Master challenge: the UK food system

The UK food system is increasingly globalised, which means it can often be prone to periodic scares and crises. UK consumers will be only too aware of the challenges of the food system, which they experience through rising food prices and scares about the provenance of meat products. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), under the Global Food Security programme are funding five grants under the ‘Understanding the Challenges of the Food System’ call.

older_people_2 (2) for research blog August 2014

Dr Faith Ikioda and Dr Wendy Wills and other colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire have received funding as part of this programme, to investigate the views and experiences of people aged 60+ in terms of how they acquire food.

Increasingly people are living longer in the UK and predictions say this is set to continue. A significant minority of older people have ongoing health conditions and for those aged over 85 up to two thirds has a disability or limiting long term illness. These older people might therefore become vulnerable through the food that they eat and this is therefore a research priority in terms of impact on the UK food system, quality of life for individuals, better public health outcomes, reducing the burden of disease and disability not to mention the resultant economic benefits for the UK.

The research will be undertaken over a two
-year period and will involve households of older people living in Hertfordshire and the surrounding area. For further information contact Dr Faith Ikioda or Dr Wendy Wills or visit

RoboCup 2014 Brazil final

The RoboCup 2014 Final!

Guest blog Dr Daniel Polani, Adaptive Systems Research Group

We had played seven matches against the likes of Hamburg, Brazil and Indonesia and it was now time to face Japan’s CIT Brains in the final.

It was tough as the Japanese team took the lead scoring three goals and we thought it was going to be a walkover of the Germany vs. Brazil kind. However, our robots fought back and we managed to score twice before the whistle blew. It seemed that our robots were better on the long run and had the game gone on longer, we might have equalized. But it was an exciting game, with a final score of 2:3 to the new world champions.

We are delighted to have got to the final, which follows on from our 2nd place at the RoboCup German Open (April 2014) and 3rd place at the RoboCup Iran Open (April 2014).  I’d like to thank everyone for their support and I am delighted to say that Bold Hearts is Vice World Champion in RoboCup Kidsize Football!

Hot off the press! Bold Hearts through to the Final of RoboCup 2014!

Guest Blog by Dr Daniel PolaniAdaptive Systems Research Group

News just in – the University’s Bold Hearts team has just won a place in the final of the RoboCup 2014 World Cup!

Our semi-final at the start of Day 4 was against EROS, a strong team from Indonesia.

Bold Hearts just before the semi-final

Bold Hearts just before the semi-final

After only 40 seconds, we scored the first goal, then a nicely placed second goal from the right flank. But EROS came back with their powerful kick, and scored a goal from a distance.

The rest of the game looked more like wrestling than football, as our Bold Hearts robots became “tired”.  We’re not clear what the reason is yet, whether it’s failing batteries, or loosened screws.

But this is definitely a hardware league, and the wear-and-tear during a single game is incredible with larger robots falling on our cute tiny Darwin robots all the time.

But the Bold Hearts stood up to EROS well enough, and managed to defend the score.

Bold Hearts with EROS, their opponent in the semifinals at the end of the game

Bold Hearts with EROS, their opponent in the semifinals at the end of the game

The final score was 2 – 1 to Bold Hearts!

And now we are in the FINALS of the RoboCup 2014 Kidsize Humanoid League!!

Bold Hearts robots in Brazil – through to the semi-finals!

Guest Blog by Dr Daniel PolaniAdaptive Systems Research Group

Fantastic news from Brazil!  Bold Hearts, the University of Hertfordshire’s robot football team, progressed through round 2 of the RoboCup World Cup, to the quarter finals, then winning that game to make it through to the semi-finals!

Bold Hearts in Brazil

Bold Hearts in Brazil

The first two of 3 the games of the second round were played on Day 2 of the RoboCup competition.

We won our first game 3 – 1 against RoboFEI-HT, from Brazil.  And then lost 0 – 4 against CIT, from Japan, who was placed 4th last year.  And, amazingly, we only scored one own goal!

Perhaps we could have scored a goal for ourselves if the ball had not rolled away from our robot due to the uneven surface of the field – so the result is much less clear than it looks.

