News at Stirling The University of Stirling's Communications and Media team aims to work positively and closely with the media, providing a service that will help media professionals to cover news, personalities and events at the University in an informed manner. News at Stirling An innovative idea from a team of University of Stirling Masters students has won the inaugural Data Lab MSc Challenge Competition.

The competition brought 90 students, funded by The Data Lab’s pioneering MSc programme, from seven Scottish universities together and challenged them to develop new insights, services or products that have a social or economic benefit using datasets unique to Scotland.

Students Cynthia Morel, Peter Henriksen and Robert Hamlet worked with Zero Waste Scotland to analyse data from three local authorities to develop a prototype that will detect, predict and prevent future fly-tipping across Scotland – an issue that is estimated to cost the country £2.5m.

The Challenge culminated with a 48 hour hackathon and judging ceremony, which saw the Stirling students win £3,000 to contribute towards data training and courses in Scotland.

Technical achievement

Students Robert and Peter are on the University’s Big Data course, while Cynthia studies Data Science for Business.

Robert said: “Our project attempted to model fly-tipping in terms of possible contributing factors, such as nearby construction activity and value of scrap metal, to make future predictions about where and when fly-tipping might occur.

“We managed to build a functioning prototype which was a great technical achievement. We also forged a successful collaboration with Jamie Fry of Zero Waste Scotland who was central to helping us secure the data and make the project a success.”

Joshua Ryan-Saha, Skills Lead at The Data Lab, said: “This year’s challenge provided a snapshot of the potential impact data science can have in Scotland if harnessed in the right way. Central to this opportunity are the skills and knowledge to support and exploit the potential for business and Scotland as a whole. But we’ve got a way to go to rebalance the ongoing issue of supply versus demand in skills.

“The judges were impressed by all the teams that sought to address issues ranging from over prescribing of medicine to eco bus routes and pollution hot-spots to encouraging Scottish tourism. The team tipped the balance because their proposition was technically accomplished demonstrating a robustness that can be applied across different councils, ultimately achieving the end goal of delivering social and economic value to Scotland.”

Dr Kevin Swingler, programme director of the MSc in Big Data, added: “It always brings me pleasure to see our students succeed and this was a great achievement. I'm grateful to The Data Lab for running the competition and proud of all the students who took part."

The challenge competition awards come with confirmation that The Data Lab is increasing its MSc programme by 45% from 90 to 130 funded places with support from The European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council, as part of the Innovation Centre’s commitment to address Scotland’s data skills shortage.

Data students’ fly-tipping solution bags national award Thu, 25 May 2017 15:19:00 +0000 Two University of Stirling academics, Dr Annalisa Savaresi and Dr Ioana Cismas, have provided expert legal advice in relation to a landmark petition before the Philippines Human Rights Commission.

A group of applicants has asked the Commission to consider whether the impacts associated with climate change, caused by the world’s largest oil, coal, cement and mining companies, have violated the human rights of millions of people living in the Philippines.

Forty-seven major carbon emitters, including Shell, BP and Chevron, are implicated in the petition and accused of breaching the fundamental rights to life, health, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and self-determination.

Human rights violations

While many respondents have questioned the Commission’s jurisdiction to investigate the petition, in a brief submitted on behalf of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), experts argue that it does have the authority to consider corporate human rights violations associated with the impacts of climate change.

The amicus curiae brief explains why the Philippines Human Rights Commission has jurisdiction to consider corporate human rights violations associated with the impacts of climate change, on the basis of both domestic and international law.

Pushing boundaries

Dr Savaresi of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, who coordinated the brief, said: “This petition is the first of its kind and raises momentous legal questions, whose answers are far from settled. Several lawmakers and courts around the world are likely to be faced with similar questions on climate change impacts and corporations’ responsibilities in the years to come.”

Dr Cismas added: “This is why the petition is so important: it draws on recent normative developments in respect to corporate obligations and the linkages between climate change and human rights violations to push the boundaries of established legal practice.”

The brief was prepared in collaboration with Dr Jacques Hartmann, University of Dundee, and with the assistance of APF Legal Intern Tim Tabuteau and APF Legal Counsel Jenni Whelan.

You can read the submitted brief.

Stirling experts advise on landmark human rights petition Wed, 24 May 2017 10:02:00 +0000 The University of Stirling has moved up the Guardian University Guide rankings for 2018 – rising to 54th in the UK, and 8th in Scotland.

