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It’s 65 years since Watson and Crick published their world-changing paper on the structure of DNA – a discovery they and Rosalind Franklin made using a technique called X-ray diffraction. To mark the anniversary we spoke to Dr James Hall, who uses the same technique today to study molecules which light up when they detect damaged DNA. This could pave the way for future diagnostic tests for diseases such as cancer.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming many human activities ranging from daily chores to highly sophisticated tasks. But unlike many other industries, the higher education sector has yet to be really influenced by AI, says Nafis Alam in a new post for The Conversation.

Uber has disrupted the taxi sector, Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry and Amazon disrupted first the bookselling sector, then the whole retail industry. It is only a matter of time then until the higher education sector undergoes a significant transformation.

Within a few short years, universities may well have changed beyond all recognition. Here are five ways that AI will help to change and shape the future of universities and higher education for the better.

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For a few short hours earlier this month, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers were not labelled by the Israeli government as ‘infiltrators’, but as ‘protected populations’. Dr Ruvi Ziegler explains more in a new post for The Conversation.

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It’s World Parkinson’s Day. To mark it, we look at Reading research on wearable sensors that help people with Parkinson’s avoid falls.

Image credit: David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott, CC-BY-2.0. Original image cropped.

Parkinson’s disease affects 1% of people over 60. It’s a degenerative brain disease which causes problems with movement including tremor and difficulty with walking. Elderly people with Parkinson’s disease are prone to falling which can lead to injuries and a downward spiral of deteriorating health. What’s more, falls are estimated to cost the NHS over £2 billion a year.

Here at Reading’s School of Biological Sciences, Professor Simon Sherratt is leading research into wearable sensors which detect movement and monitor ‘near-fall events’ in Parkinson’s patients.

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Dr Graeme Marlton explains how different clouds are named and why cloud classification matters in a new post for The Conversation.

Image credit: Cliff CooperCC BY 2.0 

Clouds form in a multitude of different shapes and sizes, their infinite combinations and position across the sky offering a visual drama in response to the light conditions. But despite their apparent randomness, a detailed naming convention is in place to categorise them.

When a cloud ultimately can’t be fitted into one of the many existing categories, it can be nominated for a classification of its own. In 2017, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) added 12 new types of cloud to the International Cloud Atlas, the world standard guide for cloud classification. And I worked as part of a small team investigating the science behind one newly categorised cloud, Asperitas, which exhibits wave-like perturbations, reminiscent of a rough sea in the base of the cloud.

Clouds are named using a Latin-based system proposed by Luke Howard in 1803, which laid the foundations for the WMO cloud atlas in 1939. Clouds are separated into ten basic genera, which are shown in the image below, and are described by their shape and altitude.

For example, Cumulus, from the Latin for heaped or puffed, describes clouds with a “cotton wool” appearance. Stratus describes a low-level layer cloud with a uniform, even base that covers much of the sky. Nimbus means rain-bearing, so a cloud called Nimbostratus is a layer cloud that produces rain or, sometimes, snow.

Read the rest of this post and see images of the different cloud types on The Conversation, where this piece was first published on 27 March 2018. Dr Graeme Marlton is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the University of Reading’s Meteorology department.

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Colonialism has a lingering influence in modern scientific research – and scientists and historians must work together to  ‘decolonise’ science, says Dr Rohan Deb Roy in a new post for The Conversation.

Sir Ronald Ross at his lab in Calcutta, 1898. Image credit: Wellcome Collection, CC-BY-4.0

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It’s almost 50 years since the BBC’s landmark Civilisation television series, which brought ancient worlds into the front rooms of millions. To mark the anniversary, Reading researchers recently spoke to BBC Berkshire about some unique local objects with a link to past civilisations across the globe.

Built to last

Professor Mike Fulford spoke about the wall which surrounds the ruins of the Roman town of Silchester, near Reading, and some of the building material artefacts found at the archaeological site.

“The wall dates from the late 3rd Century. It’s about a mile and a half all the way around. It’s a massive construction with a 10 foot thick base. In some places it’s still several metres high and you can see the materials it’s constructed from. The flint came from the chalk a few miles away and there are courses of stone slabs which help to bind the whole wall together.

Just think of the amount of work that was required to bring this together – the cart loads of flint being dragged along the roads, these stones coming from as far as 30 or 40 miles away, from Faringdon, up towards the Cotswolds. But it’s survived these 2000 years as a reminder of what the Romans contributed to this country in terms of the building technology and new ideas.”

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While President Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi’s success in this week’s Egyptian elections was guaranteed, support for him is flagging and monumental challenges to his power lie ahead, says Professor Dina Rezk in a new post for The Conversation.

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New archaeological research on Glastonbury Abbey pushes back the date for the earliest settlement of the site by 200 years – and reopens debate on Glastonbury’s origin myths, says Professor Roberta Gilchrist in a new post for The Conversation.

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Reading’s Institute of Education recently held its fourth Early Years conference for teachers of young children. The focus of this year’s event was sustaining change in early education, and included a discussion of avoiding ‘learned helplessness’ in young girls and how to best encourage outdoor learning. Conference organiser Professor Helen Bilton explains more.

So, the University of Reading Early Years conference is over – and I vow to never do one again. It’s so hard, so much stress and there is so much to think about to make it all run like clockwork.

One of the workshop leaders, a deputy from a school, tells me a day before the conference that they cannot present after all as the Ofsted call has come and it’s all hands to the deck making sure Ofsted have everything they want for the school inspection.  The microphones decide to fail half way through the ‘in conversation’ part of the conference, so we three speakers are sharing a clip-on microphone!

But then the delegates are gone, the evaluations are in, there is a load of fruit left over from lunch and I have time to reflect. So what did everyone gain? What has been the impact? Was it worth it?

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