HAS Research Blog


Just showing posts from October 2010

Sustainability research: Decontaminating radioactive soil using plants 

Posted by Kathleen Steeden | 1 comment

Dr Neil Willey from the Centre for Research in Plant Science has published an article that investigates how plants could be used to help decontaminate radioactive soil. The research, which was published in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, examines factors affecting the plant uptake of the radioactive isotope Technetium-99 (99Tc) from soil.

The process of using plants to remove decontaminants from soil is known as phytoremediation. Certain plant species can extract undesirable elements from soil through their roots and store them so that they can be removed from an environment by harvesting the plants. This process has been used to clean up soils contaminated with many substances including heavy metals such as zinc or nickel and can also be used to remove radioactive substances such as 99Tc. Technetium-99 is a key component of nuclear waste, produced in large quantities from nuclear fission of uranium. A large amount of 99Tc is to be buried in nuclear waste stores but this has raised concerns about the likelihood of the 99Tc coming into contact with water and being leached out of storage, potentially contaminating foodchains. Dr Willey’s journal article investigates the inter-species effects in soil to plant transfer of 99Tc.

Speaking about the significance of the research Dr Willey said that, “Using plants to remove radioactive contaminants from soils does not dramatically disturb the landscape and is relatively cheap compared to engineering-based technologies such as removing topsoil for storage in landfill.” As the global nuclear industry continues to expand it’s becoming more and more important to be able to accurately predict the behaviour of waste products in terrestrial environments and this research will help us to understand which species might become contaminated and which species might be useful in phytoremediation.

For more information contact Dr Neil Willey

Sustainability research: iConnect 

Posted by Kathleen Steeden | 0 comments

Dr Jane PowellAn interview with Dr Jane Powell

It's Sustainability Week here at UWE this week and to celebrate we're highlighting some of our research projects with a focus on sustainability and the environment. I interviewed Dr Jane Powell from the Centre for Public Health Research about the iConnect study that aims to measure and evaluate the benefits of the Connect2 travel investment from an idea pioneered by sustainability charity Sustrans. The initiative, which is funded by Big Lottery, is designed to revitalise walking and cycling in local communities across the UK.

How did you become involved with iConnect?

I was invited to a sandpit event of 30 academics sponsored by EPSRC at a ramshackle Coventry hotel – I think via an association with Phil Insall at Sustrans that I’d had for years (we applied for lots of funding together, but hadn’t been successful). The sandpit was three days of activities designed to form ‘teams’ that could develop high quality research ideas centred around the natural experiment of Sustrans’ Connect2 Programme. At the time Connect2 had been put forward for a public vote for £50m of Big Lottery funding… and we didn’t know as we were writing the bid whether Connect2 would win the vote. Luckily it did.  I will never forget the three days at the sandpit as long as I live. We went through it all, am dram (embarrassing), standing on one leg showing others how tall our imagined cartoon character was (bizarre) and drinking some very bad coffee and wine. I think I enjoyed it!

iConnect is a collaborative study with eight institutions working together; can you tell me a bit more about UWE’s specific role in the project?

UWE is leading on the economic appraisal of the entire Connect2 programme, but we are also leading parts of the contextual fieldwork and population-based cohort studies at the Cardiff Connect2 site. We will also lead a workplace study in active travel at Cardiff City Council and a randomised controlled trial of the costs and benefits of additional promotional materials and computer visualisation tools at the Glasgow Connect2 site. So it’s busy!

The study’s been ongoing for over 2 years now, what has the research shown so far?

It’s a five year study, so our initial results are pending, but the whole point of this research is to go beyond the tools and evaluation evidence that has been presented to date in the field of active travel, in particular to develop a robust evidence base and to trail blaze for future research projects in this area from a multidisciplinary perspective. This means that engineers get to talk to public health specialists for example, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is working so far.

Will the iConnect study be used to make further recommendations for investment in cycling/walking networks of this sort?

Yes that’s the idea. Anja Dalton – PhD student on iConnect is doing some very interesting research on women’s participation in cycling and I think she will be in an excellent position to make recommendations that will help more women cycle.

Do you have a personal interest in cycling or walking?

I have a personal interest in physical activity and competitive sport.  I’m just about to buy a Brompton and have started commuting from Chepstow on the train and walking in to Glenside. I enjoy watching sport – live events and on TV, particularly tennis – I’m an Andy Murray fan. I love the natural environment we have in Britain and dislike driving immensely, I find it boring and I’m terrible at parking. 