Improving on last year’s overall UK ranking by four places – and up one place in Scotland – Stirling saw higher scores in relation to students’ satisfaction with their courses and feedback.

Highly rated subjects

Stirling’s Criminology course performed particularly well and was ranked 4th in the UK and 1st in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Media and Film Studies, Social Policy, Sociology and Education were also among Stirling’s highest-rated subjects.

The Media and Film Studies course was rated 6th in the UK and 1st in Scotland – an improvement of 28 places. Education was also ranked 1st in Scotland, while Social Policy was ranked 6th in the UK and 1st in Scotland. Sociology was 13th in the UK and 2nd in Scotland.

Stirling’s rise in the Guardian University Guide followed an improvement in the Times Higher Education Young University Rankings, which saw the University reach 46th place in the world and 2nd in the UK.

The Guardian league tables focus on the quality of teaching, student satisfaction and employability, issues that are vital to young people choosing where to study.

The guide, which is produced by the independent company Intelligent Metrix, ranks universities according to spending per student; the student/staff ratio; graduate career prospects; what grades applicants need to get a place; a value-added score that compares students’ entry qualifications with their final degree results; and how satisfied final-year students are with their courses, based on results from the annual National Student Survey.

The full league table is available here.

Stirling steps up Guardian University rankings Tue, 16 May 2017 11:58:00 +0000 Top child welfare experts have gathered at the University of Stirling to discuss the wellbeing of babies and women in prison.

The University’s renowned Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection (CCWP) is hosting ‘The Rose Project: Best for Babies’ event today (12 May), in collaboration with Aberlour – Scotland’s children’s charity. Speakers include Stirling honorary graduate Dame Elish Angiolini and Tam Baillie, The Children and Young People's Commissioner in Scotland.

The public seminar, which is part of Stirling’s ongoing 50th anniversary year programme, supports the launch of CCWP and Aberlour’s research into the wellbeing of babies and women in prison.

Event speaker Professor Judith Phillips, Deputy Principal (Research) at the University, said: “Our Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection is a shining example of the kind of interdisciplinary approach to research that we excel in, here at Stirling. I was pleased to attend the launch of the Centre, just over a year ago, and am delighted at the progress it has made since then.

Original research

“The Centre brings together internationally-recognised experts in social work, child protection, education and maternal and child health. These multidisciplinary teams collaborate to make a positive impact on the wellbeing of vulnerable children – whose development can be compromised by a range of personal, familial and social adversities.

“I know the University’s commitment to improving the lives of some of our most vulnerable members of society – and to robust, original research and education that will benefit children – is shared by everyone joining our seminar.”

Fellow speakers include CCWP’s Professor Brigid Daniel, and independent researcher Adelle Gardiner, who will provide an overview of their ‘Best for Babies’ research. They will be joined by event chair SallyAnn Kelly, Aberlour Chief Executive, and Rhona Hotchkiss, Governor of Cornton Vale.

The research was supported by a generous legacy from late Dr Elizabeth Rose, a highly-respected consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist who worked at Airthrey Castle Maternity Hospital and Cornton Vale prison.

Women and babies in prison research explored Fri, 12 May 2017 16:57:00 +0000 A notable University of Stirling poet has been honoured by the Royal Geographical Society.

Professor Kathleen Jamie, Chair in Creative Writing at the University, received the Ness Award for outstanding creative writing at the confluence of travel, nature and culture.

The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s prestigious medals and awards recognise excellence in geographical research and fieldwork, teaching and public engagement.

They are presented annually to individuals who have made outstanding achievements. Kathleen will formally receive her award on Monday 5 June, as part of the Society’s Annual General Meeting in London.

Prestigious list

Recipients join a prestigious list that includes Sir Alexander Burnes, David Livingstone, Alfred Russel Wallace, Captain R. Scott and more recently Professor Peter Haggett, Dr Sylvia Earle, Professor Diana Liverman, Sir Crispin Tickell and Sir David Attenborough.

The Ness Award is reserved for those who have successfully popularised geography and the wider understanding of our world and its environments.

Professor Jamie said: “I am delighted that my work has been recognised in this wholly unexpected way and I am grateful to the people who nominated me.”

This year the Society’s medals and awards recognise 17 different people for their outstanding contributions to geography.

For more information visit the Royal Geographical Society website.

