Monday, 4 November 2019

Activities to get you skills

Upskilling doesn’t have to involve text books and lectures. Here, your VP Activities Sajid explains how you can gain lots of skills from extra-curricular activities on campus.

"Our University offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities, from societies, sports clubs, volunteering, fundraising and student media (Trident Media). Getting involved in extra-curricular activities is exciting  giving you a chance to be a central part of the community on campus while learning a lot! Being a member of different societies and clubs will also really improve your social life!

I started my journey by joining an Active Students roller-skating session. It was a wonderful experience and so I got involved in more activities and found the more involvement I had in different events the more I felt I had settled into University life. 

During my second year I decided to create my very own society through our Students’ Union called the UH Global Students Society. This was such a great opportunity for me as I got to be involved in so much more than just taking part. I started to develop my planning, coordination and organisation skills, and it was also a lot of fun! I really suggest all students get involved in different extra-curricular activities, it is very beneficial - it’s like an investment in yourself.

Key skills that you will learn from getting involved in different extra-curricular activities are, self -confidence, leadership, networking, problem solving and a lot more. These will really help you in the future, especially when it comes to professional environments as well as your own personal development. You won’t just be rewarded with new skills though. Being in a society and getting involved in different activities will make great memories that in the future you will be able to look back on and smile. 

Here are some of the top activities I suggest to check out on campus:
1) Karaoke 
2) Pub quizzes
3) Societies meet and greets and other events.
4) Sports clubs socials and activities.
5) Taking part in fundraising and volunteering
6) Forum (night club) night outs
7) Freshers’ Week.

My advice? Make sure to keep it fun and enjoy it! Our student population is so diverse that you will meet a lot of students from all different cultures and backgrounds, as well as students who have the same interests as you. Who knows, you might even find your new best friend through your new activities!

If you’re unsure where to start, get in contact with the Students’ Union. They have loads of knowledge about what extra-curricular activities are available, and are always happy to help you find the best opportunities that the University has to offer."

Recipe of the month - Peanut butter cookies

This month Uni Chef Terry brings you another easy 3 ingredient recipe, this time for yummy peanut butter cookies. Perfect for dunking in your favourite hot drink.


Makes 25 cookies

1 cup peanut butter (200g)
½ cup of sugar (100g)
1 egg


Step 1 – Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Step 2 – In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, sugar and egg.

Step 3 – Scoop out a spoonful of dough and roll it into a ball. Place the cookie balls onto a non-stick baking sheet.

Step 4 – For extra decoration and to make them cook more evenly, flatten the cookie balls by pressing a fork down on top of them, then press it down again at a 90 degree angle to make a criss-cross pattern.

Step 5 – Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the bottom of the cookies are golden brown.

Step 6 – Remove the cookies from the baking sheet and leave to cool.

Step 7 – Grab your favourite drink, dunk your cookies and enjoy!

Study Success Hubs - Get help from experts

Assignments looming and looking for some study skills support?

The new Study Success Hubs on the ground floor of the LRCs provide a dedicated space to brush up on lots of valuable skills to help you succeed in your studies. From English and Maths support to how to correctly reference your assignments, a friendly team of experts are on hand to help. Sessions are drop-in and all students are welcome - no question is ever too small!

What's on offer?

Academic English support - get expert advice on all areas of assignment writing including paragraph structure, grammar, style, text evaluation and lots more.

Maths support – need help with a particularly tricky maths problem?  Experts from the School of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics are on hand offering specialist support on a range of mathematical topics.

Library Link up – help provided on using library resources to support your studies.  Sessions running in November include referencing, finding books and journals for your coursework and Westlaw certification. For dates and to book your place, visit the booking page.  

SU Study Smart – get help managing your workload and revision techniques with 1-1 sessions with the SU Academic and Welfare advisors. Book a session via the SU Advice & Support team.

Careers and employment – find out more about Careers and Employment services, events and online resources available to you during your studies here at Herts.

Visit Ask Herts to find out more or check out the session timetables on display at each of the Hubs.

Here’s how some of you are already benefiting from the hubs

Careers stand

'Having the promo stands in the LRCs is a great way to integrate the Careers service into the daily lives of students, increasing awareness; allowing students to reach out for support and guidance with regards to the plethora of services available to them throughout their studies and beyond!' 
Rebekah Lewis BSc (Hons) Final Year Nutrition student and careers link

'The career stands across the LRCs and schools are very influential in bridging the gap between students and the careers service. Through speaking to students at the stands I’ve learned that a lot of the time students wish to seek career advice or would like to know about upcoming career events that they may benefit from attending, but due to their busy schedules, they unfortunately don’t get the chance to pursue these opportunities. The fact that the stands are staffed by students allows everyone to feel more relaxed and open when bringing up subject matter they are not familiar with. The stands feel very valuable for students that want to start looking into part-time and full-time career possibilities.' 
Jamal Braimah Bsc (Hons) Psychology student and careers link

Academic English

“Helped me to understand what academic writing means and how to plan my work.”
“Very useful sessions delivered by excellent tutors.”