This was an encouraging result for Bold Hearts, as it means that we are really edging towards being able to match the best opposition. In fact, we thought this game looked more like real football rather than glorified billiard with opponent obstacles.  CIT was a very strong team – but we still see potential for improvement for Bold Hearts.

Our third and final deciding game of round 2, was played on Day 3 of the competition against Hanuman KMUTT, a team from Thailand.

We needed to win this game to progress through to the quarterfinals – and we worked through the night on our robots before going out onto the field to meet the Hanuman KMUTT team.

All the hard work overnight paid off as we beat Hanuman KMUTT 3:1  – and yes, yet again, we scored all the goals! So Bold Hearts were through to the quarterfinals, also played on Day 3.

The quarterfinal match against MRL, from Iran, was a highly contested, tight game with lots of man-to-man (or in reality robot-to-robot!) fighting.

But our opponent, MRL, was experiencing similar problems as us – with their robots sometimes turning to face in the direction of their own goal.1407 RoboCup

We ruthlessly exploited the opportunity, but they came back with some dangerous attacks – one particular one was made easier for them because our goalie was taken out for being classified as an “incapable goalie”.  The goalie must react when the ball is nearby, and our one didn’t.  So MRL went on to score an easy goal! MRL robots are faster than ours but sometimes they overshoot…

But the crowd cheered for Bold Hearts.  And the final result was 3 – 2 to Bold Hearts.

We are delighted that Bold Hearts is through to tomorrow’s semi-finals, on Day 4 of the RoboCup competition!!

Wish us luck in the semi-final and that we score plenty of goals – in the opponent’s goal of course!

Did Bold Hearts make it through the RoboCup knock-out stage on Day 2?

Guest Blog by Dr Daniel PolaniAdaptive Systems Research Group

Day 2 at the RoboCup 2014 World Cup in Brazil started with an intermediate knock-out match with our old friends the Hamburg Bit-Bots from Germany.  This game will decide if Bold Hearts will continue in the competition or not. We were looking forwards to this match, but had hoped it would be later in the competition. And as is tradition whenever we play, we expect to have a long and heated set of penalty shots!1407 RoboCup

We know Bit-Bots well, and they fielded an interesting, self-built team.

After a nerve-wrecking game, it was 2 – 2 at the end of full time.  Then in extra time, we scored twice, winning this game 4 – 2 and going through to round 2!  But Bit-Bots had some near misses!

And yes – you know it already – every single goal in our game was scored by Bold Hearts. So it proves that we are a good goal scoring team!  Just not always in our opponent’s goal!

Our goal-detection system proved to be a problem. It had worked well in the trials and preparations before travelling to Brazil. However, there were a lot of visitors in the RoboCup venue on Day 2 of the competition, which may have changed the lighting a lot during the games – many of them were using cameras with flash during the games.

In addition, it did not help that one assistant referee was “streaking” – but not in the sense that we may know from other sports!

The assistant referee was walking barefoot which is strictly forbidden during games, as feet and legs often look like balls in the robot’s colour detection.   Black trousers and covers were only put on after threats by the main referee.

Anyway, great news that Bold Hearts is through to the next round-robin part of the competition  - round 2.  So Bold Hearts has more games to look forwards to.

And we are further than ever before in at the RoboCup Kidsize World Championship!

Day 1 results from our Bold Hearts robots at the World Cup in Brazil!

Guest Blog by Dr Daniel PolaniAdaptive Systems Research Group

Our first day of matches at the World Cup was filled with all the excitement that typically accompanies the Bold Hearts to the RoboCup!

Bold Hearts in Brazil

Bold Hearts in Brazil

As our first match in Brazil loomed, with only two hours to go, and with around 200 wifi networks detectable at the field, our robots could not communicate with each another nor could they receive instructions from the referee’s system.

This was solved shortly before kick off when one of the network engineers increased the power output of our field’s access point, but by this stage we no longer had enough time to run all the tests we needed to run before the start of the game. So our first game against TH-MOS started and semi-organised chaos ensued.  The halls were quite dark and the goals difficult to recognise for the robots – so we had problems in goal detection.

