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 Researchers undertaking Scotland’s first long-term study of the health, economic and social circumstances of people aged 50-plus are now seeking insight from individuals across Scotland.

Experts from the University of Stirling-led Healthy Ageing In Scotland (HAGIS) pilot study are now contacting 50-plus residents to take part in the vital survey.

The information the public provides will help to address questions such as how individuals plan for retirement and about the care given by, or provided to, our elderly population. The survey includes memory tasks and will also check if respondents’ understand key concepts that will help them plan their finances.

HAGIS Project Lead Dr Elaine Douglas, said: “This study will address some of the important economic, social and health problems faced by older people in Scotland. The data we gather is treated securely and confidentially. By linking the survey to health and social records, with individual consent, we will gather a much clearer picture of how Scotland’s elderly population can be better supported.

“I encourage anyone over the age of 50 who is approached about the survey to take part. Their contribution will help inform the design and implementation of policies and services affecting them now and in the future.”

This first phase of the study will seek information from 1,000 adults and will investigate the different stages at which people are willing to invest in their pension, healthcare and other outgoings that bring benefits later in life. Interviews will take place in people’s own home and will be carried out by trained interviewers from FACTS International.

The information will allow the researchers to understand why some people invest more in their future than others. This will help researchers and policy-makers to understand more about the ways in which people plan for their retirement and long-term security.

The study, jointly funded by the USA’s National Institute on Ageing (NIA) and the Nuffield Foundation, is part of Scotland’s contribution to international ageing research, with the ultimate aim of supporting a better quality of life for older people.

As part of the International Network of Ageing, HAGIS findings can be compared with findings from other ageing studies in the British Isles, Europe and around the world.

Stirling Economist and HAGIS Principal Investigator, Professor David Bell said: “This is a fantastic study. One of the key policy areas for cross-country comparison is the devolution of welfare payments to Scotland. These include disability payments, personal independence payments, carers’ allowance – the welfare benefits that are predominantly paid to the over 50s.”

The multi-partner project team includes Professor Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh, also known for his work with the Lothian Birth Cohort.

Scotland’s first long-term ageing study seeks views of over 50s Wed, 07 Dec 2016 11:34:00 +0000 University of Stirling high performance swim coaches Ben Higson and Steven Tigg have won the title of Coach of the Year at the 2016 Sunday Mail and sportscotland Scottish Sports Awards.

The duo have coached the University swimming team to a record medal haul at the Olympic Games, and great success at national and European competitions.

Their efforts and expertise were celebrated at a glittering ceremony in Glasgow and follow Coach of the Year wins at the sportscotland Coaching, Officiating and Volunteering (COV) Awards and Team Scotland Awards

Steven Tigg was also awarded BSCA Coach of the Year at the Scottish Swimming Awards.

The accolade finishes off a sensational year for the coaches who guided Ross Murdoch, Duncan Scott, Craig Benson and Robbie Renwick to Olympic selection in 2016 and continue to coach a group of talented young athletes through the University’s high performance swimming programme.

Head coach Ben Higson, said: “This recognition rounds off a fantastic year for everyone associated with the high performance programme at the University of Stirling. The talent of the support staff and athletes themselves have contributed to our success this year and we look forward to building on this success in 2017.”

Sporting Excellence coaching duo take title at Scottish Sports Awards Fri, 02 Dec 2016 11:27:00 +0000 University of Stirling’s roster of Olympic and Paralympic athletes were recognised at a special reception evening held on campus yesterday evening, Tuesday 29 November.

Staff, students, supporters and University partners gathered to celebrate Stirling’s high performance athletes, current students, alumni, honorary graduates and coaching staff who participated in the 2016 Games.

Hosted by Stirling alumna and BBC broadcaster Rhona McLeod, the event saw Stirling Olympic medallists Duncan Scott and Robbie Renwick give an insight into their Olympic experience alongside high performance swimming teammates Craig Benson and Ross Murdoch, and Head Coach Ben Higson.

Cathy Gallagher, Director of Sport at Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, said: “It’s been an incredible year for sport, particularly at Stirling. We wanted to take this opportunity to show our pride in each of the University of Stirling athletes who competed in Rio and look back on what has been a milestone year.

“It was fantastic that so many people across our community had the chance to be part of an Olympic Games. The attributes of self-belief and dedication that our athletes possess are ones that we aim to instil in all of our students, no matter what challenge they have set themselves, and the recognition they receive is well deserved.”

