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Ask an Academic: Dr Adriana Silva De Albuquerque

Sian EGardiner22 March 2019

Dr Adriana Silva De Albuquerque is a Research Associate at the UCL Division of Infection and Immunity. Her research interests broadly relate to the study of clinical models of human immunodeficiency.

She was among recent recipients of the UCL Global Engagement Funds, and last year used the seed funding to travel to a lab at the Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden. We caught up with her to find out more about her research and her partnership with scientists in Sweden.

What are you working on at the moment?

My current project aim is to understand the pathogenic mechanisms of a group of rare, inherited conditions where individual components of the immune system are missing – known as ‘primary immunodeficiency syndromes’.

Our clinical team cares for the largest UK cohort of adults with primary immunodeficiencies for which whole genome sequencing has been performed. I’m developing new immune assays on patients’ cells as well as in cell lines and genetically modified cells, in order to assess the impact of novel genetic variants on immune cell function. With this project, we hope to expand our understanding of the underlying causes of primary immunodeficiencies, as well as to contribute to the development of new diagnostic tests that will hopefully lead to improved treatment of patients.

You were among recent recipients of UCL’s Global Engagement Funds (GEF). What led you to apply for the funds?

The possibility of visiting another lab [at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden] and the chance to become involved in the cutting-edge research they are doing. Having a curious mind and being very enthusiastic to learn more about immunology, I thought this would be a great opportunity for me on a professional level.

 Could you give a brief summary of the project that the funds supported?

We are interested in understanding the mechanisms underlying ‘LRBA deficiency’. LPS-responsive beige-like anchor (LRBA) deficiency is a severe primary immunodeficiency characterised by increased susceptibility to infections associated with autoimmune and inflammatory complications. The immune dysregulation caused by this disease results in a significant morbidity and mortality. The only curative approach is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, which has only been done in a small number of cases.

How did your partnership with the Karolinska Institutet work?

UCL’s Global Engagement Funds enabled me to visit Dr Lisa Westerberg lab at the Karolinska Institutet, our collaborators on this project. Dr Westerberg has a strong expertise in primary immunodeficiencies and I was able to learn and exchange experiences with the PhD students and Post-Docs working in her lab. The time I spent in their lab was very rewarding as I was able to learn new techniques important for our current projects. I also had the opportunity to discuss our data with them, which contributed to the development of new research ideas.

During my stay in Sweden, I also visited the clinical lab based at the Karolinska University Hospital that does all the immunological tests for the diagnosis of primary immunodeficiencies. This was very interesting as I was able to learn some of the tests they are performing and also participate in the daily routine of a top level diagnostic lab.

How did you find the experience of collaborating overseas?

The experience of spending some time in the Karolinska Institute was very positive for me. What contributed most for the success of my stay was that I was able to analyse the LRBA knock-down cells we have genetically modified by electron microscopy, as the Karolinska Institute has a strong expertise in this technique and it was key for this project.

What would your advice be to anyone else hoping to collaborate globally?

Try to identify specific groups you might be interested because of their expertise, knowledge of specific techniques you want to learn or specific projects and ideas you would like to discuss with them. I would say the best way of approaching them would be in international conferences. Try to engage in discussions with scientists of different backgrounds and different levels of expertise. From my experience, scientists are very receptive to this kind of approach.

Why individual actions can make a world of difference: My time at the 2018 One Young World Summit

GuestBlogger20 November 2018

By Isha Kulkarni

Once every year, over a thousand people between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen as One Young World delegates and a prominent city somewhere in the world prepares to host them for four unforgettable days.

Representing organisations large and small – multinationals, non-profits and universities – and countries far and wide, there is only really one thing that binds them: the belief that anyone can make a difference.

If someone had told me when I started my first year at UCL that I would be the university’s representative at One Young World this year in the Hague, Netherlands, I would have laughed in their face. I come from a privileged family, well-off enough to afford overseas tuition. I have never done anything incredibly extraordinary; I just grew up with the values of giving back ingrained in me. I may be fortunate, but there are so many that are not, and the least I can do is help in any way I can afford.