Stirling poet recognised by Royal Geographical Society Wed, 10 May 2017 10:10:00 +0000 A University of Stirling nursing student and lecturer have picked up coveted prizes at the Student Nursing Times Awards 2017.

Third-year student Sophie Cameron was named Student Nurse of the Year in the Adult nursing category, while lecturer Ivor Smith picked up the award for Educator of the Year.

Now in their sixth year, the Student Nursing Times Awards are the only awards to celebrate the very best in student nurses and nurse education.

The winning staff and student duo picked up their gongs at a glittering ceremony at the London Hilton on Park Lane.


The awards pay tribute to students who have demonstrated the academic achievement, clinical prowess and personal qualities that will make them brilliant nurses.

Sophie, of Nairn, was commended for being honest, authentic and passionate.

Sophie, who is based at the University’s Highland Campus, said: “Winning this nursing award felt really overwhelming. I was humbled to make it as a finalist so to win felt like such an achievement. I’ve been given so many opportunities through my nursing degree at Stirling and I’ve really had the chance to make it my own. This award has shown me what you can do when you push yourself.”

Lecturer Ivor Smith, who was awarded the Educator of the Year award, joined the University on secondment from NHS Forth Valley and teaches on the undergraduate mental health nursing programme.

Ivor said: “This is the second year I have been shortlisted for a Student Nursing Times Award and this year was even more special because I had no idea that I had been nominated by my colleagues and students for the accolade.

“I was delighted to receive such positive feedback from my students, who said the support I give them makes a real difference to their university experience.”

Outstanding nursing

Professor Jayne Donaldson, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, said: “These awards are all about honouring outstanding nursing students and those who are committed to developing new nursing talent.

“Ivor is a perfect example of the passion and commitment needed to be a great teacher. He was selected by the judging panel for his commitment to the mental health profession and his clinical experience is invaluable to our students. We’re very proud that Ivor is inspiring the next generation of nurses at Stirling. He deserves all of the recognition he has received.

“Sophie has a tremendous understanding about what it takes to be a nurse, and her commitment and thoughtfulness are values that will ensure Sophie can make a difference in the world after university.”

Stirling was nominated in five categories in total, including teaching innovation for the Undergraduate Mile A Day and Nurse Education Provider of the Year (Pre-Registration). Student nurse Jane Henley-King was nominated for her Outstanding Contribution to Students Affairs.

Nursing Times and Student Nursing Times Editor, Jenni Middleton, said: “The Student Nursing Times Awards are always very special. Every year I am impressed by the standard of the students who enter - they demonstrate all the hard work, intelligence, enthusiasm, passion and skill we want to see in our future workforce.

“It is incredible to look at what they achieve in addition to their studies. Of course, they could not do that without the support of their mentors on placement and university staff, which is why we are so pleased to be able to honour those individuals and institutions in these awards too. This event shows the excellence entering nursing and we are extremely proud of all our finalists and winners. Congratulations to them all.”

A full list of winners is available on the Student Nursing Times Awards website.

Double delight for Stirling at national nursing awards Fri, 28 Apr 2017 17:05:00 +0000 Athletes from the University of Stirling’s high performance swim programme made their mark at the British Championships this past week, winning 10 medals as they went head-to-head with the UK’s best at Ponds Forge in Sheffield.

Double Olympic-medallist, Duncan Scott, led the way as he became the first Brit to swim the 100m freestyle under 48 seconds, setting a new British record en route to gold. The second-year business and sport studies student also broke the Scottish record when finishing second in the 200m freestyle and also took home bronze in the 200m individual medley as well as the 100m and 200m butterfly, the latter in which he was pipped to second place by teammate and Stirling Masters student, Cameron Brodie.

Commonwealth champion Ross Murdoch also enjoyed a successful week, winning gold in the 200m breaststroke and silver in the 100m of the same discipline.

Meanwhile, first-year scholarship athlete Kathleen Dawson underlined her burgeoning reputation, posting consideration times for next year’s Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast as she took silver in the 50m and 100m backstroke.

The performances reinforce a strong start to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycle for the Stirling athletes who also had their sights set on qualifying for other upcoming major championships.

As well as the 2018 Scottish Commonwealth Games Team, the British Championships also doubled as the selection event for this summer’s FINA World Championships in Budapest and the World University Summer Games in Taipei. The University of Stirling will be represented at both events, with Brodie selected for the British team heading to Taipei, while Scott, Murdoch and Dawson have been announced in the World Championships squad. The trio will be joined on their trip to Hungary by the University of Stirling’s high performance coaches Ben Higson and Stephen Tigg whose efforts and results have been recognised with places on the British coaching team.

