News

Queen’s Host Debate to Tackle the Global Challenges in the Food Industry

Description: Producing enough food to feed the ever growing population is one of the world’s biggest global challenges. Food safety experts Professor Chris Elliott, founder of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast and Michelle Grant, Executive Director of the World Food System Center at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, will discuss the challenges facing consumers and industry alike at the first of the Global Challenges Debates Series at Queen’s University on Wednesday 20 September 2017. If the global population increases to 9 billion by 2050 as projected, we will need to produce more food over the next 50 years than we have in the last 500 years.   A growing demand on food production will place huge strains on the integrity of the supply system in terms of ensuring what is produced is safe, wholesome, authentic and values all those involved.  The potential for large increases in food fraud will demand a global response. Current estimates put the financial cost of this at over $52 billion each year and an even greater cost to the health and wellbeing of the global population. Professor Elliott, who led the UK independent review into the 2013 horsemeat scandal commented: “The scale of fraud that I now see on a weekly basis in so many parts of the world is deeply concerning. The integrity of what we eat is under continual threat from organised criminal networks who seek to exploit the poorest and most vulnerable in society.” The Institute for Global Food Security has exposed a number of food fraud cases in recent years including cutting edge research that revealed 25% of dried oregano supplied across the world was adulterated with a range of non-food materials. Professor Elliott added: “What we eat and where it comes from, generally, we don’t know any more. The over complexity of the food system not only means that it’s highly inefficient but it also lacks integrity and fails to meet the human rights of many. Imminent challenges such as a growing population, climate change, and large scale pollution will only serve to exacerbate this.” In discussing the complexity of challenges that arise in feeding the world’s nine billion, Michelle Grant adds: “The environmental basis for food and agricultural production is facing unprecedented strain from phenomena such as climate change, resource constraints, emerging pests and pathogens. “It is crucial that we work together on a global level to address this global challenge. Events like this offer a unique opportunity to bring stakeholders together to discuss the multi-faceted challenges we face in feeding the world’s growing population as well as a space to examine proposed solutions.”

Queen’s Report Reveals More Than 50% Increase in Lung Cancer Cases among Women in Last Decade

Description: The report, launched today (15 September) shows the incidence of lung cancer diagnosed here was 1226 cases per year, and enables comparisons to be drawn across the UK and over time.   The report indicates a 37% increase in the number of cases of lung cancer cases diagnosed since 2006. The increase in cases of lung cancer in women was more than four times higher (55%) than the increase in men (12%) over the last ten years. Dr Anna Gavin, Director of the Norther Ireland Cancer Registry at Queen’s University Belfast explains: “Lung cancer is a devastating disease with poor overall survival and the number of lung cancer cases continues to increase in Northern Ireland. The surge in cases can be attributed to risk factors especially historic tobacco use but also the ageing population. The proportion of patients over 80 increased from 12% in 2006 to 17% in this study. “Twice as many men than women had lung cancer in 1996 but fast-forward twenty years and a similar number of men and women are being diagnosed. This is due to more men giving up smoking while conversely, more women are taking up smoking, the major cause of lung cancer.” Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the developed world and also the most frequent cause of cancer mortality worldwide. Despite the increase in numbers, lung cancer services have demonstrated marked improvements over time, which have been accompanied by an increase in survival. The most successful treatment for lung cancer is surgical treatment, and while not all patients are suitable for this treatment, surgery increased from 12% in 2006 to 15% in this study. Early diagnosis can increase chances of survival. Symptoms include a persistent cough, a sudden change in a cough that you have had for a long time, unexplained weight loss, breathlessness and chest pain. The report found that while Northern Ireland fell below the UK average in some areas of lung cancer care including Lung Cancer Nurse Specialist assessment rates and 10% lower than the UK average for chemotherapy targets, Northern Ireland did score above average in other areas including scans offered to patients and anti-cancer treatment rates. The report offers a number of recommendations to improve outcomes for patients with lung cancer including the need to invest more in smoking cessation and awareness campaigns to encourage early diagnosis. Sally Convery, winner of the 2017 Nurse of the Year, works with lung cancer patients: “It is unfortunate to see an increase in the number of lung cancer patients in Northern Ireland. However, we do welcome the report and this launch event, which brings together healthcare professionals and patients offering a unique opportunity to tackle this health issue and to work together to improve outcomes for patients. “While the prognosis for lung cancer is poor, we are confident that a newly introduced self-management programme with a focus on elements such as dietary advice and peer support, will further improve outcomes.”  

