By Stephen Burt, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

There is much febrile comment in the media concerning the current heatwave. A common statement is ‘this is the greatest heatwave since the hot summer of 1976’.

Always a shame to spoil a good story with the truth, but that’s simply not true, and by a long way.

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By Dr Gunter Kuhnle, Nutritional epidemiologist, University of Reading

A few years ago, the decision by the WHO to classify processed meat as carcinogenic to humans has resulted in a lot of headlines. Unsurprisingly, comparing a full English breakfast with cigarettes didn’t go down too well.

This was of course an exaggeration – but the fact remains that processed meat consumption can increase the risk of bowel cancer.

So what are the real risks?

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My name is Penélope, I am an architect activist/researcher from Venezuela, and part of the academic team of new School of Architecture.

Caracas, where I grew up, is a beautiful and exciting city, with great architecture, lively cultural scene, friendly people, delicious food, and the beautiful mountain Cerro Ávila. Sadly, in the last decade, Venezuela has become extremely politically polarised while Caracas is now one of the most violent cities in the world. The fear of being a victim of violence has compelled most people to entrench themselves in their homes. But this creates a vicious cycle, because the less we inhabit our streets and public spaces the more dangerous they become, and with time they fade from our mental, emotional and cultural map of the city.

I had always admired the work of Candy Chang, Rebar Group, Maya Lin, FLIX and the urban artivism collective Ser Urbano (of which I was an active member).  I realised that as an architect I not only had the creativity and skills to design and make buildings but also to positively transform how the city is perceived, occupied and inhabited, even through small but significant interventions in urban space. So I decided to take action.

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By Professor Grace Ioppolo, English Literature professor at the University of Reading, and 2017 Sam Wanamaker Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe

Although the Sam Wanamaker Fellowship Lecture was scheduled several months ago, for Thursday 8 June, the timing is now auspicious, for it will take place on the evening of the General Election.

Whilst my subject will be how Shakespeare viewed his audiences, I will now be obliged to work in a few Shakespearean quotes and puns on elections (at least from Hamlet and Julius Caesar, not to mention All’s Well that Ends Well (‘thy frank election make; / Thou hast power to choose, and they none to forsake.”).

We know how we feel about Shakespeare, but we don’t really know how he felt about his theatrical audiences and readers. My talk will look at evidence that still exists in archival records and in play texts from the late 16th and early 17th century about how Shakespeare and his colleagues viewed public and private audiences.

I assume that Shakespeare liked us as much as we liked him, although he knew that

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.  (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

So, it’s the poet who gives the audience the power to use their imagination. Whether they accept that power is up to them.

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By Professor Sandy Harrison

I am delighted to be spearheading a forthcoming workshop to be held at Reading University in July that brings together observationalists and modellers working on palaeoclimates, model development and assessment of future climate changes to address this question.

Climate models are mathematical representations of the interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, ice – and the sun. The models used for future climate projections were developed and calibrated using climate observations from the past 40 years. They are also the only tools available to project the human impact on the environment changes over the 21st century. These models perform well in terms of global features (e.g. magnitude of global warming), but model performance at a regional scale is poor.

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Arteries © Francisco Baccaro

One of the most significant philosopher of our time, Alain Badiou, is heading to the University of Reading this November for the The Moving Form of Film: Exploring intermediality as a historiographic method conference, about the discussion of intermediality as a historiographic method in film.

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President Donald Trump has indicated an intention to withdraw the US from the Paris accord on climate change.

His announcement, made on Thursday 1 June, means the US will no longer recognise the collective aim of mitigating the impact of climate change.

The University of Reading is a world leader in climate science and research into the physical, economic and social impacts of climate change, helping to provide the strong scientific evidence upon which the Paris agreement was based.

Here, we look at some of this celebrated research, which remains central to the aims of the 194 countries that remain signed up to the Paris Agreement.

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Earthworms are soil ecosystem engineers.  They are the key soil organisms that influence soil biology, nutrient availability and soil physical structure; and their abundance has been linked to significantly improving plant productivity.  The importance of earthworms has long been recognised, Charles Darwin stated “Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind; agriculture as we know it would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”.

