Imperial College London

Incendiary talk and viral insights: News from the College

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Here’s a batch of fresh news and announcements from across Imperial.

From an incendiary talk led by Imperial’s resident fire scientist to a genetic investigation into the flu virus, here is some quick-read news from across the College.

Twisted-fire starter

Fire scientist Professor Guillermo Rein from the Department of Mechanical Engineering gave a smoldering inaugural lecture this week, featuring a fire tornado and overview of his research.

Professor Rein is one of only around 2000 fire experts in the world, a figure he said needs to rise if we are to reduce the worldwide burden of accidental fires and protect people, their property, and the environment. He said: “Fire is a good servant but a bad master,” referring to the Finnish quote about its usefulness, and often destructiveness, for humans.

Professor Rein is head of Imperial’s Hazelab, which studies heat transfer, combustion and fire science. Watch the lecture at the top of this article.

Breast is best for business

An icon of a breast pumpWorkplace breastfeeding policies improve women’s health and the within-household gender pay gap, according to new research from Imperial College Business School and the School of Public Health.

Over the past 20 years, 25 US states have introduced rules that either require or encourage employers to provide facilities and breaks for mothers to express breast milk. The researchers looked at the effect of these policies on breastfeeding rates, absenteeism, and the within-household gender pay gap.

Their results confirmed the policies increased rates of breastfeeding, improving the health of both mothers and infants. The resultant reduction in absence due to sickness lead to higher earnings for households with newborns, and greater productivity for businesses: $1,484 per mother per year in states where breastfeeding legislation is enforced, and $927 in states where legislation is present but unenforced.

You can read more about the research on IB Knowledge.

Up close and personal with The Sun

A ‘qualification model’ of the magnetometer instrumentThe Science Museum’s blockbuster new exhibition ‘The Sun: Living With Our Star’ opens this weekend, featuring prototype kit from Imperial’s contribution to an upcoming solar mission.

Solar Orbiter will study the Sun and its surroundings using ten instruments – one of which was built at Imperial.

On display at the Science Museum is a ‘qualification model’ of the magnetometer instrument (pictured) – an exact copy of the version that will fly, but subjected to heavy testing, such as the extreme vibrations experienced during launch and the extreme temperature fluctuations in space.

Nobel connection

Sir Gregory Winter
Sir Gregory Winter

Sir Gregory Winter, of the University of Cambridge, is one of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry winners for directing the evolution of antibodies, producing new pharmaceuticals.

Sir Gregory did much of his PhD research with Brian Hartley in Imperial’s Biochemistry Department in the mid-1970s. Professor Anne Dell, current Head of the Department of Life Sciences, worked alongside him as a postdoc. She said: “I recall many passionate discussions on science, politics and much else whilst I coaxed mass spectrometric data from Greg’s samples.

“It was an exciting time in an environment at Imperial where structural and molecular biology were evolving rapidly.”

Image: Sir Gregory Winter. Picture by Aga Machaj, Wikimedia Commons 

Flu insights highlight key changes in gene activity

Flu virus illustrationA better understanding of how our gene activity changes when we are laid low by the flu could help to curb the virus’s impact on public health.

The research, led by the NHLI’s Professor Peter Openshaw, provides new insights into links between how we respond to the virus and how long and how badly we are sick with the flu, and could help improve diagnostic tests and treatments.

The researchers analysed blood samples from hundreds of patients hospitalised by flu and noticed changes in the activity of groups of genes that reflected the severity and duration of disease. These changes include increased activity of genes linked to fighting off viral invaders, and in genes involved in countering bacterial infections.

Read the full study in Nature Immunology.

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Hayley Dunning
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