Monday, 25 July 2016

History of Psychiatry podcast series launched

This is the first of two series of weekly podcasts beginning in July 2016. The podcaster is Professor Rab Houston of the School of History, a social historian of Britain who has published extensively on the history of mental disorders and their cultural, political, legal, and economic context, especially during the period 1500-1850.

The first series of 44 podcasts covers England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland during the last 500 years, looking at continuities and changes in how mental illness was understood and treated, and at the radical shifts in systems of caring for those who were either mad or mentally handicapped during the last two centuries. The analysis aims to be balanced and fair.

The coverage is broad, ranging from how mental problems were identified and described in the past through changing ideas about their causes and developing therapeutic practices to important themes such as the reasons behind the emergence of psychiatry as a profession and the rise and fall of asylums as a location of care.

The series explores:
  • the history of suicide, 
  • madness in the media, 
  • psychiatry and the law, 
  • relations between medical practitioners and patients, 
and it assesses evidence that the incidence of mental illness has changed over time. It begins and ends with discussion of the value of history and the vital lessons that can be learned by studying the past, not only for psychiatrists, but for all healthcare professionals, welfare policy makers, and indeed anyone with an interest in mental health.

Go to:
For research relating to the podcasts, please visit

Twitter: @HistPsychiatry

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Multiple projects funded for Mars exploration research

Dr Claire Cousins from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) was recently awarded four research projects, totalling a value of £422K, funded by the UK Space Agency as part of their ongoing ‘Aurora’ programme and The Leverhulme Trust. All these projects relate to the exploration of Mars, spanning both fundamental research and technology development.

The 3.5 year UK Space Agency PhD Studentship “Chemolithotrophs on Mars: metabolic pathways and biosignatures” will explore the metabolisms and stable isotope fractionation patterns produced by microbial communities in Mars analogue environments, and will be co-supervised by Dr Aubrey Zerkle. This will help us understand what kind of evidence we might expect to be left by any microbial life that existed billions of years ago when Mars was a less hostile planet.

Complementing this studentship is a 3-year postdoctoral project that will explore the habitability of hydrothermal fluids on Mars, Europa and Enceladus (“Frozen but not forgotten: microbial habitability and preservation in planetary fluids”; The Leverhulme Trust). This project will combine natural mineral springs in the Canadian High Arctic and Iceland with experimental studies to investigate how microbial communities survive and are preserved in simulated planetary environments. Dr Gordon Osinksi from the University of Western Ontario who visited DEES during his sabbatical in April 2016 is a Co-Investigator on this project, along with Dr Mark Claire (DEES) and Prof Charles Cockell (University of Edinburgh).

Testing the ExoMars PanCam in Iceland in 2013 

Finally, a 2-year proof-of-concept UK Space Agency project, led by Dr Matthew Gunn at Aberystwyth University, will develop a prototype instrument to conduct “Luminescence age dating for in situ environments” on Mars. Luminescence age dating is widely used in environmental sciences, but has yet to be used in the robotic exploration of Mars. Creating new instrument prototypes means they can be developed into more advanced instruments for missions to the Martian surface in the future. 

Links to related research:

Selecting the geology filter wavelengths for the ExoMars Panoramic Camera Instrument, Cousins, C. R., et al., 2012, In: Planetary and Space Science.

Mars surface context cameras past, present, and future, Cousins, C. R., et al., 27 April 2016, In: Earth and Space Science.

Glaciovolcanic hydrothermal environments in Iceland and implications for their detection on Mars, Cousins, C. R., et al., Cousins, C. R., et al., 15 Apr 2013, In: Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 256, p. 61-77.

Volcano-Ice Interaction as a Microbial Habitat on Earth and Mars, Claire R. Cousins and Ian A. Crawford. Astrobiology. September 2011, 11(7): 695-710.