Commenting on the British Championships and resultant GB selections, Stirling head performance coach Ben Higson said: “It was fantastic to have so many swimmers from the programme at the British Championships and putting in a host of competitive performances.

“Our guys want to be the best they can be and the number of medals won is a reflection of the daily graft they put in and just reward for the sacrifices and commitment they make to compete at this level.

“Although there will be some disappointed Stirling athletes who didn’t make the teams for Budapest or Taipei, we know everyone is delighted for Duncan, Ross, Kathleen and Cameron and we’re confident they have the ability and drive to do something special at the championships in the summer.

“For Steve and myself, we are incredibly proud to be involved with the British Team and grateful to the University for its support and encouragement and the swimmers’ dedication and professionalism which have helped us get here. As coaches, it is a very exciting opportunity and we look forward to experiencing a new environment and working with an exceptionally talented group of athletes.”

The FINA World Championships take place in Budapest, Hungary from 14 – 30 July 2017. The World University Summer Games will be held in Taipei, Chinese Taipei from 19 – 30 August 2017.

Medal Haul and Worlds Qualification for Stirling Swimmers at British Championships Fri, 28 Apr 2017 11:27:00 +0000 A world-leading heritage and conservation research centre is being created as part of an international agreement involving the University of Stirling, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, in Beijing, China.

The Forbidden City is a World Heritage Site and houses the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. This partnership will establish an international research centre for heritage and conservation at the University.

Global scale

The centre will allow researchers to investigate a range of issues facing built heritage and the impacts of climate and wider environmental changes on a global scale.

Professor Richard Oram, Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of Stirling, said:

“We’re delighted to formally commit to a long-term partnership with HES and the Forbidden City in China. This agreement is a ground-breaking advance in British and Chinese intercultural relations in the fields of cultural heritage and conservation and brings together international expertise in the impacts of climate and wider environmental change.

“Stirling are global leaders in the area of cultural heritage, and our expertise will help ensure this collaboration has a transformational impact in identifying and addressing world-wide challenges in heritage conservation.”

In September 2017, the centre will host an inaugural international conference on global challenges in cultural heritage, which will bring together academics, conservation practitioners and heritage professionals from around the world.

Global heritage conservation to be boosted by new partnership Thu, 27 Apr 2017 12:51:00 +0000 A Cochrane Review published today finds standardised tobacco packaging may lead to a reduction in smoking prevalence and reduces the appeal of tobacco.

According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use kills more people worldwide than any other preventable cause of death. Global health experts believe the best way to reduce tobacco use is by stopping people starting to use tobacco, and encouraging and helping existing users to stop.


The introduction of standardised (or ‘plain’) packaging was recommended by the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) guidelines. This recommendation was based on evidence around tobacco promotion in general and studies which examined the impact of changes in packaging on knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour. Standardised tobacco packaging places restrictions on the appearance of tobacco packs so that there is a uniform colour (and in some cases shape), with no logos or branding apart from health warnings and other government-mandated information; the brand name appears in a prescribed uniform font, colour, and size.

A number of countries have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, standardised tobacco packaging. Australia was the first country in the world to implement standardised packaging of tobacco products.  The laws, which took full effect there in December 2012, also required enlarged pictorial health warnings.

A team of Cochrane researchers from the UK and Canada have summarised results from studies that examine the impact of standardized packaging on tobacco attitudes and behaviour. They have today published their findings in the Cochrane Library.

They found 51 studies that looked at standardised packaging. The studies differed in the way they were done and also what they measured.  Only one country had implemented standardised packaging at the time of this review, so evidence that tobacco use prevalence may have decreased following standardized packaging comes from one large observational study. A reduction in smoking behaviour is supported by routinely collected data from the Australian government. There are data from a range of other studies to indicate that appeal is lower with standardized packaging and this may help to explain the observed decline in prevalence. Researchers did not find any evidence suggesting that standardized packaging may increase tobacco use. No studies directly measured whether standardised packs influence uptake, cessation or whether they prevent former smokers from taking up smoking again. 

The amount of evidence for standardised packaging has increased markedly since the publication of the WHO guidelines in 2008. However, given how recent these changes are, there is no data on long-term impact. The amount of evidence will continue to expand as more countries implement standardized packaging and as studies assessing the longer-term effects of the Australian policy become available.

