PHASE 1: University and secondary school research collaboration

Maneesh Kuruvilla
In the summer of 2016, Maneesh Kuruvilla, a Postgraduate Researcher in the School of Psychology & Neuroscience, won the St Andrews final of Three Minute Thesis and was awarded £500 to run a public engagement with research project.

This is what he did.....
I came up with the idea of PHASE 1, a Platform for Honing and Accelerating Scientific Excellence aimed at introducing my passion for research to students at Madras College. Through PHASE 1, I hope to not only equip students with research skills for university but to also encourage future cohorts of school students to take up Higher Psychology courses.

I pitched my idea to the Depute Head Teacher and Higher Psychology Teacher at Madras College, a local secondary school in St Andrews.What makes Madras College unique is that it offers students a Higher Psychology course. Students who take this course must conduct their own psychology research projects.

Over several months I went into the Higher Psychology classes and delivered modules on various aspects of research fundamentals, design and methodology. We then selected students who had expressed a desire to pursue Psychology at university. The students worked in two groups and chose their research areas of interest, designed studies, formulated hypotheses and collected data by recruiting their peers to participate in their experiments.

Over a six-week period, these students were then invited to the School of Psychology and Neuroscience and spent over 10 hours analysing and interpreting their data and preparing 8-minute presentations and academic conference-style posters.

At the closing event, the students, who had been mentored by throughout the project, presented two 8-minute talks on the research projects and presented posters of their projects over tea and coffee. ​

The main objective of this outreach programme was to give school students a breath of research experience at a university level and, in this regard, PHASE 1 has been an unquestionable success. To put things in perspective:
  1. The basic research fundamentals and types of analyses the students have performed with their data is at par with First Year Psychology undergraduates. 
  2. The use of SPSS statistical package to analyse data is at par with Second Year undergrads. 
  3. The ability to visually represent data in the form of a poster is comparable to Junior Honours level. And to receive supervision and give a presentation on one’s own research project is Senior Honors level and above. 

The sold-out event took place at the Byre Theatre in front of close to 100 audience members made up of staff and students from The University of St Andrews and Madras College as well as the general public.

Student presenters
PHASE 1 also featured guest talks by Professor Dave Perrett, Dr Jamie Ainge and Dr Maggie Ellis from the School of Psychology & Neuroscience.

We were pleased to welcome Professor Sally Mapstone (Principal and Vice Chancellor, University of St Andrews), Professor Keith Sillar (Head of School, Psychology & Neuroscience) and Mr David McClure (Rector, Madras College) at the inaugural edition of PHASE 1.

Student Presenters: Aeonie Ramsay, Ross Lavin, Till Sprengelmeyer, Arin Beaver and Jack Laird Mentors: Maneesh Kuruvilla (PhD Student, University of St Andrews); Brianna Vandrey (PhD Student, University of St Andrews); Dr Akira O'Connor (Lecturer, University of St Andrews); Mrs Catherine O'Donnell (Higher Psychology Teacher, Madras College)


Cultural Enrichment of the Indigenous Peoples of Peru

Dr Hyland peering at the alphabetic/khipu text
(known as a khipu board)
Dr Sabine Hyland's fieldwork in the Andes has led to the first decipherment of a structural element on khipus (the ancient Andean writing system using knotted cords) in almost 100 years!

A khipu is a series of coloured, knotted strings made out of various animal fur and fabric. In the past, scholars claimed that khipus were not an example of writing and that they were merely used as memory aides which recorded only numbers.

Funded by National Geographic, Dr. Hyland journeyed to a remote Andean village to study a unique hybrid alphabetic/khipu text. Her fieldwork has provided proof to an alternative theory that khipus conveyed more complex meaning and could be linked to a form of writing.