Power of the individual 

So, I did. I volunteered for local NGOs in Mumbai while in high school. I aided waste management initiatives in the community. I worked in drought-prone rural Western India and realised that pursuing civil engineering was not only something that interested me, but also something that would help me make a difference. After I started university, I volunteered with Engineers Without Borders UCL and then UCL Engineers in Action. I continued volunteering in Mumbai during the summers and worked on affordable technology during my research internship after second year.

This is why UCL Global chose me as the university delegate – and One Young World made me realise that it was acceptable that I had not made a world-shattering discovery or received an armful of awards. I had still pitched in, in any way I could. That is what One Young World is about: speeches, workshops and excursions that inspire you and remind you of the power of the individual. The fact that one person can create change, however small that change may be. You do not need to have the largest bank balance or the greatest personality: you can change things just as you are.

Community feel 

One Young World also reminded me of the power of togetherness. Tabata Amaral, a delegate speaker at the summit, said: “A dream that’s dreamed together becomes a reality.” One Young World was more than a summit in that sense – it was a community. It was the feeling of being in sync with 1,900 other people from around the world, from countries I had never heard about. It was about a group of people wanting the same thing for the world and taking steps to accomplish that.

The summit was divided into a multitude of topics such as Environment, Health, Peace & Justice, and Human Rights – but the primary message I took from each of the plenary sessions, each of the workshops and each of the keynote speeches was the same. Changing the world is an uphill task: we cannot escape the problems that plague society today.

Doing our best 

Be it the refugee crises in different pockets of the world, the fundamental gender issues brought to attention by the #MeToo movement, or global warming affecting our oceans, forests, and cities, we have a long way to go before we can justifiably say that we have been triumphant.

But we also have so much to celebrate. Somewhere in South Africa, a woman builds and runs schools for underprivileged youth after quitting her job at a multinational private equity firm. Somewhere in Colombia, a young man has dedicated his life to influencing legislative changes for improved social welfare.

At UCL, we conduct an awe-inspiring amount of research on sustainability, education, human rights, global cooperation and the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole. We are doing our best in any way we can. And this concept, at its root, fuels me.

Every one of us can change the world if we put our minds to it. Following One Young World, I have promised myself to do just that. I hope that in some way, shape or form, you will, too.

When a volcano threatens: UCL pioneers new warnings of eruptions

GuestBlogger19 September 2018

By Christopher Kilburn, Director, UCL Hazard Centre, UCL Earth Sciences

Earlier this month, Dr Christopher Kilburn , Dr Danielle Charlton and Lara Smale (UCL Earth Sciences) presented at the Cities on Volcanoes Conference (COV) in Naples, Italy. Here, Christopher blogs about the experience and UCL’s pioneering research into designing forecasts of volcanic eruptions and their impact. 

Understanding how volcanoes behave is just the first step in reducing their threat. The next is to understand the views of the people who have made a volcano their home. Tackling both together is the aim of the Cities on Volcanoes conferences – two-yearly events that are held near an active volcano. This September we gathered in the southern Italian city of Naples, which has survived more than 2,000 years sandwiched between Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei.

UCL was strongly represented by the Departments of Earth Sciences, Science and Technology Studies and Computer Science, where we presented on topics that included forecasting eruptions, designing interactive hazard maps and low-cost monitoring equipment, and using art and the theatre to improve warnings of volcanic activity.

UCL Hazard Centre

The common link is the UCL Hazard Centre (UHC), in Earth Sciences, which for twenty years has been opening new pathways in forecasting volcanic eruptions and communicating about their hazard.

The conference also provided a unique opportunity for early-career researchers to meet practitioners who have had to react to volcanic crises. Ask Dr Danielle Charlton from the UHC.

“A really important aspect of conferences like these is listening to the experiences of fellow scientists who have been directly involved in a volcanic emergency,” she says.