New Stirling athlete and fellow Olympic swimmer Dan Wallace also joined the celebrations, alongside former tennis scholar and Stirling alumnus Colin Fleming, who played in the men’s doubles in Rio.

Stirling was also represented in the Paralympics by double medallist, former student and wheelchair tennis scholar, Gordon Reid, while alumni Charlotte Henshaw and Scott McCowan competed in Paralympic swimming and boccia respectively. Charlotte took a bronze medal in Rio and Honorary Graduate Andy Murray also secured another gold medal, equally his success in London.

Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence was Scotland’s top performing University in Rio.

Stirling athletes celebrate year of Olympic success Wed, 30 Nov 2016 14:02:00 +0000

Official graduation galleries
Visit our graduation live pages

More than 730 students celebrated their graduation alongside honorary graduates Emeritus Professor Andrew Whiten and Alan Bissett at the University of Stirling’s Winter Graduation.

The degrees were conferred by University Chancellor and BBC broadcaster James Naughtie at two ceremonies held in the Gannochy National Tennis Centre.

Emeritus Professor Andrew Whiten received the award of Doctor of the University in recognition of his outstanding contribution to our understanding of the evolution of primates in the morning ceremony, alongside graduands from the Faculties of Health Sciences and Sport, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences.

Professor Whiten has put Scotland at the forefront of the study of animal behaviour and established the Living Links to Human Evolution Primate Research Centre in Edinburgh Zoo. In 2013, he was made a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society, of which there are around 100 Fellows worldwide.

In the afternoon ceremony, Scottish novelist, playwright and performer Alan Bissett received the award of Doctor of the University in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Scottish literary culture.

Alan said: "I feel immensely proud to receive this Honorary Doctorate from the University of Stirling, a place where I spent many happy years as both an undergraduate and a postgraduate. I started at Stirling when I was just 17 way back in 1993, and finished my postgrad studies when I was 25, essentially my formative years.

“Not only was my mind opened to numerous new ways of thinking, but my first novel was published when I was still a student at Stirling. As such, I feel I have a great many things to thank the University of Stirling for, this Honorary Doctorate being not least among them.

“It's always a nostalgic pleasure for me to come back to the campus for any reason, but to receive this accolade, and have the chance to address the graduates on their own special day, made this a particularly humbling trip."

Already an alumnus of the University, Alan Bissett is the first and only member of his family to attend university. He graduated with a first class honours in English with Education and a Diploma in Education in 1998 before gaining a MLitt in English from Stirling in 2002 and celebrated with graduands from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Stirling Management School.

Bissett began his writing career as a student, with the semi-autobiographical novel Boyracers. Since then, he has emerged as a highly successful novelist and playwright.

Among the day’s graduands was the first cohort from the INTO joint venture international student graduate diploma programme and Stirling University football coach Shelley Kerr. The first female to coach a men’s senior football side in Britain, Shelley collected a Master’s degree in Sport Management.

Stirling’s Winter Graduation follows recent international ceremonies in Singapore, Oman and Vietnam and the University’s Highlands and Western Isles Graduation in Inverness.
Stirling graduates will benefit from positive job prospects. The University is ranked first in Scotland and third in the UK for employability, with 97% of graduates in employment or further study within six months.

Photos, social media and graduate stories from the winter graduation ceremonies are available at the Graduation Live website.

Graduate stories

Leading Scots playwright honoured at Stirling Winter Graduation Fri, 25 Nov 2016 10:28:00 +0000 Students from the University of Stirling’s accountancy, business and computing science courses delivered in partnership with Muscat College in Oman celebrated their graduation at a special ceremony this week.

Degrees were conferred upon more than 50 graduates and students who had completed Scottish Qualification Authority-affiliated HNC and HND programmes also collected their awards.

Dean of Stirling Management School, Sharon Bolton travelled to Oman with Alan Simpson to celebrate the students’ achievements.

Sharon Bolton, Dean of Stirling Management School, said: “The University of Stirling and Muscat College takes great pride in our students, and collectively we work to ensure each and every student gains skills that mean they go out into the world as reflective practitioners. Students’ achievement is our achievement too, and we take great joy in that.”

Plans are now underway to extend the successful partnership with Muscat College and introduce new undergraduate degrees in Human Resource Management and Marketing starting in September 2017.

