Swansea research showcased at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival

Scientists from Swansea University will showcase their world-class research at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival 2012, which takes place from June 12-17 and focuses on the theme of RE:Generation.

The University has become a Major Supporter of the UK’s leading science festival for the first time this year and its organisers have selected three of the University’s most innovative and exciting research projects to feature in their programme of events – Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings (SPECIFIC), Greenland Ice Margin Prediction, Stability and Evolution (GLIMPSE), andEnergetic Algae (EnAlgae).

The Department of Psychology, in the University’s College of Human and Health Sciences, has also been invited to lead one of the Festival’s schools’ outreach projects.

Throughout September and October, the Swansea researchers will conduct an anonymous “Big Experiment” to examine hundreds of school pupils’ 2D4D ratio (the ratio of the index finger to the ring finger) to see whether, among teenagers, the finger ratio helps predict what people want to do as a career choice when they leave school.

This is the first experiment of its kind and the project, called "Do Hands and Fingers Point to Career Preferences?” aims to involve more than 500 KS3 pupils in the west of England.

Professor Noel Thompson, Swansea University Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), said: “While Swansea staff and departments have previously exhibited and contributed at the Festival, this year, as a Major Supporter, we aim to increase awareness of the University’s world-class research at what is arguably the world’s largest and most prestigious science festival.

“Communicating and disseminating the impact and value of the leading-edge research we undertake here in Swansea, in collaboration with partners world-wide, is crucial. Participation in the Festival provides an ideal platform for us to engage with the public to do this – and especially as many of our key projects featuring this year are on themes such as sustainability and climate change, which impact on all our lives.

“And while the Festival clearly has international reach, we are also pleased to engage with and hopefully inspire the next generation of UK scientists, through our involvement in the Festival’s education outreach programme.”

The Swansea University projects featuring this year are:

Future Buildings – SPECIFIC project

Professor Dave Worsley from the University’s College of Engineering will take part in a chaired panel discussion on the topic of Future Buildings, looking at the future of materials as regards sustainable homes and cities. 

The event will take place from 4pm-5pm on Tuesday, June 12, in the ExperiTent venue.

Professor Worsley is the Principal Investigator on the £20million, five-year Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings (SPECIFIC) project (http://www.swansea.ac.uk/engineering/specific/).

The project, which is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Technology Strategy Board, and the Welsh Government, and has Tata Steel as its main industrial partner, aims to harness the power of solar energy to turn buildings into power stations, bringing significant environmental and economic benefits.

A GLIMPSE of Greenland: The Disappearing Ice

Professor Tavi Murray from the University’s College of Science will give a talk on Greenland’s changing ice. Greenland may seem remote, but the ice sheet is losing billions of tons of ice each year, adding to global sea-level rise and affecting us all.  

The event, which includes a Q&A session, will take place from 4pm-5pm on Sunday, June 17, in the Winton Crucible venue.

Professor Murray leads the five-year Greenland Ice Margin Prediction, Stability and Evolution (GLIMPSE) project (http://www.swansea.ac.uk/glimpse/), which is supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

Her talk will feature spectacular footage and images from the film documentary ‘A GLIMPSE of Greenland: The Disappearing Ice’, which follows a team of Swansea glaciologists on adventurous field research in south-east Greenland in 2010 and 2011, to investigate how and why Greenland’s ice is changing. 

Algae: Scum of the Earth – EnAlgae project

Dr Adam Powell from Swansea University’s Department of Biosciences, College of Science and Dr Gretchen Brownstein from Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Biological Sciences will lead the Energetic Algae (EnAlgae) project exhibit from 12pm-8pm each day on June 15-17, in Area 42 (http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/area42), the free interactive science zone for adults.

EnAlgae (http://www.enalgae.eu/) is a four-year Strategic Initiative of the INTERREG IVB North West Europe Programme, engaging 19 partners and 14 observers across seven EU Member States.

The project aims to reduce CO2 emissions and dependency on unsustainable energy through the accelerated development of sustainable technologies for algal biomass production, bioenergy and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation, from pilot phase to application and marketable products, processes, and services.

"Do Hands and Fingers Point to Career Preferences?” – schools’ outreach project

The method of this mass experiment to examine pupils’ 2D4D ratio – the ratio of the index finger to the ring finger – led by Dr Steve Stewart-Williams from the University’s Department of Psychology, in the College of Human and Health Sciences, involves two steps.

Firstly, each pupil will have both their hands scanned. They will then take their scanned hand data (e.g. on a USB stick) to a computer terminal, where they will log in and upload the images of their hands to the project’s website.

Each pupil will then complete an online questionnaire, which has two parts. The first asks them questions about their occupational preferences, e.g. would you rather be a mechanic or a teacher?  The second part of the questionnaire asked about handedness, i.e. whether they tend to use their right hand or their left hand for various tasks.

The pupils’ participation in the study is completely anonymous and no information will be asked which could identify any of the students taking part.

Dr Stewart-Williams said: “For some reason, if a person had high levels of testosterone in the womb (prenatal testosterone) their ring finger tends to be longer than their index finger. However, if they had lower levels of prenatal testosterone, the two fingers tend to be about the same length.

“Men are more likely than women to have a longer ring finger than index finger. There’s also some very interesting research which suggests that, among adults, people with longer ring fingers are slightly more likely to go into traditionally male professions, such as engineering.”

The researchers are interested in finding out whether, among teenagers, the finger ratio helps predict what people want to do when they leave school.

“While there are of course many factors which determine what job you want to do, our prediction is that prenatal testosterone will be one of those factors,” added Dr Stewart-Williams.

For full details of the Festival’s programme and ticketing information, visit http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/science.

For further information please contact Bethan Evans 01792 295049, or email: b.w.evans@swansea.ac.uk.