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Education

Degree could get you to Mars

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AN OPPORTUNITY to work on the 2020 European Space Agency (ESA) / Roscosmos mission to Mars has taken an Aberystwyth University student a step closer to a career in the space industry.

Ariel Ladegaard from Bergen in Norway has just returned from the Atacama Desert in Chile where he has been taking part in an ESA field trial of a test rover, as scientists prepare to go in search of life on the red planet.

As an undergraduate student on the Space Science and Robotics degree programme at Aberystwyth, Ariel was invited by computer science lecturer Dr Helen Miles to look at how images sent back from Mars could be corrected to reflect the planet’s true colours.

Dr Miles and fellow space scientist Dr Matt Gunn at Aberystwyth University have been working on PanCam, the mission’s panoramic camera system.

Tasked with capturing stereo and 3D images of the Martian terrain, work on PanCam is led by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London.

At Aberystwyth, Dr Gunn and his team have developed a hardware emulator for PanCam and a unique colour swatch inspired by the stained glass windows of medieval churches to ensure it accurately captures colours on the sun-blanched planet.

Images taken during the mission will be studied by geologists as they look for minerals that might indicate the presence of water and the building blocks of life.

For his final year undergraduate project in 2018, Ariel was set the challenge of developing a prototype software package that could compensate for imperfections in the mission’s camera, and the wear and tear of working in Mars’ hostile environment.

“Driving around on Mars is challenging and time-consuming, so you want to be certain that you’re going in the right direction. Images taken from a distance will be analysed to look for possible sites where the rover can use its ground penetrating radar and drill, so they need to be as accurate as possible.

“Once back on Earth the images will be processed by a radiometric correction pipeline which automatically adjusts them based on our knowledge of how the images were taken and how the camera responds to light in various conditions.”

Ariel’s undergraduate project focused on developing a proof of concept framework for the correction pipeline and drew on work done on the ground software for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

Now a PhD student at Aberystwyth, Ariel is working on the next phase and developing the algorithms that go into correcting the images.

Ariel said: “Aberystwyth has been great. It is everything I could have hoped for from an education in terms of how quickly I have been able to get involved in something meaningful to me, a real project. My goal is to work in robotic space exploration, a niche industry that can be difficult to enter but Aberystwyth has certainly opened the door for me.”

Speaking of his work on ExoMars, Ariel added: “It has been very nice to see just how open people in the ExoMars community have been to new actors coming in with questions and their own ideas and views on things. At first, I was a bit overwhelmed by the mission itself as it has been going on for a long time. There’s quite a barrier to entry for new people in understanding just how everything fits together, not just on a technical level, but also on the social and political levels. The more I have delved into that, however, the more I’m confident I have something to offer to the project.”

As well as developing image processing software, Ariel has been involved with ExoFiT, ESA’s Airbus-led field trials using an ExoMars-like prototype rover in Spain and Chile.

Working near the Paranal Observatory high up in the Atacama Desert in February 2019, he was part of the team testing the mission’s procedures and approaches to gathering science.

It was also an opportunity to put the image processing pipeline to the test, with pictures sent back to the UK for correction.

Ariel added: “Aberystwyth’s involvement with ExoMars revolves around calibration of the mission’s camera system and correction of images – understanding how the cameras work and how we can process and interpret the images. It was good to be able to put some of the work we have been doing in Aber to the test in Chile and gather valuable test data.”

Before taking up his studies at Aberystwyth, Ariel was a student at the Norwegian Centre for Space-related Education near Andenes in northern Norway.

He worked for seven years in the television and film industry before returning to higher education as a mature student on the BSc Space Science and Robotics degree at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Computer Science.

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Education

Teens have positive attitude to vaccinations

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Vaccinations: Welsh teens and parents understand importance

OVER 90 per cent of Welsh teens and parents surveyed trust vaccines and believe that they work.
A new report examines the findings from the Attitudes to Adolescent Vaccination 2019 survey undertaken by BMG Research on behalf of Public Health Wales. The purpose of this survey was to gain a better understanding of the awareness that teenagers aged 13 to 15 and their parents have about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as exploring attitudes to adolescent immunisation.
Over 300 interviews were conducted—split between parents and teenagers. The results confirmed the important role of health professionals in providing immunisation advice. Over 90 per cent of both parents and young people trust immunisation advice provided by health professionals and the NHS. Social media was the least trusted source of immunisation information.
Some of the report’s key findings were:
· 95 per cent of parents and 90 per cent of teenagers believe vaccines work.
· 93 per cent of teenagers state it is important to get vaccinated.
· 91 per cent of parents and 90 per cent of teenagers trust vaccines.
· 90 per cent of parents and 87 per cent of teenagers believe that vaccines are safe.
· 77 per cent of parents and 69 per cent of teenagers believe that all vaccinations represent a lower risk than the associated disease.
In addition, 97 per cent of parents and 91 per cent of teenagers say they never disagreed on receiving any vaccine, and only 7 per cent of parents and teenagers recall coming across anything that would make them concerned about having a vaccination. Over eight in 10 teenagers who were offered a vaccine were happy with the process and felt they had enough information to understand why the vaccination was offered.
Anne McGowan, Nurse Consultant in the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme in Public Health Wales, said: “The report is very positive news, finding high levels of confidence around vaccination. It shows that the vast majority of Welsh parents and teenagers really understand the importance of vaccines in stopping the spread of preventable diseases.”
Some of the report’s recommendations include continuing to communicate the benefits of the vaccines and informing teenagers about the processes involved. For teenagers, schools were found to be a key information channel with over 50 percent of teenagers recalling being taught something about vaccinations in school.
Teenager girls were more likely to recall coming across information about vaccinations, and it was recommended that more work may be needed to better engage with teenage boys. The report data also supports the continued use of high quality and accessible print materials.
Ultimately the representative survey provides a greater understanding of the awareness that teenagers and their parents have about vaccines and shows that that the vast majority of parents and teenagers have confidence in the important role of vaccination in preventing serious diseases.