Dr Hyland's research has led to various outcomes including a book, The Chankas and the Priest (Penn State Press 2016), the first historical study of the Chankas ever written. In the words of the Director of Tourism and Culture for this region of Peru, her "book is the first publication which addresses Chanka history using primary source material. As a result, for the first time we can see our ancestors humanised - no longer 'enemies of the Inka' or 'bellicose warriors'. Dr Hyland’s research and publications give us a fuller sense of who we are as a people, and of the importance of valorizing, preserving, and celebrating the Peruvian cultural heritage.

In the process, Dr Hyland has not only helped the people of Peru learn about anthropology and the importance of cultural patrimony but has trained and inspired many Peruvian students to have successful careers in tourism, history, archaeology, and related fields... we are also using her data to design exhibits for a new museum that is opening in Andahuaylas City this year."

Her research on the ancient khipus has been featured in governmental publications for school children, distributed into every school and library of the Cusco region (pop = 2 million).

Trailer for the National Geographic series, Ancient X Files,
Season Two, Episode 3, Decoding the Incas

Dr Hyland's research on khipus was made into a National Geographic documentary for the Ancient X Files series, called Decoding the Incas. In the research for this film, she was able to decipher the meaning of several elements on khipus, the first such decipherment in 100 years. Since viewing her film, leaders of other indigenous villages have invited Dr Hyland to study their khipus, previously kept secret from outsiders. The Indian authorities of one such community, Collata, have recently thanked her for "helping them to gain invaluable insights into the worth and meaning of their cultural heritage".

To read more: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/stories/2016/the-chankas/

Dr Hyland's research will feature on an episode about Machu Picchu on the Discovery Channel's series 'Unearthed'.

More about Sabine's research is available on:
Current Anthropology/ Wenner Gren: "Cracking the Khipu Code: First Phonetic Inka Writing Found" http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/journals/ca/pr/170419

The National Geographic: "Discovery May Help Decipher Ancient Inca String Code" http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/inca-khipus-code-discovery-peru/

Discover Magazine: "Untangling the Ancient Inca Code of Strings" http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2017/04/19/khipu-code-inca-language/#.WPeOwbvyuqQ

Dr Hyland, of the Department of Social Anthropology, conducted ethnohistorical and ethnographic research on the Chanka people of Peru which was funded by the NSF, the NEH and the Mellon Foundation.


Music Planet - exploring research through music

Music Planet explores the broadest concepts of Environment and Music. The series will draw on academic research across all disciplines from arts to social science and science to present new concepts that have an impact on all society. The series will present the research messages with reflections made through the performing arts from classical through to new contemporary music. From the comfort of the well-known to explorations in improvisation with both traditional and new composition Music Planet will challenge you to think deeper about life and your planet.

Throughout the centuries, artists have used their chosen media to reflect on nature and human reaction to it. From personal experiences to depictions of catastrophic events works have been created to try and bring sense to natural environments and our place within them. Music Planet takes its theme from these reflections. It will present a series of performance events to reflect on environment in its broadest sense. Some events will focus on Environment in terms of natural elements such as climate and societies response to changes in climate others will explore societal attempts to control environments.

Each event is co-presented by artists together with groups of academics from the arts, social sciences and sciences in order to allow relevant aspects of academic research to be explored. The events are designed to be co-participatory with public audience becoming engaged with the delivery of the event. Before, during and after each event there will be on-line information for exploring further the academic research story behind the events.

Music Planet grew out of an idea that Dr Richard Bates had to perform some of the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davis’ works and link into climate research being conducted by the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Sir Peter was an active campaigner on climate issues and cared passionately about the environment of his adopted homeland, Orkney. His music often explores sounds from natural environments and provides an inspiration to us all. From early discussions with the Music Centre at St Andrews and, in particular with the enthusiasm of Michael Downes, Jill Craig and Bede Williams, Music Planet was born.

The ever growing list of individuals involved in Music Planet include staff at the Music Centre, several Schools at the University of St Andrews, as well as some external organisations.

For a full listing of events, click here.


