What is brewing in the Leeds laboratories?

Dedicated researchers and PhD students at the university spend hours daily trying to understand and improve on the world around us. The research at Leeds covers an enormous spectrum of topics between the faculties, from medicine to design, environment and more. Here, we shine light on a select few of the interesting and important discoveries made in the Leeds labs this year.


Stay in shape with enough sleep

An interdisciplinary team from the School of Medicine studied 1615 adults in the UK over 4 years with a focus on sleep, diet and metabolism. The study confirmed that people who sleep longer both weigh less and have a smaller waist measurement than short sleepers. Sleeping for 6 or less hours a night was associated with, on average, a 3 cm bigger waist line. The long sleepers, in addition, had a higher level of high density cholesterol (“the good cholesterol”) compared to people who slept less. Together, these are all factors that strengthen the evidence for sleeping patterns having a role in the development of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, so make sure to get your snooze this autumn!

Watching the world melt

After a giant ice berg broke off the Antarctic ice shelf earlier in the summer, Dr Hogg, from the Centre of Polar Observation and Modelling, has been part of a project tracking the journey of the ice berg A68 using satellites. The ice berg was approximately four times the size of London when it broke off, corresponding to a 10% loss of the largest remaining ice shelf in Antarctica. In a report in Nature Climate Change, the events leading up to the massive calving are described, along with details of the iceberg’s subsequent journey and predictions about environmental implications. While we may never know if the calving event was due to natural causes or environmental change, the satellite tracking will provide important information about the behaviour of glaciers and ice shelves in response to such impactful events, crucial for understanding the development of our climate in the future.

Waterproof at the cost of environment-proof?

Scientists in the Sustainable Materials Research group at the School of Design has recently published an article about the environmental impact of every Brit’s favourite garment: the waterproof jacket. In addition to evaluating various new fabric technologies, the team interviewed 575 participants about their waterproofing experiences. Fluorocarbons have been used extensively in the waterproofing of fabrics, but recently, concerns about their toxicity to both humans and the environment have been raised. While some manufacturers are hesitant to switch to friendlier technologies due to poorer protection against e.g. stains or grease, the Leeds study confirms that most people are indifferent to these properties and just want to stay dry in the eternal drizzle, which is entirely possible also with the use of environmental friendly technologies.

If this has sparked your imagination or tickled your mind, here are a few ways to getting involved with the science community in and around Leeds:

At the university:

  • The Gryphon science section weekly meetings: Mondays 6pm in Old Bar – we’re always looking for new and enthusiastic writers and illustrators, no experience needed!
  • Be sure to check out all the amazing societies at the university, ranging from BioSoc to MedSoc, ChemEngSoc and EnviroSoc – there’s a society for whatever ignites your brain! For new postgraduate students, the Leeds University Union Postgraduate Society hold regular get-togethers when you feel like a break from the bench. Make sure to visit them all during the Fresher’s Fair!
  • Also for postgraduate students, the PG Hub at the union connects students across faculties and arranges a host of social events throughout the year including Breakfast Club with yoga, PhTea and Be Happy Hour in Old Bar.
  • STEM outreach: If you’re interested in science outreach to schools or the general public, visit http://www.stem.leeds.ac.uk to find out how to get involved. There are plenty of projects available for both undergraduate and postgraduate students to engage in!

In and around the city:

  • Leeds Festival of Science: March 3rd-23rd, 2018. Labs and museums in Leeds open up to the public with an extensive program of inspiring talks, demonstrations, science slam, activities and excursions.
  • Pint of Science: May 14th – 16th, 2018. Science in the pub – this one’s a must!
  • PubHD: Explain your PhD in 10 mins in a pub with nought but a whiteboard and your knowledge; and get a drink of your choice for your time! 
  • Science and Media Museum, Bradford: Just a short trip from Leeds, you can explore their new interactive Wonderlab exhibition for some hands-on science games. Until October 8th they’re also hosting the temporary exhibition “Supersenses”, which promises some extraordinary sensory experiences to challenge your perception.

Louise Müller

Science Editor


Image: Texas A&M University