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Apply for a 2021 Yenching Academy Scholarship

j.chua27 May 2020

yenching academy of peking universityUCL students wanting to develop their understanding of China and its role in the world can apply to study in Beijing on a fully funded Master’s scholarship at Peking University (PKU). Applications are now open for scholarships beginning in September 2021.

The Yenching Academy of PKU offers a highly customisable Master’s program in China Studies for English speakers with varied levels of Chinese language competency. At the core of the program lies its emphasis on interdisciplinarity and the value it assigns to thinking about China’s past, present and future – from both Chinese and international perspectives. It also aims to push the study of China beyond the boundaries of traditionally defined humanities and social science disciplines, and is designed to incorporate the experiences and intellectual training of its diverse student body.

Scholars are allowed flexibility in the design of their study programmes and can choose courses from any of six research areas, one of which they will choose for their theses. A wide range of electives offered by the Academy and other Peking University schools and departments supplements core courses. Our interdisciplinary approach encourages dialogue across academic disciplines, and creates an environment conducive to innovative and fruitful exchanges of ideas.

Yenching Academy will be hosting a virtual information session on Zoom for interested UCL candidates on 26 September. Sign up to attend here.

Application process

UCL will carry out preliminary evaluation of applications submitted by their own students and alumni. Based on this assessment, they nominate students for interviews conducted by the Yenching Academy. All students and alumni are required to apply through their universities.

Please note that this route is not open to Chinese nationals.

How to apply: Applications must be submitted through the Yenching Academy admissions portal and sent to Professor Vivienne Lo (v.lo@ucl.ac.uk).

Deadline for UCL applications: Friday 20 November 2020

More details can be found at the admissions portal link above and you can read about UCL graduate James Ashcroft’s experience on a Yenching Academy scholarship here.

Developing New Methods to Study Thermal Perception

Guest Blogger3 April 2020

By Ivan Ezquerra Romano, PhD student, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

The sun is shining and the waves are breaking on the shore. Kids are splashing sea water. The air is warm but the ice-cream you’re eating feels pleasantly cold. Now you feel too hot, so you run to the water with the sand burning beneath your toes! The experience of submerging your body in the sea water is incredibly refreshing…

How does your mind represent all these thermal sensations you experience on a summer day at the beach? The research project that I am working on will help answer this question thanks to the development of novel methods to study thermal perception.

CpP facilitates international collaboration

For my PhD, I am studying how the mind represents the perception of temperature in space and time. The UCL Cities partnerships Programme (CpP) facilitated the project that is now at the core of my PhD research. UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Professor Patrick Haggard kickstarted the project before I joined and started working on it a year ago.

The project is a collaboration between Professor Giandomenico Iannetti’s lab and Professor Haggard’s. When I joined, Professor Iannetti had recently moved his lab to Istituto Italiano Di Tecnologia. The Guardian reported that almost 11,000 EU academics had left UK universities since the 2016 referendum, so the timing of the CpP project was perfect as the programme is key in facilitating collaborations with international academics post-Brexit.

Using a syringe containing dry ice and a CO2 laser

Dr Caterina Leone and I brainstorming ideas with a syringe containing dry ice and a CO2 laser.

Thanks to CpP (and way before the COVID-19 pandemic), researchers from both labs were able to visit each other several times to have fruitful discussions and brainstorm ideas. I also had the invaluable experience of working hand-in-hand with senior researcher Dr Caterina Leone from Sapienza University of Rome at such an early stage of my PhD. Other than the science, it was fun to have ramen and sushi while exploring London’s international food scene, and also ice-cream and pizza in Rome!

Luckily, our project has been awarded funding for another consecutive year.

New methods to study thermal perception

CpP has not only supported our traveling expenses, but it has allowed us to buy equipment to develop novel methods to study thermal perception in a way no one has done before. Classically, scientists studying thermal sensation use tactile thermal simulators. These are metal bars connected to a system of water pumps. This system is connected to a computer and scientists can easily control the temperature of the metal, which is measured by a thermometer.

However, we know that touch and thermal changes of the skin interact with each other to build our perception of the external world. For example, a coin that is cold feels heavier than an identical coin that is warm. When our skin is simultaneously stimulated by touch and temperature, the perception of those inputs is different than if we experience the touch or the temperature in isolation.

dry ice

Dry ice composed of CO2. Here it is at roughly -70C. At room temperature, it goes from solid to gas (sublimation).

