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The effect of clouds on global warming, a ‘light switch molecule’ to diagnose disease and the entanglement of malaria with colonialism were among the research topics that have won University of Reading academics prizes.

Left to right: Dr Ariane Kehlbacher (Food theme winner), Lord William Waldegrave of North Hill (Chancellor), Dr James Hall (Health theme winner), Dr Tim Vlandas (Prosperity and Resilience theme winner), Sir David Bell (Vice-Chancellor), Dr Paulo Ceppi (Environment theme winner), Professor Steve Mithen (Deputy Vice-Chancellor), and Dr Rohan Deb Roy (Heritage and Creativity theme winner).

The five academics, one from each research theme, were honoured with a Research Output Prize for Early Career Researchers at University Court, the showcase annual event for the University community, on 19 March.

Professor Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “This year’s winners were drawn from a very strong field. All have made significant academic achievements at an early stage in their careers and I warmly congratulate them. Their achievements are testament not only to their talent and hard work, but also to the University of Reading as a place where research excellence is nurtured and supported.”

The winners from each theme were:

Food theme

Dr Ariane Kehlbacher, from Agri-Food Economics and Social Science, whose research showed that taxing foods based on the greenhouse gas emissions they produce would hit poorest households the hardest. That is because lower income households spend a larger share of their food budget on emission-intensive foods – such as meat – than their wealthier counterparts. Less well-off households also tend to buy cheaper products which means they would see a greater price hike on their weekly shop if emissions-based food taxes were to be introduced.

The judges described the paper as “a rigorous and methodologically novel analysis on a very topical subject relating to ‘polluter pays’ taxation policy” and “a very policy-relevant output”.

Full paper:


Prosperity & Resilience theme

Dr Tim Vlandas, from Politics and International Relations, for an article exploring the idea that ageing leads to lower inflation. When societies age, the political power of ‘grey voters’ increases which puts pressure on political parties to pursue policies that lead to lower inflation. Countries with a larger share of elderly people therefore end to have lower inflation than those with younger populations, his paper argues. Judges were impressed by the “originality and significance” of the research question and praised the “impressive scope of the empirical research.”

Full paper:


Environment theme

Dr Paulo Ceppi, from Meteorology, for a paper which explains why global warming is accelerating as time passes. Paulo’s research has shown that as rising CO2 levels warm the atmosphere, changes to the surface temperature of the sea are having a knock-on effect on the cloud cover over a large area of the Pacific Ocean, allowing more sunlight to be absorbed. The relationship between sea surface temperature and cloudiness is similar in both real-life observations and in models of climate change. This lends further confidence to models whose projections are used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Warming. Judges described the findings as “world leading” and “of international significance in climate science.”

Full paper:


Health theme

Pharmacy researcher Dr James Hall has discovered how a light-emitting molecule can bind to DNA in five different ways, each with a different brightness, like a ‘dimmer switch’. This is a critical step towards developing molecules that can detect different DNA structures – such as those linked to different diseases. Deemed to offer “significant applications for future diagnostics” the judging panel also noted that the article had already been cited 10 times, despite only having been published recently, and was therefore already making an impact in the field.

Full paper:


Heritage & Creativity theme

Dr Rohan Deb Roy, from History, for ‘Malarial Subjects’ – a book exploring malaria within the context of British imperial rule of India and the entanglement of colonialism with mosquitoes, quinine and cinchona plants. Judged by the panel as “a work of exceptional originality and significance” the book explores connections between humans and non-humans, and science, medicine and empire.

Further detail:


More details on each of the research projects, including video of each of the winners will be published over the next few weeks on this blog.

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Water@Reading PhD student Rebecca Emerton is often asked how she got a paper published in Nature at such an early stage in her career. She shares her top five tips for getting published in a major journal and tells us about the research that caught the editor’s eye.

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Last week’s untypically cold weather was coupled with warmer than usual temperatures in the Arctic – perfectly illustrating that the atmosphere is one continuum and that disturbances in one region of the world can have a dramatic impact in another, says Peter Inness, Lecturer in Meteorology, in a new post for The Conversation.

Simon Harrod  licensed under CC-BY-2.0

During the past week, bitterly cold weather has engulfed the UK and most of Northern Europe. At the same time, temperatures in the high Arctic have been 10 to 20°C above normal – although still generally below freezing.

The co-occurence of these two opposite extremes is no random coincidence. A quick climate rewind reveals how an unusual disturbance in the tropics more than a month ago sent out shock-waves thousands of kilometres in all directions, causing extreme weather events – not only in Europe and the Arctic, but in the southern hemisphere too.

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Children have been getting to grips with reed pens, papyrus and wax tablets in an immersive ancient schoolroom experience conceived by Eleanor Dickey, Professor of Classics. Here she tells us about the project – and what we can learn from the teaching practices of antiquity.

Children from Dolphin School taking part in the Ancient Schoolroom experience (photo credit: Alex Wickenden)

What did ancient children actually do in school? How did they act? Did they all arrive at the same time, listen to lectures from the teacher, and raise their hands when they wanted to speak, as schoolchildren often do today?

Until recently, the murky evidence we had suggested that ancient schools were probably not like modern ones – without making it very clear how ancient education worked in practice. So I was excited to discover, while studying an ancient Latin textbook, a set of detailed descriptions of a child’s day at school.

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Climate change is one of the most urgent issues facing humanity. While we will all feel its impact, it hits hardest the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. To mark the UN World Day of Social Justice 2018, we highlight our new Reading Centre for Climate and Justice which was launched last month by Mrs Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Image by Asian Development Bank licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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The shared experience of poring over the pictures in a book with a child can feel like a luxury for many parents and carers as they juggle the responsibilities of parenthood. But the value of these early interactions cannot be overestimated. Professors Lynne Murray and Peter Cooper have worked with parents and children in low- and middle-income countries for more than 20 years to assess the impact of early parenting interventions on child development. Here they tell us how a simple, inexpensive intervention to promote sensitive book-sharing can help child development and support the largest group of potential educators – parents.

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The ‘language of depression’ can be spotted using computer analysis which looks for patterns of words used by those who are suffering from the disorder, explains PhD researcher Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi in a new post for The Conversation.

Kurt Cobain by Maia Valenzuela/Flickr, CC BY-SA

From the way you move and sleep, to how you interact with people around you, depression changes just about everything. It is even noticeable in the way you speak and express yourself in writing. Sometimes this “language of depression” can have a powerful effect on others. Just consider the impact of the poetry and song lyrics of Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain, who both killed themselves after suffering from depression.

Scientists have long tried to pin down the exact relationship between depression and language, and technology is helping us get closer to a full picture. Our new study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, has now unveiled a class of words that can help accurately predict whether someone is suffering from depression.

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The demise of Carillion has exposed the way that UK public services – from the NHS to energy – are contracted out to businesses. In a new piece he has co-authored for The Conversation, Dr Ekililu Salufi says it’s time for a re-think on Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes.

A crane at a building site.

Image by r_stephen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Carillion’s collapse has brought with it wider scrutiny of the way that UK public services are contracted out to businesses – particularly through the use of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes. The UK’s second largest construction business had a network of these contracts, worth billions of pounds, providing essential public services across government departments. The NHS, defence, education, energy, and prisons have all been left exposed by its collapse.

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After 950 years the Bayeux Tapestry is coming back to the UK, where it was most likely made. Lindy Grant, Professor of Mediaeval History probes the evidence for its provenance in a new post for The Conversation.

A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

Image by ancientartpodcast licensed under CC BY 2.0

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