Reflections on my UROP experience in Pharmacy

I am extremely fortunate and thankful to have spent six weeks of the summer holidays undertaking a research placement, as it has been one of my most valuable experiences. For my project, I synthesised pH-sensitive fluorescent nanogels and tested their physiochemical properties. These nanogels are now ready to be incorporated into dosage formulations to ascertain the effect of various conditions and factors on their function; knowledge on the effect of individual formulation excipients on the pH of the API or its carrier, for example, provides essential information during the research and development stages of drug synthesis. Below is a picture of the nanogels being synthesised in a round-bottomed flask.
nanogels round bottomed flask
I thoroughly enjoyed applying my chemistry and pharmaceutical knowledge to plan and conduct experiments. I discovered that experiments are not always successful, but this provides opportunities to use and develop problem-solving skills to innovate new ideas. I got the opportunity to use several analytical instruments including the Spectrofluorometer, DLS, NanoSight, NMR and IR spectroscopy, which I previously only had textbook knowledge of. In addition to this, I learnt the importance of using my senses of sight, smell and hearing to gauge the success of experiments. This picture shows nanogel samples to be analysed by NMR – it’s not difficult to guess which one contains fluorescein!

fluorescence 2
Through discovering more about the chemical properties of various compounds such as fluorescein and ethidium bromide, I have gained an appreciation of their complexity that makes research so exciting. Each day stimulated my mind in new ways and encouraged me to continually develop my knowledge, which is an aspect rarely found in other professions. The picture below shows the effect of pH on fluorescein’s fluorescence intensity in the presence of 1% polyethyleneimine.
The placement has had a significant impact on my academic and career outlook. Having now spent a considerable amount of time in labs, I am better equipped and feel much more confident about undertaking my fourth year research project. I begun the placement with a desire to become a hospital pharmacist, but I was privileged to be supervised by Dr Michael Cook, an experienced post-doctoral researcher and lecturer who greatly inspired me to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry. I have recently accepted an offer to undertake a split pre-registration training year with GlaxoSmithKline and Barts & The London hospital; this will give me the opportunity to be trained in both the industrial and hospital sectors after I graduate from my pharmacy degree – the best of both worlds!

Eunyoung Lee, Reading School of Pharmacy

Trees and summertime building cooling: do species differences matter?


Forests and woodlands play a vital role in determining climatic conditions on landscape scale. However individual trees also possess the capability to effect climatic conditions on a micro scale. Trees can provide a cooling service via evapo-transpirational latent heat loss, by energy reflection in the long wave part of the spectrum and by shading. The informed selection of particular species can help optimise the cooling services provided by trees when planning an urban area. Greater cooling has potential to increase energy efficiency via reduced need for air conditioning and raise human wellbeing via the reduction in severity of extreme temperatures alongside other aesthetic, ecological and environmental benefits.

The ultimate aim of the project, funded by the University’s Walker Institute, was to ground-proof the initial hypotheses that A) tree species differ in the extent of the cooling service provide via differential rates of water use and B) the cooling of adjacent wall is linearly influenced by leaf temperature.

With the supervision and guidance of Dr Tijana Blanusa (RHS) and DrMartin Lukac at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, the project involved implementing a field experiment. A total of 27 six-year-old containerised trees of the species Platanus x hispanica (London Plane) and the ‘Crimson King’ and ‘Princeton Gold’ varieties of Acer platanoides (Norway Maple) were placed against the walls of the TOB buildings at the Earley Gate side of the campus (see the image below). Thermocouples and thermistors measured leaf and wall temperature, respectively, while Hydrochron buttons recorded relative humidity. To estimate tree water loss pots were weighed, soil moisture regularly recorded, leaf stomatal conductance measured using an Infrared Gas Analyser (IRGA) and tree sap flow estimated using Grainer sensors. Measurements of reflectance and irradiance were also  measured, thanks to an EngD student Thomas Chung, to explore the influence of species of the canopies radiative properties.

