Interdisciplinary blog

A Digital Economy Recipe for MOOCs

July 3, 2014
by Graeme Earl via WSI | WSI

In a month’s time the DE USRG will cease to exist, as it merges with the Web Science Institute. Since we took it over in 2011 we have focused on a few key areas: Firstly, the role of technological innovation in driving research-informed education, and this being digital economy research in its own right. The education sector is changing rapidly …

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Computationally Intensive Imaging USRG EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014

July 2, 2014
by Nathan Soper via Computational Intensive Imaging Blog

Nathan Soper – ‘Application of X-ray Computed Tomography and advanced image processing for novel quantification of plant root growth micro-mechanisms’. I’ve just finished my 3rd year of Electronic Engineering and am set to be beginning my 4th and final year this September. This internship is based within the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment and […]

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Sustainability Science at Southampton EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014

July 1, 2014
by Brittany Camp

Brittany Camp – ‘Using citizen science to evaluate the provision of cultural ecosystem services’.

I am about to start my third year in a Bachelor of Science, Biology, degree at The University of Southampton and am considering continuing my studies to a Master of Science (MSc) degree programme. Whilst my degree encompasses many aspects of the function and interactions of living things, from sub-cellular through global biosphere levels, I enjoy focusing on the ecosystem level. This internship project is in collaboration with Dr Simon Willcock, in the Centre for Biological Sciences. The field of research for this project is ecosystem services, specifically the somewhat understated division of cultural ecosystem services.

Cultural ecosystem services describe the non-material benefits people gain from nature, such as spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences. These benefits commonly prove difficult to evaluate as they lack a common unit, e.g. money as with many material benefits obtained from nature. Because of this, quantitative approaches to evaluate cultural ecosystem services are controversial and somewhat lacking when compared to other divisions of the ecosystem services field. Therefore, the importance of cultural ecosystem services can often be under-estimated in land use planning.

It is easy to see how valuing cultural ecosystem services of an area of land can be complicated. The benefits of cultural ecosystem services are unique to each person, as people will appreciate different aspects of a landscape uniquely. Furthermore, the accessibility of an area of land must be considered as well, for example, if an area of land has the potential for many cultural ecosystem services in high value, but is inaccessible to most people, does its value in terms of cultural ecosystem services decline? This must therefore be considered in decision making.

Evaluating cultural ecosystem services is therefore often done using the public. Commonly surveys are carried out with the ultimate aim to quantify and assign value to cultural ecosystem services. The aim of this project is to adapt existing text-based cultural ecosystem service surveys into image-based surveys. VisualDNA has identified image based to provide higher response rates, and the success of image-based compared to text-based surveys will be assessed in this project. Furthermore, the project aims to assess whether the general public can be used as field scientists to collect data (citizen science) via the Imagini mobile phone app (created by VisualDNA) can be used to evaluate the effect green spaces have on peoples’ moods. Application of this information to future land use scenarios may provide information enabling decision-makers to better understand how to adapt future infrastructure to better coexist with future environmental change.

Data relating to cultural ecosystem services across the world are particularly poor. Results from this pilot study may aid on-going research by: 1) indicating the best method by which researchers can obtain survey data; and 2) using citizen science to obtain a global dataset on the relationship between nature and peoples’ moods. This information can be used to support PhD applications as well as allowing decision making regarding land use to be better informed.

Computationally Intensive Imaging EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014

July 1, 2014
by Nathan Soper

Nathan Soper – ‘Application of X-ray Computed Tomography and advanced image processing for novel quantification of plant root growth micro-mechanisms’.

I’ve just finished my 3rd year of Electronic Engineering and am set to be beginning my 4th and final year this September. This internship is based within the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment and more specifically within μ-VIS and under the supervision of Dr Sam D Keyes. In many ways this project is far removed from my previous areas of study, however there is a surprising array of overlap of the skill sets required. This project involves taking many computer vision and engineering techniques and applying them to complex biological systems in order to better understand them.

Specifically this project will involve analysing data sets taken from X-ray images taken of root samples of wheat. With the use of very high resolution X-rays and a large amount of computing grunt, 3D data sets of plant root images can be obtained through a technique known as computer tomography (CT). By taking repeated snapshots through time, the growth of a root through various porous media can be observed and analysed.

As a root grows down through soil or whichever medium within which it is placed, it will move its way around air, soil, water, harder minerals in the ground as well as biological matter. This project will further investigate how this process happens and what factors affect the rate of growth both radially and along the length of the root.

Figure 1 3D rendered image of a root growing through soil, taken from a CT dataset.

Figure 1 3D rendered image of a root growing through soil, taken from a CT dataset.