Changing attitudes

Cochrane lead author, and Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, Professor Ann McNeill from King’s College London, said, “Evaluating the impact of standardised packaging on smoking behaviour is difficult to do; but the evidence available to us, whilst limited at this time, indicates that standardized packaging may reduce smoking prevalence. These findings are supported by evidence from a variety of other studies that have shown that standardised packaging reduces the promotional appeal of tobacco packs, in line with the regulatory objectives set. It would appear that the impact of standardized packaging may be affected by the detail of the regulations such as whether they ban descriptors, such as ‘smooth’ or ‘gold’, and control the shape of the tobacco pack.”

Co-author Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, from the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group, Oxford, UK, added: “Our evidence suggests that standardized packaging can change attitudes and beliefs about smoking, and the evidence we have so far suggests that standardized packaging may reduce smoking prevalence and increase quit attempts. We didn’t find any studies on whether changing tobacco packaging affects the number of young people starting to smoke, and we look forward to further research on this topic.”

Co-author Linda Bauld, professor of health policy and director of the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling, said: “We’ve been working for several years to investigate the potential impact of standardised tobacco packaging as a public health measure. We believe putting cigarettes into packs without branding makes tobacco products, and smoking in general, less appealing.

“This latest evidence suggests that standardised packaging can change attitudes and beliefs about smoking, which may encourage some smokers to think differently about their smoking and, along with other policies we already have in place, like smoke free laws and access to free stop smoking services, could contribute to reducing the number of people who smoke.”

New evidence finds standardised cigarette packaging may reduce the number of people who smoke Thu, 27 Apr 2017 09:27:00 +0000 A new report highlights how alcohol producers worked to circumvent legislation designed to protect children during the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament.

Researchers at the Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling, found over 100 alcohol marketing references per televised match programme in three countries – France, the UK and Ireland.


Foul play

Most marketing appeared in highly visible places, such as pitch-side advertising during the matches. This was the case, despite the fact that the tournament was held in France, where alcohol TV advertising and sports sponsorship is banned under the ‘Loi Évin’.

The report, Foul Play? Alcohol marketing during UEFA Euro 2016, will be launched at the European Healthy Stadia conference at Emirates Stadium on Thursday 27th April.

An analysis of broadcast footage found that alcohol marketing appeared, on average, once every other minute. The majority took the form of ‘alibi’ marketing, whereby indirect brand references are used to promote a product, rather than a conventional logo or brand name.

Carlsberg was the most featured brand, accounting for almost all references in each of the three countries, using their slogan ‘Probably the best in the world’ while avoiding the mentioning the product name. ‘Alibi’ marketing was a common practice of tobacco companies in sporting events when advertising restrictions were introduced.

List of football statistics

Protecting children

Dr. Richard Purves, Principal Investigator, Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling said: “Beamed to audiences across the world, major sporting events such as the UEFA EURO tournament, present a prime opportunity for alcohol companies to market directly to a global audience. In order to continue to protect children and young people from exposure to alcohol marketing, laws such as those in France need to be upheld and respected by all parties involved and not seen as something to be negotiated.”

Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said: “There is strong evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing encourages children to drink earlier and in greater quantities. The findings of this report show that alcohol companies are following in the footsteps of their tobacco colleagues by bending the rules on marketing restrictions putting children’s health at risk.”

Eric Carlin, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said: “Sport should be an alcohol-free space. The presence of alcohol marketing during UEFA EURO 2016 highlights that organisers of sporting events need to hold out against tactics of big alcohol companies to flout legal regulations designed to protect children.”

Report highlights how alcohol industry bent the rules on advertising during UEFA Euro 2016 Thu, 27 Apr 2017 09:12:00 +0000 Experts from the University of Stirling presented evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Fair Work and Jobs Committee today, 25 April, as part of its inquiry into the impact of equal pay.

Professor David Bell and Dr Tanya Wilson from Stirling Management School gave the cross-party group valuable background on gender pay differences in Scotland, providing analysis on why a gender pay gap exists. The Committee is interested in whether closing the gender pay gap could boost the Scottish economy.


Stirling economist Professor David Bell, said: “We hope we’ve provided the parliamentary committee with a comprehensive understanding of the current disparity in wages in Scotland, and how this might be tackled in the most effective way.