“We heard from the scientists and officials who responded to eruptions at Mount Agung, in Indonesia, Kilauea, in Hawaii, and Fuego, in Guatemala – all within the last twelve months. Learning from these experiences has shaped how I approach my own research, as well as bringing real examples to what we teach on our postgraduate hazard programmes in Earth Sciences.”

Importance of communication

PhD researcher, Lara Smale (UHC) agrees. “The conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet researchers working on volcanoes that embrace a wide range of social and environmental conditions. Common themes were the importance of communication between stakeholders before an eruption and ensuring that applied research meets the needs of end-users. In short, science is not done until it is communicated.”

We learned, too, that successful communication can take advantage of art as well as science.

This theme was promoted by Drs Carina Fearnley and Chiara Ambrosio (UCL Science and Technology Studies) who pointed out that artists “possess unique and novel ways to engage with highly complex concepts and ideas” and “are able to address deeply political and contingent issues that scientists may either overlook or be unable to incorporate.”

Historical links 

The return to Naples was poignant. UCL has had links with Neapolitan volcanoes for more than 100 years. In 1891, Henry Johnston-Lavis (UCL Medicine) produced the first geological map of Vesuvius (copies of which are held in Earth Sciences, as well as at the Vesuvius Observatory, the oldest volcano observatory in the world).

In 1984, Prof. John Guest (UCL Physics & Astronomy and Earth Sciences) advised the UK Ministry of Defence on responding to a volcanic crisis in Campi Flegrei (which in the end did not erupt); and today the UCL Hazard Centre and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art are leading interdisciplinary studies on volcanic warnings at Campi Flegrei, in collaboration with local cultural associations, the University of Naples and the Vesuvius Observatory.

It is a proud tradition and a firm foundation for the next 100 years of success.

Ask an academic: Dr Florian Mussgnug

Sian EGardiner18 July 2018

Dr Florian Mussgnug Dr Florian Mussgnug is Reader in Italian and Comparative Literature at UCL and convenor of the BA Comparative Literature, which examines world literature from diverse geographical and cultural angles.

He has recently been appointed as an Academic Director of the Cities partnerships Programme, a cross-UCL initiative that will support, fund and promote the work UCL academics carry out with partners in global cities. He spoke to us about his work with the Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub and his hopes for the launch of the programme. 

Which events took place in Rome in 2017-18?

The Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub has facilitated 11 collaborative projects, which were convened by UCL lead applicants from six faculties. In total, this enabled the organization of five international conferences, three symposia, six graduate training workshops, two week-long international doctoral summer schools, a piano concert and a photography exhibition. All events took place in Rome over the course of three months, between April and June 2018. More than 100 academic speakers were invited, including 37 UCL members of staff.

How did the Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub come about?

The idea was born during a period of great apprehension, following the British EU referendum. The spectre of Brexit marked a threat to the future of UK universities, as the Provost of UCL and other university leaders were quick to point out. British universities have benefitted enormously from EU funding and from the free movement of researchers and students, and there was justified concern that prolonged political uncertainty and the noxious rhetoric of the leave campaign would put off researchers in other European countries.

A strong, positive signal was needed, especially for subjects like Modern Languages, European Studies and Comparative Literature, which rely strongly on free movement and the Erasmus student exchange programme.

What makes Rome such a fruitful location for academic collaboration?

Rome was a good place to start. The city can boost a sustained record of research collaborations with UCL, across numerous disciplines: archaeology, architecture, art history, ancient history and classical studies, the fine arts, museum studies, electronic engineering, history, modern languages, neuroscience, philosophy, political science and translation studies.

My vision has focused on strategic collaboration with high-ranking research universities and other prestigious regional partners, including Sapienza University, Roma Tre University, LUISS Guido Carli University and the British School at Rome (BSR). I have pursued this idea since 2016, thanks to three rounds of Global Engagement Funds, the Rome Regional Partnership Funds, and strategic and financial support from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities

You’ve recently been appointed as an Academic Director for UCL’s Cities partnerships Programme. What are you most looking forward to about the project?

