Durham Research in the News
Education's CEM Centre looks at education trends
Research from the Curriculum, Evaluation and Management (CEM) Centre in the School of Education is shedding light on the country's youngest and oldest pupils.
A six year comparison of children by Dr Christine Merrell has shown that there has been no change in developmental levels of pupils entering primary school in this period, despite the introduction of several new early years' initiatives over the past decade, including the early childhood curriculum, the Sure Start programme, free nursery education for all three year olds, the Children's Act 2002 and the Every Child Matters initiative.
The research measured the cognitive development of almost 35,000 children on entry into 124 primary schools between 2001 and 2006 and the authors believe it reveals potential policy implications for how future early years initiatives are introduced and monitored.
Dr Merrell explains: "Initiatives should be based on high quality evidence and introduced in ways that allow for continuous scientific monitoring and adjustment in the light of evidence."
Meanwhile research by Doctor Robert Coe, commissioned by the Office of National Statistics shows that pupils capable of obtaining only a C grade at A-level two decades ago could expect to be awarded an A grade today.
The research also revealed that in maths the rise was far higher, at 3.5 grades.
Dr Coe commented: "While this research has not precisely identified why grades have risen so steeply at A-level, the most important factor may be the changes to the exams themselves, with more modules and coursework than exams.”
New ‘chemically-sensitive MRI scan' may bypass some invasive diagnostic test in next decade
A new chemical compound which could remove the need for patients to undergo certain invasive diagnostic tests in the future has been created by a team from the Chemistry Department.
The new compound, which contains fluorine, could be used in a ‘chemically sensitive MRI scan' to help identify the extent of progression of diseases such as cancer, without the need for intrusive biopsies.
The EPSRC-funded researchers, part of a group developing new ways of imaging cancer, believe the chemical could, in theory, be given to the patient by injection before an MRI scan. The fluorine responds differently according to the varying acidity in the body, so that tumours could be highlighted and appear in contrast or ‘light up' on the resulting scan.
Chemistry's Professor David Parker leading the work explained: "There is very little fluorine present naturally in the body so the signal from our compound stands out. When it is introduced in this form it acts differently depending on the acidity levels in a certain area, offering the potential to locate and highlight cancerous tissue."
The researchers are the first to design a version of a compound containing fluorine which enables measurements to be taken quickly enough and read at the right ‘frequency' to have the potential to use with existing MRI scanners, whilst being sufficiently low doses to be harmless to the patient.
The University has filed a patent on this new approach and is looking for commercial partners to help develop it. The team believes that molecules containing fluorine could be used in mainstream MRI diagnoses within the next decade.
Psychology research sheds light on faces
Groundbreaking studies by Durham psychologists are giving further insight into partner selection and people's perceptions.
Research by Dr Lynda Boothroyd in the Psychology Department shows that women who enjoy good childhood relationships with their fathers, ‘daddies' girls, are more likely to select partners who look like their dads.
The team used facial measurements to give a clear view of how fathers' facial features relate directly to the features of faces their daughters find attractive. It shows the importance of the relationship between father and daughter in partner selection.
Well known ‘daddies' girls' such as Nigella Lawson and Zoe Ball back up these findings. A comparison of pictures of Charles Saatchi with Nigel Lawson and Norman Cook with Johnny Ball reveals some close correlations, especially in the central facial area, including the nose, chin and eyes.
Dr Boothroyd along with colleagues at other universities has also investigated people's perceptions when asked to ‘judge a book by its cover'.
In doing that, the research found that women see ‘macho' men as a bad choice for a long-term relationship. On the other hand, men with feminine facial features were seen as more committed and less likely to cheat on their partners.
Men with masculine faces, with features such as a square jaw, larger nose and smaller eyes, were classed as significantly more dominant, less faithful, worse parents and as having personalities that were less warm, compared to their ‘feminine' counterparts, who had finer facial features with fuller lips, wide eyes and thinner, more curved eyebrows.
Thin-layer solar cells may bring cheaper ‘green' power
Scientists at Durham University are harnessing the sun's rays to create cheaper green energy.
The team is developing light-absorbing materials for use in the production of thin-layer solar photovoltaic (PV) cells used to convert light energy into electricity.
The four-year project involves experiments on materials that would be less expensive and more sustainable to use in the manufacturing of solar panels.
Thicker silicon-based cells and compounds containing indium, a rare and expensive metal, are more commonly used to make solar panels today.
The research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) SUPERGEN Initiative, focuses on developing thin-layer PV cells using materials such as copper indium diselenide and cadmium telluride.
The project is entering a new phase for the development of cheaper and more sustainable variants of these materials.
Researchers are also working on manipulating the growth of the materials so they form a continuous structure which is essential for conducting the energy trapped by solar panels before it is turned into usable electricity.
The development of cheaper thin-film PV cells could cut the cost of solar panels for the domestic market and increase the use of solar power.
Professor Ken Durose, Director of the Durham Centre for Renewable Energy, who is leading the research, said one issue in solar energy was the cost of materials.
"If you can make solar panels more cheaply then you will have a winning product," he added.