03-2004 Press Releases

Queen's thinks about its thinkers

Queen's University's intellectual heritage and its impact on the local community and the international world of scholarship will be celebrated at a unique one-day conference in Belfast on Saturday, 3 April.

Entitled "Queen's Thinkers: The Intellectual Heritage of a University", the conference will provide a critical assessment of the academic influence of the Belfast institution since its origins as Queen's College in 1845.

Queen's Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir George Bain said: "There is no better time for this conference than now – as we look back on the 150th anniversary of Queen's College in 1995 and forward to the centenary of Queen's University in 2008.

"In celebrating the work of just a few of its thinkers at this conference, we are also celebrating the University.

"The ethos of Queen's – its desire to provide both a liberal and an applied education, and to serve both its local community and the global world of scholarship – is exemplified in the thinkers we are discussing on Saturday, who constitute a representative rather than an exhaustive list of some of the greatest minds to have passed through the University."

A range of current Queen's academics and distinguished speakers from England, Ireland and the United States, will take part in the event which has been organised by Professor David Livingstone of the School of Geography and Professor Alvin Jackson of the School of History.

The thinkers commemorated in the R. M. Jones Lectures include five scientists: Peter Guthrie Tait, the mathematician and physicist who worked with Lord Kelvin; the engineer and inventor, William Thomson, Lord Kelvin’s brother; two of the 20th century's greatest physicists – quantum theorist John Stewart Bell, and Nobel Prize nominee Sir David Bates; and Eric Ashby, Lord Ashby of Brandon, a botanist who served Queen's as Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor.

The other thinkers are historians Sir Maurice Powicke and J. C. Beckett; geographer Estyn Evans, archaeologist John O'Donovan, ethnomusicologist John Blacking, philosopher James McCosh who went on to become President of Princeton, medical man Sir William Whitla, and literary giants Philip Larkin and Helen Waddell.

The Vice-Chancellor said: "Their achievements – and those of their colleagues – are the real story of Queen's, and have set the standard for the future. In short, our thinkers epitomise the spirit of Queen's."

An exhibition illustrating the achievements of the "thinkers" featured in the conference will run in Queen's Visitors' Centre until 14 April.

For further information contact:

Professor David Livingstone, Tel 028 9097 5145

Professor Alvin Jackson, Tel 028 9097 3433

Anne Langford, Tel 028 9097 5310

Notes for editors:

The "Queen's Thinkers" conference will take place in the Great Hall, Queen's University on Saturday 3 April, from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Media facilities will be available.

Queen's was founded by Queen Victoria in 1845 as one of three colleges (the others being at Cork and Galway) of the Queen's University in Ireland. The Belfast College opened in 1849 with an intake of 195 students and 20 professors. It was raised to university rank with its own charter and statutes in 1908.

Today, Queen's has about 24,000 full- and part-time students on degree programmes, and another 8,000 students in the Institute of Lifelong Learning. It has almost 3,500 staff, including around 1,400 academic staff spread over 31 schools and nine institutes.

It is a top 20 UK university for both teaching and research and the leading research university in Ireland. It is also one of the most socially inclusive universities in the UK.

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Cannabis could impair male fertility

Men who smoke cannabis could be damaging their fertility, according to new research by Queen's University Belfast.

During a multi-centre study on the lifestyle habits of infertile men, Queen's researchers noticed that many men attending for infertility investigations at Belfast's Royal Maternity Hospital were using cannabis on a regular basis. This led to the launch of a study looking at the direct effects on sperm function of THC - the active ingredient in cannabis.

The study by the Reproductive Medicine Research Group discovered that THC impedes sperm motility, making it less likely that the sperm will reach the egg to fertilise it. The Group also found that another key function of the sperm – to digest the egg's protective coat with enzymes in a bid to aid sperm penetration – is impaired in the presence of cannabis.

Dr Sheena Lewis, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, who leads the Reproductive Medicine Research Group, said recent reports carried out on sea urchin sperm suggest that cannabis may be a major cause of infertility by inhibiting sperm functions necessary for fertilisation.

"These experiments on human sperm tell the same story," she said.