So, have you seen benefits from Connect2 in your local community?

I have cycled quite a few of the Connect2 routes in Wales, but will not join Sustrans or any transition movement until this research is complete. I think it is important to be seen to be independent as an academic whatever your personal views might be.

For more information contact Dr Jane Powell 

Sustainability week 

Posted by Kathleen Steeden | 0 comments

Hello! It‘s Sustainability Week here at UWE from 18 – 22 October and there are special events happening on all of our campuses. The emphasis across the university is on becoming more sustainable as an organisation. It’s not just about being environmentally friendly but also saving money, benefitting the local economy, promoting social justice and improving quality of life for everyone. To celebrate, next week on the blog we'll be highlighting HLS research projects with a focus on sustainability or the environment.

For more information about events happening throughout Sustainability Week at UWE see the Environment webpages.

Spotlight on postgraduate research: Nikki Hayfield 

Posted by Kathleen Steeden | 0 comments

I spoke to Nikki Hayfield from the Department of Psychology who is in the third year of her PhD investigating bisexual women’s visual identities. She is based in the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR).

Hi Nikki, w
hat’s your background and how did you come to UWE?
I came to UWE in 2002 to undertake my undergraduate degree in Psychology. My final year research dissertation was a qualitative exploration of women’s feelings about sex and affection in long term relationships, which is currently under submission as a journal paper. Once I completed my degree, I knew that I wanted to do more research, and after spending some time in Australia, I returned to the UK and applied for this PhD.

What’s the title of your PhD?
Bisexual women’s visual identities: A feminist mixed-methods exploration.

And what are the main aims?
The overarching aim of my research is to provide a deeper understanding of bisexual visual identities.

A small body of literature on lesbians and gay men has identified that appearance norms can serve a number of functions. These include identity formation, coming out, recognition, attracting an appropriate partner, resisting heteronormativity, forming communities, and safe-guarding these spaces from voyeuristic or homophobic others. Far less is understood about whether bisexual people share the appearance norms of lesbians and gay men, have their own appearance norms, or are entirely invisible. Broadly speaking I wanted to explore the ways in which bisexual women manage and understand their appearance. More widely I was also interested in how women understand theirs and other peoples’ and visual identities.

Why is your research important?
This research fills a gap in knowledge around bisexual women and their appearance practices and (lack of) visual identities. While appearance has often been trivialised, it’s actually a really important part of forming our identities.

Bisexual people have often been described as overlooked, marginalised and invisible. This research confirmed that many bisexual women are literally invisible, and this has implications for health and wellbeing. The research in itself draws attention to bisexual women.

You're based in the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR), what's it like working there?
I’m lucky to work in the CAR PhD office; it’s an amazing environment in which to complete a PhD. Although the other students are not directly involved with my project, there is a supportive atmosphere and a fantastic research student community.

How did you collect and use your data?
My PhD is a mixed methods exploration. I conducted 20 qualitative interviews, which asked bisexual women questions about their own and others’ appearance and identity. I analysed the data using thematic analysis. I then used the results to devise a quantitative questionnaire to explore the topic more widely, with more people. This was filled out by nearly 500 lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women, who answered questions about their appearance practices, femininity, the media, and identity. Finally, I developed a qualitative survey which asked nearly 200 students (mainly heterosexual) whether they could recognise lesbians, gay men, bisexual and heterosexual people through their appearance.

You're nearing the end of your PhD now. Has your research shown that bisexual women have recognisable visual identities distinct from lesbian ‘looks’?
My research findings indicate that bisexual women do not have their own distinct visual identity. While stereotypical lesbian and gay ‘looks’ were recognised by heterosexual, lesbian, and bisexual women, in contrast most (bisexual, lesbian, and heterosexual) participants struggled to identify any clear bisexual look. Consequently they either described bisexual people as looking like lesbian/gay people, or as not recognisable from anybody else (eg like heterosexual people). 
I spoke to some bisexual women who were involved within bisexual communities who did make reference to particular nuanced looks within bisexual spaces. However these would not translate to being a visual identity that was recognisable outside of that space, particularly because they were often looks that might be shared with other non-bisexual people (these included Goth looks, and hippy, or alternative, looks).

Do you have any plans for when you complete your research?
I've nearly finished my thesis now, and am keen to continue conducting research. I would still like to work in appearance and sexuality research, but would also be interested in branching out into different topics and am currently looking for jobs around the South-West.

Visit Nikki's profile to find out more about her research.