UROP in History: Almanacs, Astrology and the Origins of Weather forecasting.

My name is Aoife Lintin and I am studying History at the University. My tutor is Dr Anne Lawrence, a Medieval Historian specialising in the History of Magic. Dr Lawrence is at present studying the History of Weather Forecasting.

The purpose of my UROP project is to study Almanacs. Almanacs were amongst other things the forerunners of the modern pocket diary containing all sorts of useful information for the ordinary individual and household. These included an accurate calendar, dates for the full moon, and lists of important dates and individuals like the Kings and Queens of England. They also made predictions for the weather and events of both political and national importance. They were important to the ordinary individual in the past as the calendar is to us today. Almanacs are in fact still sold today.

The compilers of Almanacs were scientific people who believed that as ‘the moon affects the tides then the planets must have an effect on the weather’. They used mathematics to work out the position of the stars and the planets and work out weather predictions from these. As the movements of the planets and stars can be predicted the weather was predicted for a whole year from the previous autumn. This was in fact using Astrology to foretell the weather. The heavens were divided into the signs of the Zodiac and it was these that were used for the predictions. Scientifically this theory has lost credibility. Yes the moon has an effect on the tides but the theory that a distant planet like Saturn can have an effect on the weather has come into question. Today meteorologists do not consider this form of Weather Forecasting valid.

My UROP project is to study, and make a Catalogue or Hand List of, different Almanacs in different departments in the University. Many have not been fully catalogued or studied before. It was thought that weather forecasting or meteorology started in the nineteenth century but this project proves that it started a lot earlier and is documented as being done as early as in the mid-sixteenth century, (the 1540s).

The research part includes a short study of Duty charged on almanacs. This was made law in the reign of Queen Anne in 1712 and must have been very lucrative, as there was a ten pound fine for non-payment, a lot of money at this time. It was the refusal of the American colonies to pay duty on printed material especially legal documents that started the move to American Independence. ‘No taxation without representation’, was their famous cry. This shows the importance of the duty tax at this time.

Among the collection there is a group of almanacs for the year 1807 and it is interesting to note that they give the same weather symbols and predictions for the weather for three of them. We know that weather forecasting is not an exact science. Was there a table for working out weather patterns? Or does this prove that compilers had a system that was universally accepted? It would be interesting to find out if the weather for 1807 agreed with these predictions.

I have also been very excited to find a fragment of an almanac whose printer was in operation in the 1540s. This could be the oldest surviving Almanac fragment in the University Collection. Research into this fragment is the business of ‘historical detective work’ and valuable experience for me as a historian.

I must at this point mention the wonderful staff at the Special Collections Reading Room. They are wonderful, a joy to work with and making my introduction to archive research a pleasure. Thank you.

Aoife Lintin

Read this now! A Study of Latin Verse Inscriptions

You there, scrolling through these records, wait a second, read my blog and learn about my project!  Have I got your attention now?  In the English language there are many different ways of grabbing somebody’s attention: the calling of a name, a description of the addressee, or even just a straight-up order; the same is true in Latin.  Throughout the Roman Empire we find various instances where inscriptions, graffiti and gravestones each do their best to get a passer-by to notice them.  My project, supervised by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz, is an enquiry into this linguistic phenomenon.

There are over 400,000 different recorded Latin inscriptions from all over the Empire, far too much for a single 6-week project to cover, thus some narrowing-down is needed.  Prof. Kruschwitz and I have been looking through one of Latin epigraphy’s more curious bodies of work: the Latin verse inscriptions (Carmina Latina Epigraphica), a collection of Latin poetry from thousands of authors of different backgrounds.  Choosing a body of work such as this gives us a unique insight to Latin word usage and linguistic formulae: we can see how the Romans and their neighbours manipulated their common tongue to fit into a variety of poetic metres.

From what we have seen already, it seems that in Latin, as in English, requests and orders are somehow mitigated by various different politeness formulae, whether this be a simple ‘please’ (quaeso, oro) or a more elaborate combination of phrases such as ‘if you’re free’ (si libet).  Examples of this in the Carmina Latina Epigraphica are plentiful; however the most interesting inscriptions are the unmitigated orders: Stop! (siste!) Read! (lege!) See! (cognosce).  How do these instances fit in with the politeness culture of the Romans? What does the inscription gain when it goes unmitigated? Our project aims to answer these questions.

Alex Heavens, Classics

UROP Placement: Study of the signalling cross talk between small G proteins of the Rap and Rho families and how this affects cytoskeleton dynamics in platelets.

Platelets are highly specialized blood cells involved in the clotting of blood and vascular repair when we gain an injury. These cells are activated by certain factors, which have effects on the signalling pathways within the cell. Platelets undergo morphological changes which involves cytoskeletal remodeling, in order for them to cover the endothelium of vessels and therefore stop bleeding. We want to study the effects of small G proteins on cytoskeleton dynamics in platelets.

For my UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) Placement, I have been working in the ICMR (Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research), studying the small G proteins Rap, Rac and Rho, and how their signalling affects cytoskeleton dynamics in platelets.

I have been working with Dr Lucia Stefanini , who has taught me all the necessary skills and techniques that are involved in this lab based work. For example I have learnt how to isolate platelets from blood, western blotting, PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), immunoblotting and the method of how to transform bacteria and induce them to start producing a desired protein.

This last method involving bacteria (we used E. coli) was the basis for the first part of our experiment. We induced the bacteria to produce 3 proteins that bind active Rap, Rho and Rac, respectively and we purified the proteins by binding them to beads. In order to visualise this, we firstly ran an SDS-page gel, which seperates proteins based on their molecular weight, then stained with coomasie in order to see the band of our protein.