The political crisis in the Mediterranean has moved Italy to the forefront of international attention, making it a vital context for important debates about the identity and future of Europe. More than 50 years after the Treaty of Rome, the Italian capital remains a powerful symbol of European unity.

But Rome has also come to be associated with new risks and challenges: the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the need to re-think national sovereignty in an age of planetary connectedness; the political causes and consequences of involuntary migration or forced immobility. What draws me to Rome, above and beyond the city’s unrivalled wealth of historical sites and cultural artefacts, is the wish to respond actively and fully to these challenges, in line with UCL’s distinctive ethos of cosmopolitanism, radicalism and innovative thinking.

What are you hoping to achieve through the Cities partnerships Programme?

Educated in Britain, Italy and Germany, I am proud of UCL’s reputation as a global academic leader in continental Europe, and applaud our commitment to international excellence. As Academic Director of the Cities partnerships Programme, I will seek to consolidate UCL’s important role through new initiatives and by strengthening the strategic partnerships that have already emerged.

I also wish to map and promote relevant expertise across UCL. The “UCL in Rome” working party, founded in 2016, already comprises over 50 UCL researchers with a specific interest in Italy, based in eight faculties and 19 departments.

How does this approach differ from UCL’s previous international engagement in Rome?

Members of the working party have advanced exciting proposals for joint degrees, pre-university orientation weeks, research fellowships, internships and fixed-term double appointments. I look forward to testing these ideas in the context of the Cities partnerships Programme. Regional engagement funding will continue, and some high-profile initiatives are already planned for 2018-19.

In September, a ceremony at the British School at Rome (BSR) will honour the Italian filmmaker and Slade alumna Lorenza Mazzetti, who will be awarded a UCL Honorary Fellowship. In January, the Provost will visit Sapienza University to address the assembly that opens the academic year in Italy. I also look forward to working closely with Dr Claire Colomb, who will lead activities in Paris. We both welcome this important opportunity to shape debates about the future of higher education in Europe, and to strengthen internationally collaborative research and research-based learning.

CEU head endorses academic freedom for the wider good in UCL speech 

Sian EGardiner23 April 2018

Prog Michael Igantieff speech at CGHE conferenceIn an increasingly authoritarian era, it is more important than ever to defend academic freedom as a right with huge benefits for wider society, rather than merely a “privilege for professors,” the Central European University (CEU)’s Professor Michael Ignatieff has argued in a speech at the annual Centre for Global Higher Education conference at UCL.

Appearing as the conference’s 2018 Burton R. Clark lecturer on 11 April, the Rector and President of the CEU in Budapest used the platform to urge people to see universities as “counter-majoritarian institutions,” just as a free press and an independent judiciary are seen as essential to counteracting majority governments.

Following an introduction from Dame Nicola Brewer, UCL’s Vice-Provost International, the CEU head’s speech touched on authoritarian turns to higher education in countries including Russia, China and Turkey, with Ignatieff warning of an emerging picture in which “single party regimes are everywhere privileging control over academic quality and openness to international academic life because they see academic freedom as a regime threat.”

Fighting back

Professor Ignatieff and the CEU have experienced the threat he referenced first hand. The institution is embroiled in an ongoing battle with the Hungarian government over its location in Hungary after it passed a law in April 2017 imposing varying restrictions on overseas universities in the country, including the mandate to maintain a campus in their home country.

Michael Igantieff and Nicola BrewerIgnatieff explained however that the subsequent outpouring of support for the CEU, which has included 75,000 marching through the streets of Hungary in opposition to the government decision, taught him that “universities should not underestimate their public support [nor] the power of their networks.”

Importantly, he realised, despite the institutional disposition of universities to be quiet, thoughtful and avoid conflict, “You sometimes have to fight a political battle to defend academic freedom.”

Academic freedom matters

Professor Ignatieff went on to admit that before this threat to the CEU, so close to home, he had “never really thought that hard about academic freedom. It seemed to be one of those little perks that middle-class educated people get to have.”