Queen’s Launches Joint e-Learning Initiative with Waters Corporation to Tackle Food Fraud

Description: Waters Corporation will sponsor professionals in the food industry to undertake an online Masters in food safety at IGFS, ranked number one for research intensity in the UK for food science Analytical laboratory instrument and software company Waters Corporation is a member of the Governing Council of the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP), an innovative, public-private initiative dedicated to supporting and promoting global cooperation for food safety capacity building. Through this membership, Waters Corporation have come together with the IGFS at Queen’s to run a joint initiative to increase the capacity of food safety professionals to ensure and deliver safe, sustainable and authentic food to the world’s growing population. IGFS will run its first online distance learning postgraduate programme enabling professionals in the food industry around the world the opportunity to enhance their skills and knowledge in food safety, food fraud and food legislation. Dr Mark Mooney, Programme Coordinator said: “Food safety is a global challenge and this course offers professionals the chance to learn remotely on a part-time basis from renowned experts to increase their knowledge of the threats to feed and food compromising food security, and also about the techniques and methods which can be used to confirm food safety and integrity. Industrial partnerships with companies such as Waters Corporation highlight the benefits of working together to address this global issue.” Having successfully completed an intensive selection process, two employees from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) are the first beneficiaries of the programme and will begin the Masters in Global Food Security from their home country. Dr Paul Young, Senior Director of Government Affairs at Waters Corporation, said: “We are delighted to be working with the IGFS, through supporting professionals to increase their knowledge in the area of food safety. We believe that building a base of qualified food safety professionals in countries through programmes like this is an essential step towards sustainability.”  Professor Chris Elliott, Pro-Vice Chancellor at Queen’s University commented: “Food safety is a global challenge that should be addressed at a global level. We gratefully welcome sponsorship by companies such Waters Corporation to help train future leaders in food safety across the world on our leading e-learning programmes.” Lystra N. Antoine, CEO of the Global Food Safety Partnership added: “Supporting and promoting cooperation for food safety capacity building, especially in emerging economies worldwide is at the heart of our mission and trainings like these, as supported by Waters Corporation, are critical to improving public health, facilitating market access, and enhancing food security across the globe.” The course is currently accepting applications for October 2017 and February 2018 start dates. To find out more details and how to apply visit http://go.qub.ac.uk/OnlineGlobalFood.

Queen’s astronomer and international experts make major exoplanet discovery

Description: Dr Neale Gibson from Queen’s University Belfast teamed up with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and researchers across the globe to unveil the discovery around the hot-Jupiter planet. Unique information Using the power of the ESO’s Very Large Telescope the experts unearthed unique information about the chemical composition, the temperature and pressure structure of the atmosphere of this unusual and very hot world. The results appear today in the journal Nature. “Detecting such molecules is, however, no simple feat,” explained Elyar Sedaghati, who spent two years as ESO student to work on this project. “Not only do we need data of exceptional quality, but we also need to perform a sophisticated analysis. We used an algorithm that explores many millions of spectra spanning a wide range of chemical compositions, temperatures, and cloud or haze properties in order to draw our conclusions.” The team have examined the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-19b in greater detail than ever before. This remarkable planet has about the same mass as Jupiter, but is so close to its parent star that it completes an orbit in just 19 hours and its atmosphere is estimated to have a temperature of about 2000 degrees Celsius. Global haze As WASP-19b passes in front of its parent star, some of the starlight passes through the planet’s atmosphere and leaves subtle fingerprints in the light that eventually reaches Earth. By using the FORS2 instrument on the Very Large Telescope the team was able to carefully analyse this light and deduce that the atmosphere contained small amounts of titanium oxide, water and traces of sodium, alongside a strongly scattering global haze. Dr Neale Gibson, a researcher at Queen’s University Belfast, commented: “Detections of molecules on exoplanet atmospheres require extremely high precision measurements, and sophisticated algorithms to both extract the exoplanet’s signature and interpret it. “These results are the culmination of many years of work in improving these techniques, and we are now at the point where we can routinely measure the contents of exoplanet atmospheres and start to understand the physical and chemical processes at play. In the near future, we hope to use these techniques on more Earth-like worlds, and explore the diversity of terrestrial planets in our neighbourhood." Dr Gibson added: “The presence of titanium oxide is thought to fundamentally change the physics of exoplanet atmospheres. For a long time it has been speculated to be present in the hottest exoplanet atmospheres but only indirect evidence has been found to date. These observations confirm its existence and open the way for exiting new observations of this planet with future facilities.” Heat absorber Titanium oxide is rarely seen on Earth. It is known to exist in the atmospheres of cool stars. In the atmospheres of hot planets like WASP-19b, it acts as a heat absorber. If present in large enough quantities, these molecules prevent heat from entering or escaping through the atmosphere, leading to a thermal inversion — the temperature is higher in the upper atmosphere and lower further down, the opposite of the normal situation. Ozone plays a similar role in Earth’s atmosphere, where it causes inversion in the stratosphere. The astronomers collected observations of WASP-19b over a period of more than one year. By measuring the relative variations in the planet’s radius at different wavelengths of light that passed through the exoplanet’s atmosphere and comparing the observations to atmospheric models, they could extrapolate different properties, such as the chemical content, of the exoplanet’s atmosphere. Observations This new information about the presence of metal oxides like titanium oxide and other substances will allow much better modelling of exoplanet atmospheres. Looking to the future, once astronomers are able to observe atmospheres of possibly habitable planets, the improved models will give them a much better idea of how to interpret those observations. “This important discovery is the outcome of a refurbishment of the FORS2 instrument that was done exactly for this purpose,” added team member Henri Boffin, from ESO, who led the refurbishment project. “Since then, FORS2 has become the best instrument to perform this kind of study from the ground.” Image credit: Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser 