As the majority of the data was collected autonomously the experiment’s preparation consumed a large proportion of the 10 week project. With the help of the technician Lawrence Hansen at PEL, and fellow students Maria Eduarda Moreira and Ana Montalvão, Grainer sensors and thermocouples were constructed by hand. Along with the thermistors these were wired to DL2e dataloggers and attached to the wall or tree on site. After three weeks of data collection the results were collected and analysed. The statistical package Genstat was used to carry out ANOVA and linear regressions analysis to draw conclusions from the huge dataset. It is hoped that the data provided by this project should be sufficient to produce a paper for publication. To have a recognised contribution to a published paper before leaving University would be an undeniable bonus.

Being involved with project from its initial stages provided a priceless insight into the processes of environmental research. When reading scientific paper no real appreciation is gained for the amount of work, or even the individuals, involved in the process. Personally, it also helped indicate that even if not everything goes to plan it’s not the end of the world, plans can always be adapted. For someone contemplating a career in forestry research the freedom and independence granted by this particular project gave a real impression of what a pursing in a research career would be like.

Jon Tanner

‘Assassination as an Alternative to War’: The Ethics of Assassination

Over a six-week period in the summer of 2014, I have had the privilege of working on the first donor-funded Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme Placement at the University of Reading. This placement involved my working on a project, based in the Politics and International Relations Department, entitled ‘Assassination as an Alternative to War’ under the supervision of Dr. Adam Humphreys.


So what is an ‘assassination’? Perhaps unsurprisingly, political theorists and philosophers disagree about this. However, to aid in giving you an overview of my work on this placement, let us hazard the following quick and problematic account of what an assassination is: a ‘politically motivated’ pre-meditated extra-judicial targeted killing of, at least, one individual by, at least, one other individual.


With this account in mind, and restricting our discussion to political assassinations by one state of a political leader in another state, we may ask: Under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible for a state to assassinate a political leader in another state? (Call this an ‘ethical’question). Assuming that there were such conditions, is there good reason to revise the laws governing the use of assassinations by states to legally permit assassinations that meet these conditions? (Call this a ‘legal’ question). Finally, we may ask what the direct political consequences of assassinations in the past have been (Call this a ‘political’ or ‘historical’ question). There are, of course, many more questions that fall into the categories I have placed the above questions in.


The project I worked on this summer is concerned with these abovementioned questions. My work, however, on this project concerned questions of the first kind above. That is, I worked on trying to address ethical questions that have been asked, and that academics in different disciplines have proposed answers to, regarding whether assassinations are ever morally permissible.


So how does one  ‘address’ these ethical questions? Or, more bluntly, what did I actually do? Well, consider the ethical question presented above. If you thought that there were some conditions that, if met, would make it morally permissible for a state to assassinate a political leader in another state then, presumably, you may have some reason for thinking this. For example, you may think that if the only way to avert some kind of human-rights atrocity in the state of the political leader in question was to kill that leader, then an assassination of that leader would be morally permissible. With this reason in mind, you might construct an argument for your view. One way to ‘address’ these sorts of ethical questions, then, is to present an argument for a particular answer to a question, while conceiving of possible objections and responding to them in turn.


However, another way to ‘address’ an ethical question is to consider the arguments that have been presented for a particular answer and to try to argue that they are, for some argued reason(s), unsound. This latter way of ‘addressing’ these questions is what has made up the majority of my work on this placement.


In comparison with the large amount of work that has been produced in applied/practical ethics regarding war and other forms of targeted killings, very little attention has been given to directly address ethical questions regarding particular kinds of targeted killings we call assassinations. My work on this placement offered an opportunity to move in the direction of changing this, by engaging with some of the work done on the ethics of assassination and to critically engage with the arguments found therein.


Dr. Humphreys tasked me with reading two different papers in the recent academic literature on the ethics of assassination and asked me to write discussion/response papers of my own to these two papers. I researched the broad cluster of issues these papers wished to address and I worked to understand the disputes these papers were engaged in, in order to gain the requisite knowledge to best evaluate the arguments presented in these papers.