“The gender pay gap can be measured in various ways and assessing the links between the gender pay gap and economic growth is difficult. For example, GDP growth is driven by different sectors, at different times and if a booming sector predominately employ males, economic growth will only increase the gender pay gap.”

The researchers analysed the pay gap approximation of 30% in 2016 and compared the pay of full-time and part-time workers separately. They found a lower gender pay gap of 18% for full-time workers and a pay gap in favour of women of 14% for part-time workers.

Professor Bell added: “Part-time workers have fewer skills than full-time workers because, on average, they have less work experience and are less qualified. As a consequence, full-time workers are typically paid more than part-timers, and because more men than women work full-time, the overall gender pay gap favours men.”

Gender imbalance

The report also explored how different occupations and sectors contribute to the gender pay gap and addressed differences in skills which influence wages.

Dr Tanya Wilson, Economics Research Fellow at the University of Stirling, said: “Although the education gap in attainment in Scotland has closed, difference in subject choice persist. Girls are less likely to study science-based subject, such as physics, computing and technology studies, and this has been consistent for the last 30 years.

“Many programs are now underway to address the gender imbalance in subject choice, from primary up to university level. If these initiatives work together they may prove vital in improving the subject imbalance, which has a major influence on someone’s earning potential in the future.”

The team advised that when men and women enter the world of work, the pay gap is marginal. However, it increases to 10% within a decade and then to 20% for full-time workers by the age of 40, with the largest increase occurring during traditional child-bearing ages.

Dr Wilson added: “We believe policy must be directed towards influencing and supporting women around they age they are thinking about having children, as well as those with higher levels of pay, to ensure there’s a significant further reduction in Scotland’s pay gap.”

The inquiry was launched in February by Convener of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, Gordon Lindhurst MSP.

Lindhurst said: “The Committee wants to consider the economic value of equal pay and understand the impact of the gender pay gap on the Scottish economy. Vital to this inquiry will be the direct experiences of people ‘on the ground’- the businesses and organisations that are working to close the gender pay gap, and individuals who struggle to access equal pay. Their expertise and experiences will guide and lead our work, telling us what measures are being taken – and what still needs to happen - to create a level playing field.”

Current research on gender pay gap shows the pay gap will not be eradicated until 2069 – or 99 years after the 1970 Equal Pay Act*, with women working full-time in Scotland still earning on average 6.2% less than men**.

Stirling experts tackle the gender pay gap Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:34:00 +0000 The rapid decline of ancient ice sheets could help scientists predict the impact of modern-day climate and sea-level change, according to research by the universities of Stirling in Scotland and Tromsø in Norway.

Ice sheets are massive land-based reservoirs of frozen water. For the first time, scientists have reconstructed in detail the evolution of the last ice sheet that covered Iceland around 20,000 years ago.

Worrying evidence

The recently published study shows the greatest changes took place at a time when temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rose by around 3°C in just 500 years.

The maximum rate of ice loss in Iceland then was on the same scale seen in West Antarctica and Greenland today, providing worrying evidence of how climate change can dramatically alter the world’s ice sheets, leading to rapid sea level rise.

Dr Tom Bradwell, from Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, said: “About 22,000 years ago, the climate awoke from the last Ice Age, and entered a prolonged but gradual period of warming. This triggered the melting of the huge ice sheets that once covered North America and Eurasia.

“We used seafloor data to map the full extent of the last Icelandic ice sheet and fed this geological information into our ice sheet model. The new modelling experiments, driven by climate data from Greenland ice cores, replicate ice sheet behaviour over the last 35,000 years, showing when it melted the fastest and how it behaved.

“We found that, at certain times, the Icelandic ice sheet retreated at an exceptionally fast rate – more than double the present-day rate of ice loss from the much larger West Antarctic ice sheet – causing global sea level to rise significantly.”

These high-resolution model experiments, published in Earth-Science Reviews, provide an unprecedented view of how the Icelandic ice sheet rapidly reduced in size and volume between 21,000 and 18,000 years ago, mainly through icebergs breaking away from its marine margins. It then collapsed 14,000 years ago, this time abruptly in response to rapid climate warming.

Dramatic collapse

The Icelandic ice sheet reached a maximum size of 562,000 sq. km – an area about the size of France. During its dramatic collapse the ice sheet melted rapidly over much of its surface area, decreasing in size by almost two-thirds, in only 750 years.  This large volume of ice melting caused a 46 cm-rise in global sea levels – or more than 1mm rise every two years for over seven centuries – and is equivalent to the ice losses currently being experienced in Greenland.

