Tag Archives: science

FLS research 2016

The academic year 2015-16 is drawing closer to an end, and it’s been another great year for the Faculty. We thought it would be nice to have a reminder of some of the research that has come out of the Faculty this year so far. After all, what better year is there to do it than 2016? – When Manchester is named European City of Science. From all the positive research outcomes of the Faculty this year, it’s certain that this has helped Manchester live up to this name!

2016 started off with a paper published by FLS scientists which showed that there are genetic variants in offspring that can affect the quality of maternal behaviour. The trials for this study consisted of mice families with genetically variable mothers and genetically uniform offspring, and vice versa.

Dr Reinmar Hager, the senior author on the paper, told us how this research is unique:

“The aim was to identify genes that are expressed in offspring but influence the way mothers behave. Normally you try to identify genes that influence how you, and not others, behave. These genes act as indirect genetic effects. Previous research has shown that offspring can manipulate their parents’ behaviour, however, here we identify for the first particular genes with such effects.”

 

Mice

Photo: Locke et al (2015). ‘Genetic studies of body mass index yield new insights for obesity biology’. Nature, 518 (7538), 197-206.

It was found that variation in offspring genotype on chromosome 7 and chromosome 5 affects maternal behaviour, which in turn influences offspring development and fitness. It was also observed that offspring growth during the second week is affected by a locus on maternal chromosome, where the B6 allele increases the trait value – so individuals with the maternal phenotype B6 are genetically predisposed to give better quality care. Conversely however, genetic variation among mothers was found to influence offspring development independent of offspring genotype.

David Ashbrook from FLS was also involved in the research. He commented on the significance of these findings and their implications for the future:

“We identified genes which can now be studied in more detail, and shown that specific genotypes may be co-adapted to benefit both parties, e.g. genotypes which predispose to mothers who provide more care also predispose to offspring who beg less. We also demonstrate a method to investigate the genetic effects of social environment, which can now be used to examine adult phenotypes and associated reproductive success.”

Research of this kind is always interesting and useful to us as it can be applied to all social species, including humans. Identifying parent-offspring interactions is the first step in being able to understand the pathways involved with these, and how they are modified by our environment (social and physical).

Leading on from the idea of how the environment can influence our lives, a study involving FLS Professor Andrew Loudon was published later on in the month, showing the importance of having a circadian body clock that matches the rotational speed of the Earth. Scientists within our faculty are well recognised and respected as valuable experts in their research areas. For example, it is clear that the research conducted by Professor Andrew Loundon during his time in the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester, has meant that he has become a reputable source to comment on other research in the same field. This is seen in a recent BBC article about making flu vaccinations more effective by administering them in the morning. Here, researchers from The University of Manchester, Prof Loudon one of them, were asked to comment on the idea of using the body clock to make healthcare procedures more successful due to it being done at a most appropriate time for the body’s natural rhythm. So not only do we do great research in the Faculty of Life Sciences, but we are an authority on what makes other research great too!

Similarly, this was also seen in in the discussion of CRISPR, a new gene editing technology that can explore organisms at an unprecedented scale of precision. CRISPR has taken the world of biological sciences by storm, and has enormous application in holding the capability to modify the human germline. Although this discovery was not directly from the Faculty, Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester, was asked by the BBC to host a show on radio 4 to educate the public about the technology, and the implications and ethical issues it raises for the future. Again, examples like this just demonstrate how other well respected and popular sources value and trust the expertise of scientists in our Faculty!

Other great research from the faculty in January includes:

From early this year, the ZIKA outbreak spread through the Americas and the Pacific – and with it brought the panic associated with the virus and a need for prevention. Scientists at The University of Manchester responded to this by stating that a vaccine is to be developed here. So not only has this year been a great year in terms of research outcomes, but also research prospects! This is just one example of how scientists in the Faculty of Life Sciences are committed to helping people. This dedication to science is something that we as a faculty are very proud of at the University of Manchester, as it can have a hugely positive impact on people’s lives.zika

Another topic in science that has an impact on the way we live is climate change. A major challenge currently facing the world is how to mitigate this. Scientists have suggested many ways of dealing with climate change, but one that has been widely discussed is increasing the amount of carbon sequestered, or stored, in soil. The reasoning behind this is that soil is one of the world’s largest pools of carbon, so by increasing its size further, we should be able to draw down the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thereby mitigating climate change.