As I did this, I began to think that despite the authors of these papers making progress in developing our understanding of the ethics of assassination, the particular arguments presented in both of these papers for the moral permissibility of assassination (when certain conditions were met) were open to very serious objections. Interestingly, these objections, it seemed to me, helped point in the direction of what the questions we ought be asking to ascertain the moral permissibility of assassination actually are.


The products of my concerns, and where I develop the aforementioned objections and defend my claims, are two papers: one of 5,500 words and another of 3,000 words. The opportunity to author these papers under Dr. Humphreys supervision, and to contribute to the project in the process, is one I am very thankful for. I was very happy to be informed that Dr. Humphreys agreed with my conclusions, even if we did disagree about some of the finer details! I plan to continue to work on these papers in the future for possible publication.


My final research task during my placement was to compile an annotated bibliography for the project. This bibliography contains a number of online articles, academic papers, book reviews and other literature that I deemed relevant to the broad concerns of this project. Attached to this bibliography is a commentary on some issues in the literature that I wished to bring to Dr. Humphreys’ attention.


I am extremely grateful both to Dr. Humphreys for giving me the opportunity to work with him on this project and for the generosity of the donor responsible for funding my research on this project. Working on this project, and gaining experience in the kind of research I would like to conduct in a future career as a professional philosopher in academia, has been an invaluable experience. I have learned a great deal about a set of disputes in applied/practical ethics and the relevance of these disputes to certain questions in political theory. The point where these disputes meet is, I think, a space where there is room for fruitful interdisciplinary inquiry. An inquiry that, I hope, I will be able to contribute to again in the future.


Farbod Akhlaghi-Ghaffarokh, BA Philosophy

Digitising the Records of the Hogarth Press: 1917-1922

I am currently working in the fifth week of my UROP placement, in which I am undertaking research for the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) at the University’s Special Collections. MAPP is a digital humanities project, which aims to create a digital resource that links publishing archives held in the UK, America, and Canada. I am working as a researcher for MAPP’s pilot project: a case study on the archives of the Hogarth Press, the publishing house founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

I am working with files containing editorial correspondence from 1920 to the 1950’s, and financial records dating from 1920-1934. My task has been to prepare these files for digitisation, by selectively interpreting their value as both a source and a subject for future scholarly research. By making this archive globally available in a digital format, MAPP will provide an innovative way for researchers to explore the various processes of publishing production.

The first stage of digitisation I undertook was to take high-resolution photographs of each individual page of the order books, and each page of correspondence. These photographs are currently stored on the University of Reading’s library server and will eventually be used by researchers in theModernist Archives Publishing Project.

Sophie McKenna
Here I am, standing next to the archival camera I used to photograph the documents in the archive.

In addition to presenting images of the physical archive in digital format, an important part of the digitisation process is the manual transcription of the files. A large part of my work has involved transcribing into Excel the order books kept by Leonard Woolf, in which he handwrote the financial records of the Hogarth Press. Transcription can be a slow and difficult process, due to the extensive nature of the records: for each title published, each individual entry lists the name of the customer; the date of despatch; the date of payment; the price paid, and the number of copies sold. Later order books contain balance sheets, records of profit and loss for individual titles, and notes on production and publicity costs. Additionally, due to the quirks of idiosyncratic penmanship, I have often found it difficult to correctly identify the names and addresses I am responsible for accurately transcribing, so I have taken time to research and check the entries that I need to confirm are correct. However, as the process has continued, I have found this aspect to become easier, as I have learnt to recognise certain names and addresses!
Once completed, my transcriptions will be included in the MAPP database alongside the physical images of the order books, as this enables visitors of the website to personally explore the archive in a visual format, and the transcription alongside the images will allow for a verified clarification of the handwritten material that is often difficult to interpret.

The correspondence files I have studied offer a fascinating insight into the world of publishing. It could easily be assumed that publishing records only contain financial records and numerical data, which may be of limited use to scholars of literature and history. However, by reading letters containing active discussions over copyright permissions; prices of publication; requests for reprints and general production; sales, and editorial demands, it is easy to imagine and explore the busy world of publishing.