Queen's award Honorary Professorship to Declan Kelly

Description: Mr Kelly was awarded the prestigious Professorship during the Chief Executives' Club inaugural Annual Leadership Lecture at Queen’s Management School, at which he was the guest speaker. Professor Nola Hewitt-Dundas, Head of Queen’s Management School, said: “It is an honour to award Declan Kelly with this Honorary Professorship at Queen’s. He has been a great ambassador for Northern Ireland in the world of business internationally and will act as an inspiration for our management and business students here at the University.” From journalism to consulting, Mr Kelly has had an impressive career and is widely known for his corporate problem solving skills, due to the impact he has had on the American corporate world. His company, Teneo Holdings, provide services that span the range of strategic communications; government affairs, investment banking, cyber security and risk management, management consulting, investor relations, corporate governance, advisory and executive recruitment, amongst many others. In 2009, he acted as US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland after being appointed to the post by the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mr Kelly founded the United States - Northern Ireland (US-NI) Mentorship Programme, which he still personally funds and oversees. The programme is designed to offer recent graduates from Northern Ireland an opportunity to gain business and managerial experience in the United States in order to broaden perspectives and entrepreneurial flair. Almost 100 students, including 39 Queen’s University graduates, have participated in the programme, spending a year in the United States working in some of the world’s leading companies. In this role, Mr Kelly will be a Visiting Professor in Management and Leadership and will act as an ambassador for the University in the United States.

CME Group Foundation Awards Donation to Queen’s University

Description: The Foundation is awarding a total of $384,000 to Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University. Each university will each receive $192,000 over a two-year period. At Queen’s, the funding will develop courses for over 140 GCSE computing teachers to equip them with the skills to both successfully teach and inspire pupils to study the computing and coding to a high standard. Alison Hamilton, Executive Director Software Engineering at CME Group commented: “CME Group’s office in Belfast has become a hub of technological innovation since it was established five years ago. We see it as a vital part of our role as an employer in the region to take steps to equip the next generation with these employable skills, throughout their education.” Kassie Davis, Executive Director at CME Group Foundation commented: “CME Group Foundation is proud to offer the support to these two institutions and to the valuable work they are doing for the sector and for their students. CME Group has a long track record of supporting educational initiatives that benefit individuals and the economy more broadly. We are therefore delighted to make these donations and to partner with Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast over the next two years.” Dr Philip Hanna, Director of Education, School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Queen’s University Belfast commented: “Queen’s University Belfast is delighted to partner with CME Group Belfast on a two-year computer programming initiative that will support teachers and inspire pupils. The funding generously provided by CME Group Foundation will enable us to make a real and positive difference to the lives of many young people and, ultimately, to the economy of Northern Ireland.”