“It was awesome. The notes I took helped me a lot. The teachers were also very friendly and it was generally a worthwhile experience.”

“Very effective and useful for me.”

You can find out more about the Study Success Hubs on Ask Herts.

Voice It - Why your voice matters

These days it’s almost impossible to consume a product or service without being asked for your feedback. ‘Share your thoughts…Rate us out of 5…Write us a review’, just some of the many questions you may have been asked in the past month, if not the past week! And while it can be overwhelming, have you ever really stopped to think about the importance of sharing your opinion?

Here, Rida, your Students’ Union President tells us why feedback from students is so vital to the University and how you can use your voice to make a difference at Herts.

“When I first started my time at UH as a student, I always thought that my feedback didn’t have an impact. I always used to ignore the surveys sent by the University or Students’ Union.  But that’s not the case anymore. I never miss a chance to give feedback anymore, and here’s why:

Ever since I have been elected, I have been to tonnes and tonnes of meetings, most of them aimed at improving students’ lives. I have been part of so many discussions where staff have been very interested in understanding what student challenges are and how students want them to be addressed. Most people are very keen to understand- What is happening? What has worked? What hasn’t worked?

But how does the University decide what is best for students? How do they know what students are thinking?

I was surprised to see that so much of what the University does for students comes from student feedback, whether it be from a survey they completed, mid-module feedback or simply from a focus group. As a student I always underestimated the value my opinion had in influencing the University. So what examples are there of student feedback having an impact?

One of the main things being worked on by the University these days is timetabling. As a sabbatical officer, I thought that the main request of our students would be for no 9am lectures, so the commuting or even non-commuting students can get more time to relax in the mornings. Surprisingly, after coming into the role, I discovered that the priority of our students seems to be more focused around reducing gaps between classes - this came out in a survey done by the Students’ Union. The University and the officer team really took on the feedback and we are all working together to make the timetables the best they can be for the majority of our students. If it wasn’t for the students telling us what they want, we would have never known.

Lockers on campus
One of the huge officer successes over previous years has been the commuters’ lockers. The idea of having this facility came from HertsEmpowerment, which is a platform for students to raise their concerns or ideas. We received some feedback highlighting that commuter students felt like they couldn’t be as involved in University activities and that having a space to keep their stuff would help them move more freely around the University and could potentially make them feel more included. Many other students shared similar thoughts on the same platform and that idea has become reality today thanks to work done between the Union and the University!

Print Credits
Last year, our VP Education lobbied the University to expand their print credits for first years to all students. She took this idea forward to the University, and the University worked hard to listen to this feedback and has incorporated it into this year’s plans.

So far, all the work I have been involved in with the University always has an element of incorporating student feedback. There are many different ways of providing feedback to either the Union or the University, via HertsEmpowerment, Student Reps, Surveys, School Community Organisers, Student Council, Mid-module feedback etc.

Having attended an away day with academic staff earlier this year, I can say one thing: all feedback from students is  considered by the University.   Without the feedback the University or the Union never fully understands what is working for students and what isn’t. I haven’t been to a meeting where student views haven’t been considered.

So in short, if students ask “why should I bother giving university the feedback??” The simplest answer to that question would be, because your feedback can bring change! 

Find out how your voice is already making a difference on Ask Herts

Thursday, 31 October 2019

How we discovered a glowing galactic ghoul

Makani. Jim Geach, David Tree, Peter Richardson, Games and Visual Effects Research Lab, University of Hertfordshire
James Geach, University of Hertfordshire
It’s a classic Halloween tale. A group of ghost hunters visit a grand old house that is rumoured to be haunted. But after thoroughly exploring, they leave disappointed: there are no ghosts to be seen. Only later, when looking through their photographs of the place do they notice the mysterious apparition on the stairs. It was there all the time.
In our new work, published in Nature, we were shocked to discover an apparition of galactic proportions when looking at a familiar galaxy. The finding has huge significance because it demonstrates how chemical elements mix on very large scales around galaxies.
Your body, the Earth, and all the material world around you is made of a class of particle called “baryons”. Baryonic matter is “normal” everyday matter, such as carbon. So we’re intimately connected to the stuff.
Imagine you could put all the baryons in the universe into a jar. Now pick one of those particles at random. Where do you think it would have come from? Another human? A planet? Another galaxy entirely? The answer is surprising to most: it’s likely that baryon would have come from the space between galaxies. Most of the normal matter in the universe isn’t contained within galaxies at all.
When the universe was just a few hundred thousand years old, baryonic matter and dark matter, an invisible and unknown substance making up the majority of matter in the universe, were intermingled in a nearly uniform fog. This was rippled with small density fluctuations, and over time these were amplified by gravity which teased them into a network of filaments lacing through the universe.