I have been able to construct ‘stories from the archive’, which can then be preserved in the digitisation process, by selecting specific examples of these publishing activities found in the correspondence of the Hogarth Press archive. For example, correspondence between the Hogarth Press and Messrs Lowe & Brydone (Printers) Ltd, reveals that in 1940, there was a failed attempt to reprint Sigmund Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego and Collected Papers, Vol. 1, due to a low paper supply; caused by the need for paper rationing during World War Two. By preserving stories such as these, MAPP can show how publishing history can be used in innovative and unique ways.

In order to access the archive at Special Collections, researchers must obtain permissions from Random House, the publisher who now owns the archive, and the relevant author’s estate, who hold the copyright for the materials pertaining to the author. In order to help future researchers, I have used the online WATCH database to create my own spreadsheet in Excel, which lists the relevant copyright information for all the authors who have files in the publishing archives at Special Collections. By creating a database which singularly holds the contact details for all copyright holders, it will be much easier for researchers to find the information they need to acquire copyright permissions.

This placement has provided me with invaluable experience. By working at Special Collections, I have been able to carry out research in a practical environment, and I have learnt skills which will continue to be useful in my academic work. Formal research experience is not usually available to undergraduate students, and so I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to assist the Modernist Archives Publishing Project. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to attend my first conference: a series of talks about Digital Humanities held at the British Library. I was then given the opportunity to help create an academic poster detailing the aims and achievements of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project, and had the privilege of presenting this poster with my co-workers at a Digital Humanities event held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which was a wonderful opportunity to present and discuss my research with academics. Furthermore, I have enjoyed working at MERL so much that I am now interested in pursuing a career within the heritage sector, and my UROP placement has given me the opportunity to explore this kind of work environment. Overall, I would highly recommend undergraduate students at Reading to apply for UROP placements, due to the unique experience of practical research within the university.

Sophie McKenna3
Dr. Nicola Wilson and I, presenting the MAPP poster at the Oxford Museum of Natural History.

Sophie McKenna


Anti-epileptic mechanisms of clinically used cannabis components on mitochondrial molecular targets

Cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. The oldest reports found are from China, where Cannabis was used for the treatment of malaria, rheumatic pains and childbirth since 3000 BC. In the UK, Sativex®, an oral mucosal spray containing a 1:1 ratio of the cannabinoids Δ9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), is licensed for use in moderate to severe spasticity in multiple sclerosis.

CBD is a non-psychoactive component of the Cannabis plant and is known for its neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and anticonvulsant properties in humans.For over a decade, CBD, along with cannabidivarin (CBDV), another component of the cannabis plant, have been investigated for their anti-epileptic effects at the Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience Division of the University of Reading. Remarkably, this work has led the drug directly into human clinical trials. Although the drug has been proved to work, its mechanism of action is still unknown.

My UROP placement aims to investigate one of the possible mechanisms of action of CBD and CBDV for the treatment of epilepsy. One of the theories regarding such mechanism is that these cannabinoids act on mitochondria, which are organelles found in cells responsible for respiration and generation of energy. Hence, by measuring their rates of respiration in vitro, we can analyse the action of the drug on these targets.

Throughout my placement, I took part in the experimental design of a method for isolation of mitochondria from rodent brain cells. I am now using the isolated mitochondria for testing with respirometry techniques. This involves the use of a Clark electrode connected to an oxygen meter which measures the consumption of oxygen by the mitochondria in response to the drug. I have also learnt how to use “R”, a software for statistical analysis, which will not only help me analyse the data I have acquired during my placement, but will also be a very valuable tool for my final year research project.

I am a (nearly) fourth-year pharmacy student with a great interest in neuroscience and research. This placement has given me an amazing opportunity to enhance my lab skills and not only take part, but contribute to a much larger research into the anti-epileptic properties of the non-psychoactive components of cannabis. Moreover, it has given me a real insight into what scientific research is like and motivated me even further to pursue a career within this field.


Agata Favero, Reading School of Pharmacy