At half time we were losing 2 – 0, but we did manage to score in the second half, losing 2 – 1 at the end of full time. Our problem of “Own Goalitis” struck again – as we had scored all three goals of the game – which was great for TH-MOS who didn’t manage to score goals for themselves and yet came out as the winners!

Fields at the RoboCup World Cup in Brazil

Fields at the RoboCup World Cup in Brazil

Four hours later we returned to the same field to try again, this time to compete with the NUbots, an Australian team that has been champions in previous years. Fortified from our recent experience and improved software, the Bold Hearts made a much stronger appearance and won 4 – 1. We again scored all five goals!

Overall we’re really happy with scoring eight goals in two matches, losing one game and winning one.  Although we would have liked all the goals to have been scored in the opposition’s goal!

But Bold Hearts is through to the next stage – an intermediate knock-out match with our old friends the Hamburg Bit-Bots!

1407 preg Signs Welcoming Delegates

Perceptions of Pregnancy: From Medieval to Modern

A guest blog by Dr Ciara Meehan, School of Humanities

On 16 July, more than sixty delegates attended the three-day Perceptions of Pregnancy conference, organised by Dr Jennifer Evans and Dr Ciara Meehan of the School of Humanities.

Conference organisers Ciara Meehan (left) and Jennifer Evans (right) with Joanne Bailey of Oxford Brookes University (centre) who delivered the keynote address on Wednesday, 16 July.  Professor Bailey’s paper considered managing uncertainty in pregnancy between 1600 and 1830.

Conference organisers Ciara Meehan (left) and Jennifer Evans (right) with Joanne Bailey of Oxford Brookes University (centre) who delivered the keynote address on Wednesday, 16 July. Professor Bailey’s paper considered managing uncertainty in pregnancy between 1600 and 1830.

The aim of the conference was to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to hold an international and interdisciplinary conversation on fertility, pregnancy and childbirth from the medieval to the modern. The broad timespan allowed for a careful consideration of continuities and changes throughout history.  Speakers came from institutions in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Canada and the United States.  From Anna Andreeva’s (University of Heidelberg) paper on medieval Japan to Julia Allison’s (University of Nottingham) on Rural East Anglia, the content of the papers also covered a broad geographical span.  We heard from historians, midwives, curators, political geographers, literary critics and scholars working on visual culture.

The conference covered everything from conception to the birthing experience.  Particularly striking was the paper from Anija Dokter (University of Cambridge) that featured sound-recordings of childbirth. The darker side of pregnancy was also explored and day two, for example, featured a panel on seduction, violence and supernatural hazards.

Sylvia Murphy Tighe presenting findings from her on-going study with Irishwomen who have or are currently concealing their pregnancy.

Conference delegates listening to Sylvia Murphy Tighe (Trinity College Dublin) who presented in the panel on Infanticide and Neonaticide on Day Two.

Sylvia Murphy Tighe (Trinity College Dublin) presented some of the findings from an on-going study with Irishwomen who have or are currently concealing their pregnancy.  Moreover, while pregnancy is associated with women in the popular mindset, speakers such as Jennifer Evans (University of Hertfordshire) and Justin Dolan Stover (Idaho State University) sought to locate the man in the narrative of pregnancy and childhood.


From left: Ciara Meehan (University of Hertfordshire), Elaine Farrell (Queen's University, Belfast) and Jennifer Evans (University of Hertfordshire)

Conference organisers Ciara Meehan (left) and Jennifer Evans (right) with Elaine Farrell of Queen’s University, Belfast (centre) who delivered the keynote address on Thursday, 17 July. Dr Farrell’s paper explored unwanted pregnancies in 19th century Ireland.

There were a number of timely contributions.  Elaine Farrell (Queen’s University, Belfast) and Ciara Meehan (University of Hertfordshire) explored the stigma of being an unmarried mother.  Both made reference to the recent scandal in Ireland, which attracted international attention following revelations that the bodies of up to 800 babies had been uncovered at the site of a former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway.  With recent campaigns for gender equality in both the British and Irish parliaments, Claire McGing’s (NUI Maynooth) paper, which gave recommendations on facilitating parenting for politicians, was particularly relevant.