TheoArtistry: The power of the arts to communicate the divine

TheoArtistry is a new dimension of the work of ITIA, the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, based in the School of Divinity. Directed by Dr George Corbett, TheoArtistry explores how ITIA’s research at the interface between theology and the arts might inform directly the making, practice, performance, curatorship and reception of Christian art, and transform not only the scholarly but the public perception of the role and the vital importance of the arts today in theology, Church practice, and society at large.

In TheoArtistry’s inaugural project, six outstanding young composers (from England, Scotland, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Canada) have been selected, from almost a hundred applicants, to work with Sir James MacMillan, Dr George Corbett, Kathryn Wehr, and six doctoral researchers from the School of Divinity, at the University of St Andrews. Over a six-month scheme running from September 2016-February 2017, theologians and composers are collaborating on six new choral works for non-professional chapel choir of approximately 3 minutes in length. The composers’ Scriptural settings will be performed by St Salvator’s Chapel Choir (directed by Tom Wilkinson) at a second symposium with Sir James at the end of New Music Week on 19 February 2017, and again by the choir during the liturgical year.

Sir James MacMillan, composers, theologians, Divinity and Music staff
at the TheoArtistry Symposium
Dr George Corbett and ITIA researchers are also teaming up with Tom Wilkinson and St Salvator’s Chapel Choir to produce a new TheoArtistry CD recording. This collaborative project explores how an appreciation of the profound spirituality and faith of many composers in the Classical tradition may influence the performance and reception of their music. ITIA is providing expertise on the relationship between theology and music, research on the theological contexts of the musical programme, as well as help curating secular and liturgical performances by the choir.


EU-LAC-MUSEUMS: Museums and Community: Concepts, Experiences and Sustainability in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean

Dr Karen Brown

Museums can provide vital services to their communities, providing under-represented people with a chance to stake a place in history, as well as contributing to sustainability, community empowerment and links between generations. Dr Karen Brown, Lecturer in the School of Art History and Museum and Gallery Studies and Director of the University’s Museum and Galleries Collections Institute, is leading a new EU-funded project exploring the role that small, community-run museums play in their communities. The EU-LAC-MUSEUMS project will run from 2016 to 2020, and investigate rural community museums in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. It will bring together researchers from Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, and the West Indies. The project has received funding from Horizon2020, the EU’s biggest ever research and innovation programme.

Over the next four years, the international team of academics will investigate how rural, community-run museums can inform museum practice, particularly for remote and island locations. Two of the museums involved are Ceumannan-Skye Ecomuseum in Scotland, and the Rey Curré Museo Comunitario in Costa Rica, which is run by the native Boruca people. Both of these community museums are open air, and encourage visitors to explore the natural landscapes and traditional structures. It is hoped that the project will allow both academics and the public to better understand the benefits of, and challenges facing, such geographically isolated museums.

Dr Catherine Spencer
As well as academic work, the EU-LAC-MUSEUMS project will hold a youth exchange, bringing young people from each region together to work on an oral history project with community elders. This project will allow young people to engage with their society’s history, explore other cultures, gain skills in research techniques and IT, and learn to work effectively in a culturally diverse team. Community museum members will in addition produce a Virtual Exhibition with the help of St Andrew’s Open Virtual Worlds (www.openvirtualworlds.org). Some preliminary results from our first workshop in Shetland involving Alan Miller, Iain Oliver, Catherine Cassidy and Karen Brown can be seen here: https://sketchfab.com/models/cf20d43bd5e948c0bb53d82662ad30b9.

The project will also see the creation of an exhibition of Caribbean Contemporary Art on the theme of migration, curated by an international team including Dr Karen Brown, Dr Catherine Spencer (School of Art History), Dr Alissandra Cummins (University of the West Indies) and Verle Poupeye (National Gallery of Jamaica). This exhibition will tour the Caribbean and Europe from 2017 to 2020, including representation in the 2019 Venice Biennale.