A large-scale simulation of the distribution of gas in the universe. Galaxies form at the dense nodes of the cosmic web drive outflows of gas back into the circumgalactic medium. Jim Geach & Rob Crain
We call it the cosmic web. At the densest points of the web, galaxies formed. In those galaxies, about a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, hydrogen started to burn in stars and nuclear fusion forged heavy elements including carbon and oxygen. Other elements were formed in cataclysmic stellar explosions. And at the centres of the galaxies, supermassive black holes grew by accumulating baryons, releasing energy in the process.
The blaze of young stars, the explosions of supernovae and the intensity of black holes have an important effect: they drive flows of gas through and out of galaxies. We’ve known for a long time that this “feedback” is essential for regulating the growth of galaxies and for mixing the different chemical elements in regions between stars. Without such mixing, you wouldn’t exist. Some of the iron in your blood comes from supernovae and the carbon comes from the ash of long-dead stars. We are all what the baddies in Harry Potter may call cosmic “mudbloods”.
Some of the flows of gas driven by star formation and black hole growth can escape galaxies, emerging into the “circumgalactic medium” – or CGM. This is the interface between the interstellar medium (the stuff between stars) and the wider intergalactic medium (the stuff between galaxies).
These winds transport heavy elements formed in galaxies out into the CGM. Some of these elements will later “rain” back down, perhaps to be incorporated in new solar systems. Others will spend the rest of eternity exiled in intergalactic space.
Computer simulations show this process in beautiful detail. But while we can measure outflows around galaxies in the real universe, we have not directly observed them on very large scales, which stretch hundreds of thousands of light years around galaxies. Until now.

A galactic ghost

We have used an instrument called the Keck Cosmic Web Imager to observe a galaxy that is part of a sample of galaxies we have been studying for some time. The instrument, based in Hawaii, is no ordinary camera. It measures the spectrum of light collected by the telescope, dispersing the light into its different frequencies, or colours. This allows us to see much more than would otherwise be possible with a traditional imaging camera.
The galaxies were of interest us because they are known to be driving extremely fast outflows of gas, travelling at 1,000 kilometres per second or more. They are also extremely compact compared to most galaxies. We think that most of them formed from the collision of two galaxies that have now coalesced into one.

A volume rendering of the KCWI data, revealing the huge Makani nebula and fast outflow. Jim Geach, David Tree, Peter Richardson, Games and Visual Effects Research Lab, University of Hertfordshire

When we looked at the KCWI data for the first time, it made the hairs rise on the back of our necks. We expected to detect something, but what we saw really surprised us. Surrounding the galaxy was a huge cloud of glowing gas, resembling the shape of an hourglass nearly a third of a million light years across. This glowing nebula dwarfs the central galaxy, but without KCWI you wouldn’t know it was there.
There’s nothing paranormal going on here though. From the colour, or frequency, of the light, we know it is being emitted by oxygen ions. Our analysis shows that the nebula has formed as the result of two distinct gas outflows – winds – that have propagated from the central galaxy into the CGM. We call the nebula Makani – a Hawaiian word for wind – out of respect for the cultural significance of the mountain from which the observations were made.
In Makani we are seeing directly for the first time the mechanism by which the CGM is being heated and enriched. Our initial analysis shows that the properties of the outflow broadly agree with predictions from theory. We now have the ideal system to study the process, and can use this data to refine the models.
What’s needed now is more examples of objects like Makani. And like the investigators we are, our team is now on the hunt for other spectres lurking out there.The Conversation
James Geach, Professor of Astrophysics and Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Pregnant in prison: 'I told them the baby was coming and ended up giving birth in my cell'

Laura Abbott, University of Hertfordshire
A newborn baby recently died in prison after a woman gave birth alone in her cell at night.
The newborn’s tragic death, led to the government informing parliament that ten separate investigations are being undertaken into what happened. And that immediate action would include all pregnant women across the prison estate being checked hourly overnight by prison staff.
Warnings about births in cells have been raised previously. In 2018, my research into the experiences of pregnant women in prison led to a call from parliament for mandatory guidance for pregnant women and new mothers in prison.
As part of my research, I carried out interviews with 28 women and ten members of prison staff. And as a result of what I discovered, concerns were raised about the risks to women’s safety and well-being.
The number of pregnant women and babies in prison is not currently known or recorded – neither is what happens to them – and this too is something being urgently called for in a recent report from the joint human rights committee.

