The 2019 review of the year

We do say this every December but this year really was a momentous one for The University of Manchester. We’ve peered into the depths of space, developed technologies which will change our future, and championed cancer research across the region. Our students and staff have gone that extra mile to make a difference, and we’ve even had time to welcome a few VIP guests. So to round off 2019 in style, we present our review of the year.

January: Seeing stars

The start of the year was a bumper month for astronomy at the University. Scientists observed a star which has been erupting continuously for millions of years, received prizes from the Royal Astronomical Society, and built equipment to detect cosmic rays. Palaeontologists were busy as well, using a medical scanner on a 200 million year old fossil, and uncovering a new member of our evolutionary family tree. Sociologists discovered that working mothers are up to 40% more stressed. In cancer research, we discovered biomarkers for 19 cancer types, and rallied local residents for World Cancer Day. Meanwhile, renowned historian David Olusoga became a professor, the University topped the graduate employer list for the second year, and scientists used a Nobel-prize winning technique to reduce the cost of fuel cells in electric vehicles.

February: Mapping the mind

In February, scientists mapped the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, developed flags which generate electricity from solar and wind, discovered the ‘masterswitch’ to the immune system, and identified a genetic link between insomnia and heart disease. Our research also found that broad regional accents can be a barrier to social mobility, as they are less favoured by some people. University students partnered with local residents to help clean up litter and plant trees in Moss Side, and the National Graphene Institute partnered with LifeSaver to develop graphene-based water filtration systems.

March: Month of materials

As spring sprung, researchers at the University were developing a scalable graphene based yarn, which could one day be used in wearable ‘smart clothes’. On the subject of graphene, scientists also discovered that stacking 2D materials changes their properties. In biology, research at the University led to a breakthrough in treating fungal infections associated with tuberculosis, and it was also discovered that the smell of a person’s skin could act as an early diagnosis test for Parkinson’s. And lastly, the University signed up to ambitious regional initiatives to go carbon neutral, and reduce the consumption of single-use plastics.

April: Dinosaur disaster

April got off to a bang, as scientists uncovered evidence of the massive asteroid impact which wiped out the dinosaurs. And there was some sweet news, as medical researchers found a potential use for sugar in treating respiratory illnesses. The University also topped the THE rankings for social and environmental impact in Europe, while in cancer research, scientists discovered leukaemia’s “Achilles’ heel”, as well as developing a urine test to detect cervical cancerA new project also repaired, photographed and shared forgotten maps of Manchester’s slums, which had been overlooked for the last 130 years.

May: Viagra for ventricles

In May, scientists at the University found that a similar drug to Viagra can slow, or even reverse, the progression of heart failure in sheep, with the lead author arguing the effect is likely to apply to humans as well. In less arousing news, research with the National Oceanography Centre found that microplastics were being transported to even the deepest regions of the oceans. Palaeontology at the University continued to make headlines, with the earliest mammalian use of coloured pigments found in a three-million year old mouse, while the Purple Wave raised more than £11,000 for University causes.

June: Apps for the brain, cancer breakthroughs and solar success

June began with a breakthrough in leukaemia survival rates in India, as a result of work led by Dr Vaskar Saha. This was followed by a solution a problem which has been plaguing solar energy for 40 years, a study which found online usage could be changing our brains, and the release of an app which uses light, audio and brainwaves to treat pain. In the same month, 58,000 school children took part in the Great Science Share for Schools, a turtle heart was programmed to survive without oxygen, and the University reached its highest ever place in the QS World University Rankings.

July: Joy for Jodrell

As we passed the half-way point of the year, the University committed to joining the Government in its declaration of a climate emergency, and our researchers highlighted stark inequalities in UK life expectancy by producing a map of famous places and landmarks around the country. We also ranked in the top 10 universities in Europe for teaching excellence, discovered the oldest bird-like dinosaur in North America, and received a share of £25 million from the Government for cancer research. What’s more, Jodrell Bank was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, and Alan Turing was announced as the new face of the £50 note.

August: Graphene for clean air

Hot on the heels of the Jodrell Bank announcement was the news that a Manchester-made instrument will be used to map the lifecycle of stars. We found that the statistical model of cardiovascular disease risk might be flawed, joined a partnership to create graphene sensors for air quality monitoring, and took part in the Climate Now media initiative. And continuing the rankings good news, we reached our highest position in the ARWU.

September: Mummies in Manchester

In September, astronomers used gravity to map emissions from neutron stars, while medical researchers made a major breakthrough in protecting hair follicles from chemotherapy. Meanwhile, two Ancient Egyptian mummies came to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital to be scanned, and the University was named the best in the UK for graduate employability.

October: Chronically Cloudy

October in Britain is usually wet and windy – and that might be why chronic pain gets worse, according to the study “Cloudy with a Chance of Pain”. In cancer research, it was discovered that targeting multiple genes could pave the way for better leukaemia treatment, while engineers developed chemical sensors for ‘worm robots’ to help find survivors in debris left by disasters. We also found ways to make biofuels from seawater-based bacteria, to turn sulphur dioxide into a commercial product, and discovered what makes some volcanoes more explosive than others. Finally, we partnered with schools across Manchester in the largest clean-air programme launched in the UK.

November: Non-stop news!

Just because we were nearing the end of the year, we didn’t slow down! In November, we led the way in next-generation cancer treatment, uncovered more about the diet of ancient North Americans, and found new ways to deliver treatments to stroke patients. We also welcomed the journalist and Guardian editor Gary Younge as a professor, discovered that the shape of the Universe might be curved, received £6 million for particle physics research, sent an experiment into space, found a way to convert another pollutant into a useful product, and launched a £20 million campaign to Re-Write Cancer with the legend that is Mark Radcliffe. AND, scientists at the Tyndall Centre partnered with Massive Attack to measure the climate impact from the music industry. Phew!

December: Graphene in the home, air for arteries, and a good time to be blue

As our year comes to a close, here’s some of the stories we’ve published in the last few weeks. We found a way to save the NHS £651 million, developed some stylish graphene-infused floor mats from used tyres, discovered that Italian kids learn the rules of their language faster than English children, made a link between air pollution and heart disease, and rewrote the convention on how light affects sleep.

Not bad for two and a half weeks!

That was just a small sample of 2019’s biggest news, so follow us on Twitter @UoMNews for the full picture of what is sure to be another great 12 months of discovery and amazing stories.

You can also read a top ten countdown of our most read stories from 2019.

See you in 2020!

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