Queen's University innovation could mean flexible batteries for pacemakers

Description: Currently, devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators are fitted with rigid and metal based batteries, which can cause patient discomfort. Dr Geetha Srinivasan and a team of young researchers from Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Centre, have now developed a flexible supercapacitor with a longer cycle life, which could power body sensors. Flexible device The flexible device is made up of non-flammable electrolytes and organic composites, which are safe to the human body. It can also be easily decomposed without incurring the major costs associated with recycling or disposing off metal based batteries. The findings, which have been published in Energy Technology and Green Chemistry, show that the device could be manufactured using readily available natural feedstock, rather than sophisticated and expensive metals or semiconductors. Dr Srinivasan explains: “In modern society, we all increasingly depend on portable electronics such as smartphones and laptops in our everyday lives and this trend has spread to other important areas such as healthcare devices. “In medical devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators there are two implants, one which is fitted in the heart and another which holds the metal based, rigid batteries - this is implanted under the skin. “The implant under the skin is wired to the device and can cause patients discomfort as it is rubs against the skin. For this reason batteries need to be compatible to the human body and ideally we would like them to be flexible so that they can adapt to body shapes.” Dr Srinivasan adds: “At Queen’s University Belfast we have designed a flexible energy storage device, which consists of conducting polymer - biopolymer composites as durable electrodes and ionic liquids as safer electrolytes. “The device we have created has a longer life-cycle, is non-flammable, has no leakage issues and above all, it is more flexible for placing within the body.” Environmentally friendly While the findings show that there are many advantages in the medical world, the organic storage device could also provide solutions in wearable electronics and portable electronic devices, making these more flexible. Ms Marta Lorenzo, PhD researcher on the project at Queen’s University Belfast, commented: “Although this research could be a potential solution to a global problem, the actual supercapacitor assembly is a straightforward process.” Dr Srinivasan says: “There is also opportunity to fabricate task-specific supercapacitors. This means that their properties can be tuned and also manufactured using environmentally friendly methods, which is important if they are to be produced on a large scale, for example in powering portable personal electronic devices.”

Queen’s University First to Use Life-Like Pregnant Mannequins to Train Midwives

Description: The birthing simulator, known as Sono Sim, presents like a real pregnant mother complete with internal organs. The simulator or mannequin can be linked to a scanner that is programmed with a choice of hundreds of scans representing scenarios that a pregnant mother and her baby may face from early stages of pregnancy through to birth. Queen’s is the first University in the UK to offer this latest technology, manufactured by Laerdal, to trainee midwives. Professor Donna Fitzsimons, Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery said: “Queen’s has been leading the way for over 10 years in the development of Human Patient Simulation within healthcare. We are delighted to be the first University in the UK to introduce the new Sono Sim simulator, which will revolutionise the education of our midwifery students.” Students will be presented with a number of real-life scenarios. The mannequin will be linked to a scanner, enabling students to date the birth in the early stages of pregnancy right through to detecting a number of foetal abnormalities at the 20 weeks scan. The mannequin will also mimic the birthing process, presenting a number of labour-related scenarios that midwives may deal with such as a postpartum haemorrhage before a mannequin baby is presented. Professor Fitzsimons added: “Until now, trainee midwives would learn about pregnancy scans through shadowing an experienced midwife in a hospital. This equipment will better prepare our students for this experience and facilitate assessment through a one-way mirror in our state-of-the-art birthing suites. This real-life environment complete with a human-like mannequin that can laugh, cry and bleed creates a cutting-edge learning experience. “Midwives will be assessed on how they deal with a number of scenarios that they will likely face throughout their career. This is the closest we can get to a real-life scenario, putting the students to the test in a safe environment and optimising their preparation for the real world.”