We were able to express and purify the proteins that bind active Rap and Rac very well. However the protein that binds active Rho proved quite difficult to isolate. We had a few different theories as to why this was. We think that the protein unfolded and precipitated during the induction step so now we are testing different experimental conditions (lower temperature).

The second part of my placement will involve more work with human platelets to measure active Rap, Rac and Rho with the proteins we have purified. Active Rap, Rac and Rho will be visualised buy immunoblotting and fluorescent imaging with antibodies that specifically bind our proteins of interest tagged with fluorescent dyes.

I primarily applied for this placement as Lucia’s Research in platelets is exactly what I have become most interested in so far in my degree, but I was unsure as to whether I wanted to go into Research. However now, just three weeks in I have been given a real insight into how much independence and self satisfaction it gives and would definitely like to pursue a career in Research.

Honey McElhill

Developing a mobile application to model cybernetic systems

This year I took part in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP), doing a 6 week placement over the summer. During my placement, I worked with lecturer Dr. Richard Mitchell to develop an application for smartphones that supports his lecture matarial on cybernetic systems.

This application addresses an issue that impacted me during my first year. Dr Mitchell provided a set of demonstration applications to accompany his lecturers. However, they were all windows applications! Not only could I not run the application in the lectures without a laptop, but because I use Mac OS X, I could not run them at all!

The demo applications display a block model of different systems and allow you to see the effects that changing parameters of the system has on the output of the system being modelled, allowing you to explore systems and learn more about how they behave. Over my placement I worked on bringing these applications to mobile devices.

One of the major challenges I faced during this placement was that, in order to maximise the reach of the application, I developed two functionally identical versions in parallel using an agile method of development. One version was for Apple’s iOS devices and the other for Google’s Android devices. This created a challenge as the development for the two platforms is very different and therefore features do not always work the same for both!

Throughout the placement, Dr. Mitchell and I have been looking at how the apps, once finished, can be applied to learning. This is somthing that I feel is very important, as this is a real chance to prove that students having their phones out during lectures doesn’t have to be a bad thing! I feel that by taking the power of the small computer that is inside most students’ pockets (or hand in some cases) and using it as an extra resource for learning is a big step forward for education. Not only does it make the resources available to more students, but it also makes them available anywhere at any time that the student has their phone on them, including during lectures!

If you are interested in finding out more about my UROP placement, I have posted a weekly update on the development of the application on my blog, which can be found at http://blog.olliespage.net/tag/urop/

Oliver Hayman, School of Systems Engineering

Immune response proteins and atherosclerosis

For my UROP placement I have been working between two life science labs in the Harwell Science and Innovation campus near Oxford; Membrane Protein Lab (MPL) and The Research Complex, along with a PhD student, Frank Atanu, supervised by Dr. Kim Watson. The overall project aim is to elucidate the protein structure of Chlamydia Pneumoniae’s major outer membrane protein (MOMP) in addition to analysing thermal stabililty, UV degradation, and ligand binding, all through CD spectroscopy, using the beamline at Diamond Light Source.


MOMP is referred to as an immune response protein, due to it’s anti-atherosclerotic effects achieved by reducing MHC-II protein activity. Due to the complications involved in culturing C. pneumoniae cells, MOMP is encoded into a gene transcript which is inserted into E. coli C41 cells downstream of the lac operon expression system. Upon induction at the critical growth stage with IPTG, a synthetic analogue of lactose, the lac operon is activated resulting in transcription and thus MOMP production. Approximately 20 hours post induction the membranes are harvested through ultracentrifugation and the proteins subsequently purified via affinity chromatography. Following the running of a Coomassie gel to determine the presence (or absence!) of the protein of interest the protein is then concentrated to a volume of around 500µl via centrifugation with a 30 kDa centrifugal filter. A machine, the äkta purifier, uses fast protein liquid chromatography (FPLC) to separate the protein, which if pure will be displayed as a single peak. Regarding this information the protein can then be collected from the sample wells where the peak was detected, resulting in a pure protein sample, which could then be analysed for folding properties and secondary structures by circular dichroism (CD) spectophotometry on the beamline at Diamond Light Source (DLS). I also had the opportunity to create crystallization plates for both MOMP and the four MHC-II peptides, using the mosquito and Cartesian machines respectively. These 96 well plates are then routinely photographed and stored online to allow for visual analysis of crystal formation.


The final stretch of my placement involved a weekend stay (Friday-Monday) at DLS, with accommodation provided on site, to spend some intensive time analyzing MOMP and MHC-II with CD spectroscopy. To make full use of the precious time we were up all hours collecting data, as following our 72 hour slot was another researcher’s project. It has been very advantageous for the project to have the opportunity to use the equipment available at DLS, which enabled us to collect a large amount of data on UV degradation, thermal stability and MOMP-ligand interactions which will no doubt provide valuable insights in the stability of the protein structure as well as potential binding pockets and interactions.


Despite the long commuting hours from my house in Reading to the Harwell campus, which involved catching two buses and a train, I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work in labs with such facilities amongst some fellow students and researchers that have made me feel more than welcome. For anyone uncertain whether a role in scientific research is a career they’d like to pursue, I highly recommend you take this brilliant opportunity, as not only does it provide you with career experience but also helps to develop your lab skills, giving you extra confidence ahead of your third year research project.


Amy Danson

Bsc Biomedical Sciences UROP 2013