Imperial College London

Giant Guernsey voles, and shining a light on dark matter: News from the College

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A giant vole

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

From a study of giant-sized voles on the island of Guernsey, to an event offering an immersive astrophysical experience, here is some quick-read news from across the College.

‘Giant’ voles on Guernsey

A giant vole being measured
Voles on Guernsey are 10% larger than their European counterparts

Small mammals they may be – but the voles on Guernsey are giants compared to their European counterparts. The voles are a subspecies known as common island voles and are only found on Guernsey and Orkney.

A recent study by Imperial master’s students revealed they are on average 10% larger on the Guernsey compared to the rest of Europe, but as yet they don’t know why. One theory is that with less predators around on the island, they can get larger. The voles are eaten by birds of prey, but outnumber humans on the island 2:1.

The team also discovered what may be the largest European common vole ever measured – at a ‘whopping’ 13.6cm.

Read more about the study on the BBC News website.

Psilocybin ‘Breakthrough’ status 

Magic mushrooms growing in a forestThe FDA has awarded ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ designation to Compass Pathways to accelerate the development and review of psilocybin as a treatment for depression. 

The life sciences company, which lists Imperial academics among its advisers, hopes the ruling will speed up patient access to the compound, found in magic mushrooms, and paves the way for its larger clinical trials with the drug. 

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Imperial’s Psychedelic Research Group, who led a landmark psilocybin trial in 2015, said the designation was “a strong endorsement for the potential of psilocybin therapy. We look forward to learning more as further clinical studies are carried out”.

Honorary award

Professor Nick Jennings
Professor Nick Jennings

The City and Guilds of London Institute has conferred a Fellowship on Professor Nick Jennings, Imperial’s Vice-Provost for Research and Enterprise. This honour recognises his contribution to the field of computer science and national security. Fellowship is bestowed upon leaders and innovators who have had an impact on their industry or in education.

The City and Guilds of London Institute has an historical association with Imperial – it is the nineteenth century parent body of the City & Guilds College, one of the original colleges which merged to form Imperial College London in 1907.

Today, the City and Guilds of London Institute is a pioneering provider of vocational education, providing a range of technological and vocational qualifications. In September 2013 the Mechanical Engineering Building at Imperial’s South Kensington Campus was renamed City and Guilds Building to acknowledge the historical links between the two institutions.

Writing whizz

Gesa Albers at the awards ceremony
Gesa Albers (left) at the awards ceremony alongside Fiona Watt, Exec Chair of the Medical Research Council UKRI

Gesa Albers, PhD student at Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute, was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Max Perutz Science Writing Award, the Medical Research Council’s annual writing competition. Her essay ‘Immune cell diet, cure for asthma?’ addresses the underlying mechanisms of asthma through the story of someone whose friend suffers an asthma attack.

Before the ceremony, the shortlisted entrants had the chance to attend a science writing masterclass, during which they learnt about the principles of effective popular-style science writing and tried their hand at editing each other’s articles.

The Max Perutz Award is now in its 21st year and encourages MRC-funded PhD students to communicate their work to a wider audience.

Read Gesa’s essay: Immune cell diet, cure for asthma?

Shining Light on Dark Matter

Science Museum Lates exhibitImperial and University of Sussex academics helped to bring the feel and smell of deep space to the latest Science Museum Lates on 31 October. The team created a mid-air touch experience, developed by Ultrahaptics, integrated with smell and sound which took audiences on a journey through the galaxy.

Dr Roberto Trotta said: “Astrophysical phenomena by their nature are un-experienceable on the human scale. With this immersive experience, we aim at bringing something as esoteric as dark matter within the realm of our sensory perception.

“Public engagement of this kind is very important to Imperial, as it demonstrates that even fundamental research has an important impact on society, and that the public at large are keen to be actively involved, not just as passive spectator but as participants in our work.”

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