Tree descended from where Hippocrates first taught medicine in Tree of the Year

Description: The Erskine House tree is a direct descendant of the ‘Plane tree of Kos’ - a famous oriental plane tree under which Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, first taught on the island of Kos in 500 BC. It was planted from seeds gifted by Greek physician, Dr Dimitrios Oreopoulos in the 1960’s, who was undertaking an MD in kidney research at Queen’s University and working at the renal unit at Belfast City Hospital. After completing his studies, Dr Oreopoulos moved with his family to Canada, where he later became Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He made many contributions to the treatment of renal disease, as well as the promotion of medical ethics and humanitarian principles. Dr Oreopoulos also went on to develop ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis, a type of dialysis which is now used throughout the world. The tree was nominated for ‘Tree of the Year’ by Dr Gerard Gormley, Clinical Senior Lecturer and Professor Peter Maxwell, Clinical Professor from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, and Dr James Douglas, former Nephrologist at Belfast City Hospital. One of several trees planted at the time by the seeds gifted by Dr Oreopoulos, the Erskine House tree is the only tree that has survived. In order to preserve and also celebrate the tree, a new circular bench and plaque in memory of Dr Oreopoulos, have been installed so the area can now be enjoyed by staff, students and patients. Speaking ahead of the ‘Tree of the Year’ final, Dr Gormley said: “The Erskine House tree is a magnificent oriental plane tree and a direct descendent of the original ‘Plane Tree of Kos’. This tree is not only a symbol of the link between medicine, humanity and nature, but also the links Belfast has internationally.” Dr James Douglas, added: “Surrounded by high-rise buildings the tree acts as an oasis of calm for staff, patients and students. A beacon from nature, the tree represents humanity and hope in our changing world, reflecting Hippocrates' belief that medicine, although based in science, is also a humane activity. Northern Ireland should be proud of this tree and its rich heritage.” To vote for the Erskine House tree in the Woodland Trust’s ‘Tree of the Year’ competition, please visit: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/tree-of-the-year/northern-ireland/  Voting is opened from Monday 11 September and will close on Sunday 8 October, 2017.  ENDS...

Queen's University scientists observe largest solar flare in 12 years

Description: The huge burst of radiation, which was not harmful to humans due to the Earth’s protective atmosphere and distance from the sun, occurred unexpectedly on Wednesday 6 September 2017. Powerful events The flare was one of three X-category flares – the largest type of flare – observed over 48 hour period. The large solar bursts have energies comparable to one billion hydrogen bombs and can drive plasma away from the solar surface at speeds of up to 2000 km/s in phenomena known as Coronal Mass Ejections. These powerful events, known as Space Weather, can lead to disruption to satellites and GPS signals, as well as spectacular aurora through their interaction with the Earth’s atmosphere. The largest X-class flare occurred at 13:00 GMT and was measured to have an energy level of X9.3 (where X9 is nine times more powerful than X1). A team from a consortium of UK universities, including Queen's University Belfast and the University of Sheffield, supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, observed these historic events in extremely high detail using the Swedish Solar Telescope in La Palma. One of the most difficult aspects of flare observation using ground-based telescopes is the short time-scales over which flares evolve. X-class flares can form and reach their peak intensities in little over five minutes, meaning observers, who only see a small part of the sun at any one moment, must act fast to ensure they catch the crucial opening moments of the flares evolution. Unusual Dr Chris Nelson from the Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Centre (SP2RC), led by Professor Robertus von Fáy-Siebenbürgen, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Maths and Statistics, was one of the observers at the telescope. He said “It’s very unusual to observe the opening minutes of a flare’s life. We can only observe about 1/250th of the solar surface at any one time using the Swedish Solar Telescope, so to be in the right place at the right time requires a lot of luck. To observe the rise phases of three X-classes over two days is just unheard of.” The observations were carried out by Dr Aaron Reid, Dr Krishna Prasad, and Dr David Kuridze of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's University Belfast. Dr Aaron Reid, a research fellow at at Queen’s University, added: “The sun is currently in what we call solar minimum. The number of Active Regions, where flares occur, is low, so to have X-class flares so close together is very unusual. These observations can tell us how and why these flares formed so we can better predict them in the future.” Using the data collected during this observation, researchers will be able to probe the conditions in the solar atmosphere as these powerful events are formed, allowing more accurate predictions about when and where X-class flares might occur in the future. Talented scientists This information can be channelled into the multi-billion pound space weather industry to better protect satellites from the dangers of the sun. Professor Robertus von Fáy-Siebenbürgen added: “We at SP2RC are very proud to have such talented scientists who can make true discoveries. These observations are very difficult and will require hard work to fully understand what exactly has happened on the sun.” Professor Mihalis Mathioudakis, who led the project at Queen’s University Belfast, added: “Solar flares are the most energetic events in our solar system and can have a major impact on earth. The dedication and perseverance of our early career scientists who planned and executed these observations led to the capture of this unique event and have helped to advance our knowledge in this area.” The Swedish 1 m Solar Telescope is operated on the island of La Palma by the Institute for Solar Physics (ISP) of Stockholm University at the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofi╠üsica de Canarias. UK access to the SST is funded by the Science and the Technology Facilities Council, Armagh Observatory, Northumbria University, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Sheffield.