A study involving Professor Richard Bardgett from the Faculty of Life Sciences consisted of sampling soils across the UK. It was found that over 2 billion tons of carbon is stored deep under the UK’s grasslands, which cover around a third of the UK land surface. This represents a huge amount of carbon that is helping to curb climate change. It was also found that 60% of this carbon is deep in the soil, hidden from past national carbon inventories. Another surprising finding was that carbon stored in grasslands, is sensitive to the way land has been farmed, and that decades of intensive grassland farming, involving high rates of fertilizer use and livestock grazing, have caused valuable soil carbon stocks to decline-  the largest soil carbon stocks beneath grasslands had been farmed at intermediate levels of intensity, receiving less fertilizer and with fewer grazing animals. Carbon stocks were about 10% higher in these grasslands than in the more intensively managed grasslands.

grasslands

Professor Richard Bardgett commented on these findings:

“These findings are important for two reasons. First, they show that much more carbon is stored in grasslands that previously thought, and second, they suggest that the amount of carbon in our grasslands could be increased by managing them in a less intensive way. Not only could this help in meeting our future global carbon targets, but also it could bring benefits for biodiversity conservation”

Other great research from the faculty in February includes:

It seems like 2016 has also brought with it the rise of digital technology in scientific research! During a visit from Life Sciences Minister George Freeman, a new home to the heath eResearch centre was opened at The University of Manchester, making us a hub for some of the world’s best digital and health research in the North of England! This is supported by a current experiment going on in the Faculty. With hay fever season quickly approaching, scientists from The University of Manchester are inviting people to get involved with one of the biggest experiments they have ever conducted to help understand why the frequency of allergies is increasing.

Currently 1 in 4 people have an allergy, a ratio that was not as high in previous years and is still on the rise – however the exact reason for this increase is currently unknown. A team of scientists, including some from The University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences, have launched an app called #BritainBreathing.  This aims to achieve a better understanding of seasonal allergies by tracking how symptoms change over time and learn about your allergy triggers. Then, by teaming the data from #BritainBreathing with other sources of publicly available weather and pollution data, it will enable us to understand the patterns and causes of seasonal allergies.

One of the key traits of this experiment is science designed with citizens as partners, meaning that it is a collaboration between the scientists developing the app and allergy sufferers. Dr Sheena Cruickshank, Senior Lecturer in Immunology commented on this aspect of the project:

“We have involved the public from the outset with this project in order to not only consult about it but also to co-design the features of the app to ensure it is useful to the allergy community”

Dr Lamiece Hassan from the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, is also involved with the project. She said:

“I don’t [have an allergy] myself yet, I say that because allergies are on the rise. Based on current projections, in 10 years over half of us will have an allergy. Digital technology is part of our everyday lives now and that brings huge opportunities for gathering data on a mass-scale for researchers like me.“

Other great research from the faculty in March includes:

In more recent FLS news, researchers have used a technique developed by Dr Michael Buckley from the Faculty of Life Sciences, called Zooarchaelogy by Mass Spectometry (ZooMS), to identify human traces from a Neanderthal bone in fragments located in Russia. Dr Buckley developed the method during his PhD, when he realised how difficult it is to identify between fragmentary animal bones. ZooMS works by fingerprinting collagen, an abundant protein in bone that survives for millions of years. This is done by extracting collagen into solution and using an enzyme to cut at particular amino acids, which then produces a set of protein fragments that are specific to particular animals. These are then analysed using a mass spectrometer to measure the sizes of the fragments.