Stirling graduates’ prospects are bolstered by the University’s excellent job credentials. Ranked as the first University in Scotland and third in the UK for employability, 97 percent of Stirling graduates are in employment or further study within six months of completing their degrees.

Ceremony in Oman recognises Stirling graduates Fri, 18 Nov 2016 15:03:00 +0000 The First Minister has appointed Sir George Reid, Professorial Fellow in Humanitarian Studies at the University of Stirling, to the Standing Council on Europe, today 16 November.

The Council – composed of eminent diplomats, economists and analysts – provides advice to the Scottish Government on its response to the Brexit referendum.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said: "Sir George Reid has a lifetime of experience as an MP, MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and Member of the Assembly of the Council of Europe. He has a wide breadth of knowledge, experience and has successfully led a number of reviews of strategic issues in the UK and Europe. I am certain his contribution will further enhance the existing work of the Council."

Sir George added: "I want Scotland to retain the strongest possible connection with Europe. That is what the Scottish people voted for and it fits our economic and social interests.

"I particularly want to explore how our academic and research links are maintained, how our universities remain open to European students, and how the rights of EU citizens already living here are safeguarded."

He has served as the MP for Clackmannanshire and Stirling East, MSP for Ochil, as Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, and as a Member the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union.   

As Director of Public Affairs of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent he worked in wars and disasters worldwide and was regularly engaged in diplomatic negotiations with European governments and the EU on humanitarian and military issues.

Since his retirement as Presiding Officer, he has led a number of strategic reviews in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Caucasus.

In 2014 he was appointed a professorial Fellow at the University of Stirling, where he teaches the first MSc module in the UK in Humanitarian Studies. He lives with his wife in Bridge of Allan. 

Distinguished Stirling academic joins Standing Council on Europe Wed, 16 Nov 2016 11:32:00 +0000 The lack of liquid water on the surface of Mars today has been demonstrated by new evidence in the form of meteorites on the Red Planet examined by an international team of planetary scientists.

In a study led by the University of Stirling, an international team of researchers has found the lack of rust on the meteorites indicates that Mars is incredibly dry, and has been that way for millions of years.

The discovery, published in Nature Communications, provides vital insight into the planet’s current environment and shows how difficult it would be for life to exist on Mars today.

Mars is a primary target in the search for life outside Earth, and liquid water is the most important pre-requisite for life.

Dr Christian Schröder, Lecturer in Environmental Science and Planetary Exploration at the University of Stirling and Science Team Collaborator for the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity mission, said:

“Evidence shows that more than 3 billion years ago Mars was wet and habitable. However, this latest research reaffirms just how dry the environment is today. For life to exist in the areas we investigated, it would need to find pockets far beneath the surface, located away from the dryness and radiation present on the ground.”

A study published last year, which used data from the Curiosity Rover investigating Gale crater on Mars, suggested that very salty liquid water might be able to condense in the top layers of Martian soil overnight.

“But, as our data show, this moisture is much less than the moisture present even in the driest places on Earth,” explains Dr Schröder.

Using data from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, the scientists examined a cluster of meteorites at Meridiani Planum - a plain just south of the planet's equator and at a similar latitude to Gale crater.

Dr Schröder and his team have for the first time calculated a chemical weathering rate for Mars, in this case how long it takes for rust to form from the metallic iron present in meteorites.

This chemical weathering process depends on the presence of water. It takes at least 10 and possibly up to 10,000 times longer on Mars to reach the same levels of rust formation than in the driest deserts on Earth and points to the present-day extreme aridity that has persisted on Mars for millions of years.

Meteorites reveal lasting drought on Mars Fri, 11 Nov 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Aquaculture experts from the University of Stirling have found the way fish, Senegalese sole, cope with stress is determined by their personality and remains consistent regardless of the situation they are in.

Experts hope the first study to test stress copying styles in mature Senegalese sole, will help farmers screen fish from a young age to help the species reproduce in captivity and improve aquaculture production.

Scientists found when faced with confinement, restraint or a new environment, younger fish known as juveniles and older fish known as breeders, had similar behavioural patterns and levels of activity, showing consistent responses in animals of different ages.

There was also a correlation between how individuals with the same sort of personality acted across the various tests, suggesting that those who are reactive and fearful or proactive and curious, maintain this behaviour.