In our project, we are developing novel methods to study cold and warm perception without tactile input. Scientists can already warm the skin without touch by using a laser or an infrared bulb – that’s what the sun does after all! However, until now there were no means of accurately cooling the skin without touch. This project involves devising a reliable and repeatable method of doing this using dry ice. We are developing the cooling method in London and we plan to develop the warming method in Rome (when travelling and social restrictions are lifted). We will then combine them to study thermal perception in different ways.

Scientific impact

The methods developed in this project will allow us to study temperature perception in new ways. Right now, scientists do not understand well how perception of temperature changes with tactile inputs. In particular, spatial and temporal projections are poorly understood because of the use of tactile thermal stimulators. The results of our CpP project and other experiments will allow us to develop computational models of how the brain builds thermal perception. Excitingly, these developments will inform the development of new technologies such as thermal displays for use in gaming, robotics and remote sensing devices.

 

How Nine Weeks in Toronto Changed the Course of My PhD

j.chua5 March 2020

Daniyal Jafree with colleagues at the University of TorontoDaniyal Jafree (centre) is a MB/PhD student in UCL’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, combining a clinical MBBS degree with a PhD in the basic sciences. His research focuses on the development of lymphatic vessels in the kidney and in July 2019, he had the opportunity to delve deeper into his investigation by collaborating with researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) to find out more about how these vessels are made.

Through UCL’s Bogue Fellowship scheme, which supports research visits to laboratories in the United States and Canada, Daniyal travelled to SickKids Hospital in Toronto, one of Canada’s most research-intensive children’s hospitals and an affiliate of U of T. Daniyal spent nine weeks at the hospital’s academic research institute, the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL), where he completed his research, re-planned the remainder of his PhD, and formed lasting connections with the team he met there.

Q: Can you briefly describe what your research was about?
My research is all about understanding lymphatic vessels in the kidney. Lymphatic vessels act like a waste disposal system and remove debris, excess fluid and cells from almost every organ. Heart attacks, cancer and dementia are all examples of diseases that feature faulty lymphatic vessels, highlighting the importance of this waste disposal system for healthy life. But how do lymphatic vessels first grow in the kidney, an organ that itself acts as a waste disposal system for our body? This question was partly answered by my PhD research, as we used three-dimensional imaging techniques to show exactly how lymphatic vessels first appear and form in the kidney. My research in Toronto was about taking our work to the next level, by understanding where the actual building blocks (the cells) that form the kidneys’ waste disposal system come from. This kind of information is important because targeting lymphatic vessels might lead to a completely new way of tackling kidney diseases.

Q: How did you hear about the Bogue Fellowship and what made you want to apply?
My Bogue Fellowship came to be by complete coincidence. I’ve always wanted to travel around and experience research in another academic environment. I’d also heard a lot about the amazing calibre of research at SickKids Hospital and how U of T and UCL have a really well-established partnership. At a conference in the UK, my supervisor Dr David Long and I were discussing my ideas with Professor Norman Rosenblum, an internationally renowned expert in kidney development and disease. He took an interest in our work and kindly suggested I visit his laboratory in Toronto where, coincidentally, he had all the tools and techniques I needed for my research. I was mind-blown to find that he was a clinician and scientist at SickKids Hospital; I’d heard about the exciting things they do there. I then looked up what UCL had on offer to support my visit to SickKids and the Bogue Fellowship came up—everything seemed to be falling into place!

Q: What unique research opportunities did you have at SickKids?
My research needed an advanced genetic engineering technique that enables scientists to ‘tag’ stem cells to see where they end up and how. The specific tools to carry out this technique, which I required to assess how kidney lymphatics form, weren’t available in London, nor anywhere else in the UK or Europe! However, SickKids had all of the things I needed. All in one place.

Q: How did collaborating with an international team benefit your work?
In the nine weeks I spent at SickKids I completed my research and found what I was looking for, with a lot of help from members of Professor Rosenblum’s laboratory. These individuals are amongst the brightest and best I’ve met in investigating kidney development and genetic diseases that affect the kidney. Watching their way of working, their rigour and the level of science they were performing had a huge impact on me and my work—particularly the way they used genetic engineering to solve the most complicated of problems. Learning from them whilst out there led to me completely rewriting most of my plans for the remaining two years of my PhD!

Q: What were the highlights from your time in Toronto?
On a personal level: I have lots of family in Canada. The Bogue Fellowship is very generous and encourages travelling around the US or Canada to experience the culture. So, I spent a lot of time with my family in Toronto and even flew out to Vancouver to visit more family there. It made me realise how beautiful a country Canada is; I definitely see myself living out there in the future.