Now, however, he has realised, “We are not just fighting for a corporate privilege for ourselves; we are defending a counter majoritarian institution whose function is to serve and protect and defend the whole society’s capacity to know anything at all. That’s why academic freedom matters. If we defend it as a corporate privilege, we are done for. And that’s a central message that I have learned.”

Uncertain future for CEU

Professor Ignatieff said that the “thumping two-thirds majority” for Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary’s recent parliamentary election means that the prime minister “now holds all the cards” when it comes to the CEU’s future.

The CEU boss added however that the outcome will depend on whether closing the university “turns out to be sufficiently unpopular inside his own party”.

Search for truth 

Professor Ignatieff closed his speech by urging universities across the world to continue with its “unpopular job”. Institutions, he said, “have to train students that knowledge is extremely hard, that it’s a discipline you have to follow and once you’ve got it you have access to the most important thing a democratic system needs, which is the capacity to find out what is true.”

“It is an unpopular job and it’s a job that people may not want to hear. But it is our job and we have to defend it with courage and without any embarrassment. This is the moment when we really, really have to believe in what we do.”

Neuromarketing goes global

GuestBlogger10 November 2017

By Joe Devlin, UCL Experimental Psychology, Div of Psychology & Lang Sciences

When John Hogan and I began running Neuromarketing Workshops we received a noticeably cool reception from colleagues.  To most neuroscientists, “neuromarketing” epitomizes the worst of pseudo-science and is used to exploit unsuspecting companies.  But business leaders are genuinely interested in what neuroscience and psychology can offer them and they naturally want to take advantage of the latest scientific knowledge.  Where can they go to get accurate, unbiased information? UCL’s reputation as a world-leading research institution provided the perfect opportunity to uniquely meet this need and deliver global impact.

John and Joe hosting workshopWhen we began, we assumed that our workshops would primarily attract people from marketing companies around London.  In fact, there was much wider interest than we anticipated.  Over the last two years, our participants have come from a range of industries beyond marketing, including retail, fashion, publishing, finance, and government.  In addition, they came not only from the UK but also from Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the UAE and the USA. Being based in the heart of London clearly appeals to a wide audience, many of whom are willing to travel considerable distances to attend.

Fostering marketing and neuroscience collaborations in Brazil

This year we had an opportunity to run a series of seminars and workshops on a two week trip to Brazil, organized through UCL Consultants (UCLC).  In São Paulo we spoke to business leaders about the appeal of neuromarketing and its potential for improving our understanding of consumer decision making.  In Rio de Janeiro we spoke at the government’s House of Business, where we discussed how even micro-to-small sized enterprise can benefit from neuromarketing (and crucially, how to avoid neuromarketing snake oil).

John and Jo speaking at University of Central Brazil (UniCEUB)Finally in Brasilia, we were hosted by the University of Central Brazil’s (UniCEUB) marketing school to speak with faculty and students.  There we focused on the science behind neuromarketing and the need to foster stronger collaborations between marketing and neuroscience in order to further develop the field.

In all three cities, we ran in-depth two-day workshops that fleshed out these concepts, provided case-study examples (of both good and bad neuromarketing), and engaged participants with hands-on learning activities.  Ultimately about 70 people attended the workshops and another 150 came to the lectures.

Building partnerships through engagement and enterprise 

For us, the workshops are both exciting and slightly terrifying as we are often challenged to apply the research we discuss to real-world situations on the spot.  On the plus side, this has led to new industry-funded research projects.  Following our Brasil trip, we are now in discussions with two large, international companies about how they can use consumer neuroscience to understand their customers better.

In our experience, these types of opportunities provide access to new research questions, novel (and rather large!) data sets that go beyond anything we could collect in the lab, and unique opportunities for students to apply their knowledge towards solving real-world problems. We were also invited by Brazil’s small business association to help them co-create content about neuromarketing to share with businesses throughout the country via the Sebrae Corporate University.

