as part of your revision activities. 

You’re already probably aware how important memory is when it comes to revising. Your brain doesn’t store your memory in a single location but is scattered all over different regions of your brain.

Making your revision more interactive will not only activate different parts of your brain associated with processing information and memory storage but enable you to exercise other skills such as time management, communication and creativity at the same time.
It all comes down to adapting your revision to work for you and your environment. Here are a few suggestions for you to try but feel free to make up your own!

But first and foremost…

It might not be at the top of your list when it comes to studying but taking an occasional break is the most effective way of making best use of your revision sessions.  

Your brain uses up a lot of energy.  If you revise for long periods of time without taking breaks you will find yourself getting tired quicker and concentrating difficult.  Taking a dedicated 15-minute break every 45 minutes of revision will keep you active and sane!

Whatever appeals to you, doing something you enjoy or spending a few minutes doing nothing at all will help you stay refreshed and improve your focus whilst positively impacting your mood and confidence. This can be from anything to taking a walk outside or texting your friends.

So, when you return to your revision, you will be able to tackle your notes with a new perspective enabling you to engage with your work with more momentum and motivation.


Mnemonics are a tool that helps you to remember large amounts of information. This can be an image, a chart, a rhyme, an acronym or a song.

Do you find that you can still remember lyrics of nursery rhymes or images or that looking at a GIF reminds you of a joke or catchphrase? This is because your brain tends to remember information that forms links with other pieces of relevant information - ultimately creating a chain of repetition and expansion.

For example, how they can be used to remember all the colours of the rainbow in the right order: 

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain

Mnemonics are a flexible way of putting use your creativity and imagination when studying, as you can make up your own personal techniques that adapt to your style and topic.

Revision Pyramid

A revision pyramid is a 3-D pyramid with revision notes, diagrams or charts pasted on each face of the pyramid.

This model is a fun and inventive way of collating your revision on something that can use playfully and refer to for quick and digestible information. It is also an ideal way of making revision interactive and evaluating on what you have learnt or need to learn.

The best thing about using a model such as pyramid is that you can transport it or just keep it on your desk or beside your bedside. If you don’t fancy using a pyramid you can always opt for a cube instead. Here are some pyramid templates foryou to print and build.

Studycard scrabble 

Using studycards is a great way of condensing your revision into your own words. Writing notes in a style familiar to you will make remembering them all the easier than copying and pasting straight from a textbook. This will also test how much you have understood what you have learnt if you exercise writing it down without your textbook in front of you.

The scrabble part is the bit where you can use your studycards to test your knowledge competitively. Why not get your friends to test you on what you have written on your study cards or swap them with your friends to see how much you understand what each other have wrote?  Or if you really want to turn it in a game of scrabble you can always turn your cards in to alphabet squares to test your subject terminology.


Posters can be an eye-catching and informative frame of information, whether that is for summarising or expanding on your revision. You can be as stylistic on paper with notes, images, cycles, symbols and abbreviations, quotations, themes and topics or mind maps and spider diagrams. The choices are endless.

Posters are great to put on your bedroom walls and just looking at them from time to time is a great way of reinforcing key pieces of information. Even more so, posters are great for drawing links from different aspects of your revision topics and creating a general overview of your revision.

Video and audio

Who said watching YouTube videos doesn’t count as revision?  Watching TV or films is a great way of getting a visual and audio perception of what you are learning in a real-life context.  Documentaries, animation and even dramas can help assist you in your revision if they are relevant to what you are studying of course. Also, watching someone else explain something you are struggling with can be huge stress-buster not to mention a tad funny and entertaining.

Or if you prefer to say your notes out aloud, why not record yourself and play it back to yourself-or sing it even if you like.

'Quote’ conversation

A quote conversation is a way of remembering long passages of quotes and phrases or even paraphrases. For some exams you might be required to recall texts word for word but don’t let that put you off. 

The way of making this A LOT easier is to structure you quotes as if it’s a conversation going back and forth between characters. The process behind this is not too far away from remembering a conversation between your friends. This just requires a little more effort and dedication - creating a narrative for you to place your quotes in. 

The most effective way for you apply this in your revision is to imagining writing it like a script - one for each paragraph or page - and you can also use mnemonics to help the quotes stick in your head quicker.

During exams you brain tends to go blank making it difficult to recall large amounts of information. However, giving yourself a structured passage like this will assist you in navigating quotes as you start writing them down, easing you in to a flow rather than a flood of information. 


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Top tips on how to boost your creativity at university

Hi, I’m Aroona, I’m currently on a short work placement at the University of Hertfordshire in the Marketing and Communications department. Today, I wanted to share with you ways to boost your creativity which will make a real impact to your studies at university. 

I’m often told I’m a creative person. My family often attribute this to that I’m the only member of the family who chose a Humanities degree as opposed to my siblings who opted for degrees in Maths and Science. My friends often use my creative writing experience to showcase how artistic or inventive I am.

Creativity means a lot of things to a lot of people. It is often used as an attribute to describe certain people such as artists, writers, designers or inventors. For students, it seems more obvious that a person studying graphic design will have more opportunities to be creative than someone who is studying maths or midwifery.

Being creative when studying a degree can help you to focus on your work better, reduce stress, increase productivity and improve social interaction.

There is often a myth that creativity is an innate quality - a talent that you must be born with. Everyone has the potential to be creative and all it involves is two processes: Thinking and Producing.

There are limitless ways in which creativity can take place, so exercising a creative mindset will help put these creative skills in to practise, even when writing assignments.

Creativity is a skill. Practise it.

Research done by Clayton M. Christensen discovered that that the ability to be creative is not something that is only defined by the mind but also by your behaviour, also known as The Innovators DNA.

If you think openly about how you can show creativity in your work or daily life, then you are more likely to practise it, allowing your creativity to develop overtime.

I prefer to use this acronym COMET to remind me: C (praCtise), Opportunities Motivation, Encouragement, Training. 

Not to be confused with Uno Buses' new Comet buses. 

Keep dreaming

This might seem like I’m suggesting you should procrastinate or not pay attention during lectures but daydreaming is incredibly helpful for exercising our imagination and observation skills. It may seem simple but finding time to daydream is difficult for most busy people. We often have so much information thrown at us from computers, TV screens and mobiles that we miss what is happening around us. Just taking a break from your work will help you view it in a different perspective on your return during which time you may have come up with better solutions and improve it. 

Ask questions - lots of them!

This is a matter of reflection, not reflecting. The difference being is to not to regurgitate the textbook in front of you but to ask questions that will challenge you to think differently. This can be done by asking questions beginning with ‘what if?’. Instead of just rewriting your revision notes, organise them like you are doing an interview, or draw comparisons between two different subjects: how do they relate, how do they differ? Asking questions is not for just when you are unsure but when you want to know more! 

Connect heads

The best creative ideas tend to be brainstormed in groups. Bouncing off ideas with other people means broadening your mind to different ideas, perspectives and skills. Everyone has something to offer and by collaboratively using various skills you get to learn something new and come up with something more dynamic than if you were to do it on your own.

Try something new

Pursuing a new interest helps you relax, recharge and refresh your mind. This can be anything from learning a new language, painting or for the more adventurous types: skydiving! Doing something slightly out of the norm will encourage you to bring positivity to your work and which is crucial to increasing creative productivity.

Hertfordshire Students' Union has over 100 societies students can join so you are bound to be able to find a new interest! 

Maybe the HUSKI's (Ski and Snowboarding society) will take your interest!