Dr Buckley from the Faculty of Life Sciences told us about how ZooMS can be used:

“My recent developments at Manchester have been to upscale the methodology to make it work with thousands or even tens of thousands of samples, a very useful development whether hunting for human remains like a needle in a haystack, or evaluating palaeobiodiversity through time”

He continued to tell us about his involvement in the study:

 “When I was screening through the batch of hundreds of samples and I spotted the hominin signature I was incredibly excited, as it was the first time that my method had been used to find such ancient human remains, and I am confident that it won’t be the last time.

“This finding continues to add to our knowledge of Neanderthal evolution, and potentially to our own interactions with them. As a method it could really revolutionize our picture of human evolution through the practical aspect of helping find much more material to obtain further genetic information from, such as ancient DNA.”

Well what an impressive year for the Faculty so far – and it’s only May! Aside from this, a number of members in the faculty have been rewarded for their research efforts, which recognises just how important and well-recognised the research conducted here is. Faculty experts continue to inspire us by the quality of research at The University of Manchester, making us proud to be a part of the Faculty of Life Sciences.

For recent updates in life sciences news, please visit:  https://lsmanchesterblog.wordpress.com/ 

 

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Dan’s Final Year Blog

Hello everybody and welcome back. Oh how I have missed you all, I hope everyone had a good Easter and that I find you all well today!

Let’s get right to the point – it is a momentous day on which you join me, for it is the day that I have submitted my Final Year Project report. *Rapturous applause* Please though, hold your congratulations… No but really, that is quite a big thing right there. Me, myself, I, the one who rarely even knows where I am, let alone what day of the week it is, has managed to fire off a 19 page report a whole 2 days before the deadline! Who’d have thought that would happen!? Now I have a whole 2 days to send irritating snapchats to people who haven’t finished yet, reminding them of the misery in which they still reside… Haha!

I think the last time I was on here talking your ears off was the day before my exhibit at the museum, on which my entire project was based… You’ll all be relieved to know that the exhibit went really well, loads of budding young future scientists coming in to learn from me about their vision and their eyes. It’s a lot of work though, hosting a science fair stand, believe me! It might look like we’re just standing about confusing little kids, but that volume of talking and gesticulating is pretty draining, even for yours truly. The public loved the Body Experience event so much in fact, that the organisers told me that people had been asking for it to be held for a second day! Even the little post it notes on my feedback board were good. Kids as young as 5 or 6 saying they “loved it” or that it “opened my eyes” – great vision pun whoever wrote that one! One person even wrote “Dan is fantastic”, and before you say anything, no it wasn’t my mother, who did, of course, insist on showing up to the exhibit. Luckily all my friends were too busy to swing by and see me in my “I am a Drosopholist” T-shirt.

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So anyway yeah, project is done, leaving my only 40 credits worth of exams to go, that’s only one ninth of a three year degree left to do, that’s what I call progress. Obviously that now puts me in the no-man’s-land of wanting exams to be over, but not wanting Uni to be over.. At least the timetabling gods have had the good grace not to put an exam on my birthday this year, as they have done every year of Uni so far.. There’s one on the day after instead… thanks. They have also had the great idea of timetabling the only three compulsory Neuroscience exams for this term all on consecutive days at the start of June, not sure how I feel about that, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Blah work work work work work, what else has been going on? Well you’ve all been on Easter holidays haven’t you, I hope they were more productive than mine. I had the best intentions, I really did, but as I’m sure you can guess, not a lot got done. I did have a lovely trip to the south of France though. A friend of mine from the trip I took to China last summer is on her placement year in Montpellier so I had Easter weekend down there, on the beach. It was pretty nice, not going to lie. It’s very picturesque, Montpellier, really pretty. Good food, good wine, good sun so all in all, can’t complain. Other than that, a pretty uneventful Easter, with the exception of a night out in Camden dressed as the cast of Archer… I was Archer, obviously.

