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12 Stories to Remember from 2020: part 1

(18 December 2020)

A bone fragment found by our archaeologists

It has been an extraordinary year. In the first in a two-part series, we recall the first six of 12 Stories to Remember from 2020, from how researchers adapted to the fight against Covid-19 to inspiring archaeological discoveries.

1. Baby sleep expertise leads to new bedsharing advice

2020 began with some far-reaching findings from our Durham Infancy & Sleep Centre. Research by our baby sleep experts led to new international guidance on bedsharing, marking the Centre’s latest contribution to keeping babies safe at night since it opened 20 years ago.

2. Archaeologists reveal unseen history of the North East

Next we saw a series of rare and fascinating discoveries by our archaeological experts, with the unearthing of Durham City’s earliest recorded human resident, the excavation of a long lost medieval chapel, and the discovery of an astonishing Viking-age board game piece – with each find really bringing North East England’s history to light.

3. Exploring life’s big questions

Going a little further back in time, we delved into one of life’s biggest questions – how did life on earth begin? One theory is that cells, the tiny bags of living matter that make up all living things, were formed over four billion years ago when meteorites fell from the sky and dissolved in ponds, creating a broth of RNA molecules. However, that does not explain how the complex macromolecules found in cells today evolved. Our researchers argued that self-reproducing systems could have evolved spontaneously from simple sequences of nucleic and amino acids.

4. Transforming local coal mines

Looking this time to the future, our energy experts revealed that their research would be used to produce sustainable, low carbon, heating using water from abandoned former coal mines in South Tyneside, North East England. By producing a cleaner source of heat, the geothermal energy project is set to deliver a reduction of 319 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, and will help the local council’s drive to become carbon neutral by 2030.

5. Dogs join fight against Covid-19

Back in May a team of experts from Durham, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and charity Medical Detection Dogs received backing from the UK Government to see whether dogs can sniff out Covid-19 in people. Trials are still underway, and our super sniffers are beginning to test their detective skills in new and challenging environments.

6. Royal recognition for student volunteers

And we round off part one on a high note. With over 2,000 of our student volunteers giving a total of over 40,000 hours of their time prior to the pandemic, it was no surprise when our Student Volunteering and Outreach team were honoured with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest award given for community volunteering in the UK.

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