Dr Sonia Rey Planellas, Research Fellow in the Institute of Aquaculture, said: “Senegalese sole is a very valuable fish farmed across Europe, however first generation males’ failure to reproduce is still a problem affecting production of the species. Animals who are proactive and try to explore are likely to reproduce in captivity so it’s important these fish can be identified at a young age.

“The three tests we used to simulate life in captivity was easy to apply and required no special equipment. We hope this can be replicated by fish farmers, large and small, to help establish selection-based breeding programmes and easily identify fish that deal best with stress and will be able to reproduce more successfully in a variety of environments. These Operational Behavioural Screening tests (OBST) can also be used for other species of interest facing similar problems on domestication and production.”

The research, which also involved researchers from the Institute for Food and Agricultural Research and Technology (IRTA) in Catalonia and the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, is published in Royal Society Open Science.

Around 120 Senegalese sole take part in five individual behavioural tests and two grouping tests. Cortisol, glucose and lactate in the blood was measured at the end of the tests to measure the stress response.

The study formed part of Zohar Ibarra-Zatarain’s PhD thesis who is now working in the Nayarit Centre of Technology Innovation and Transfer (CENIT2) in Tepic, México.

Personality tests for fish could help boost reproduction rates Tue, 08 Nov 2016 12:57:00 +0000
Official graduation gallery

Students from the University of Stirling’s Highlands and Islands campuses received their degrees in a ceremony at Inverness Cathedral today, Wednesday 2 November.

Degrees were conferred upon 118 graduands from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport.

The graduating class of 2016 included a cohort of nurses and the first ever group of trained health visitors, as well as those leaving the University with specialist postgraduate degrees and a small number of students receiving qualifications from the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

Honorary graduate Dr Helen Bevan OBE also received the award of Doctor of the University in recognition of her outstanding contribution to quality improvement in healthcare.

A leader of large scale change in the English National Health Service for more than 20 years, Dr Bevan was recognised for her exceptional influence and leadership within the NHS.

Professor Gerry McCormac Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stirling, said: "Congratulations to all our students graduating in Inverness today. Many students who have studied in the Highlands and Islands will dedicate their lives to helping others. The degree they have earned will give them a chance to make a tangible difference in the world. That’s an exciting prospect and making a difference, ‘being the difference’, has always been in Stirling’s DNA.

“I wish our graduates the best of luck as they take the experience gained at University to help build admirable professional careers.”

Stirling student nurses spend 50 per cent of their time at University on placement in a clinical setting, working closely with local NHS Boards, and are now set for a budding career in healthcare.

Students’ prospects are bolstered by the University’s excellent job credentials - the University ranked first in Scotland and third in the UK for employability, with 97 per cent of graduates in employment or further study within six months of completing their degrees.

Stirling was also named as Nurse Education Provider of the Year for pre-registration nursing at the Student Nursing Times Awards 2016 in recognition of the outstanding delivery of education to undergraduate nursing students.

Graduate stories

Stirling graduates honoured at ceremony in Inverness Wed, 02 Nov 2016 10:28:00 +0000 Six University of Stirling athletes have been selected for British Swimming’s 2017 performance squad for Podium and Podium Potential programmes.

As the sport enters the Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycle, two male swimmers training under Ben Higson and Steven Tigg in the National Swimming Academy on campus, have been confirmed as part of the Podium programme.

New recruit and Olympic silver medallist Dan Wallace and Olympic teammate and Sport Studies student Duncan Scott, have been named in the top tier as they look to build on their success in Rio.

Following an extensive selection procedure which assesses athletes’ ability to win future medals on the Olympic stage, Dan and Duncan are two of just 17 British swimmers identified for the scheme.

European Open Water Champion Danielle Huskisson and Stirling swimmer Kathleen Dawson – the first Scottish woman to swim the women’s 100m backstroke in under a minute – have also been selected for the Podium Potential programme, alongside 17-year-old student Craig McLean and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Ross Murdoch.

Cathy Gallagher, Director of Sport at Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, said: “It’s fantastic to see the University of Stirling so well-represented among this roster of young athletes who show huge potential for the future.

“Team GB has great belief in these swimmers to be future Olympic champions and the guidance provided by British Swimming, alongside the support of the University programme, will allow our athletes to further develop in their sport.”

Athletes selected on to the World Class programmes are eligible to receive advanced training camp and competition opportunities, access to world-class sports science and medicine services, and enhanced support from British Swimming performance staff and National Institute of Sport programmes across the country.