The conference was book-ended by two exhibitions. The first was curated by Liz Burns of the Burns Archive in New York and featured images of deceased children, sometimes posed with their parents. The practice of post-mortem photography was common in the Victorian era as an act of memorialisation.  The second exhibition gave a sneak-peak of Ellen duPont’s forthcoming gift-book for the ‘thinking mother’, which will contain a collection of forty historical images of pregnant women, accompanied by quotations, to coincide with each week of pregnancy.

Conference outcomes will include an edited collection and a special edition of Women’s History Magazine.  Although the event is now over, the conference blog will remain active. Another aim of the conference was to build networks and facilitate further conversations, and we see the blog as an excellent forum for doing so.  We hope to develop it into a space for the community of researchers working on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences to engage, exchange ideas and highlight their work.

The conference was generously supported by the School of Humanities at the University of Hertfordshire, the Social History Society and the Royal Historical Society.

University showcases research at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

Dr Edwin Hirst and Dr Richard Greenaway from the University’s Centre for Atmospheric  and Instrumentation Research building the instrument that will go on NASA’s aircraft

Dr Edwin Hirst and Dr Richard Greenaway from the University’s Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research building the instrument that will go on NASA’s aircraft

Imagine sitting in a jet air-liner looking out of the window and trying to count and measure individual particles as small as bacteria in the clouds as they fly by at hundreds of miles an hour…

This is what Aerosol Ice Interface Transition Spectrometer (AIITS) does and it is on show this week (1-6 July) at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition  - which showcases the most exciting and cutting-edge UK science and technology.

NASA atmospheric instrumentation monitoring plane

The AIITS mounted on the NASA aircraft

In order to help understand the processes that are taking place in our climate system, scientists need to have detailed information about the sizes, shapes and abundance of the microscopic particles (ice crystals, droplets, dusts, etc.) that are present in the atmosphere. These particles are measured in situ by flying an instrument through the atmosphere and AIITS is one such instrument.

As the particles enter the instrument, they pass through a beam of light – scattering the light into complex scatter patterns. The scatter pattern depends on the shape, size and orientation of the particles and is like a thumbprint which can be used to classify or even identify the particles.

Light scatter patterns from various particles in the atmosphere

Light scatter patterns from various particles in the atmosphere

Led by Professor Paul Kaye, Director of Research in the University’s Science and Technology Research Institute, researchers from the Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research (CAIR) will be demonstrating some of their airborne particle analysis instruments as part of the ‘Tropical Storms’ exhibit.

Tropical storms in the West Pacific play a crucial role in the Earth’s climate system. Starting above some of the warmest waters, they carry sufficient energy to punch through the boundary that separates the troposphere, the lowest layer in the atmosphere, from the stratosphere above. In doing so, they reach as high as 20km and carry air up from the Earth’s surface. Chemicals in the air reaching the stratosphere can lead to ozone depletion.

Dr Edwin Hirst and Dr Richard Greenaway from the University’s Centre for Atmospheric  and Instrumentation Research building the instrument that will go on NASA’s aircraft.

Dr Edwin Hirst and Dr Richard Greenaway from the University’s Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research building the instrument that will go on NASA’s aircraft.

The exhibit is based on an atmospheric research campaign headed up by the University of Cambridge and involving the University of Hertfordshire and also NASA, USA.

The week-long Exhibition starts today (Tuesday 1 July) and is arguably the most prestigious of its type in the UK, attracting over 10,000 visitors; including secondary school students, policy makers, MPs, leaders of industry, and representatives from funding agencies.  For more information, visit the Royal Society’s Exhibition website.

1406 dontwash-chicken-f

Don’t wash raw chicken

A guest blog by Dr Wendy Wills, Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care

‘Don’t wash raw chicken’ is the central message of Food Safety Week 2014, which takes place 16-22 June this year.1406 chicken infographic 43058c10dc4234efbe6804ee86bb048c

Washing raw chicken risks splashing potentially dangerous bacteria, called campylobacter, onto your clothes, dish cloths, items on the draining board and work surfaces.  Campylobacter can cause unpleasant abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea that can last up to five days or can lead to more serious illness and occasionally death.