A major partner in the EU-LAC-MUSEUMS project is ICOM (the International Council of Museums (www.icom.museum). Working with this organisation will allow the project to reach ICOM’s 35,000 members in 136 countries. The project will also reach the public through the Youth Exchange, exhibition and a website hosting all research output of the project, as well as audio-visual content and 3D models of museum objects. The project website will be available at http://eulacmuseums.net/. 

EU-LAC-MUSEUMS: This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 693669.


Light Box - bringing together culture and science

Light Box celebrates light in all its aspects – solar, sacred, scientific, nourishing, and poetic. Produced as a result of meetings between Professor Crawford and McBeath and contemporary physicists whose work centres on light, the work juxtaposes a series of new haiku with specially taken photographs. The relation between poems and pictures is often teasingly oblique: neither simply illustrates the other. Instead, they ‘resonate’ together, each enhancing the other.

Exactly 150 years ago the great Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell published his most influential paper on electromagnetism (a paper crucial to Einstein). Maxwell had a scientific instrument called a ‘light box’. Nineteenth-century scientists sometimes wrote of light ‘resonating’. The new Light Box was produced after the poet and the photographer met leading physicists who work in optoelectronics.

 Robert Crawford and Norman McBeath discussing
using coumarin as part of a new photographic process.

'One of the physicists was the late Professor John W. Allen, who led a team that invented the world’s first practicable LEDs in 1961. Though his early scientific papers are now archived in the Science Museum in London, John Allen’s story is not well known. When Crawford and McBeath met Professor Allen, he showed them some of his early LEDs, which were then called ‘crystal lamps’. Norman McBeath’s remarkable portrait photograph of John W. Allen is part of Light Box, and the accompanying haiku sums up Robert Crawford’s sense of this modest, tenacious inventor who, more than fifty years after his innovative work on LEDs, was still in 2015 developing in St Andrews new ways of working with light.

Another pioneering scientist involved in Light Box is Professor Ifor Samuel, who leads the Organic Semiconductor Optoelectronics Research Group in the School of Physics & Atronomy, and whose work has involved perfecting new light-emitting materials. Several members of Professor Samuel’s group worked with the poet and photographer. One of the physicists, Vietnamese chemist Hien Nguyen who has synthesized for the first time a new form of the chemical coumarin, made her discovery available to Scottish PhD student Stuart Thomson who worked with Norman McBeath to use this chemical for the very first time in a photographic process. The result was juxtaposed with a haiku entitled ‘Aton’ (named after the Aton or Aten – the ancient Egyptian sun god) and features in Light Box.  
Light Box is available to view in the Special Collections Department of St Andrews University Library, but it is also published free online in a digital version:

More about Light Box: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/stories/2015/light-box/

Commissioned by the University of St Andrews for the UNESCO 2015 International Year of Light and launched at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 23 February 2015, Light Box is an artistic collaboration between poet Professor Robert CrawfordSchool of English, and photographer Norman McBeath, many of whose photographs are in the collections of the National Portrait Galleries in London and Edinburgh.

Following on, the 'Loch Computer' project brings together writers, artists, computer scientists, humanities scholars and digital curators to ponder the meaning of remoteness and connectedness in the digital age. It is funded by a Scottish Government Arts & Humanities Research Network Award from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The project crosses traditional boundaries between arts and sciences, as well as between scholarship and creative practice.  

The project led to an exhibition at the Edinburgh College of Art, and an artists's box book by Robert Crawford, The Book of Iona, published by Birlinn Ltd.

Communicating with people with advanced dementia

There are 850,000 individuals with a diagnosis of dementia in the UK, many of whom are likely to progress to a state of advanced dementia. Professional care places a considerable strain on NHS resources and the distress that Alzheimer’s places on those living with the illness, their loved ones and professional caregivers cannot be underestimated. Much of this distress owes to the breakdown in speech-based communication that accompanies the illness.