When compared to the length of time it took the Icelandic ice sheet to grow to its full size – approximately 10,000 years – this rate of change is all the more remarkable.

These abrupt events, seen in former ice sheets and mirrored today, put present-day rates of ice sheet change in a new perspective. However, until recently, much of the data needed to reconstruct and model their shape, size and flow existed unseen below sea level.

Dr Henry Patton, from UiT The Arctic University of Norway, said: “Satellite data show that the present polar ice sheets can respond on alarmingly short timescales to climate and ocean changes. By using data from the geological record to constrain model reconstructions of rapid ice sheet change thousands of years ago, we can better predict how contemporary ice sheets will probably react in the future and the serious impact they have on sea level rise.”

Prof Alun Hubbard, who works at UiT Norway and Aberystwyth University, said: “Just like the Icelandic ice sheet, some 20,000 year ago, the retreat of the Greenland ice sheet is now contributing up to approximately 1.2 mm per year to global sea-level rise. That doesn't sound much but given the time-scales involved, and that Greenland's ice loss has increased from nothing 20 years ago to over roughly 350 cubic kilometres per year now, makes it a significant cause for concern – particularly for those low lying, coastal regions where much of the planet's population lives."

The research, supported by the Research Council of Norway, is part of an ongoing collaboration between the scientists in the Universities of Tromsø, Aberystwyth and Stirling to understand ice sheet evolution, past and present.

Climate change clues revealed by ice sheet collapse Mon, 24 Apr 2017 09:59:00 +0000 Looking at dancers' brain activity as they perform is at the centre of a new body of science and arts activity between the University of Stirling and Macrobert Arts Centre.

Stirling PhD researcher Simon Ladouce records the electrical brain activity of dancers as they perform a choreographed routine. The project is the first time the researchers have recorded electrophysiological brain signals in someone who is dancing – bringing art and science together in a novel way.

Real-life environment

Simon Ladouce, from the University’s Centre for Mobile Cognition, said: “This unique link-up with Macrobert represents a great opportunity to put our methods developed here at Stirling to the challenge, capturing brain activity during highly dynamic behaviours in a real-life environment.”

In the research test, the dancers wear caps, filled with electrodes, on their heads. This tells the experts when and where electrical activity is changing on the surface of the brain.

Simon added: “We want find out more about the brain’s dynamics when dancing. Although some dancers make it seem effortless, dancing actually requires the brain to plan a series of complex actions and quickly adapt these based on what their partner, or the tempo of the music, is doing.

“We are particularly interested in the difference between dancing alone and with a partner: how do brain processes differ when dancing in synchrony with someone else? By recording brainwaves in the social setting of dance, we can gain a better understanding about how we perceive, think and act in everyday life situations.”

Inspiring practice

Julie Ellen, Artistic Director at Macrobert Arts Centre, said: “It is a pleasure to see performers and researchers inspiring and informing each other’s practise in ways that develop what they do. The growth in understanding that is then shared goes toward increasing public knowledge. Working in this way really adds to the value of Macrobert Arts Centre and the University of Stirling as cultural assets for the communities we serve.”

Direct research into mobile cognition began at Stirling three years ago and the field is still in its infancy. Simon’s work will be displayed on opening night, alongside other cutting-edge neuroscience research which has informed the show’s production.

Fellow PhD researcher Thomas Di Virgilio will demonstrate how scientists see the brain communicating with muscle elsewhere in the body, showing part of the science behind the traumatic brain damage suffered by the show’s central character.

Masters student Derval McCormack will also illustrate the show’s emotional narrative by demonstrating a brain stimulation technique which moderates the brain’s ability to detect positive or negative emotions.

Dancers' brainwaves under the spotlight in art and science link-up Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:25:00 +0000 A leading University of Stirling academic has been announced as a member of a UK-wide research panel.

Professor Judith Phillips, Deputy Principal (Research) at Stirling, has been appointed as a member of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) Interdisciplinary Research Advisory Panel (IDAP).

The four UK funding bodies – Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland (DfE) – established the panel as part of the preparations for the next REF.

Professor Phillips, one of the UK’s leading gerontology experts, said: “I am delighted to be appointed to this important role. Stirling is a research-intensive university and interdisciplinary in its approach. I look forward to working alongside IDAP colleagues to help positively shape the UK’s REF preparations.”