In a recent Vice-Provost View in The Week@UCL, Dr. Dame Nicola Brewer (Vice Provost International) revealed that the Global Engagement Office has made substantial progress delivering on our Global Engagement Strategy (GES) goals with an investment of less than half a percent of UCL’s overall expenditure.  Building partnerships through engagement and enterprise also helps to meet our GES objectives, while at the same time generating revenue and novel research opportunities.

UCL at the forefront of dementia research

JasonLewis21 September 2017

Dementia – a group of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease and vascular dementia – is a common condition that affects over 800,000 people in the UK. This number is expected to rise to one million by 2025 and two million by 2051.

UCL research is world-leading in efforts to diagnose, treat, care for and prevent dementia. Researchers at UCL are continuing to make great advances in this area and are at the forefront of impactful studies and trials currently ongoing in the world today.

Here are a few of the projects and initiatives led by UCL academics and researchers improving our knowledge of dementia and working towards creating healthier futures.

Image source: The Lancet

Lifestyle changes could prevent a third of dementia cases

A recent report led by Professor Gill Livingston (UCL Psychiatry) revealed that more than a third of the world’s dementia cases could potentially be prevented by tackling nine lifestyle factors that increase an individual’s risk of experiencing cognitive collapse later in life.

Prof Livingston said: “Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before, with risk factors for developing the disease occurring throughout life, not just in old age. We believe that a broader approach to prevention of dementia which reflects these changing risk factors will benefit our ageing societies and help to prevent the rising number of dementia cases globally.”

These factors range from hearing loss to poor education and physical inactivity. Taking proactive measures to improve brain health throughout life by targeting these risk factors, such as continuing education in early life, reducing hearing loss in mid-life and reducing smoking in later life, could prevent one in three cases of dementia.

UCL home to £250m national Dementia Research Institute

Alzheimers-research-UK-Oxford-186UCL beat Oxford, Cambridge and other leading universities in a bid to host the headquarters of the £250m UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI). The UK DRI is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The institute will ultimately operate across a number of UK locations, with its ‘Hub’ to be based at UCL.

The UK DRI aims to transform dementia research by broadening the scope of its research area and facilitating a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of dementia. The institute will connect researchers working across different disciplines, including those outside of the dementias field, and attract leading experts from around the world to the UK.

UCL President and Provost Professor Michael Arthur said: “Our vision for a DRI is a truly national asset that facilitates exchanges of ideas, people and resources between groups, disciplines and centres. A UCL DRI Hub will enable and support all DRI centres to deliver on the Prime Minister’s dementia challenge 2020 and internationally on the G8 Dementia Summit Declaration.”

Professor Bart De Strooper, Director UK DRI at UCL, added: “Right now, our understanding of these diseases is not dissimilar to what we knew, or thought we knew, about cancer several decades ago. What we need is a paradigm shift in the way we think about dementias. Just as we realised that a whole range of factors is responsible for how cancers occur and progress in an individual, we now need to take a more holistic view of dementia and accept that a wide range of approaches may be needed in order to be successful. We have a huge amount of discovery science to do – and I want to see real surprises.”

To find out more about the UK DRI visit their website and follow them on twitter.

Groundbreaking dementia research, Virtual Reality and innovative collaboration

SHQ1

Image source: Sea Hero Quest

Dr Hugo Spiers (UCL Experimental Psychology), in collaboration with a range of partners including ETH Zurich, created award winning mobile game, Sea Hero Quest (SHQ) to support scientists currently working towards finding a cure for dementia. SHQ records users’ sense of direction to determine how navigational skills decline with age.

By playing SHQ for two minutes, users generate the same amount of data that scientists would take five hours to collect in similar lab-based research. Researchers from UCL and the University of East Anglia will use this data to create the world’s largest benchmark of how humans navigate, which will then go on to become a critical diagnostic tool for dementia in the future.

The game has been downloaded over 2.7million times and played in every country in the world. It is currently the biggest dementia study in history, and has collected an amount of data that would have taken over 9,000 years to acquire in a traditional lab setting.