People with advanced dementia who have lost the ability to speak are typically thought to have no communicative abilities or desire to interact and, as such, are typically excluded from the social world. Research by Dr Maggie Ellis and Professor Arlene Astell of the School of Psychology & Neuroscience has found that, despite a lack of speech, people with advanced dementia retain both the urge to interact and individual repertoires of non-verbal communicative capacities including sounds, movements, facial expressions and the capacity to imitate. These behaviours can be used by caregivers to re-engage individuals with advanced dementia in social interaction - an approach now known as 'Adaptive Interaction'. Organisations providing care for individuals with dementia have recognised the value of this evidence-based approach. For example, Alzheimer Scotland recommends Adaptive Interaction in a public document and the Alzheimer’s Society commissioned Dr Ellis to develop a training programme in the approach that is currently being rolled out to approximately 1000 volunteers across the UK.

While not eliminating Alzheimer’s disease, Adaptive Interaction supports the interpretation of behaviour as intentionally communicative and provides the means to engage with those living with advanced dementia. By supporting communication, Adaptive Interaction increases the wellbeing of those diagnosed and their family members and the job satisfaction of formal caregivers.

Astell, A. J., & Ellis, M. P. (2006). The social function ofimitation in severe dementia. Infant and Child Development, 15(3), 311-319.

Ellis, M. P., & Astell, A. J. (2011). Adaptive Interaction - a new approach to communicating with people with advanced dementia. Journal of Dementia Care, 19(3), 24-26.


Footprints through our past

The investigation, appraisal, monitoring and management of cultural heritage requires quantifiable data not only of features that are extant but also of those features that cannot be seen today above ground or above the sea. Modern analytical methods provided by geophysics and geochemistry are providing the crucial data required by the archaeological and heritage community to unravel the traces left by our ancestors. The land and marine work conducted by Dr Bates, of the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, while in the hydrocarbon and mining industry has provided a platform for the cross-pollination and development of new methods for ultra-high resolution investigation. For example, research on the submerged Neolithic remains around World Heritage sites in Orkney revealed a lost world (Drowned Landscapes, part of The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in 2012) and hitherto unknown new sites at Stonehenge (Stonehenge Underground, part of The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2015).

The Royal Society video revealing a facsinating
landscape of monuments beneath Stonhenge

In Jersey, wide-area survey of the flooded English Channel is used to reconstruct the pathways of ancestors as they hunted the now long-gone game (Ice Age Island museum exhibit).

Happisburgh footprints
At Happisburgh (Norfolk) discoveries of nearly 1 million yr old footprints stimulated world-wide interest (Hominin Footprints from Early Pleistocene Deposits at Happisburgh, UK, PLoS ONE) in this evidence of early human expansion in Northern Europe and has led to the latest DNA technologies being applied to reconstructing pathways over unexpected time periods (Sedimentary DNA from a submerged site reveals wheat in the British Isles 8000 years ago, Science). By using the whole of the southern North Sea as a reconstructed landscape, this on-going work hopes to establish ground-breaking methodologies with DNA for unlocking the secrets of many long-lost worlds. In 2014, a special exhibit, Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story, was featured at the Natural History Museum in London, which showcased two sites that have been the focus of Dr Bates’ research, La Cotte de St Brelade in Jersey and Happisburgh in Norfolk. [Research blog post]
Happisburgh site

At sea the new marine methods are revealing hitherto unknown sites left by our ancestors and causing a re-thinking of human response to climate change. While developments continue, many have now become standard practice and adopted by agencies such as Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, as best practice following guidance (Marine Geophysics Data Acquisition, Processing and Interpretation: Guidance Notes).


Feeding the world

Half of all seafood consumed now comes from aquaculture. Aquaculture production has grown by 6.2% a year since 2000 and by 2012 it had reached 66.6 million tonnes worth U$144 billion. Less than 10% of production currently uses genetically selected strains which have the potential to dramatically improve yield, sustainability, and the welfare of farmed livestock. In the face of increasing environmental constraints, the use of genetic selection will need to become the norm in order to meet increasing demand for seafood as the human population grows to an estimated 9 billion by 2050.

