A Review of January’s PubhD



You say it’s your birthday, it’s my birthday too yeah!

12 months ago, two men had a dream. That dream was to hear 3 PhD students explaining their research in a pub. Well, here we are celebrating the first anniversary of PubhD. Not only that but this auspicious occasion happened to coincide with the 38th anniversary of the brewery that own the pub (£1 off all Castle Rock beers!).

So what did PubhD 12 have to offer?

First up was Rebecca who was researching brain development in profoundly deaf people. She was looking at brain structure by examining the flow of oxygenated blood.

Prior to looking at deaf people, her research had been looking at the effects of beta blockers on the brain. Now, to a man of my age, the first thing that I think about when I hear “beta blockers” is snooker. Steve Davies used them throughout the ’80s. Well, it turns out that when you are on beta blockers, the emotional centre of your brain uses less blood and hence less oxygen. Maybe that’s what made The Nugget so interesting.

Moving onto deaf people, it turns out that you can’t use MRI machines on them. If they have a cochlea implant then you can’t put them in a machine and if they don’t there is a chance that their inability to hear the MRI machine itself might skew results.

So, instead an infrared machine is used that can measure blood oxygenation. This device is also less intrusive than an MRI. After taking a base reading, a stimuli is applied. Then after a rest phase, another stimuli is applied and this is then repeated.

The hope is that this research will help with patients who are given a cochlea implant and setting more accurate expectations for their improvement. This could also help with changes to rehabilitation following a fitting as you may get a better picture of how many sessions might be needed.

Key learning: If your auditory cortex isn’t receiving any sounds, it can become “bored” and start processing other data. So, in deaf people, rather than processing noise it can process moving images instead.

Next up was Stephen talking about cotton spinning in the Leen valley. Okay, cards on the table time. I have to admit that when I first heard this topic, it wasn’t really something that floats my boat. I thought I might spend half an hour at the bar instead (especially at £1 off). However, it was actually my favourite talk of the night.

Who knew that cotton spinning had it all – political intrigue, scientific firsts and arguments with poet’s uncles.

It’s a tale of three men: George Robinson, a flax spinner, Frederick Montegue, a former MP and owner of Papplewick Hall and Richard Arkwright, who had a patent on the cotton spinning frame. Arkwright lobbied for the removal of the cotton tariff. Montegue helped him get his proposal through government and then Robinson built mills on Montegue’s land.

However, Robinson ran into two problems in the Leen Valley – lack of workers and lack of water.

The solution to the first was to import workers from London. Youths were taken from workhouses and brought up to work in the mills. There are gravestones in Papplewick churchyard that describe boys from London.

The second was caused by an argument with the uncle of Lord Byron. Also a Lord and know as Wicked Lord Byron, he blocked off the river at Newstead Abbey. This actually led to a change in the law which subsequently said that you could take water out of rivers on your land but you couldn’t take it all.

The solution to this problem was technological – steam. The Robinson mills actually had the world’s first steam engine used to produce rotary motion for the production of textiles.

Unfortunately, a lack of investment in the mills and the general lack of water for the mills led to an early demise. A few years later, rich seams of coal were found nearby and could have kept steam powered mills going. Instead Montegue’s land ended up being brought by the Co-Op in the 1920s.

Key Learning: Stephen thinks he knows the whereabouts of the second steam engine used in cotton spinning and is planning an Indiana Jones style rescue mission to find it.

Finally was Lesley talking about her research in human-computer interaction and the use of digital technology in museums and galleries.

Museums and galleries want to do away with the old fashioned audioguide. They want to try and increase engagement through the use of modern technology. However, since there is so much information out there, people could be overwhelmed.

Lesley is looking at how to personalise this experience while also trying to ensure that it doesn’t take away from the social aspect of going round a museum or gallery. Her research has revolved around a new user model which replaces algorithms with people creating personal tours for their friends and loved ones and they can then gift the experience.

This means that you can steer people round a museum or gallery and get them to just look at what you want them to look at. You could personalise music for certain pieces, give ideas of how to actually engage with a piece and decide what text they would see be it something factual or interpretive.

However, creating these tours isn’t necessarily a quick process. Hence, the next steps will be to look at the use of templates to make it easier to create these gift experiences.

Key learning: similar to Sat Navs you could have celebrity voices guiding you round galleries. For example, Yoda at The Louvre – “look at Mona Lisa you must. Enigmatic her smile is”

PubhD will return in PubhD 13: Archaeology, Media & Physics.


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