Related media stories:

New Scientist: ExoMars rover's Martian-hunting camera takes test run in Iceland
Imperative Space: Aurora and ExoMars Films for UK Space Agency
The Leverhulme Trust:  Looking for life in the UV: fluorescence as a tool for planetary exploration

Monday, 27 June 2016

'New Generation Thinker 2016' winners! Dr Victoria Donovan and Anindya Raychaudhuri

Congratulations to Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri, School of English, and Dr Victoria Donovan, School of Modern Languages two early career researchers from St Andrews (out of 10 total!) who have been chosen as New Generation Thinkers 2016!

BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) have unveiled the 10 academics who will be turning their research into television and radio programmes on the BBC. The New Generation Thinkers scheme 2016 is a nationwide search for the brightest minds who have the potential to share their cutting edge academic ideas through broadcasting. After a four-month selection process involving a series of day-long workshops at the BBC in Salford and London, the final 10 were chosen by a panel of BBC Radio 3 and BBC Arts producers, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The scheme has been a successful first step for many academics, with previous thinkers going on to appear across television and radio.

Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri is working on the way nostalgia is used by diasporic communities to create imaginary and real homes. He has written about the Spanish Civil War and the India/Pakistan partition and the cultural legacies of these wars. He co-hosts a podcast show, State of the Theory, and explores the issues raised by his research in stand-up comedy.
Dr Victoria Donovan’s is a historian of Russia whose research explores the complex and contradictory relationship between the Soviets and their religious heritage including between the USSR and its historic churches. Her new project is looking at the significance of patriotism in contemporary Putin’s Russia. She has worked on topics including Soviet and contemporary Russian cinema, socialist architecture and the connections between South Wales and the Eastern Ukraine.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Neil Gaiman brings Beowulf back to St Andrews

Neil Gaiman
(photo credit: Kimberly Butler)
When prize-winning author Neil Gaiman first encountered the Old English epic Beowulf, he did so via the Penguin Classics translation of the poem, made by Michael Alexander, former Berry Professor of English at St Andrews.
This week Gaiman comes to St Andrews to receive an honorary degree and to talk about (among other subjects) his part as writer on the Hollywood film adaptation of Beowulf. Dr Chris Jones of the School of English specializes in the uses that contemporary artists make of Old English literature. You can read his blog about Gaiman’s Beowulf here: School of English blog, or if you have a Reading Group, download discussions questions about Beowulf and the film here: Beowulf Discussion Questions.

Read about the research:   Chris Jones, ‘From Heorot to Hollywood: reading Beowulf in its third millennium’, in David Clark and Nicholas Perkins, eds., Anglo-Saxon and the Modern Imagination (Cambridge: Brewer, 2010), pp. 13-29. Published in Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination, Edited by David Clark &Nicholas Perkins.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

INTRIGUED: INvestigating The Role of the North Pacific In Glacial and Deglacial CO2 and Climate

The geological record offers an invaluable window into the different ways earth's climate can operate. The most recent major changes in earth's climate, prior to modern climate change, were the Pleistocene ice ages. These feature growth and collapse of massive ice sheets, rapid shifts in rain belts, and abrupt changes in ocean circulation. Changes in atmospheric CO2 are intimately linked with these ice age climate changes, but despite decades of effort, we still don't fully understand their driving mechanisms.

The aim of the newly NERC-funded research by Dr James Rae of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences is to transform our understanding of ice age CO2 and climate change, by investigating how the deep Pacific stored CO2 during ice ages, and released it back to the atmosphere during deglaciation. Although all leading hypotheses for ice age CO2 change involve CO2 storage in the deep ocean, the role of the Pacific remains unknown. As the Pacific contains half of global ocean volume, and ~30 times more CO2 than the atmosphells, whichere, its behaviour will have global impact. Our work will involve making geochemical measurements on fossil shells taken from sediment cores from the deep Pacific Ocean. These shells - called foraminifera - record the chemistry of the surrounding water at the time they grow, so by making measurements on them down the length of a sediment core, we can read back through the history of ocean circulation and CO2. A particular focus of our grant is the boron isotope composition of these sh reflects ocean pH and CO2. The new St Andrews Isotope Geochemistry labs at the University of St Andrews are among the first in the world to have be built fully boron-free, allowing us to be at the forefront of this cutting-edge technique.