On a professional level: It was a huge accomplishment to complete my project in such a short time. It was very ambitious for nine weeks, so much so that the Bogue Fellowship committee recommended I stay out there longer! However, mostly because of personal commitments, I was insistent on keeping it to nine weeks. Thanks particularly to the lab’s Research Project Manager Christopher Rowan and Professor Rosenblum’s MD/PhD student Rob d’Cruz, we were able to squeeze all of our experiments into nine weeks. Actually, what we found was quite profound. We found that some of the cells that form kidney lymphatic vessels come from the most unexpected of places; this finding could affect the way scientists think about how lymphatic vessels grow in different organs. It also raises the question of whether lymphatics that form from different cells have different impacts on disease.

Q: How have the connections you made in Toronto and the research you did there made a lasting impact on your career?
In addition to bringing back to UCL the ideas and suggestions related to my work on kidney lymphatics, Professor Rosenblum and Dr Long have now forged a long-term collaboration. They are now co-supervising an extremely talented PhD student at UCL who is investigating a molecule that may have great therapeutic benefit on polycystic kidney disease, the most common genetic cause of kidney failure. Aside from the science, Professor Rosenblum gave me invaluable insights into how to forge a career path at the interface of clinical medicine and laboratory science. One day I hope to run a laboratory of my own alongside clinical work, and I have a feeling Professor Rosenblum’s advice will come in very handy. The only thing I am unsure about is whether to pursue these ambitions in the UK, Canada or somewhere completely different—time will tell!

Q: What advice do you have for students considering taking advantage of UCL’s global partnerships?
My advice is short and very simple—put yourself out there, look for the right opportunities and take your chances at applying for schemes like the Bogue Fellowship. The collaboration between UCL and U of T represents a unique link between two of the most academically-strong research centres in the world. Who knows? A trip to U of T from UCL, or vice versa, might completely change your mind set for the better. It definitely did mine.

For the latest news about UCL’s international activity, partnerships and opportunities, subscribe to our bimonthly Global Update newsletter.

Exploring UCL’s collaborations with Canada

ucypsga29 January 2018

This month saw UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur host a University of Toronto (UofT) delegation at UCL’s Bloomsbury campus.

UofT President Professor Meric Gertler joined a roundtable where representatives from both universities discussed the joint funding projects launched in November 2017, along with the potential for future health science collaborations.

But how else is UCL collaborating with the University of Toronto – and Canada more widely?

Here, we take a look at the existing connections.

UofT emerges as top research partner

Looking at data for the papers published in the past five years with less than five authors (according to InCites), along with how many times they’ve been cited, the University of Toronto is UCL’s closest collaborator, by a clear margin.

UCL’s next highest collaborator in the country is University of British Colombia, followed by McGill University.

High volume of medical research collaboration

Taking a more in-depth look at the collaborations between UCL and UofT reveals that life and medical science is by far the most common area of shared research.

For example, UCL and UofT collaborated on 17 papers on clinical neurology, 15 on neurosciences, 13 on paediatrics and nine on surgery.

UofT students at UCL

The figures for 2016/17 suggest that Canadians are most commonly heading to UCL for post graduate study, and the University of Toronto is no exception. In the graph below, you can see the distribution of UofT students across UCL faculties.

Subjects that UofT undergrads study at UCL

The table below shows the number of applications from UofT undergraduates for postgraduate study at UCL. It demonstrates a high interest in social and historical sciences (22% of applications), followed by built environment (20%) and engineering (19%).

 

Number of applications from UofT undergraduates for postgraduate study at UCL

Canadian students in the UK

Taking a wider view and looking at the enrolment figures from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 across all UK universities, it’s clear that the most popular subject for Canadian students choosing to study in the UK is law, followed by social studies and medicine – a contrast to the popular subjects at UCL previously highlighted.

Canadian subject choices across the UK

Contrary to the UK as a whole, for instance, law makes up just 6% of Canadian students’ subject choices at UCL.

 Steady growth in students from Canada

Canadian students who were enrolled from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 in the UK’s Russell Group Universities

Finally, looking at the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Canadian students who were enrolled from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 in the UK’s Russell Group Universities, it’s clear that while other universities within the group have seen a decline in Canadian applications, there has been a steady increase in students coming from Canada to UCL in recent years – a trend that we hope will continue for many years to come.

Explore the Global Engagement Office (GEO)’s interactive dashboard to see more of UCL’s collaborations across the world.

For more information on UCL’s activity in North America, visit the GEO web pages.