No midwifery care at night

Many of the women I spoke to as part of my research expressed their fears of going into labour at night (when they are locked in their cells) and of not being unlocked in time. As one explained:
I want to be in control, I don’t want to be buzzing people for them to get an ambulance … my biggest fear is being left in that room.
Indeed, for one woman, Layla*, this became a reality as she gave birth in her prison cell without midwifery care or support. A staff member described what happened:
She was eight months pregnant and Layla* ended up going into labour. They didn’t listen when she was saying, ‘I think I need to go to hospital, I think the baby’s coming,’ and she ended up giving birth in her cell.
Although Layla* was the only woman interviewed for this research who had birthed inside prison, several members of staff had experience of women labouring and giving birth in their cells. Prison staff explained how in one instance, “a mobile phone was brought down for [the nurse] to ring [paramedics] to be talked through delivering the baby”. Another said:
We were like: ‘We’ve got a baby in prison!’ … and we didn’t know what to do.
Yet, my findings also show that when the system works well for women, they can have a positive experience of timely and compassionate support in labour. As another interviewee explained:
Within half an hour the ambulance was here, and I was off. When we left the prison, the number one governor was at the gate and she stopped, and she said good luck.

At crisis point

Overall, however, it seems prison staff are being put in an untenable situation when it comes to pregnant women, in a system described as being at “crisis point”. In my research, I found that staff were often unaware of whose role it was to care for pregnant women, this led to officers believing nursing staff were qualified to make midwifery decisions. In Layla’s case, this led to her birthing in her prison cell and inappropriate decisions being made about her care when in labour.

Being pregnant in prison can put women in a highly vulnerable position. Shutterstock/kittirat roekburi

After safety concerns were raised in 2018, the government stated that “specific training on dealing with pregnancy in prison has been made available to all prison officers” and “health care in prisons is provided by trained doctors and nurses”. But it appears the government is missing a fundamental issue here – only registered midwives and doctors are trained to provide care for labouring women – and misrepresenting the midwives’ role is a legal breach.
The expectation placed upon prison staff to carry out “checks” on pregnant women overnight also begs the question as to whether they are trained (or indeed supported) should they come across a woman who may be haemorrhaging or even a newborn baby in need of resuscitation.

Maternity care needed

Where midwives are the lead coordinator of care in prisons it works well. “The Perinatal Pathway” at HMP Low Newton in County Durham, for example, facilitates continuity of care for all pregnant women and new mothers in prison. This pathway came about after the tragic suicide of Michelle Barnes five days after the birth of her third child. It ensures a specialist prison midwife, with substantial protected time (30 hours a week), leads the care for all pregnant women and new mothers for up to a year after they have given birth.
It’s clear, then, that what’s needed to urgently rectify this situation, is seamless collaboration between the Prison Service, NHS Trusts and charities like Birth Companions which supports pregnant women and new mothers.
Midwives also need to be involved at every step. And attention is especially important with regards to managing pregnancy and childbirth emergencies. This should be the very basic level of expectation for maternity care and must be consistent across the whole female prison estate and not simply a reaction to tragedy.
Ultimately, though, women should not be giving birth in prison cells. And if, on a rare occasion, an unexpected birth occurs, the minimum a female prisoner should expect is to have an appropriately trained professional to support her and her baby.
* names have been changedThe Conversation
Laura Abbott, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Three reasons you have neck pain – and why 'bad posture' probably isn't one of them

shutterstock/WAYHOME studio
Christian Worsfold, University of Hertfordshire
If you suffer from neck pain, you’re not alone. Spinal pain is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and its occurrence has increased dramatically over the past 25 years. While most episodes of neck pain are likely to get better within a few months, half to three-quarters of people who have neck pain will experience repeated episodes of pain.
It’s often said there are “good and bad postures” and that specific postures can contribute to spinal pain but this belief is not supported by scientific evidence. Indeed, research shows that poor sleep, reduced physical activity and increased stress appear to be more important factors.
So despite attempts by health professionals to correct your posture and the use of “ergonomic” chairs, desks, keyboards and other gadgets chances are so-called “lifestyle factors” – such as getting enough sleep, making sure you exercise and keeping stress to a minimum – seem to be more salient in relieving and preventing the pain in your neck.

