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Durham University

Durham University News


Impacting life on Earth

(11 May 2021)

We're working with the NHS on the health of newborn babies

Our Astronomy and Cosmology research is having an impact on life here on Earth.

Our researchers are using their skills to help newborn babies, stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect coffee plants.

Newborn babies

Drawing on their experience of dealing with huge amounts of astronomical data, our researchers have worked with the UK's National Health Service (NHS) to establish the standard for recognising vital signs in healthy newborn babies.

They looked at a wealth of information to see what the normal parameters were for issues such as pulse rate and oxygen saturation.

Their long-term aim is to devise a computer programme that helps doctors determine the need for specialist treatment in premature newborns.

The type of treatment premature babies might receive in their first few hours of life can have important implications for the child and knowing whether or not infants need this specialist care is a crucial part of doctors’ decision-making.

Limiting the spread of Covid-19

Our particle physics and cosmology research students are also using their knowledge of maths and big data in the fight against Covid-19.

They’re part of a team of experts, including the UN and fellow academics, who are working to model the spread of the virus in different scenarios.

The team’s computer generated models can help predict what the best public health interventions and measures could be to limit the effects of the disease.

They’re applying their model to the Kutupalong-Batukhali Expansion Site region of the Cox’s Bazar refugee operation in Bangladesh, home to 600,000 people.

The team is also designing a tool that will allow relief organisations, decision makers and modellers to view multiple scenarios at the same time to see what interventions could work best.

Protecting coffee plants

And if you like a morning coffee to kick-start your day, we’re using an astronomical technique to spot the signs of coffee leaf rust in plants.

Coffee leaf rust is a highly destructive fungal disease with the potential to wipe out vast areas of crops and entire plantations.

As many hill farmers in developing countries who rely on coffee production for their livelihoods don’t want to use fungicides for ecological reasons, or can’t afford them, early detection of the disease is vitally important.

Utilising imaging techniques used to study objects in space we’re detecting infections in coffee plants so action can be taken to stop the disease spreading.

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