The IDAP has been set up to advise the REF team, panel chairs and UK funding bodies on the approach to support the submission and assessment of interdisciplinary research in the REF.

Dr Kim Hackett, REF manager, said: “We look forward to working with the group to support the submission and ensure fair and equitable assessment of interdisciplinary research during the next REF.”

The IDAP includes members from across the UK. They were appointed following a nominations process, and include experienced researchers with extensive interdisciplinary and research assessment experience.

Leading Stirling academic joins UK research panel Thu, 13 Apr 2017 14:02:41 +0000 Swimmers from the University of Stirling are beginning to grind up the gears as they set their sights on the British Swimming Championships next week.

Twenty-one Stirling athletes will travel to Ponds Forge International Sports Centre in Sheffield for the highlight of the national events calendar – and high performance coach Steven Tigg insists the squad is as hungry as ever for success.

Steven said: “Last season brought the squad, as a whole, lots of success.

“But last season is gone. For us, it’s now about ensuring we don’t get complacent as a programme and show that we’re still hungry to progress and achieve success.

“Some athletes will be looking to maintain the levels they achieved last year, while others are looked to build a stronger foundation for the future.”

Squad selections

The championships double as the selection event for this summer’s World Championships in Budapest and the World University Summer Games in Chinese Taipei. They also mark the initial qualification phase for the Scottish Commonwealth Games team for 2018.

Scottish athletes have until October to qualify for Team Scotland, while swimmers from England and Northern Ireland have a December deadline.

Among those travelling to the trials from Stirling, Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, is double Olympic-medallist Duncan Scott.

Duncan said: “I just want to keep things going the way they are. I feel more relaxed this year and I have the Commonwealth Games in my sights. I didn’t qualify for an individual swim at the 2014 Games in Glasgow, so my aim is to qualify as early as possible.

“I want to put in a strong performance at the British Championships. I’m trying different events, including the 100m and 200m fly, which I don’t usually do, so the event is a chance to focus on these.”

The full-time Sports Studies student, who turns 20 next month, is balancing a packed schedule.

Duncan added: “Taking on five events next week will give me a heavy schedule but this will help me challenge at a world level in the future.

“I want to qualify for bigger events with British Swimming and be ready to cope with a tough schedule of back-to-back swims. I also have essays and an exam at university, so it’s a busy time at the moment.”

Prestigious programme

Kathleen Dawson, 19, will also join Duncan at the championships, taking on all of the backstroke events.

The first-year Sports Studies student, originally from Warrington, believes she has made major progress since joining head performance coach Ben Higson’s programme.

Kathleen said: “I learnt a lot from the Olympic trials this time last year. I swam the time I needed for qualification – but it was three weeks too late. There was too much pressure and I now know how to take that away and just enjoy myself.

“Ben has given me so much confidence – he completely believes in me and it’s helped me to believe in myself. I came to Stirling to join a prestigious programme with the aim of improving my swimming. I know exactly what I’m doing in each swim now and have been working with Ben to develop a solid race plan.

“I’m really looking forward to the 50m and 100m. I feel I have the best chance in these events and I want to be at the Worlds and Commonwealth Games, but there’s no pressure - I’m enjoying myself and having fun.”

Ross Murdoch, who has become a full-time athlete at Stirling, allowing him to concentrate solely on his sport, will also be in attendance.

Ross said: “I’m training well at the moment and looking forward to heading down to Sheffield. For me, the aim is qualification for the World Championships.

“I swam at the last two events – in 2013 and 2015 – so I would like to see myself make the team for the third year in a row. I’m also enjoying swimming full-time and being able to concentrate on one thing and give it my all.”

Ross will compete in the 100m and 200m breaststroke events, having won gold in the latter at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and hopes to cook up a storm in Sheffield.

He said: “The Commonwealth Games are on my mind and I’m starting to look towards this. I’ve learnt a lot about the psychology of sport and the importance of nutrition since then and have been working with the sportscotland institute of sport and Quality Meat Scotland to get a better grasp of nutrition. I’m really enjoying doing lots of cooking and seeing how this can help me in the pool.”

The British Swimming Championships take place between Tuesday 18 and Sunday 23 April. You can watch all of the action live on British Swimming’s You Tube channel.

Stirling swimmers ‘still hungry’ as they enter British Championships Thu, 13 Apr 2017 11:35:00 +0000