News in 2011
Inaugural Interdisciplinary Science Research Lectures: A smart wound dressing concept for detecting and treating infection in paediatric burn wounds
One of the missions of the IScience programme is to demonstrate the symbiosis of teaching and research. The Interdisciplinary Science Guest Research Lecture series aims provide lectures accessible to undergraduates and non-experts to raise awareness of current interdisciplinary research topics.
On 24th November 2011 our first speaker Dr Toby Jenkins, Head of Biophysical Chemistry Research at the University of Bath, discussed the science behind the creation of a smart wound dressing for detecting and treating infection.On 24th November 2011 our first speaker Dr Toby Jenkins, Head of Biophysical Chemistry Research at the University of Bath, discussed the science behind the creation of a smart wound dressing for detecting and treating infection.
There is frequent reference to ‘nanotechnology’ in the media, and many people, including Prince Charles, have an opinion on its merits – or otherwise. However, few people seem to know exactly what nanotechnology is – including many scientists. Still fewer have heard of ‘nano-biotechnology’: the applications of nanotechnology to biological systems.
Toby discussed one potential clinical application of this technology. The problem of infection, especially with the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, is well known but it is less known that infection is a cause of death in half of all people who die from thermal burns. The focus of the technology Toby and his team are developing is to treat burns in young children. This is part of a research project currently taking place across five European countries, applying nano-biotechnology to the fabrication of an advanced wound dressing which will monitor whether a wound or burn is infected by bacteria. If the wound becomes infected, the dressing will automatically release an antimicrobial agent and, if this fails to stop the infection, then changes colour to alert the patient or clinicians.
Collaboration to create new Sustainable Development module
A collaboration between the Centre for Interdisciplinary Science and the School of Biological Sciences has received funding from the HEA Bioscience Centre to create a new module on sustainable development. The Departmental Teaching Enhancement Scheme will provide funding to the develop sustainability literacy teaching for students in Biological sciences and in the College of Science and Engineering. This new module will build on the existing option for Interdisciplinary Science students by broadening the scope to include sociological, ethical and economic issues beyond the usual conservation biology option.
Science and Sustainability: Improving Livelihoods in Kenya
Students from the University of Leicester have left a lasting impression on local community groups in Lake Naivasha, Kenya, after visiting in April this year. They visited Naivasha as part of the Sustainable Livelihoods field course, which is run each year by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Science. The course allows students to apply skills learnt during their degree to tackling real world issues of sustainability. This year’s student projects – ‘Reduction of fluoride in drinking water’ and ‘Briquette making’ - were particularly successful in raising awareness of key issues and transferring knowledge to local communities.
Although fluoride is added to drinking water in some areas of the UK, very high levels of fluoride can have a negative effect on human health. Students Amy Cook and Ashleigh Glossop found that drinking water from bore holes around Lake Naivasha had fluoride concentrations well above WHO guidelines for safe levels. Some people in the area had already taken steps to reduce fluoride in their water; however Ashleigh and Amy found that many people were unaware of the health risks of fluoride. They tested a simple method of reducing fluoride concentration in drinking water, using carbonised animal bones, and found it to be successful.
I-science students Alicia Peel and Zoe Bailey worked on a project researching and creating different “Briquettes” – a fuel source made from compressed waste material - with the intention of introducing them to local communities as an alternative to charcoal.
Zoe said, “We looked at how these Briquettes could be advantageous to local communities and how different characteristics of the Briquettes (e.g. ratios, components or preparation method) affected how effective they were a fuel source. We also investigated how charring [carbonising] the Briquettes or the components of the Briquettes affected their efficiency, as well as looking at a couple of possible methods of charring.”
Zoe and Alicia found that, overall, charred Briquettes worked best (they burned hotter and gave out less smoke); however, non charred Briquettes still worked well and are simpler to produce. Briquettes have a number of benefits for local communities. They are made from waste material and therefore provide a low cost alternative to charcoal, they can also provide a sustainable livelihood for people making and selling the Briquettes. If Briquettes become widely adopted in the area they should help to reduce the environmental damage caused by the production and burning of charcoal.
Students worked with a number of local community groups including the Lake Naivasha Disabled Environmental Group (LNDEG). These community groups have now implemented some of the suggestions put forward by the students and they have found the information very useful. Thadius Mogendi, Chairman of the LNDEG, has kept in touch with the students by email to keep them up to date with the progress they have made since April.
Ed Morrison, a PhD student working on wetland restoration in Naivasha, worked with the students. He said, “The briquettes have helped disadvantaged communities, with no access to electricity, reduce their dependence on environmentally-destructive charcoal production. The students supplied the materials and training necessary for the LNDEG to produce biomass briquettes from locally-available and otherwise discarded waste materials. They are now busy selling this alternative fuel in the settlement, at KSh 3/briquette [2p] and helping to spread knowledge about re-use of wastes towards affordable and environmentally-positive fuel production for the rural poor, reducing local rates of deforestation in the process.”
As well as helping local communities in Kenya, the students who take part in the field course also get a lot out of the experience. Zoe Baily said, “I really enjoyed the Kenya field course. Being in Kenya was a really great experience, I loved getting to meet the local people and learning what life was like for them. It was amazing to be able to experience an environment so beautiful and different from what I am used too.”
Zoe went on the say, “I think the best part about the field course was that I got to work on my own project that I knew could actually be of real benefit to the local communities. I was especially pleased when I recently received an email update from the Lake Naivasha Disabled Environmental Group informing us that, after the presentation Alicia and I gave, they are now producing and selling Briquettes.”
The Sustainable Livelihoods course is run by Emma Tebbs, Graduate Teaching Assistant for the I-Science course, and Dr David Harper, originator of the module, who is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation Biology in the Biology Department. David also teaches ecology on the I-Science degree by running the ‘Biosphere’ module and sustainability by contributing to ‘Sustainable Futures’. He has conducted scientific research in Kenya & Tanzania for over 25 years, focussing upon the sustainability of water resources.
The field course will take place again in 2012 during the Easter holidays, when another group of students will travel to Kenya to work on a new set of projects. The course is open to anyone at the university. Anyone interested in taking part can find out more by contacting Emma Tebbs – email@example.com.