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We final years, or Golden Oldies are we are also affectionately known, haven’t had lectures in life sciences since the Easter hols, so not much else to report academically I’m afraid. All our lectures for modules in second semester take place in the first half of the semester, so that we have the whole of the second half to devote our time to our Final Year Projects. I have had to do presentations about our projects for tutorial, but they’re never really an issue – I love getting up to talk and our tutor, is always a great audience.

What else is coming up? Well final year project hand in deadline will come and go, and then it will be senior ambassador’s end of year BBQ at Professor Sheffield’s house! Weather permitting obviously, but whatever happens, we all know that it will be a good night – if there’s anyone in the faculty who knows how to have a good time, it’s the staff!

The other big thing to look forward to of course is graduation in the summer. Still trying to decide on what type of dance to do while I’m up there to be honest… open to suggestions from the audience at this point. However before having to head out into the real world to be a real adult, I’ve got lots to look forward to in Manchester before I leave – including festivals Pangaea and Parklife!  Then I think the most grown up option at the moment is looking like a graduate scheme at the Wellcome trust, which seems pretty tasty, good benefits and only half an hour from home (it’s in London Euston).

All that though, is still a world away so wish me luck getting there, and I’ll speak to you all again soon!

Lots of love,

Dan xX

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British Science Week 2016 (Day 2)

Hey everyone!

For those of you who don’t already know, Manchester is the European City of Science this year, so it’s pretty apt that one of the experiments that really stuck in my mind here at university was all about Manchester!

My second year Research Skills Module (RSM) in Urban Biodiversity and Conservation was all about investigating the surprisingly wide array of biodiversity found within Manchester. We spent the first two weeks exploring different aquatic and terrestrial systems around the city, learning about the different techniques environmental consultants and field biologists use on a daily basis.

The joggers and dog walkers definitely gave us a few funny looks as a herd of students turned up in Platt Fields Park in our waders, carrying nets and buckets; and every day we were out one of the locals would come up and ask what us odd looking bunch were up to. One particularly memorable moment (though perhaps for the wrong reasons!) came from our trip to Salford Quays, where the weather took a turn for the worse, even by Manchester’s standards. Suffice to say, some gale force winds had me extremely close to being blown head first into the Manchester Ship Canal, an experience I’m glad I avoided!

After examining the effects of historical pollution for the first two weeks, control shifted to us for the second two. We were given the freedom to choose any site we wished in Manchester to go and investigate, carry out a habitat survey, and then devise a conservation strategy for that area. For the first time in our degree we were given complete and utter control of an experiment, and it gave a real taste of what working as a scientist full time would be like.

Our group decided to survey nearby Stretford Meadows, and fortunately this time the weather decided to take pity on us, with some of the sunniest days that year. We looked at the range of biodiversity there, both plant and animals, and when it came to collecting samples my friends were greatly amused by me running round a field with a giant net in my efforts to catch some butterflies; it’s a lot more difficult that you would think!

We carried out a whole range of activities on our site, many of which people wouldn’t associate with biologists. These ranged from researching the history of the site over the past century, to getting in touch with local rangers to find out about the site management. We catalogued the different plant and animal species we’d found on site, and it gave me a huge amount of respect for taxonomists, as it’s certainly not an easy job! We then presented our findings and discussed how we would go about managing the site in order to conserve the biodiversity.

It was definitely one of the most memorable months I had at university. It was really nice to interact with members of the public away from campus and to discuss what we were doing, and it was really interesting to explore other sides of science that we don’t normally get to, such as environmental law. All in all it was a fantastic experience, and definitely confirmed I’m someone who enjoys being out there in the field and not cooped up in a lab all day!

Happy Science Week, and best of luck with summer exams!