British Swimming's Head of Elite Development Tim Jones said: "The past year has been great with some strong performances from a number of our young and talented swimmers. As we begin the new quadrennial we have used this opportunity to make some obvious investments into a new generation of athletes with a clear focus on Tokyo and beyond.

“Through membership of the World Class Programme we believe we can help all of our athletes on their journey by providing a comprehensive support package to help further nurture their talent. All swimmers have been set clear personalised outcome and process goal for the coming season, and we will be monitoring more closely than ever the successful completion of these targets.”

Six Stirling swimmers make British performance squads Thu, 27 Oct 2016 12:18:00 +0000 The University of Stirling and sportscotland institute of sport have teamed up to give Olympic heroes and performance support a “Formula 1 level of understanding”.

Scotland’s multiple medal-winning swimmers competed at the recent Rio Olympics powered by a unique technological collaboration called Tensiomiography (TMG) that allowed coaches to apply a meticulous level of details to race preparations.

TMG is a muscle diagnostic tool that has been at the forefront of the quest for improvement in elite Scottish swimming for a number of years.

At the Rio Olympics, for the first time since the university-institute collaboration began in 2008, Scotland’s elite swimmers competed at a major Games having been fully immersed in the TMG programme, and the partnership will continue as the swimmers prepare to represent Scotland at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.

One member of the performance group at Stirling, Duncan Scott, won two Olympic silver medals in Rio while Robbie Renwick shared in Scott’s 4x200m relay success – and Ross Murdoch won individual European gold in the 200m breaststroke earlier in the summer.

Craig Benson completed a quartet of Stirling swimmers who qualified for Rio under the supervision of head coach Ben Higson and high performance coach Steven Tigg – all of them immersed in the TMG programme.

The margins between the Olympic podium and non-medallists in swimming can be minuscule, and the race for that extra split-second has intensified with the technological gains and increased understanding of what an athlete needs to succeed.

With the reliability of the TMG programme now firmly established by the university/institute collaboration and by ongoing academic and applied research, the tools available to a coach are now more detailed and physiologically accurate than ever.

Steven Tigg explains how technology such as TMG can help a coach to achieve an edge over rival countries:

Dr Angus Hunter, Reader in Exercise Physiology at Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, said: “Working with sportscotland institute of sport since 2004, we have been able to hone this technology and identify real physiological changes in elite athletes competing at the top level.

“Monitoring muscle function using this novel technique is quick and painless for the swimmers and is not affected by their state-of-mind or other external factors, allowing us to be highly accurate in our readings.

“PhD researcher Lewis Macgregor has examined swimmers’ muscle symmetry taking a microscopic approach to monitoring individual and collective muscle function. As a result of our work, coaching staff can identify athletes’ needs and rectify minor concerns which can make all the difference to staying in shape to train and avoiding injury.  When an Olympic medal is at stake every training day is meaningful and avoiding loss of training days is imperative.”

Individual medley swimmer Hannah Miley, the winner of 28 international medals who finished 4th in the 400m at the Rio Olympics, has also been using TMG for an extended period at her base of the University of Aberdeen.

“Key to the successful application of TMG has been partnerships and collaborations,” said Dr Malcolm Fairweather, Head of Science and Innovation at the sportscotland institute of sport. 

“In the initial stages of this collaboration Tensiomiography was a relatively unknown technology with limited scientific underpinning, and with insufficient knowledge supporting clear TMG applications in sport. 

“Our early collaboration work scientifically evaluated several applications of TMG in sport and much of this work is now published in international peer review journals. This fundamental work really helped establish the credibility of TMG including the provision of instantaneous feedback across several important areas of muscle function such as muscle fibre typing, muscle fatigue/recovery from fatigue, muscle function and injury status. 

“These areas and associated measures are now critical to explicitly informing coaches and athletes daily training, athlete recovery and athlete adaptation knowledge within Scottish Swimming. The present Special Project collaboration is in place for a three-year period meaning that Scottish Swimming will be able to maintain and expand upon the present TMG support through to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.”

Sport science tie-up puts Scotland’s swimmers in pole position Wed, 26 Oct 2016 09:02:00 +0000 Electronic cigarettes show promise in helping people stop smoking but experts from the University of Stirling believe they could also help smokers and vapers control their weight.

A review of existing research published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research has found nicotine has an inhibitory effect on appetite and assists with weight control.