The posture myth

Although beliefs about posture run deep, science is telling a very different story – and there is a strong challenge to the long-assumed role of posture as a cause of neck pain.
A recent high-quality study, of more than 1,000 teenagers, for example, showed no statistically significant relationship between spinal posture and neck pain – despite there being easily identifiable postural subgroups in the study, such as those who sat slumped or those who sat upright. So yes, people do sit in positions that vary from person to person, but it appears to have nothing to do with pain. In fact, it appears from this particular study that the adolescent’s “posture” has more to do with their mood.
Research has also shown that changing the way you sit while working – by altering your workstation – so-called “ergonomic interventions”, have little to no impact on whether a person develops neck pain. Also, there is little high-quality evidence that ergonomic interventions can lead to a speedier recovery for someone with neck pain.

A pain in the neck or just not enough sleep? ShutterstockMDGRPHCS

In various studies, researchers have followed groups of people who don’t have neck pain along with those who only experience occasional neck pain for periods. Some people in these groups developed troublesome neck pain and the researchers looked closely at them. Those with neck pain were found to be getting less quality and quantity of sleep and were working in jobs with high strain. They were also less physically active and had depressed mood. Their bodies are essentially experiencing greater stress and they notice more “muscle tension” in their neck. Importantly, this is all before the pain has even developed.
Researchers have found that, even among children as young as nine years old, symptoms such as tiredness and sleep difficulties – along with headaches, abdominal pain and lower mood – were risk factors for both the occurrence and persistence of weekly neck pain when the children were monitored for four years.

Sleep, exercise and relaxation

The flip side of this is that having a stronger neck, enjoying exercise – even simply walking a greater number of steps each day – have all been shown to protect against getting neck pain. This, along with making sure we don’t become sleep deprived, less physically active and stressed will hopefully manage and prevent neck pain more successfully.
So feel free to sit how you want to at your desk. If you find yourself sitting for long periods in one position make an effort to switch it up – as one of the key things to avoid getting pain in your neck is to change positions frequently through the day.
And if you do have neck pain, get a few early nights, consider doing something relaxing – and why not go for a walk at lunchtime. Importantly, you also need to stop worrying about how you sit or walk, because science seems to show that there may be no such thing as a “bad” posture after all.The Conversation
Christian Worsfold, Visiting Lecturer in Physiotherapy, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Elon Musk’s Starship may be more moral catastrophe than bold step in space exploration

An artist concept of the Starship following separation from the first stage Super Heavy. SpaceX/flickr
Samantha Rolfe, SpaceX, recently unveiled his new Starship craft. Amazingly, it is designed to carry up to 100 crew members on interplanetary journeys throughout the solar system, starting with Mars in 2024.
The announcement is exciting, invoking deep emotions of hope and adventure. But I can’t help having a number of moral reservations about it.
Musk has declared a fascinatingly short time line to achieve orbit with this rocket. He wants to build four or five versions of the vehicle in the next six months. The first rocket will do a test launch to 20km within a month, and the final version will orbit the Earth.
Whether this is possible remains to be seen. Bear in mind that in the early 1960s when the then US president, John F Kennedy, announced the race to the moon, it took nearly a decade to achieve and several crew members died during the testing phases.
Despite this, it has been an important goal since the beginning of the space age for people to travel between planets – helping us to explore, mine and colonise the solar system.

Planetary protection

There are many reasons to believe SpaceX will succeed. The company has been extremely impressive in its contribution to space, filling a gap when government agencies such as NASA could not justify the spending. It’s not the rocket technology that I doubt, my concern is mainly astrobiological.
If life exists elsewhere in our universe, the solar system is a good place to start looking – enabling us to touch, collect and analyse samples in a reasonably short time. Along with some of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons, Mars is one of the top contenders for hosting some sort of microbial life, or for having done so in the past.
However, there is a risk that microbe-ridden humans walking on the red planet could contaminate it with bugs from Earth. And contamination may threaten alien organisms, if they exist. It may also make it impossible to figure out whether any microbes found on Mars later on are martian or terrestrial in origin.
A mission to return samples from Mars to Earth is expected to be completed by the early 2030s, with all the collection work completed by sterilised robots. While such missions pose a certain risk of contamination too, there are rigorous protocols to help minimise the chance. These were initiated by the Outer Space Treaty in 1967 and must be followed by anyone in the space industry, governmental or non-governmental entities alike.
Can we be confident that, while pushing the boundaries of human exploration in such a short time frame, corners won’t be cut or standards won’t be allowed to slip? It will be considerably harder to follow these protocols once humans are actually on the planet.
If SpaceX was serious about planetary protection, I would expect to see a policy on its website, or easily found by searching “SpaceX planetary protection”. But that isn’t the case. So while it is possible that it has a rigorous planetary protection plan in place behind the scenes, its public-facing content seems to suggest that pushing the boundaries of human exploration is more important than the consequences of that exploration.