Sean

For more information about the Urban Biodiversity field course in Manchester, please visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/teachingandlearning/fieldcourses/urbanbiodiversity/ 

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Eleanor’s Final Year Blog: The Homestretch

Hi Guys,

This week was the week that the sun officially arrived in Manchester, its super hot outside, skies are blue, there is not a cloud in the sky… and everyone is inside doing their dissertation or lab report (Yay final year!) Despite the high-stress levels in the day the majority of people still find time to let down their hair in the evening where every bar in Fallowfield with outside seating is filled to the brim with students. If there are two things that students react well to, it’s sunlight and alcohol. Personally, I also have the major advantage of living right by Platt fields, which means that when I eventually do surface from my project write-up I get to take my lunch breaks soaking up the sunshine in the park.

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Breaks in the park = Heaven

Speaking of lab reports, 35 pages of portfolio later and I am on the home stretch. All the extra work that I put in at Easter has paid off as I’m set to finish a few days before the deadline. My housemates have all had similar projects that finish at the same time which means that this weekend is going to be… celebratory to say the least. I’m not going to lie; this Science communication project has taken a lot of hard work, but I’m really happy with the result. I would 100% recommend doing one if you aren’t too keen on working in a lab. I’ve learnt how to film and edit videos, use software that didn’t even know existed, and learnt how to communicate science to a whole load of different audiences. If that doesn’t persuade you to do one then I should probably mention that it is a also huge CV booster as you have to manage project yourself, set your own deadlines, and you pretty much get creative freedom over how you want to pursue each piece.

Continue reading

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Week in the Life of a First Year Student.

To help readers get a better idea of what life as a student in Manchester is all about, the Faculty of Life Sciences has produced a 5 part series which looks a typical week of a student studying in the faculty. Why not watch the playlist below:

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The First of a New Year.

Hello and welcome to this year’s Faculty of Life Sciences (FLS) blog!

It’s an exciting time of the year, Christmas is approaching, new students are well into their first semester and new applicants are applying for the next academic year. This blog is a place to showcase all the wonderful aspects of student life in Manchester and will hopefully convince you that Manchester is the place for you! Over the coming year you will hear from 4 students who are studying here in the FLS. You will read all about their challenges, experiences, memories and much more – hopefully giving you a better idea of what it means to be a student here at The University of Manchester. The blog will be updated on Friday with a fresh post so please subscribe to keep up to date with ManchesterLifeScientists!


My name is Kory and I am the coordinator for the ManchesterLifeScientists blog. From time to time you may hear from me and so I thought it would be good to introduce myself! Continue reading

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Rachael’s First Year Blog: On the Home Stretch

Well, it’s been…a while!  Sorry for not keeping in touch very much (hey, that rhymes).  As someone who likes to keep themselves comfortably busy at all times, this past semester has whizzed by in a flash of lab reports, pub shifts and Michaelis-Menten equations.  Here I am, writing to you practically at the end of term, ready to serve up the next dollop of info on my life as an undergraduate in the Life Science department at Manchester.

First things first, Easter was lovely.  I had three blissful weeks of rest back home in Sheffield, cluttered with some convenient shifts at my local pub to pay for my summer holidays, and a manageable pile of work to be getting on with.  One good thing about finishing the Easter break is that I’ve finally cracked my lab report and finished it well in time for the deadline.
Possibly one of my favourite parts of the whole course this year has been writing my report.  A mere seven pages (and ample time to complete it), it was great to have a bit of freedom on a mini-project that I could write and format in my own time.  Although my topic was already chosen for me (we studied the kinetic properties of the Yeast Alcohol Dehydrogenase enzyme), I have been told that there’s a little more free reign in second and third year.  Exciting stuff!

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Alice Copperwheat’s Placement Year Blog

Hi I’m Alice Copperwheat and I am a third year (not final year) zoology student currently on placement in Greece. For those of you who read the blog last year, you may remember my 2nd Year Blog and so, welcome back! For new readers, nice to meet you! For all of you, both returning readers and new visitors, I aim to use my posts to give you an insight into my adventures and experiences on placement. My placement is with Archipelagos, Institute of Marine Conservation based on the small island of Samos in Greece. I will use this post to talk about how I found the placement, helpful advice for students applying for placements and a quick bit of information about my first month.