Professor Shin-Ichi Ohnuma recognised for Japan-UK academic co-operation

ucypsga26 January 2018

Professor Shin-Ichi Ohnuma and Japan AmbassadorUCL’s Japan ambassador Professor Shin-Ichi Ohnuma has been awarded the Foreign Minister’s Commendation for his contribution to Japan-UK academic and educational relations.

Earlier this month, Ambassador Koji Tsuruoka presented Ohnuma, Professor at the Institute of Ophthalmology, with the award at a ceremony at the Embassy of Japan in London.

In addition to his work as Director of the PhD programme of the Sensory System, Technology and Therapies, Professor Ohnuma has worked over many years to strengthen UCL’s ties with Japan.

Historic links

Professor Ohnuma’s collaborative work includes the organisation of numerous important events. In 2013, he helped to organise celebrations involving various Japanese organisations to mark the 150th anniversary of UK-Japan academic collaboration, when five Japanese samurai – known as the ‘Choshu Five’ – first came to study at UCL.

Speaking after receiving his award, Professor Ohnuma said, “UCL has an amazing history with Japan, which includes the Choshu-Five and Satsuma-19.

“But in my role as UCL’s Japan ambassador and through active interaction with Japanese universities, high schools, and industries, I want to increase the status of UCL in Japan, improving recognition and the number of Japanese students studying here.”

Improving UK-Japan relations

In 2014, Ohnuma played an important part in the ‘Japan-UK Universities Conference for Collaboration in Research and Education,’ co-hosted by UCL and the Embassy of Japan in the UK.

Attended by 14 Japanese universities, 16 UK universities and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, the conference encouraged further collaboration for not only UCL but many universities in both the UK and Japan.

A champion of future talent, Professor Ohnuma has also worked to encourage mutual understanding between young people in Japan and the UK. In 2015, he established the UCL-Japan Youth Challenge programme to promote interaction between students in both countries.

Hosted by many organisations in the UK, it has since been held annually, with around 100 students from both countries involved.

Contributions to Fukushima

Professor Ohnuma has also made significant contributions to his home prefecture, Fukushima, which was badly affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster. On top of supporting reconstruction efforts in the area, he played a key role in arranging a Memorandum of Understanding between UCL and the Fukushima prefectural government, and supported UCL students’ recent visit to the region.

Of the visit he said, “This month I visited Fukushima – where the East Japan Disaster inflicted huge damage six years ago – with 10 UCL and UCL Academy students, to understand the current status of Fukushima and encourage young generations in the area.”

At last week’s ceremony, Ambassador Tsuruoka congratulated Professor Ohnuma on his significant contribution to UK-Japan relations. Commenting on his award, Ohnuma said, “It is a great honour for me to receive this award from the Japanese Government.”

UCL secures flagship training contract with Foreign and Commonwealth Office

ucypsga10 December 2017

Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeUCL has won a flagship contract to train the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s staff and diplomats around the world in economics, with specialist subject matter to include how different markets and exchange rates operate, the economics of the environment and more.

In a significant coup for the university’s Economics department, UCL will train up to 300 FCO staff a year over four years. UCL won the contract through an open competition in which it scored particularly highly on content and focus on learner needs.

Shamik Dhar, FCO Chief Economist and Head of the Diplomatic Academy Economics and Prosperity Faculty, said: “UCL won the contract by really thinking through what our diplomats need in their day jobs and are designing a course that is accessible to the whole of the FCO’s global network.”

Bespoke online courses

The bespoke courses, aimed at degree level learners, will be predominantly delivered online. They will modernise the FCO’s current economics teaching and provide FCO staff with practical insights on the markets and economies in which they are posted.

The programme has been designed to suit staff out in the field who might be studying after the working day, and includes video on demand elements. Teaching will be broken into 15 to 20 minute sections, along with live interactive webinar sessions, to ensure staff can work at their own pace.

“We will be introducing learners to cutting edge research,” said Parama Chaudhury, a principal teaching fellow at UCL. “Learners in this programme will be equipped with the knowledge of the most reliable and current research on pressing issues, and what the experts in the field are presently recommending in terms of policy.”

Specialist subject matter

The course will consist of two main parts, with one billed as Core Learning (CL) and one as Job Specific Learning (JSL). Both will be practical in nature, enabling learners to see how the course subject matter can be applied practically in both their individual roles and the markets in which they work.

The specialist subject matter will include the macroeconomic crises, economics data, regulating markets, economic growth and development and more.Image

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (credit: p_a_h, source: Flickr)

UCL at the forefront of dementia research

uclqjle21 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.