Prof. Ian Johnston
Research carried out on fish physiology and genomics over several decades by Professor Ian Johnston and his group in the School of Biology led to an understanding of the genetic control of growth and fillet yield in Atlantic salmon, Scotland´s most important food export. The Biotechnological & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) provided £883K funding in support of this research via Follow-on funding, two LINK grants and an Industrial Partnering Award. Marker assisted selection (MAS) is regarded by many as the future of aquaculture breeding. In MAS natural variations in gene sequence are identified which produce large gains in characteristics of commercial interest such as growth, yield and disease resistance. This enables improvements in a single generation compared with the decades required with conventional breeding programs. The Johnston group discovered natural variants of two genes which when selected together produced fish with 4% more fillet worth £600 per tonne. Last year global production of Atlantic salmon was £1.43 million tonnes.

The discovered genetic markers were patented and in Dec 2012 Professor Johnston and Dr Tom Ashton formed a university spin-out company, Xelect Ltd, to commercialise the research. The company licensed its patented genetic marker for enhanced fillet yield in Atlantic salmon to SalmoBreed A/S which is part of Benchmark Holdings, one of the world´s leading breeding and genetics companies. Xelect has since developed similar genetic selection markers for increased fillet yield in Nile tilapia which have been licensed license to Genomar A/S, the world’s leading Tilapia breeding operation with operations throughout SE Asia. Nile Tilapia is a tropical species with an annual production of 3 million tonnes – 15% of which is for the fillet market. Using Xelect´s genetic markers, broodstock can be identified that will produce offspring with 4% more meat worth U$124 tonne. The company has an active program of research to develop markers for other traits and species and has received funding from the EU H2020 programme, Innovate UK and Scottish Enterprise. Xelect is also sponsoring academic research, including a BBSRC Industrial CASE PhD studentship at Aberdeen University and a project to support a biosecure hatchery in the Shetlands for blue mussels co-funded by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre.

Xelect also leverages its expertise in molecular biology and seafood to provide genetic and flesh quality analysis services to an expanding range of business in the aquaculture supply chain. Exports now make up 60% of the company´s turnover. Xelect is becoming a strong, well-recognised brand within the industry based on a reputation for scientific excellence and exceptional customer commitment. The BBSRC recently published an Impact Case study on Xelect providing an example of the successful translation of basic academic research into a commercial enterprise with widespread societal benefits.
Visit the BBSRC webpages to read more


Improving young people’s health and well-being

Adolescents make up about one sixth of the world's population, so policy and practice that improves the lives of young people is hugely beneficial now and for the future. In the current economic climate, most countries in Europe are faced with widening socioeconomic inequalities. It is key to our understanding of how these inequalities impact on young people’s health, to be able to track and measure the differences in health outcomes among children of deprived versus affluent families. The Family Affluence Scale (FAS) devised by Professor Candace Currie, of the School of Medicine, has been used to describe and quantify socioeconomic inequalities in health among young people across Europe and North America and these findings have been published by the World Health Organisation in their report ‘Social Determinants of Health and Wellbeing among Young People’. The indicator has been adapted within the context of the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC), a major international study which involves 43 countries across Europe and North America. FAS has been used to demonstrate that material deprivation impacts negatively on wide ranging aspect of adolescent well-being, including mental health, social relations, bullying, physical activity, eating habits and obesity. This evidence has been incorporated into policy events including WHO-HBSC Forums, bringing together policy makers and health programme developers from all over Europe to discuss the relevance of the findings for guiding their work. The Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit (CAHRU), established by Professor Candace Currie in 2000 and at the St Andrews since 2011, has been designated World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for International Child and Adolescent Health Policy.