Musk doesn’t seem too worried about contamination. He has eluded to the concept of panspermia, the idea that Mars and Earth have exchanged material or even life in the past due to asteroid impacts anyway. In the recent video above, he also says: “I don’t think some Earth-based bacterium is going to be able to migrate much through Mars” and “if there is any life, it will be very deep underground”. But he simultaneously argues that we can excavate to make room for humans underground on Mars, where they would be shielded from radiation.

Other moral issues

Another issue is the health of the humans are being sent out to Mars. Deep space is not without its dangers, but at least working in low Earth orbit, on the moon and the International Space Station, the Earth’s magnetic field offers some protection from harmful space radiation.
Mars doesn’t have its own magnetic field and its atmosphere provides little shelter from cosmic radiation. Astronauts would also be exposed to deep space radiation for the minimum six-month journey between planets.
Though plenty of work is being conducted, radiation protection technology is a long way behind other aspects of rocketry. I’m not sure that it is fair or ethical to expect astronauts to be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation that could leave them with considerable health problems – or worse, imminent death.

Mars photographed by the Opportunity rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ. › Full image and caption

Add to that the environmental impact of these missions, which release a lot of carbon dioxide, if they become frequent.
So while there is obviously a lot to gain from sending humans to Mars, the risks of contaminating Mars, injuring astronauts and damaging the environment are very real. I would argue that it is our moral obligation to prevent such damage. I hope SpaceX is putting as much thought into this as it has into its launch vehicles, and I would like to see this become a priority for the company.
Once we have better radiation shielding and have proven that Mars is entirely uninhabited, albeit a very difficult thing to do, it will most likely be an adventure worth embarking on. But at the very least, the company should hold off sending people to Mars until we have the results of the upcoming life detection missions, such as the Mars Sample Return and ExoMars rover.
Until then the moon is a great target for human exploration, resource mining and colonisation. As it is nearby and we can be reasonably confident that it does not harbour life, why not start there?
Regardless of the thrill and feelings of hope this kind of adventure brings, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we necessarily should, now or in the future.The Conversation
Samantha Rolfe, Lecturer in Astrobiology and Principal Technical Officer at Bayfordbury Observatory, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Science fiction could save us from bad technology

Ahmet Misirligul/Shutterstock
Alessio Malizia, University of Hertfordshire and Silvio Carta, University of Hertfordshire
The short film Slaughterbots depicts a near future in which swarms of micro drones assassinate thousands of people for their political beliefs. Released in November 2017 by academics and activists warning of the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence (AI), it quickly went viral, attracting over 3m views to date. It helped spark a public debate on the future of autonomous weapons and put pressure on diplomats meeting at the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons.
But this kind of speculative science fiction storytelling isn’t just useful for attracting attention. The people who design and build advanced technology can use stories to consider the consequences of their work and ensure it is used for good. And we think this kind of “science fiction prototyping” or “design fiction” could help prevent human biases from working their way into new technology, further entrenching society’s prejudices and injustices.

A bias can lead to the arbitrary preference of some categories (of results, people, or ideas) over others. For example, some people may be biased against hiring women for executive jobs, whether they are conscious of it or not.

Technology built around data that records such bias can end up replicating the problem. For instance, recruitment software designed to select the best CVs for a particular job might be programmed to look for characteristics that reflect an unconscious bias towards men. In which case, the algorithm will end up favouring men’s CVs. And this isn’t theoretical – it actually happened to Amazon.
Designing algorithms without considering possible negative implications has been compared to doctors “writing about the benefits of a given treatment and completely ignoring the side effects, no matter how serious they are”.

Some tech firms and researchers are trying to tackle the issue. For example, Google drew up a set of ethical principles to guide its development of AI. And UK academics have launched an initiative called Not-Equal that aims to encourage greater fairness and justice in the design and use of technology.

The problem is that, publicly, companies tend to deliver only a positive vision of the potential consequences of near-future technologies. For example, driverless cars are often portrayed as solving all our transport issues from cost to safety, ignoring the increased dangers of cyberattacks or the fact they could encourage people to walk or cycle less.

The difficulty in understanding how digital technologies work, especially those that are heavily driven by obscure algorithms, also makes it harder for people to have a complex and comprehensive view of the issues. This situation produces a tension between a reassuring positive narrative and the vague suspicion that biases are embedded to some degree in the technologies around us. This is where we think storytelling through design fiction can come in.

Stories are a natural method of thinking about possibilities and complex situations, and we have been hearing them all our lives. Science fiction can help us speculate on the impact of near-future technologies on society, as Slaughterbots does. This can even include issues of social justice, like the way certain groups, such as refugees and migrants, can be excluded from digital innovations.