Speaking at the annual British Fertility Society meeting in Cheltenham on 31 March, Dr Lewis said: "Following the Government's recent reclassification of cannabis from Class B to Class C, the need to determine its effects on male fertility is even greater, so that men can make an informed choice about smoking the drug based on its risks to their health."

Infertility already affects one in six couples across the United Kingdom and 40 per cent of these cases are due to problems with sperm.

"It is estimated that 3.2 million people in Britain smoke cannabis, and that figure may now increase. Add the two together and we may find that the use of recreational drugs will exacerbate male fertility problems," she added.

The British Fertility Society is a national, multidisciplinary organisation representing professionals practising in the field of reproductive medicine: www.fertility.org.uk

For further information contact:

Dr Sheena Lewis, Telephone 0780 195 1894, email: s.e.lewis@qub.ac.uk


Elaine Fitzsimons, Communications Office, Tel (028) 9097 5384

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Dramatic Events at Queen's

The Cringer Theatre Company, set up by Drama Studies students at Queen's University, is preparing to take its production of The Laramie Project to the National Student Drama Festival in Scarborough in early April.

The National Student Drama Festival is a showcase for the very best of student theatre throughout the UK and has been a launch pad for some of today's biggest names in theatre and media. The Laramie Project was chosen from over one hundred pieces to represent Queen's and Northern Ireland in the annual Scarborough event.

"This is the first time in three decades that Queen's University will be represented at this prestigious Festival. It's a clear indication of the way in which drama has rapidly established itself at Queen's in the last five years," enthused David Grant, Head of Drama Studies at the University.

The Company was set up last September by a small group of final year drama students who have trained at both the new Drama Department at Queen's University and on the Performing Arts course at the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education. The Company was delighted with the praise their production of The Laramie Project received when its Irish première took place in December 2003.

The play's Director, Drama Studies student Des Kennedy, said: "It was good to see such a positive reaction to the play. Our intention was to draw parallels between the reported rise in homophobia here and the murder of Matthew Shepard. That we were applauded by professional practitioners for the quality of our work was an added bonus!"

The Laramie Project is a powerful true story re-enacting the impact on a small US community after the murder of 21-year old gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead, Shepard’s murder sparked a media frenzy and led to a national outcry demanding the enactment of hate crime legislation. Eight actors portray over 60 inhabitants of Laramie in this harrowing piece of theatre, created from hundreds of testimonies, interviews, and news reports.

"Meanwhile, in Belfast, as part of the Drama Studies research programme, we are hosting a script development project between the distinguished Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol and local playwright and former Queen's lecturer Colin Teevan," David Grant added, referring to two dramatic events taking place in Queen's this Friday.

Joshua Sobol's powerful new play, Real Time, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict will be read in the Drama Studio at Queen's at 2pm this Friday. A rehearsed reading of Colin Teevan's The University will take place at 8pm, read by a professional cast to include Dexter Fletcher, one of the stars of the movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Following the 2pm reading, both dramatists will take part in a discussion with creative writing tutor Daragh Carville and Queen's students from the Schools of English and Politics & International Studies, as well as Drama Studies.

Looking forward to a lively discussion, Mr Grant said: " Both playwrights address the political realities of their countries. Colin's play is also sure to arouse local interest, set as it is in a fictional Northern Ireland University!"

 The script development project is taking place under a British Council scheme which enables international playwrights to translate each others' works, and the Drama Studies Department is working on it in conjunction with the London-based theatre company Critical Mass.


 Notes: The rehearsed reading of Joshua Sobol's Real Time will take place at 2pm in the Drama Studio, Room E212, Lanyon South, Queen's University and will be followed by a discussion. The rehearsed reading of Colin Teevan's new play The University will take place at 8pm in the same room. Entry to both is free.

For further information, contact: David Grant, Drama Studies, 9097 3329;  or Dolores Vischer, Communications Office, 9097 5320

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Librarians book in to Belfast

Queen's University's plans for a new £40 million library to serve the needs of future staff and students will be unveiled to an audience of higher education and national librarians at a major conference in Belfast later this week.

The University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir George Bain, will tell more than 130 delegates at the spring conference of the Society of College, National and University Libraries that the new library will be the focal point of the campus.

