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Robin Hood and his merry students

Students in the School of Art and Media were cast in the role of technical gurus for the filming of a live insert into a forthcoming play. Using green screen technology, the students shot news and weather reading sequences for a production of Robin Hood & His Merry Men, which played at the Barbican Theatre over Christmas. BBC Spotlight presenters Natalie Cornah and Emily Wood, who were filmed by the students, spent some time  talking to them about work in television. 

Phil Ellis, Associate Head of School, Art and Media, said: “It was a fantastic experience for the BA (Hons) Media Arts and BA (Hons) TV Arts students. Working with professionals from the BBC, Le Navet Bête (who are Plymouth graduates) and the Barbican Theatre on a live project will be great for their understanding of working collaboratively in such a pressured, but hugely enjoyable, environment. The students are working on their own online TV channel so the experience was good practice for their forthcoming live streaming projects, and the broadcast aspect of our programmes is something that we are looking to develop and strengthen at the University.”

Laboratory tours of PUPSMD

Patients, families and fundraisers have been visiting the University to see for themselves some of the work that is being carried out to develop therapies and treatments for some of the world’s most pernicious diseases.

As part of a public engagement programme, groups with an interest in brain tumour research, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s have all visited the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PUPSMD) in recent months and been given a preview of the under-construction £14.8 million Derriford Research Facility. 

The latest tour just before Christmas saw people who are either diagnosed with Parkinson’s, or who care for someone with the condition, visit PUPSMD laboratories and meet some of the lead researchers working in the field, including Dr Kim Tieu and Dr Oleg Anichtchik.

Kim, who leads a world-first study looking at how a drug that protects mitochondria (the ‘batteries’ of our cells) could be used to slow or stop Parkinson’s disease, said: “It was wonderful to be able to invite this group to our labs to see at first hand the work that we do. Whenever we meet people with or affected by Parkinson’s, it is a good reminder to us of why we carry out our research to find effective therapies for this devastating neurological condition.”

As well as Kim’s study, other research on show included another mitochondria-based study led by Kim and Oleg, and a range of clinical trials investigating the effectiveness of not just drugs, but also technology.

Maritime medal for former academic

Paul Wright, Visiting Fellow in the Plymouth University Marine Institute, and a long-time former member of the Faculty of Business, has been awarded the prestigious Merchant Navy Medal. The honour recognises ‘services to maritime training and the Nautical Institute’ and was presented to Paul by former First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, at a ceremony at Trinity House, London. 

Paul spent 35 years at the University and predecessor organisations, training seafarers and helping to support persons wishing to work in maritime shore-based employment.

One Giant Read

University academics and scientists including Professor Iain Stewart, Professor Camille Parmesan, Professor Kevin Jones and Dr Natasha Stephen have all contributed to a major arts project celebrating astronaut Tim Peake’s journey into space.

One Giant Read was launched in December to provide access to reading materials and content themed around the Principia Mission. Created by charity Literature Works, in partnership with the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the UK Space Agency, and supported by the Plymouth Literature Project at Plymouth University, it featured both science fact and science fiction – including the work of Plymouth academics.

Professor Kevin Jones, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, said: “Space exploration is one of the greatest scientific achievements of our time, and consistently inspires people to think beyond the boundaries of what might be possible. One Giant Read provided a great opportunity for us to use our world-leading expertise to enthuse people about STEM subjects.”

Jumpers for charity

Animal conservation student Nicola Congdon, in the School of Biological Sciences, is well-versed in the old adage of ‘taking her work home with her’. For more than a decade, she has looked after rescue animals and those in need of rehabilitation from her home in Cornwall, including bearded dragons, tortoises, birds, and other exotic animals.

Among the many animals she cares for are ‘ex-bats’, former battery farm hens, many of whom arrive underweight and missing feathers. So Nicola has taken to knitting fitted jumpers for them to keep them warm through the winter months, and has turned it into a charitable and educational endeavour.

“Over the last six months, my mum and I have been knitting jumpers to help raise awareness of the caged conditions that battery hens live in, and the featherless state that many leave in,” says Nicola. “The jumpers help them to keep warm and help with the re-growth of feathers, but still allow them to behave as normal.”

Nicola now takes the chickens to local schools and gives educational talks to accompany hands-on sessions. She said: “Many schoolchildren are shocked to see a real chicken close up as they have never seen one before, so this makes a difference to them.”

All of the money raised from the sale of the jumpers goes to a UK registered charity called Project Primrose, which supports an AIDS orphanage in South Africa. It provides food to more than 40 children, and Nicola visits it every year, most recently over Christmas.

She said: “I organised to give them an extremely memorable Christmas party by showing that people who are donating to the charity care and are proud of what they do. I took presents and gifts that people gave personally to the children.”

Cultural food exchange

Crosspoint in the Roland Levinsky Building was transformed into a melting pot of cultural cuisine as a way of integrating international students with life at the University.

Organised by the Plymouth University International College (PUIC), the Cultural Food Exchange attracted around 220 students, sampling Chinese and Afro-Caribbean, as well as Italian and Middle Eastern, dishes, all from local suppliers and with the assistance of hospitality students.

“We introduced the event to act on essential feedback from the College’s Student Council,” said PUIC head Peter McDonnell. “We were aware that many of our students will have had limited exposure to an international environment and appreciate some additional support in settling in to their time with us, and so the event was designed to bring everyone together to celebrate the different cultures we have at PUIC and across the University.”

Among the departments and organisations that also attended were the Careers & Employability Service, International Student Advice (ISA), the English Language Centre, the Languages Café, Devon & Cornwall Police, and a number of UPSU societies.

Surf science

Plymouth’s marine location means a number of its academics have strong connections with marine sports such as surfing. Professor Paul Russell, Lead for the Centre for Research in Coastal and Ocean Science and Engineering (CCOSE), is one of them.

A former European Champion, Paul has formed a world-renowned partnership with Professor Gerd Masselink and colleagues in the School of Marine Science and Engineering, securing millions of pounds worth of funding for research on the impacts of waves and storms upon the coastline.

But, as this picture shows, he’s not forgotten how to ride a wave. 

Paul said: “This winter’s relentless North Atlantic storms have sent some perfect surfing waves to Southern Europe, and I was fortunate to get to the Canary Islands at Christmas to ride a few of them.” 

The picture brings to mind Longfellow’s 1850 poem, ‘The Secret of the Sea’, which is also quoted at the front of Paul’s PhD:

“Wouldst thou,” so the helmsman answered,
“Learn the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery.”

The Transat to sail from Marine Station

The Marine Station was the venue for the official launch of The Transat – one of the classic races on the sailing calendar. Professor Martin Attrill, Director of the Marine Institute, welcomed organisers, guests from the city, and members of the media and provided an overview of the £5 million waterfront facility and the University’s expertise in the field of marine and maritime.

The Marine Station will host the race headquarters, including the skippers’ lounge and the media centre, in April and May ahead of the race getting underway. It is the first time The Transat has been based in Plymouth for eight years.

Chinese New Year

The Rolle Marquee was home to a two-day celebration of the Chinese New Year in February, with a packed programme of activities, performances and displays. One of the highlights was the community marquee dinner, which featured some spectacular suspended ribbon dancing, hoop aerial acrobatics, pot juggling and traditional lion dances.