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PubhD Sheffield - Event #3 - Feb 2017

Wednesday 1st February 2017

We’re back! After our short break for Christmas and New Year’s, we have returned - we held our third event last week at our usual spot in Harrison’s 1854 Bar.

Shoot! You missed it? Not to worry, we’ve got the low-down on the night here for you =)

Our first speaker of the night was Emily Collins, an early career researcher, who not long ago passed her PhD viva, working within Sheffield Robotics and the department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield. Emily described her work looking at biomimetic robots and their potential to be used in patient therapies. She introduced us to Miro, a small dog-like/rabbit-like robot which she had be working on, which can respond to touch, sound, and movement. Animal-assisted therapies (AAT), such as those using small animals like dogs or turtles in therapeutic settings, have previously been shown to aid patient therapies - for example, for elderly patients with dementia and paediatric patients with autism. Emily described how AAT was shown to reduce symptoms of pain in some patient groups, which therefore reduced the need to prescribe high doses of pain killers! However AAT is often not hygienic, cost-effective, or necessarily the best option for larger patient groups. Therefore she has been working on the concept of Robot-assisted therapies and how these could be a suitable replacement for AAT in the next few decades – we best keep our eyes out for the rise in robotic companions and thank Emily when we get there!

Next up, we had Daniel Cooper, a 3rd year PhD student in Materials Engineering at the University of Sheffield. Dan first explained to us how nuclear energy is produced – through the continuous splitting of radioactive atoms, which gives off huge amounts of energy, used to heat water into steam, which transfers the energy to a generator by rotating a turbine (he made it sound much simpler, honest!) He described that nuclear energy is actually one of the safest method of producing energy, often second only to wind power, and provides far higher amounts of energy than combustion or burning fossil fuels does. Currently, nuclear reactors use solid fuel rods immersed in water, however, Dan’s research looks at using molten salt instead of water. This would mean that fuel rods would no longer be needed as the fuel could be mixed with the molten salt, and it would also avoid the problem of fuel rod corrosion. Dan is also looking into the use of ‘MAX phase materials’ in nuclear reactors, as these seem to combine the best properties of a metal and ceramic. These materials are usually found as carbides or nitrides of transition metals in a hexagonal chemical formation. Dan is working with one called Titanium Aluminium Carbide, or Ti3AlC2, but he still needs to do a few more experiments before he knows how effective this is. So watch out - one day we might be using nuclear energy and Dan’s research to heat our homes in the future!

To round off the night, we listened to Wasim Ahmed, a final year PhD student in Health Informatics at the University of Sheffield. Wasim has combined his interest in infectious diseases and social media, to study how the public respond to disease outbreaks via Twitter. He has focused on two major epidemics: Swine Flu in 2009 and Ebola in 2014. Wasim spoke of how he collected thousands and thousands of tweets, but whittled this down to ‘only’ 15,000 for thorough reading and analysis. He has managed to pick out some common themes, which have so far included humour and sarcasm, lack of empathy, stigma towards the disease and those affected, fake news and misguided heath information, passing the blame and even rumours of a zombie apocalypse! This research provides an insight into the public perceptions of health and disease, and could be used to inform public relations and future education by public health bodies. So next time you tweet, remember to consider who might be listening – if its anything to do with disease outbreaks, we’re sure Wasim will be!

We’d like to say a huge thank you to all of our speakers, and also everyone who attended – we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

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