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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One of the earthworms found in a soil sample in Shropshire

By Jeremy Lelean, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading

Soil, from being an overlooked area of research, is now considered an area of vital interest in the solution to many of the global problems of we currently face. A key idea of how to manage our soil is the notion of soil health, which was referred to regularly in the newly published DEFRA Twenty-Five Year Environment Plan.

Measuring soil health, however, is a vexed question as there are a number of potential indicators that can be used. One of these is earthworm numbers, but numbers alone may not give a good picture of soil health overall. As part of the Soil Security Programme, fellow Dr Jackie Stroud has developed a method that is more indicative of soil health than simple earthworm numbers.

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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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Professor Roger Matthews’ research focuses on the origins of the earliest farmers in the Eastern Fertile Crescent of Iran and Iraq. This work puts him at the heart of discussions about how best to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage, which has long been threatened by conflicts in the region. Here he tells us more about his work and his invitation to speak at a UN Human Rights Council event earlier this month.

Jerwan Aqueduct, Inscribed Ashlar (© Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project)

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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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Should healthcare workers have their freedom of conscience enshrined in law? As medical technological advances gather pace, Professor David Oderberg says there’s never been a better time to support medical conscientious objectors, in a new post for The Conversation.

For most people, the term “conscientious objection” evokes images of Quakers and pacifists registering to avoid military service. Many countries have a long and honourable tradition of accommodating such conscientious objectors. It might not be about bombs and bullets, but healthcare professionals often find themselves fighting a conscience battle of their own.

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Tokyo subway where the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack occurred.Since the 1997 Tokyo subway attack with sarin nerve agent, Japan’s punitive criminal justice system has increasingly revolved around fear and retribution. The international community will be keeping a close eye on the fate of the 13 attackers still awaiting execution, says Mai Sato, in a new post for The Conversation.

Image by Richard Giles licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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We’re Open – but should we be more open?

By Dr Phil Newton, Research Dean 

The University wants to open up all elements of research at Reading.

But open research is controversial, and there are many different views on it. To some, open research is the future and leads to better studies, more collaboration, and greater impact. To others, it risks giving away your best ideas without clear benefits.

That’s why we need your views now on Reading’s draft Vision for Open Research. You can have your say by completing a short online survey.

Find out more about our consultation or complete the survey now.

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Glastonbury Abbey has played an important part in British history for hundreds of years. Legend says that it is the burial place of King Arthur and it was regarded to be the site of the earliest church in Britain. Now, thanks to a unique archaeological research collaboration and digital reconstruction, we can see parts of the abbey as they appeared at its zenith in the Middle Ages. Here, Dr Gemma Watson, from the Department of Archaeology at Reading, reveals all.

The Anglo-Saxon Church in its modern setting: phase 3 c.1100 AD, © The Centre for the Study of Christianity & Culture, University of York

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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: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1673-6

 

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:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0010414017710261

 

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: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1714308114

 

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: https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkw753

 

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: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/malarial-subjects/00BEE3F5FAD80653C99B6674E2685D4D

 

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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