Revealing the (possible) future

Design fiction stories provide a novel way for designers, engineers and futurists (among others) to think about the impact of technology from a human perspective and link this to possible future needs. With a mixture of logic and imagination, design fiction can reveal aspects of how technology may be adopted and used, starting conversations about its future ramifications.
For example, the short story “Crime-sourcing” explores what might happen if AI was to use crowdsourced information and a criminal database to predict who might commit a murder. The researchers found that because the database was full of people in minority ethnic groups who, for social reasons, were statistically more likely to reoffend, the “crime-sourcing” model was more likely to wrongly suspect minorities than white people.

You don’t have to be a talented writer or make a slick film to produce design fiction. Brainstorming activities involving cards and storyboards have been used to develop design fiction and help develop the storytelling process. Making workshops that used these kinds of tools more common would enable more engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers to use this method of assessment. And making the resulting work publicly available would help to expose potential biases in technologies before they affect society.

Encouraging designers to create and share more stories in this way would ensure the narrative that underpins new technology wouldn’t just present a positive picture, nor an extremely negative or dystopian one. Instead, people will be able to appreciate both aspects of what is happening around us.The Conversation
Alessio Malizia, Professor of User Experience Design, University of Hertfordshire and Silvio Carta, Head of Art and Design and Chair of the Design Research Group, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Recipe of the month: Mac and Cheese

Recipe of the month: Mac and Cheese

This month Uni Chef Terry brings you his 3 ingredient recipe for Mac and Cheese. A great dish for students on the go!


  • 5 cups milk (1¼ L)
  • 1lb elbow macaroni, dry (455g)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (200g)


Step 1
In a large pot, bring the milk to a boil
Step 2 
Add the pasta and stir constantly until the pasta is cooked (normally around 10 minutes)
Step 3
Turn off the heat, then add the cheddar. Stir until the cheese is melted and the pasta is evenly coated.
Step 4

Student Tips: Amy's final year advice

Student Tips: Amy's final year advice

Final year. The big finale.

As the start of the end of our degree begins, for a lot of us anxiety and stress can set in – amongst any other personal circumstances we may have. When I felt overwhelmed from my workload or revising for exams, I often felt like I was alone and the only one struggling, however when I offloaded how I felt the more I discovered that I was not alone. This is something important to remember. We often present ourselves as confident, however around 90% of students reported final year exams caused them stress greater than they expected. We’re all in the same boat – and don’t forget to look after your mates.

Wellbeing Wednesdays

Take a break. Your wellbeing and health are so important. The university gives undergraduate students Wednesday afternoons free from lectures. This means you can participate in sport or Wellbeing Wednesdays. This is a programme where the SU puts on an activity every Wednesday afternoon ranging from Arts and Crafts, Laughing Yoga to Self-Defence classes. Wellbeing Wednesdays gives student’s the perfect opportunity to refresh mid-week and to give them a boost for the rest of the week.

Study Skills

As a mature student I hadn’t been in education for around 10 years. Writing essays, sitting exams and keeping up with the huge amount of reading, made my law degree a challenge.

I found out that here at Herts they have a scheme for Academic English and Study Skills Development. There are LRC drop-in sessions and a whole bunch of different workshops you can attend from "structuring your writing to making a successful presentation" and "writing up your dissertation." There’s lots of skills and top tips that can help you out.


The Students’ Union also have a thing called SU Study Smart which are one-to-one sessions with one of the Academic & Welfare Advisers. You can explore different approaches to learning and workload management techniques. SU Study Smart is perfect if you feel you are struggling to manage the heavy workload at University. The Advice Team at the SU are all so lovely – I couldn’t recommend them enough. 

Let’s get organised!

One of the ways I managed my workload was by buying a student planner (I know this is so secondary school! … but). Whilst the University give our timetable to us all digitally, I found the physical act of planning out my week helped me to visualise and organise my time much better. I have heard from a lot of other students that they also do this too, so why not give it a go? This layout is my fav, check it out!

More than just a Library

When I lived on campus, I studied in my room a lot and it wasn’t until final year I made use of the LRC’s. I mostly made use of the quiet spaces which are in both LRC’s. These spaces are dedicated to students wanting to study in quiet. Sometimes it’s great studying with friends, but for different tasks, such as proofreading, I would need to do this in peace and quiet.

Good Luck Everyone!

So, that’s all for now. Here’s my Number 1 Top Tip - Remember don’t compare yourself to others. Each of us is on our own individual path and there is more than one way to achieve our own personal goals.

Amy Holloway-Smith, Hertfordshire Students' Union Vice President Education

Student Tips: Adam's final year advice

Student Tips: Adam's final year advice

Final year is tough. It will be filled with reading, revision and late nights in the LRC. It can also be stressful – but you will get through it and it will be July before you know it! Having recently finishing my final year of university and graduating from Herts just last month, here are some of my top tips to help you get through.