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Education

Primary age children in ‘literary poverty’

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Reading together: Developing a vital skill which enriches children

NEW research reveals that more than a quarter of a million UK primary school children are experiencing literary poverty.
Literary poverty is defined by BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, as a child who is read to or with for pleasure, for less than 15 minutes a week outside of school.
The study shows that 345,000 (14%) school children aged seven to nine are currently falling into this category, with a further 17% on the border, being read to or with for less than half an hour a week.
Worryingly, six per cent of children aged 7-9 falls into the worse category of literary poverty, with their parents or guardians never reading to or with them at all.
Just a third (37%) of young children in the UK are reading with or being read to by a parent or carer for over an hour a week in total. BookTrust encourages families to read together for just 10 minutes a day as this helps develop their language, curiosity, imagination and listening skills, as well as benefitting their academic development, including writing skills.
It appears that the traditional bedtime story is also suffering. One in seven parents admits that they never read to their child before bed, with a further 11% say they only do so once a week on average.
The research shows that the importance of regular reading is not lost on parents, with nine in ten believing that reading for pleasure is important for their child. However, children aged 7 – 11 today are on average reading for pleasure for 28 minutes less a week than their parents did at the same age. In fact, half of the children aged 7 – 11 in the UK (50%) read for less than an hour a week.
In response to the worrying findings, former Waterstones Children’s Laureate Anne Fine has launched BookTrust’s annual fundraising Pyjamarama campaign to call on families to rediscover the joy of reading:
“With far fewer screen distractions, my friends and I spent half our lives deep in books. Now, half our primary school children spend less than an hour a week reading for pleasure. But reading’s a vital skill. It’s the bedrock of education in all subjects and enriches our children from both an emotional and a cultural perspective. For the parent, sharing a story with a small child is a sanity-saving, calming comfort, and reading to an older child soon becomes addictive. I’d encourage everyone to put aside the screens a little more to engage children with reading. It truly does work wonders.”
Pyjamarama invites Primary Schools and Nurseries to sign up and allow children to wear their pyjamas all day on Friday, June 5, and celebrate the bedtime story in return for a £1 donation. All funds raised will go towards helping help BookTrust ensure that every child experiences the life-changing benefits of access to books and reading.
Gemma Malley, Director at BookTrust comments, “We are seeing a real cliff-edge in terms of children reading for enjoyment and whilst parents want their children to read more, there’s a real danger that families are sleepwalking into literary poverty. We know that reading for enjoyment is closely linked to academic development as well as building confidence and resilience, and children who are read to are much more likely to read for enjoyment. We hope that through Pyjamarama we can encourage families across the country to reconnect with reading and to snuggle up with a fantastic book together.”

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Education

PhD conference hears from Welsh researchers

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Eiry Williams: Researching worm control in ewes and lambs

WELSH agricultural researchers, Non Williams and Eiry Williams, showcased their work to academics and industry representatives at the Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) 2020 Livestock PhD Conference in Nottingham last week.
Both researchers have been part of a scheme which brings the industry and universities together to undertake work which benefits key sectors of the economy. The two PhD’s are funded through the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship (KESS 2) scheme supported by European Social Funds through the Welsh Government and in these cases, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is working in partnership with Bangor University and Aberystwyth University on projects which will directly benefit livestock farming.
In the final year of her research at Bangor University, Non presented her work during the first day of the conference. Titled ‘Optimised management of upland pasture for economic and environmental benefits’, Non has been looking at how upland cattle systems can increase production efficiencies, the farms financial return and helping to identify opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will help meet the agricultural sector’s emission reduction target.
“Field trials were set up at Bangor University’s farm which is a typical upland system with the aim to determine the effect of improved and unimproved upland grazed pasture on cattle performance, improved grazed pasture on cattle urine and dung composition and consequently, greenhouse gas emissions from soil following excretion” explained Non.
On the second day of the conference, Eiry Williams presented her poster on sustainable control of gastrointestinal nematodes in sheep. Eiry’s PhD is titled ‘Design and development of a targeted selective treatment (TST) strategy for nematodes during the periparturient period in ewes’.
Eiry explains that “the aim of the project is to help better advise farmers on the most suitable worm control management of adult ewes and their lambs. This work is an important factor in preventing further development of anthelmintic resistance.” Eiry is currently in her second year at Aberystwyth University.
The aim of Eiry’s PhD is to design molecular and computational modelling techniques to develop a novel targeted selective treatment strategy for controlling nematode infections in ewes during the peri-parturient period.
Non has also been presenting results of her experiments on home turf at Coleg Meirion-Dywfor, Glynllifon and Coleg Sir Gar, Gelli Aur at two events organised by HCC as part of the Red Meat Development Programme which is supported by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

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