You can’t see, smell or taste this bacteria but to avoid it you need to cook poultry thoroughly (till it’s steaming hot all the way through) and prevent cross-contamination from raw poultry touching other items in the kitchen that are not then thoroughly cleaned – hence the message ‘don’t wash raw chicken’!

Research we conducted on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which involved videoing people in 20 households and talking to them about what they do in the kitchen, suggested that some people wash raw chicken and other meat because they believe that blood, bone fragments and dirt are best washed away.

Anxiety about other people touching the food before it’s purchased also led some people to wash meat and poultry. People in some households went out of their way to avoid touching raw chicken – tipping it from its packaging into a roasting tray, for example.

1406 chicken act-image2Many people in our study were aware that chopping boards are a potential source of cross-contamination (e.g. if chopping boards are used to cut up chicken and then vegetables are chopped on the board and eaten raw) – some followed FSA guidance and used one board for raw meat and another for fruit/vegetables – others chopped chicken on a plate rather than a chopping board as they felt it was easy to wash a plate and get it thoroughly clean.

See the FSA video on “What’s going on in your kitchen” on potential cross-contamination.

What our research clearly highlighted was that kitchen life is a complex business. We all use ‘rules of thumb’ that we learn from a variety of sources, such as friends, family, television, the internet and more ‘expert’ sources like the FSA. ‘Facts’ from these various sources become mixed together and so it is no wonder that we do not always follow ‘best practice’ that keeps us safe.

When you are trying to cook dinner, supervise children, feed the dog, empty the bin and stop



the cat jumping on the work surface and pinching the chicken you are trying to prepare – do you always remember to wash your hands regularly, use a different chopping board for the meat and the veg, and ensure you don’t spread potentially harmful bacteria by remembering that you shouldn’t wash the chicken?

Well done if you do! Our research suggested that it’s this messy entanglement of things going on at the same time that can prevent food safety messages being heard.

So, during this Food Safety Week and beyond – try and pay attention to the things that could harm you or your family in the kitchen – but also remember to enjoy your Kitchen Life – whatever that entails.

A report from the study mentioned here is available online

Eminent scientists join academics at Life and Medical Sciences Research Conference

Scientists, very well-known in their own fields of expertise, joined researchers from the P1030738University of Hertfordshire’s School of Life and Medical Sciences at the launch of their two day research conference.

An exciting programme of seminar and posters that reflected the breadth of the research activities across the school was put together and complemented by plenary lectures delivered by the invited guest speakers who came from government and academic institutions across the UK.

P1030590Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire,  opened the  proceedings of the two day event by launching the University’s new undergraduate degree in agriculture – the BSc (Hons) in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security which was announced earlier this year. 

This new degree, aimed at tackling concerns of food security and sustainability, has been designed around internationally recognised expertise and facilities at four partner institutions all located in central Hertfordshire: the University of Hertfordshire, the Royal Veterinary College, University of London (RVC),Rothamsted Research and Oaklands College.

This initiative was supported by Professor Ian Crute CBE (Chief Scientist at The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) who gave the first plenary lecture entitled ‘How can UK science best contribute to delivering the sustainable intensification of agriculture?’

Further plenary lectures were delivered by other eminent scientists who attended covered a diverse range of topics that complement the School’s key research areas and included:

P1030629Postgraduate students from the School of Life and Medical Sciences actively participated across both days of the event by giving talks and presenting posters on their own work.

With comments like “well done for hosting an excellent research conference”, “a really great event” and “the conference was a great experience”, it’s clear that students, academics and visitors all found the event very inspiring and enjoyable – so much so that this is planned to become an annual event!

Sponsors of this two day research event included: MedPharm, The British Pharmacological Society, Thermo Fisher Scientific, High5 Sports Nutrition, Bounce, AM Sport and the Perry Foundation.