Speaking on the findings, Dr Spiers said: “The findings the game is yielding have enormous potential to support vital developments in dementia research. The ability to diagnose dementia at early stages, well before patients exhibit any signs of general memory loss, would be a milestone.

Watch the project story and find out more on the Sea Hero Quest website.

UK’s first non-medical therapy for dementia

Dr Aimee Spector (UCL Psychology) directs the International Cognitive Stimulation Therapy centre at UCL. Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) is an evidence-based therapy for people with dementia, which has changed dementia care within the UK and worldwide.

UK Government NICE guidance on the management of dementia recommend the use of group Cognitive Stimulation for people with mild to moderate dementia, irrespective of drug treatments received. CST is currently the only non-medical therapy endorsed by UK government guidelines for the cognitive symptoms of dementia.

cst2-smallThe International CST centre aims to share information and encourage collaboration between professionals and consumers internationally. In addition to various services, it also hosts annual CST conferences to facilitate the proliferation of knowledge and empower practicing health professionals working with dementia patients.

The 2nd International CST Conference will be held in Hong Kong on 1-2 December 2017.

World-leading trials and research studies at the heart of UCL

MRI_scan_mummeryThe UCL Dementia Research Centre (UCL DRC) is a hub for clinical research into various forms of dementia. The DRC focuses on identifying and understanding the disease processes that cause dementia, the factors that influence these disease processes, and how best to support people with dementia and their families.

In addition to research, the UCL DRC also provides a cognitive disorders clinic within the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

There are currently a number of clinical trials and studies ongoing at the UCL DRC, to find out more and get involved, visit the UCL DRC website.

Free online course on dementia

UCL also offers a free online course for anyone interested in dementia, its effects on people and the brain. The four-week (two hours a week) course provides a unique insight into dementia through the stories, symptoms and science behind for less common diagnoses. Learn more and register your interest for the next enrolment.

 

UCLSat: a collaboration out of this world

JasonLewis26 July 2017

UCL is part of the international satellite mission QB50UCLSat, a satellite designed and built by UCL engineers and scientists, was launched in June from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India as part of an international mission called QB50.

The satellite is now 507km up and going overhead three times a day (six times actually, but three times in working hours).

On the current status of the satellite, Dr Rob Wicks (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) said: “We have our ground station here and we listen to it every time it goes overhead and we get data back. It’s working well at the moment, touch wood.”

Funded by the European Union, the QB50 mission has involved the launch of a network of CubeSats built by universities all over the world to collectively study the physics and chemistry of the middle and lower thermosphere of the Earth for the first time.

The mission has fostered a lot of collaboration across universities, science institutes and industry partners. For example, two universities in Australia help UCL listen for radio contact with UCLSat, and UCL does the same for them.

“Australian National University and Adelaide University are both helping us out with radio contact with our satellite,” explained Dr Wicks. “And that’s kind of on just a friendly, reciprocal basis. We listen to theirs and they listen to ours. There’s no official paperwork to do with that, but we are just collaborating as friendly institutions.

“It’s one of the great things about QB50 – you have these 50 institutions around the world that are now sort of semi-friendly and talk to one another about radios and satellites and things like that.”

A resounding success

UCL has been involved in the mission since 2011 and, in addition to working on UCLSat, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) engineers also produced hardware for 13 of the other satellites.

The mission has been a resounding success. The failure rate for CubeSats is usually 40%, but the CubeSats launched during the QB50 mission is half that, at 20%.

Speaking of UCL’s achievements and pioneering vision for the project, Dr Wicks added: “UCL should be extremely happy that it has been a leader in this field of big CubeSat missions. The whole mission right from the beginning has been a struggle, because space agencies and a lot of the science community were very negative about CubeSats. They said ‘they are too small and too unrealisable – it’s a waste of time and a waste of money to try and do science with them’.

“I think we are basically proving them wrong – we can use them for education, we can use them for training and we can use them for science. We can keep them cheap. We expect that 20% will fail, but that is better than 40%, and we are going to get real useful scientific data out of it. It is only really now that the science community is waking up to this.”