First of all, how I came across my placement. When applying for Manchester I didn’t apply to do a placement year, however in the interview I was offered it and I gladly accepted. Nonetheless, I still had to achieve at least 60% in first year in order to remain on the course. After getting over this hurdle, the dreaded search for placements then began. I didn’t find it as hard as it was made out to be mainly due to how helpful the placement office were. The first placement I applied for was in November, with a science communications/media company. Unfortunately I did not get this placement but they gave me lots of helpful feedback. Finding a placement is competitive so don’t worry if you get rejections, just take the positive notes from them and use them to help you in future applications. I found out about my current placement around December from a list sent out by the placement office. I applied and quickly had a Skype interview lined up. I made sure I tidied my room and looked presentable, however the interview ended up being voice only! The interview took place mid way through my January exams, which did add to the stress, but luckily I got the placement. This took a weight off my shoulders as it meant I no longer had to search for placements whilst balancing university work. Don’t get put off if it takes you a long time to find a placement, one of my friends got hers in August.

Next, a bit of advice and knowledge about placements. When you find and accept a placement you will stop receiving emails from the placement office and thus you might, like me, always be wondering what other opportunities you might have missed. The best thing to do is to try and put this to the back of your mind or you will always worry. Some organizations, like the one I am currently on, take placement students throughout the year so you do not have to rush to meet the deadline and can find out about other placements if you so wish. Definitely take the time to think about where you are going and do lots of research into different placements available, you can also search for your own placement instead of just sticking to the ones sent out by university. Making sure you will enjoy what you are doing on your placement is crucial to your experience. Also, I truly believe that what you put in to your placement is what you get out of it.

Finally, my time here so far…when I arrived in Greece it was definitely a shock. I am used to travelling and meeting new people, however living and working in a very remote place with people from all over the world can take some getting used to.  Nevertheless, I quickly adapted and threw myself into work. For the first 5 weeks I was located at the main base on Samos, I then moved to an even smaller island called Oinousses and have been here 5 weeks now. I will talk more about my first 5 weeks on Samos in my next post and about the last 5 weeks in Oinousses in a future post. I really can’t believe how quickly my placement has gone, I’m already nearly a third of the way through. My final comment is that anyone who is contemplating doing a placement, do it, you won’t regret it.

Stay tuned for more of Alice’s Aegean Adventures!

p.s. since starting my placement I have set up my own blog to tell others  all about it. The blog includes posts about my day-to-day life on placement, my adventures and also scientific posts that are not only interesting, but also relevant to my placement. With the Manchester Life Sciences blogs I aim to summarize my experiences on placement, however if you would like more detail then follow this link to my blog: Alice’s Aegean Adventures. 

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Alice Copperwheat’s Second Year Blog: Human’s, Organising, and The Return Of Nemo

So yet again it has been another busy few weeks since I last blogged. First of all I had a really nice time being home and seeing my family. With two small nieces who are very adorable, tearing myself away for long periods of time can be hard, but thanks to my busy university schedule I don’t often think about it. Also, Skype is a godsend. If you haven’t already tried Skype it is a necessity for students; free calls home, to your friends who are far away and to contacts overseas, all for free! What more could you want. Even my 90 year old granny Skypes off her ipad! Whilst I was at home I was very productive and made sure I kept up to date and on top of revision – hopefully this will pay off in the upcoming exams. It wasn’t too boring however, because lots of my friends who had gone to university had work to do too, so we all motivated each other. Just before Easter I also handed in my dissertation, woo goodbye nemo! It was a huge weight off my shoulders, and even more so to find out the other day that I got 73%, definitely worth all the hours work.