A sizeable amount of this project will be located in the lab where the samples will be grown, providing plenty of hands on experience in the world of lab based botany. The apparatus for the experiments must also be devised through various CAD and 3D printing methods. All of this must be done before any CT can be done.

Digital Volume Correlation is a “novel technique” that is an extension of previous 2D techniques that allow a 3D volume to be analysed over time. Examining plant roots in 3D in this way is novel and has yet to be extensively researched.

This research could have some very well appreciated applications; being able to better understand how to grow crops such as rice, wheat and maize could vastly improve the yield of arable farms as we better understand how these plants grow. Hopefully this research will be a positive contribution to the field and while be the bedrock for future research projects.

In the future I hope to pursue postgraduate research and so I hope that this summer project will be a good insight into the world of research and I expect to learn many skills that will equip and prepare me for the diverse and complex challenges that this could present.

Health Technologies USRG EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014

July 1, 2014
by Thomas Hardman

Tommy Hardman – ‘Fast and objective detection of auditory evoked potentials using statistical tests’

I’ve recently finished my second year on the MEng Acoustical Engineering programme. I have an interest in the biomedical side of engineering and more specifically in its applications in signal processing. I’ve been lucky enough to be working on a research project with David Simpson this summer involving the assessment of hearing without the use of voluntary responses by the patient.

Auditory Evoked Potentials are a means of objective hearing assessment. This is based on the analysis of EEG (electroencephalogram) signals obtained during repeated stimulation. A major application of this technique is in the assessment of hearing in new-born babies. The conventional method in the assessment of hearing involves visual and subjective interpretation of auditory evoked potentials. This requires trained specialists and suffers from large inter-rate variability. Two alternative objective methods will be considered. The first being a bootstrap statistical method that focuses on the clinically most relevant feature of the signal and the second by using sequential testing, such that the analysis can be stopped if a significant response is detected (without sacrificing false positive rates). These methods aim to increase sensitivity whilst increasing the speed of analysis and hence removing the reliance on subjective testing.

Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Signal

Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Signal

My individual project next year is also of a biomedical theme, titled: Modelling Blood Flow, Metabolite and Drug Transport within Tumour Capillaries. I look forward to exploring a whole new side of biomedical research, enforcing the importance of signal processing and mathematical modeling in this exciting field.

Energy USRG EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014

July 1, 2014
by Natalie Sims

Natalie Sims – ‘Working towards developing sustainable biofuels’

I am currently studying at the University of Southampton, approaching the end of my second year in a masters degree in Chemistry. Although my degree covers many aspects of Chemistry, an area that has recently initiated an interest during studies is the development of sustainable routes in chemistry and the design and synthesis of catalysts in aid of this. To further my knowledge into this particular field I decided to apply for a research placement over summer. This internship will be undertaken under the supervision of Dr Robert Raja and his research group.

There is an unrelenting demand for the development of sustainable chemical processes that utilise renewable feedstocks. Catalysts have always been highly valued in the chemical industry and, with our dwindling energy supplies, there has been a major impetus for developing renewable energy technologies and biomass feedstocks (such as cellulose), have considerable potential for the generation of sustainable polymers. This cellulose, which is the most abundant naturally occurring polymer on Earth, can be transformed into the biomass-derived FDCA and it is this chemical that can serve as a sustainable substitute for terephthalic acid in the synthesis of poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). The main objective of this project is to develop a bi-functional hierarchical aluminophosphate (AlPO) catalyst for the sustainable production of FDCA; a large portion of this will be developing my own design tools for creating active sites within the catalyst and then meticulously tailoring them to enable specific transformations involving these biomass feedstocks.

natalie sims

During my time in the summer, I hope to build upon my knowledge and research skills through working on this multidisciplinary theme which is strongly linked to sustainable energy applications. This project provides me with the resources to fully characterise any materials I will have synthesised using a range of techniques, such as 3D tomography and electron microscopy, which I have not previously had the opportunity to use. To surmise, this internship will be an invaluable opportunity for me to gain insight into a research career that adopts Chemistry for renewable energy applications.

Zepler Institute EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014

July 1, 2014
by Joshua Lamb

Joshua Lamb – ‘Suspended Si Nanowire Transistors for Quantum Simulations’

My name is Joshua Lamb and I am currently studying MEng electronic engineering here at the University of Southampton. I have just finished my 3rd year and am moving into my final year, my 3rd year individual project was on the characterisation and modelling of suspended silicon nanowire transistors, I was greatly intrigued by this research field and eager to continue. Nanotechnology has many applications from extending current CMOS technologies to creating new ways to sense and detect nanoscale particles. These devices have a variety of applications such as mass and bio-molecular sensing. As well as this they also have potential applications in quantum computing.