Researchers in New Zealand and the UK believe that e-liquids with food flavourings may replicate some of the sensations of eating. This coupled with the vapour in electronic cigarettes and the hand to mouth actions of vaping, could play a role in helping people who want to quit smoking, to eat less.

Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling and Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, is among the experts exploring whether vaping with or without nicotine could help people ignore cravings for sweets and other foods.

Professor Bauld said: “Several lines of investigation are worth pursuing in the fight against obesity and this review sets out an initial research agenda for how e-cigarettes could play a part in helping people who smoke or vape control their weight, particularly if they are trying to stop smoking.

“Weight gain prevents some smokers from quitting so we need to explore alternative ways of helping these individuals control their weight, while removing the risks of tobacco use. The benefits of e-cigarettes for smokers have been shown to far outweigh the harms, as vaping carries around 5% of the risk of smoking. However, this paper is not suggesting that we should promote e-cigarettes to non-smokers or non-vapers for weight management.

“Our health care systems are currently struggling to cope with caring for people with chronic conditions caused by obesity and smoking. Even controversial approaches that could contribute to current efforts to address this are worth investigating.”

The research, which is in early stages, does not examine e-cigarettes as a weight loss method for people who do not currently vape or smoke, only for overweight individuals who already do so or are considering vaping for smoking cessation. Questions around longevity of vaping for weight loss or weight maintenance are also yet to be scrutinized.

Lead author, Associate Professor Glover of Massey University in New Zealand, added: “Obesity is set to overtake smoking as the leading preventable cause of disease and early death in several countries. If there is a chance that flavoured vaping could help even a small proportion of people reduce the diabetes, cardiovascular and cancer risks associated with excess weight, the population health gains would be significant.”

With early evidence suggesting that certain e-cigarette flavours show promise as a way of reducing vapers’ food intake, experts believe flavours may become increasingly important in considering any potential health benefits of vaping.

Electronic cigarettes could be used to help combat obesity in smokers trying to quit Tue, 25 Oct 2016 12:52:00 +0000 Researchers from the University of Stirling have explored the true impact of heading a football, identifying small but significant changes in brain function immediately after routine heading practice.

The study from Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence published in EBioMedicine is the first to detect direct changes in the brain after players are exposed to everyday head impacts, as opposed to clinical brain injuries like a concussion.

Football players headed a ball 20 times, fired from a machine designed to simulate the pace and power of a corner kick. Before and after the heading sessions, scientists tested players’ brain function and memory.

Increased inhibition in the brain was detected after just a single session of heading. Memory test performance was also reduced by between 41 and 67 percent, with effects normalising within 24 hours.

Played by more than 250 million people worldwide, the ‘beautiful game’ often involves intentional and repeated bursts of heading a ball. In recent years the possible link between brain injury in sport and increased risk of dementia has focussed attention on whether football heading might lead to long term consequences for brain health.

Cognitive neuroscientist Dr Magdalena Ietswaart from Psychology at the University of Stirling said: “In light of growing concern about the effects of contact sport on brain health, we wanted to see if our brain reacts instantly to heading a football. Using a drill most amateur and professional teams would be familiar with, we found there was in fact increased inhibition in the brain immediately after heading and that performance on memory tests was reduced significantly.

“Although the changes were temporary, we believe they are significant to brain health, particularly if they happen over and over again as they do in football heading. With large numbers of people around the world participating in this sport, it is important that they are aware of what is happening inside the brain and the lasting effect this may have.”

Dr Angus Hunter, Reader in Exercise Physiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, added: “For the first time, sporting bodies and members of the public can see clear evidence of the risks associated with repetitive impact caused by heading a football.

“We hope these findings will open up new approaches for detecting, monitoring and preventing cumulative brain injuries in sport. We need to safeguard the long term health of football players at all levels, as well as individuals involved in other contact sports.”

Dr Ietswaart and Dr Hunter were supported in the research by Stirling neuropsychologist Professor Lindsay Wilson and PhD student Tom Di Virgilio, consulting with leading Glasgow University Medical School Neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart and a wider multi-disciplinary team.

In the study, scientists measured levels of brain function using a basic neuroscience technique called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). The findings from this National Institute of Health Research-funded study are the first to show the TMS technique can be used to detect changes to brain function after small, routine impacts.

Heading a football causes instant changes to the brain Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:01:00 +0000 Researchers at the University of Stirling are part of a leading new research project that aims to examine the dynamics behind regional inequalities in Europe and will examine new policy approaches for tackling inequality and promoting a fairer distribution of resources.