However, natures ploughs, specifically large, deep burrowing earthworms, are decimated by conventional tillage.  This soil management practice accounts for >95 % of all conventional and organic cereal production in the UK. So, is this a threat we should be concerned about, could there be a future where no earthworms = no bread?  Soil management practices that sustain abundant deep burrowing earthworm populations often require a drastic change in conventional thinking.

The conversion from conventional tillage to conservation agriculture is the adoption of a new farming system using zero tillage (using specialised machinery), diverse crop rotations and permanent soil cover (such as mulches); and my research is investigating the impact of this system on soil health and crop productivity.  However, this system is not without controversy when #glyphosateisvital to zero tillage agronomy; igniting the public debate on ‘sustainable agriculture’.  Earthworms are a vital part of the soil system that generate key ecosystem services, the question is, do they play any role in producing the food that you choose to eat?

The impact of deep burrowing earthworms on soils is being showcased at our half-term event #wormscience at the Science Museum in London from the 29 – 31st May between 11 – 1pm; 2 – 4pm.

Dr Jackie Stroud, Soil Security Programme

This post is one of several posts about our work as part of the Soil Security Programme for Global Soil Week. Find out more about our work here.

Phosphorus (P) is essential to all living things. Every single cell in plants, animals and microbes, down to our very own DNA requires P to survive and grow. Modern agriculture is dependent on P fertilizer, especially in high yielding systems where the biomass (and therefore the P) is continually exported to local, or sometimes international markets. Since the UK does not have an internal supply for P fertilizers, it is dependent on outside sources and makes it vulnerable to political instability and potential price fluctuations. The recent seizure of a New Zealand bound phosphate shipment highlights this issue. On the other hand, over application of P-containing compounds to soil may lead to serious environmental issues, such as algal blooms in down-stream waters. Nutrient transport is becoming an increasing concern as extreme weather events and flooding occur more frequently. Our food supply and the state of our environment is at risk and we must identify solutions now.

One possibility for reducing fertilizer requirements and decreasing the concentration of P in runoff is to improve the efficiency of P uptake by plants. Soils contain an abundance of P in various forms, although only a very small percentage of P may be present as orthophosphate (PO4) that can be taken up by plants. To deal with low PO4 concentrations, plants and microbes have evolved with remarkable (but poorly understood) techniques to break down larger molecules into usable forms. For example, many bacteria contain a set of genes that “turn on” when they don’t have enough orthophosphate (PO4) in their environment. This triggers the production of enzymes to break a bond in larger organic P molecules, thus freeing the PO4 for uptake.

Phosphorus cycling in the soil-microbe-plant continuum of agri-ecosystems aims to identify how plants and microbes can work together to improve P utilisation from the soil. We are growing oilseed rape plants in field soils (pictured) under controlled conditions to evaluate the effects of P fertilizer application and bacterial inoculants on soil enzymes, changes in P forms and plant growth. The focus is on the rhizosphere, the soil closest to the root, since this can be a hotspot for microbial activity and biochemical reactions. Advanced techniques in genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics are being applied, in combination with 31P nuclear magnetic resonance and enzymology to characterise the microbes, plants and soils. Ultimately, we need to understand the basic mechanisms to be able to create more sustainable production systems.

Dr Tandra Fraser, post-doctoral researcher , Soil Security Programme

This post is one of several posts about our work as part of the Soil Security Programme for Global Soil Week. Find out more about our work here.

By Weizi Vicky Li, Informatics Research Centre, Henley Business School

With healthcare service scopes expanding, healthcare processes changing and technologies evolving over time, many systems need improvement or they become vulnerable to cyber-attacks. This is especially true in hospitals, where most legacy systems provide critical  information and essential support for business operations with a lot of sensitive data.

Information systems and intranet/internet have been implemented in NHS hospitals for more than 30 years. Early systems implemented in the NHS include Patient Administration System, GP systems, Pathology laboratory systems, radiology and PACS systems, nursing and care planning systems, theatre systems etc.

The threats lie in the fact that many of the legacy systems have long been integrated into the core business and healthcare service processes, and therefore cannot be simply scrapped. In short, those legacy systems are valuable as well as vulnerable.

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