In my research project I will be studying the effects of low temperatures on these suspended silicon nanowire transistors for quantum computing applications. Research indicates that at very low temperatures these nanoscale devices do not behave as expected in their classical sense due to quantum phenomena. It is highly important to understand these quantum phenomena in order to begin creating quantum computing based devices. So far no research has investigated the low temperature effects on these suspended nanowire transistors. Using the equipment available in the ECS cleanrooms I will be able to measure these devices at very low temperatures down to approximately 1.7K. The results obtained from these experiments can then be compared against theoretical background knowledge in order to further enhance our understanding of the devices.

Images showing an example of one of the devices being studied during this project at different magnifications.The first image shows the configuration used for testing with the device in the very centre. The second shows the suspended silicon nanowire and the third shows the core of the nanowire with dimensions, the dark core is the silicon nanowire and the sourrounding lighter area is an oxide layer formed around it.

In parallel with this work I hope to improve on the simulation model I created during my 3rd year project. As the wire is suspended it is free to bend in the middle, the fields created by the gates of the devices could influence the bending of the nanowire. By taking into account these mechanical effects of using a suspended wire the model can be greatly improved.

The research in the project is part of a much larger scheme to create quantum computing technologies. After finishing my masters I am planning on staying on to do PhD, the research done in this project will provide me with great experience in this field so that I can hopefully go on to develop these technologies further.

IfLS EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014

July 1, 2014
by Rachel Greenhill

Rachel Greenhill – ‘Optimising the analysis of biomarkers to indicate metabolic changes in loaded soft tissues’

I’m a Chemistry student moving into the 3rd year of my Masters. I’ll be working with both Prof. Dan Bader and Dr. John Langley to optimise the analysis of metabolites in sweat obtained from both loaded and unloaded tissues using various separation sciences and mass spectrometry. I specifically wanted to work on an analytical research project, as I have a keen interest in this area, so I’m looking forward to gaining invaluable experience in analytical science.


Pressure ulcers (PU) result from sustained mechanical pressure on soft tissues, leading to ischemia, and the potential breakdown of the tissue. PUs often occur in many clinical conditions, e.g in bedridden or chair confined patients, and in addition to being a disabling chronic condition, greatly affecting a patients quality of life, the UK spends £4 billion per year in associated treatment. 

 Prevention of pressure ulcers requires early detection of changes in the soft tissue to be effective. This project looks to develop a non-invasive approach to examining loaded skin tissues, via the analysis of biomarkers in sweat, such as lactate, urate and purines, which have previously been shown to be elevated in loading and reperfusion periods. We intend to optimise the conditions in ultra high performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry (UHPLC-MS) to determine the limits of detection for the metabolites with the aim of creating a standard operating procedure for purine detection.

Rachel Greenhill blog image

This work will support the EPSRC/NIHR HTC Partnership Award: “Medical devices and vulnerable skin: Optimising safety in design”, and will hopefully go on to provide a starting reference for a preventative biosensor for soft tissues damage. On a personal level, next year I’ll be undertaking a practical project for the duration of the year, and in my final year I’ll be conducting research as a guest in another university abroad during a 6 month placement, so the knowledge and skills obtained over this summer will be highly beneficial and I believe will help me make the most of these future opportunities.

Ageing USRG EPSRC Summer Busaries 2014

July 1, 2014
by Michalis Rodosthenous

Michalis Rodosthenous – ‘Development of an open-source finite element model of the knee joint’

I have just completed my 3rd year in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southampton and after this summer I will be continuing with my 4th and final year of my Master in Engineering (MEng) degree. My chosen theme is Mechatronics but through my 3rd year Individual Project (‘Using graphics rendering techniques for engineering data visualisation’) and modules such as Finite Element Analysis and Orthopaedics Biomechanics I have developed an interest in modeling, data analysis and data visualisation.  

This internship project entitled ‘Development of an open-source finite element model of the knee joint’ is supervised by Dr Georges Limbert and involves the development of an advanced finite element model of the knee joint as part of the international SimTK ( The geometry of the natural knee joint has been acquired from MRI data as part of the OpenKnee project.

This internship project aims to implement state-of-the-art models for soft tissues structures (ligaments, cartilage and menisci) in the commercial finite element code ABAQUS ( and run a series of finite element analyses to simulate particular knee activities such as flexion. Moreover, advanced rendering techniques will be used to produce attractive visualisations of the models developed.  

The finite element models which will be developed through this research project will be made available to the bioengineering research community where they can be used to study the interplay between mechanical properties of soft tissues, knee kinematics and loading conditions for a variety of different scenarios.