Student support

UCL students have been heavily involved in the project. Masters students worked with MSSL in the early stages of the project on the design of the satellite and on simulations of the upper atmosphere, among others.

Théophile Brochant de Villiers, who worked on the CubeSat while studying for his MSc in Space Science and Engineering at UCL, is now a technician in the MSSL Department of Space & Climate Physics.

He said: “We were a small team working on UCLSat. This meant there was a lot of work and a lot of tasks that I wasn’t necessarily trained for. So I learned everything on the job; this required being proactive, and not being afraid to seek out help around the lab. I got to know a lot of amazing scientists and engineers which I still regularly interact and work with. This is what I’m most proud of.”

Fostering global citizenship through language

JasonLewis25 July 2017

Dr Eszter Tarsoly (UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies) is a course leader on UCL’s Global Citizenship Programme (GCP).

She leads The Danube module, which SSEES delivers as one of the GCP Grand Challenges strands, addressing Intercultural Interaction.

The module boasts an innovative and intensive language programme, which aims to provide students with a thorough insight into how Danubian societies work and the historical, cultural and social influences on the development of the language.

In this short introduction to the module, Dr Tarsoly highlights the ties between language learning through a cultural lens and global citizenship.

She also points out the basic skills that students felt they developed by participating in the bespoke language module during the GCP and how this equips them for global lives.

Filmed and edited by UCL graduate Jason Lewis

UCL students who participated in the GCP this year said they viewed language learning as central to cultivating a global outlook and to building new bonds with other students from across UCL.

Aditi Mathur (BSc Social Sciences), who completed this year’s module, said: “While learning a new language, I also found that this was one part of the programme where the entire group was at par. We were all completely new to Bulgarian. This brought us closer together as a unit. We found ourselves working better as a group over the span of ten days, and forged very important bonds with every member of the group”.

“When I think of global citizenship, three words come to mind: diversity, culture and respect. This programme has taught me to respect every culture I am exposed to. While making a judgement of every person and their background, we learnt how to not react extremely upon these judgements. This, in turn, is pivotal when it comes to developing a global perspective that involves respecting and accepting differences across different cultures.”

First UCL Laidlaw Scholars research Brexit negotiations

JasonLewis25 July 2017

In 2017 UCL is running its first Laidlaw Scholarship Programme, offering 25 fully-funded scholarships to first-year undergraduates.

The programme aims to create the leaders of the future through a mix of training and intensive summer research periods, where scholars work closely with UCL academics on questions of global significance.

Among the first cohort of Laidlaw Scholars at UCL are Anton Gromoczki and Jose Feio, who share in this video how they are contributing to the UCL European Institute’s research into Brexit negotiations.

Filmed and edited by UCL graduate Jason Lewis.

Jose (BASc Arts and Sciences) and Anton (BSc Philosophy, Politics & Economics) both chose to work on Brexit in light of its significance to the future of Europe and on the potential insights to be garnered from the nature of the negotiations.

Anton described Brexit as ‘a process that defines relationships between countries in Europe for the next generations’.

He added: “My opportunity to study in the UK was connected to being an EU citizen, so I feel there’s a personal aspect to this.”

Describing his experience so far at the European Institute, Jose said: “It is an incredible opportunity to look at research and to know what it is to do research in academia. We have a shared office with high-ranked academics. I think this is very beneficial for us to gain skills if we want to go into research, which is a possibility for me.”

Anton added: “I have learned so much about how research is conducted, what are the good practices – it has been very enjoyable. My supervisors are very knowledgeable and I’m looking forward for the next weeks.”

As part of the leadership component of the programme, the scholars have already been involved in leadership workshops which will be ongoing for the next three years.

All Laidlaw Scholars are also expected to participate in the UCL Global Citizenship Programme, in line with the university’s commitment to cultivating its global outlook in order to offer students the best preparation for global lives and careers.