Denbigh School students ‘sow the seeds’ for future urban tree research

Richard Holliman, Phil Wheeler and Alice Dunford, The Open University, UK.

Denbigh students and teachers have helped to inform future priorities for urban tree research in Milton Keynes.

Why did we engage with students and teachers from Denbigh School?

The Natural Environment Research Council, also known as NERC, funded staff from the Open University and Forest Research to explore an aspect of ecology, urban tree research. The project was called TreeLab.

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To Astrobiology and beyond: exploring our collection on OpenLearn

Photo of Dr Ann Grand, The Open University

Dr Ann Grand, The Open University

Astrobiology is (to slightly mis-quote Douglas Adams) ‘… big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly, big it is’.

For AstrobiologyOU, the research group that I’m part of, it’s not enough to study life on Earth and in space.

Not enough to look here and on other planets and their moons for evidence that life exists or might have existed.

Nor even enough to explore the environments that support, could support or might once have supported life on Earth or elsewhere in the Universe.

If you would like to know more about the work of AstrobiologyOU and the people who are doing it, please explore the Astrobiology Collection or visit the AstrobiologyOU website.

The AstrobiologyOU Logo

The AstrobiologyOU Logo

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Nuffield Research Placement: Applying data science and machine learning

a portrait photo of Ifaz Ahmed, Nuffield Research Placement Student

Ifaz Ahmed, Nuffield Research Placement Student

Working with Nuffield Research Placement Scheme co-ordinators, Dr Pallavi Anand promoted the scheme across STEM to host nine ‘A’ level students during the summer of 2022. Students were placed in various academic schools in the STEM Faculty.

One of the placement students (Ifaz Ahmed) and his host (Dr Dhouha Kbaier), based in the School of Computing and Communication, have captured their experiences of the summer placement in this post.

Ifaz’s perspective

My placement was evaluating the application of data science and machine learning in different research areas (e.g. identifying transaction fraud in finance, or identifying patterns in lifestyle or medical records in patients with a specific disease or illness), and exploring it through Python.

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Reconstructing past ocean physical properties

During the summer holiday, I took part in a research placement with Dr Pallavi Anand in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the Open University, organised by the Nuffield Foundation. The placement involved coding a MATLAB toolkit to a more accessible program such as Python that would use paleoclimate data to solve for past seawater temperature, oxygen isotope and salinity.

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Geochemistry of the deep-sea mud to understand Monsoon

Samples crushed into a fine powder.

Samples crushed into a fine powder.

This summer I went on a research experience placement with The Open University’s School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences (EEES). This was a seven-week project, funded by NERC (Natural Environment Research Council).

The project was to assist in a calibration of results obtained from deep-sea core sediment samples from two different sites around the Bay of Bengal.

The calibration is part of a wider project that my colleague, Emmeline Gray is working on for her PhD. This is looking at how the Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) behaved during a past warm period (similar to predicted future conditions) by observing how certain parameters in the sea floor sediments at these sites vary over time. This could give an insight as to how climate change might affect our oceans over time.

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Supporting a Nuffield Research Student

Sophie Alexander, The Open University.

Sophie Alexander, The Open University.

Over the summer, I mentored a Nuffield Research Student.

I was originally interested in getting involved in the scheme to gain experience in teaching and mentorship.

The student, Zaibaa, worked to complete a pilot study, the results of which are now actively informing my PhD research direction.

My time mentoring Zaibaa was really valuable; it challenged me to teach the scientific method of hypothesis testing to someone else.

Further to this, I gained experience in project management and how to give feedback – which was harder than I thought!

I’d highly recommend other PhD students consider designing and mentoring a Nuffield student in the future, particularly if you’re interested in gaining experience of supervising projects.

Dr Pallavi Anand (project providers) supported my work as my PhD supervisor. I’m grateful for the the opportunity and funding from Nuffield Foundation.

Fishing in the Atlantic!

Zaibaa Mehmood, Luton Sixth Form College

Zaibaa Mehmood, Luton Sixth Form College.

During my summer holidays, after my first year at college, I took part in a Nuffield research placement at the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences (EEES) at the Open University.

During this placement, I worked alongside a PhD student Sophie Alexander to analyse marine sediment (or mud in simple terms).

The main aim was to investigate surface ocean productivity in the Southern and Atlantic Ocean during the early Eocene. This was broken down for me into smaller aims as below:

  • Create smear slides of mud samples from different sites
  • Identify components on slides using a polarising microscope
  • Compare analysis of 3 different sites and decide what changes there are and how they were caused
  • Use the data gained to improve knowledge of ocean productivity during a warm greenhouse period.

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