The research is based at St Andrews, but features a team of leading scientists from around the world, including the Universities of Bristol, Kiel, Oregon, McGill, and ETH Zurich, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Scripps Institute of Oceanography USA, the Alfred Wegner Institute for Polar Research Germany, and radiocarbon facilities in Glasgow and California.

The project will ultimately improve understanding of CO2 exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere, which is an important factor for predicting the path of future climate change.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Tree rings unveil temperatures of the last millenium

High on mountains across Alaska, Canada, Europe and Russia near the upper or high latitude tree line, even the hardiest of conifers are at the edge of survival. Their annual rings tell a story of extreme cold that limit their growth and of warmer years that allow them to flourish. By analysing samples from these living trees and fallen timbers, researchers are able to reconstruct past temperature change.

A new international consortium of scientists, led by Dr Rob Wilson of the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, has collated a network of such tree-ring archives to derive a history of temperature fluctuations across the entire Northern Hemisphere. The N-TREND consortium (N-TREND stands for Northern Tree-Ring Network Development) was created to develop a global database of tree-ring research that improves on previous efforts for developing large-scale temperature reconstructions across the hemisphere. The consortium was devised to provide a collective platform where participants are all on the same page with respect to identifying not only gaps in the hemispheric network, but also facilitating the communication and training of new methodological approaches that can further improve tree-ring based temperature reconstructions.

The consortium’s first research paper, appearing in the current issue of Quaternary Science Reviews, provides a view of past Northern Hemisphere temperature changes over more than 1,000 years. It reveals a longer and warmer Medieval period than previous temperature reconstructions suggested, from around 850 to the end of the 11th century, with a peak in the 1160s. It also shows how the two coldest decades—1812-1821 and 1832-1841, both during a period known as the Little Ice Age—are followed by near continuous warming until present. The new paper takes a close look at some of the challenges of previous historic temperature reconstructions, explaining why reconstructions using multiple proxy archive sources—such as tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments etc, or mixing seasons expressed by different archives — can end up with ambiguous results when trying to understand past climatic variability and forcing.
A second paper will soon be submitted that will look at spatial temperature variations across the Northern Hemisphere for the last millennium. Such spatial analyses will help answer questions about the spatial extent of Medieval Warm Period, for example, and through comparative analyses with global climate models could help attribute the forces behind such past temperature ch

Columbia University links: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Blog
"Last millennium northern hemisphere summer temperatures from tree rings: Part I: The long term context", Quaternary Science Reviews Volume 134, 15 February 2016, Pages 1–18, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.12.005

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Daniele Barbaro (1514-70): In and Beyond the Text

The Venetian patrician, Daniele Barbaro, was one of the greatest intellectuals of his time and a prominent patron of artists and scholars, such as Palladio, Veronese and Titian. A complex and multi-faceted personality, he published several books and left unpublished writings on a range of subjects, including philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, optics, history, music, and architecture.
Paolo Veronese, Portrait of Daniele Barbaro, 1556-67, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
The International Network, Daniele Barbaro (1514-70): In and Beyond the Text, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, project partners University of St Andrews, Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours, and Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice, puts Barbaro under the lens of his writings, and adopting a cross-disciplinary approach it provides a reassessment of this figure in the context of the European Renaissance on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his birth.

The project, co-ordinated by Dr Laura Moretti, of the School of Art History, started on the 1st of February 2014 and will end on the 31st of January 2016. The project partners are the University of St Andrews, the Centre d'Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours, and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice.

A recent exhibition of the work (University of St Andrews, 4-5 September 2014) set up in parallel with a workshop on Barbaro’s manuscripts and printed works, his relation with printers, and the context of book printing in sixteenth-century Venice (see the exhibition catalogue for further information). 

A major exhibition of the work opens in Venice on the 10th of January in the Salone Sansoviniano of the Marciana Library.