The IMAJINE project – Integrative Mechanisms for Addressing Spatial Justice and Territorial Inequalities in Europe – has been funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme with a grant of just under 5 million Euro.

The study is led by Aberystwyth University in Wales, together with 15 partners from across Europe, including Paul Cairney, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, at the University of Stirling.

The project takes a uniquely inter-disciplinary approach to studying regional inequalities, combining the expertise of economists, geographers, planners, political scientists and sociologists working both on European-level analysis and detailed case studies in 11 countries. Elements of the study include analysis of socio-economic statistics on inequalities; an online survey to explore public perceptions of regional inequalities and cohesion policies; investigations into the connections between regional inequalities and migration, and regional inequalities and movements for political autonomy; research on how governments use the distribution of public services and resources to address inequalities; and ‘participatory scenario building’ exercises with stakeholders to explore potential policy options for tackling inequality.

Professor Paul Cairney, said: “My role, in partnership with Professor Michael Keating from the University of Aberdeen, will be to identify how EU Member States and regions can learn from each other and transfer elements of good practice as they seek to use taxation, funding, and public services to reduce territorial inequalities. We will focus in particular on the ‘prevention’ agenda in which governments try to intervene as early as possible in people’s lives to improve their life chances.”

IMAJINE Co-ordinator Professor Michael Woods, said: “Territorial cohesion is a key principle for the European Union, yet since 2008 inequalities between different regions in Europe have increased and there is a growing consensus that we need to re-examine policies for social cohesion and regional development. By taking a broad, multi-disciplinary approach, we hope in IMAJINE to encourage fresh thinking and new ideas.

“We want to explore, for example, whether public perceptions of inequalities match up with the statistical analysis, whether there are connections between regional inequalities and migration flows, and whether more political autonomy for regions could present an alternative way to address perceived injustices. Asking these questions will allow us to work with stakeholders from governments, NGOs and communities to develop policies that imagine a more spatially just future for Europe.”

The IMAJINE project starts in January 2017 and will run for five years.

New research project examines regional inequalities in Europe Wed, 19 Oct 2016 10:05:00 +0000 The hunting of mammals is threatening animal populations and posing a major threat to food security, according to new research from the universities of Stirling and Oregon State.

An international research team analysed data on 1,169 of the world’s land-living animals threatened primarily by hunting, collected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Experts found the ongoing decline of more than 300 species will affect millions of people in Asia, Africa and South America who rely on wild meat as part of their diet.

The animals at risk include large mammals such as the grey ox, Bactrian camels, bearded and warty pigs, and small animals like the golden-capped fruit bat and black-bearded flying fox.

Javan and black rhinoceroses, tapirs, deer, tree kangaroos, armadillos, pangolins, rodents and large carnivores, all of which are hunted or trapped for meat, medicine, body parts, trophies or live pets, are similarly threatened.

Research published in the Royal Society Open Science journal found forests, grasslands and deserts in the developing world are now lacking many species of wild animals and becoming empty landscapes.

Dr Katharine Abernethy, Reader in Biological and Environmental Science and leader of the African Forest Ecology group at the University of Stirling, said: “More needs to be done to effectively address the threat of overhunting especially in the Tropics. Millions of wild animals are harvested every year and this is highly unsustainable, putting both wildlife species and traditional livelihoods at risk.”

Overhunting of mammals is concentrated in countries with poorer populations where hundreds of species of wildlife are sold annually in meat markets and as delicacies in urban restaurants.

Dr Abernethy continued: “Bold moves like increasing poaching penalties, promoting sustainable food alternatives, particularly in urban areas and educating richer consumers, who do not need the meat for food security, on the threat to mammals that are hunted will go some way to alleviating the problem.”

Scientists found hunting endangers more primate species than any other group. 126 species including the lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and many species of lemurs and monkeys are affected.

Large carnivores and herbivores comprise a small percentage of all mammals listed but tended to be impacted more severely by overhunting. The loss of these large mammals could cause long-lasting ecological changes, including overpopulation of prey, higher disease risks and the loss of benefits for humans.

To curb the overhunting crisis, researchers suggest more logistical and financial support is needed from richer developed countries and conclude that only big changes and political will can diminish the possibility of humans consuming many of the world’s wild mammals to the point of extinction.

Mammals are being hunted to extinction Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:47:00 +0000