1. Get started early

At the start of Semester A, it may seem like you have loads of time similar to your first and second year. However, time will soon start to slip away, and you will be wishing you have more time to spend on your modules and dissertation/final project. So, getting started early is the best way to avoid running out of time towards the end of your course. Before the start of Semester B, make sure you start to prioritise reading books, researching essays or revising for your exams. It will make your life a lot easier in the end and you will thank yourself later!

2. Make sure you allow yourself to socialise

In final year it can be easy to get lost in your work and spend hours in the LRC on your own. However, you need to make sure you have balance. For me this would be one of the most important points as the more time you spend on your own worrying about your work, the bigger the problem can seem. So, setting time aside each week to forget about your work and socialise with friends will be a great stress relief.

3. Seek help if you need it

Always speak to someone if you need help. This could be from an academic or a wellbeing perspective. If you are struggling with an aspect of your course, make time to go and talk to your lecturers alone. Lecturers will often hold drop in sessions or talk to them at the end of your lectures. Alternatively, if things are getting too much emotionally, our university has a great student support and wellbeing team. Make sure you reach out to someone in these teams, there is no judgement and they can really help. Watch our ‘How are you?’ video to find out more.

4. Keep an eye on your money

Having the stress of money on top of your already difficult workload is not a good combination. Try to budget your money and student loan as early in the semester as possible, because once it runs out, it is gone. Often food is a big contributor to this, the meal deals in the LRC really start to add up towards the end! I found having a routine can help with this – set time aside each day to cook fresh dinners and prepare lunches for the next day. Be as thrifty as possible and save the pennies!

5. Stay healthy and get a good night sleep

As your work load becomes harder and your deadlines increase, it is important to eat well, drink plenty of water and to get a good night’s sleep. You will perform your best if you’re feeling healthy and happy! If you have a long day of lectures and spend your evening at the LRC, take a reusable water bottle with you or some fruit for snacks. The nights you aren’t socialising or in the LRC, try to get into bed earlier so you get a good, 8 hours sleep. Grades are important but so is your health!

Adam Walker, University of Hertfordshire - Film and Television Production Graduate

Getting the most from your LRCs

Getting the most from your LRCs

From study skills support to finding the resources you need, Sian from our Library and Computing Services team shares her advice on how to get the most out of the Campus LRCs.

Study Success Hubs

Our Study Success Hubs on the ground floor of the LRCs are a great way to brush up on lots of valuable skills to help you succeed in your studies. From English and Maths support to how to correctly reference your assignments, you’ll find expert help and 1-1 support on hand.  Search ‘Study Success Hub’ on Ask Herts to find out more and check out the session timetables on display at each of the Hubs.

Find the right LRC for your programme

The library collections at each of our LRCs are dedicated to different subjects. If you’re studying science, technology, health and medicine or creative arts, then you will want to head to College Lane. For all things law, business, management, education and humanities then de Havilland is for you. Some subjects are spread across both LRCs, so always check the online library for the location of the resource you need and remember you can also make use of our online resources such as e-books and e-journals.

PCs and laptop loans

PCs, Macs and laptops are available to use in the LRCs. You can even check availability of the desktop PCs and Macs in the Herts Mobile app. If you prefer to work on a laptop, you can loan one free of charge for 4 hours from the Laptop Loan lockers located at the entrance to each of the LRCs. Just remember you can’t take the laptop away with you and you must return them before your 4 hours are up to avoid being charged for your use.

Choose the right space for you

Whether you are researching for an assignment, popping in between lectures or preparing a group presentation, the LRCs have a space for you.  If it’s quiet study you’re after then College Lane now has a quiet top floor and both LRCs have silent study rooms.  For group work, our open study areas are best with large tables and booths and you can also book a Group Study Room.

Print, copy, scan

You can print, copy and scan your work from any device using our all-in-one machines available on all floors in both LRCs.  This year all new and returning students will receive a £5 credit in their print and copy account once they’ve registered and information on how to check and credit your print account is available on Ask Herts.

Take a well-earned break

The LRC caf├ęs are a great place to grab a drink or enjoy a bite to eat. Vending machines also provide snacks and microwaves are available if you are bringing your own food.

Help is at hand

Welcome Desks are open between 10:00 – 16:00 on weekdays and staff are happy to help with any questions. You can also use the Information Points on each floor to get online and phone assistance 24/7 and, if you have any concerns about behaviour, safety or lost property, please don’t hesitate to speak to Security staff at the entrances. 

Find out more

There is lots more that the RLCs can offer your during your studies. So head over to  AskHerts to find out more.

Sian Mckinstry

Communications Officer, Library and Computer Services