Since I have come back it has been a case of ongoing revision, lectures, a few online tests, a small exam and lots of organising for my placement and field course. Lots and lots to think about but I have definitely found it easier to think about one thing at a time. Top tip for university, buy yourself a small whiteboard so you can always keep check of what needs doing. For my field course the planning has mainly involved booking flights and hostels, organising some volunteering and visiting occupational health to be cleared to go. Whilst there they gave me all the necessary vaccinations (including rabies which normally costs a lot, very helpful) and also a survival pack with necessary first aid and a mosquito net. They have made sure we are very organised. I’m looking forward to meeting my project supervisor this week! For my placement I have been confirming all the final details with the company and filling in lots of health forms and risk assessment forms, tedious but very necessary. I’m very much looking forward to going out there but it can also seem a bit daunting some of the time. I think I might treat myself to some Greek lessons before I go!

So I thought I would talk about one of the modules I do this semester which is a bit different from the rest. It is called ‘The Biology of Being Human’ and is mainly about what makes ourselves, humans, different from all other animals. It is a really intriguing module with some well thought out ideas and interesting points. It is delivered from a university in the USA and comes in the form of 2 online lectures a week as well as other supporting material being made available online. Also, each week you are expected to post on a discussion board, related to the current week’s concepts, and undertake an e-quiz to test your knowledge. All the topics are very interesting and it is also fascinating to see lectures given in a different style to ours. Furthermore, you have three exams that are spread nicely throughout the year which means you only ever have to learn a maximum of 7 lectures – bonus! If you are stuck when coming to make your second year choices, why not give The Biology of Being Human a go and try something different, yet interesting, today.

Well that’s all for now, back to revision I go!

Over and out,
A x

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It’s exam time again!

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Some of the amazing sites I will be seeing in Greece

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The biology of being human looks at the course of our human evolution

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Alice Copperwheat’s 2nd Year Blog: Fantastic Field Courses!

Another long break between blogs but mainly due to my dissertation taking over my time! For life science students the dissertation is in the second year but it is only 9 pages long. However this still takes up lots of time, because once you get going with research you findlots and lots and it is hard to sift through what you actually need. I am glad it is done but I am sad to have to say goodbye to my topic of Finding Nemo. This week was the last week before the Easter holidays, which also meant the last day of being an ambassador. It has been a really good experience because it is an easy way to earn money, you meet lots of new people and you end up learning lots about the university. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone and I hope I can do it again when I am back of placement.

The most important thing I have done this week however, is book my flights to Costa Rica for my field course. A group of us have decided to book together and go out a couple of days early and stay for a couple of weeks after the actual field course. We did a lot of searching and got it for about £100 less than other people. The field course is just over two weeks and is based upon tropical ecology and conservation. The main aim is to look at the biotic and climatic differences of the country. Whilst we are there I am looking forward to visiting the amphibian research centre and the sloth sanctuary. The sloth sanctuary is where a former student, Becky Cliffe, did a placement and is now studying her PhD. She got lots of publicity from her placement, which even resulted in an article in BBC Wildlife magazine and a TV documentary. Whilst on the field course we are mainly travelling down the east coast and because of this my group of friends are looking at travelling around the west coast and other parts of the country. We are arriving a bit early, as this will allow us to get accustomed to the country and do a bit of site seeing in the capital city. In the two weeks after we will be partaking in a volunteering project where we will learn to surf in the day and help with turtle conservation at night. We are also looking at visiting volcanoes, zip wiring and staying with native families. This flexibility of the field course allows us to organise our own flights in order to travel as much as we would like after.

A three-toed tree sloth hangs from the trunk of a tree in the jungle on the bank of the Panama Canal

Last year I was also lucky enough to go on a field course, that time to South Africa. It was for 2 weeks during the Easter holidays and the university organised most things, which took a lot of the pressure off.  The aim of the field course was to study animal behaviour and my group chose to study spiders. We chose a particular species that was abundant there and looked at aspects such as body length and web size. It was an amazing experience and another thing that I would again recommend. I met lots of new people and got to experience life on a real project which gave me good practice in writing lab reports.

That is all for now,

Over and out

A x

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