The Society, which represents all the leading academic libraries in the UK and Ireland as well as the British Library and the National Libraries of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, is holding its conference in Belfast for the first time in more than 30 years. The event, which takes place between 31 March and 2 April, has been jointly organised by the Society, Queen's and the University of Ulster.

One of the organisers, Norman Russell, Director of Information Services at Queen's, said: "It is entirely fitting that the conference should come to Belfast at such an exciting time for the city and for Queen's. We anticipate a great deal of interest in our plans for a new library which will symbolise the importance and potential of information skills and underpin the two key functions of teaching and learning and research and development."

The conference, which will focus on human resource management and service development, features speakers from the public and private sectors as well as the two local universities. A wide-ranging programme of visits has been arranged, including a civic reception in Belfast's City Hall. The conference dinner will be held in the Great Hall at Queen's.

The architects for the new library at Queen's are the internationally renowned Boston-based firm of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbot (SBRA) in association with the Robinson Patterson Partnership in Belfast. SBRA has extensive experience of complex academic library projects, including those at Fordham, Cornell, Columbia, Harvard and Yale.

For further information contact:

Norman Russell, Director of Information Services, Tel: 028 9097 5020

Anne Langford, Tel 028 9097 5310

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Australian weather shapes Ulster scenery
A team of researchers study the effects of changes in the strength of El Niño at a crater in Queensland, Australia.
A team of researchers study the effects of changes in the strength of El Niño at a crater in Queensland, Australia.

A Belfast scientist has made a discovery that may explain the sudden changes in the world's climate that have shaped the Ulster landscape.

While it has long been known that global temperature increases have led to melting ice caps, rising sea levels and violent weather disruptions, we do not really know why these climate cycles occur.

During the last ice age, temperatures in the North Atlantic region rose sharply about every 1,500 years. The retreating ice cap was responsible for many of the features that are characteristic of Northern Ireland’s scenery – such as low drumlin hills made up of deposits left by the melted ice and steep-sided valleys carved by glaciers.

An international team, led by Dr Chris Turney of the Queen’s University School of Archaeology & Palaeoecology, has now suggested that the global warming and consequent surges of melted ice into the North Atlantic may have been triggered by long-term changes in a tropical Pacific Ocean current known as "El Niño".

Another school of thought believes the events were set off by changes in the circulation of currents in the North Atlantic. Distinguishing whether long-term changes in the North Atlantic or tropical Pacific drive the global climate could allow scientists to better forecast major, and potentially damaging, shifts in weather patterns.

The study carried out by Dr Turney with Professor Peter Kershaw, a palaeoecologist at Monash University in Australia, is based on data collected as part of ongoing research into Australia's historical climate, funded by The National Geographic. Their research has just been published in the science journal Nature.

To determine whether El Niño influenced weather in the North Atlantic, the researchers had to first find a way of separating its effects from the rest of the world's weather.

"The task is not easy, as global weather patterns are, well, global," Dr Turney said. "For example, during the Northern Hemisphere's winter, weather in the North Atlantic sweeps across Europe and drives monsoons across South East Asia." Because the North Atlantic has such a large influence 'downwind' of itself, it's hard to identify any tropical source without the signal subsequently being swamped by the response from the North Atlantic."

An ancient volcanic crater in northern Queensland, Australia, was found to be sufficiently protected from other climatic influences to provide evidence of the effects of El Niño. The top 36 feet of the crater, called Lynch's Crater, are covered in peat.

"What we've got are various things in the sediment we can measure to get a handle on environmental change when the peat itself was laid down," Dr Turney said.

"For example, peat normally forms in wet, swampy conditions, but when drier conditions prevail, such as during El Niño, the top part of the peat dries out. As it dries, it becomes vulnerable to bacteria, which cause it to decompose.

"By examining the level of decomposition in the layers of peat and changes in the pollen it contains, we were able to establish a climate record dating back 50,000 years.

"Analysis shows that times of high El Niño frequency, or dry periods in Australia, were in phase with periods of warming in the frozen North Atlantic region which, at times, resulted in rapid ice cap melting and disruption of the ocean circulation."

The researchers suggest that, during the last ice age, these 1,500-year periods of frequent El Niño activity caused greater evaporation in the Pacific and warming across northern North America. This, in turn, either melted the ice, or caused more snow to fall and created a surge of glacial ice towards the sea.

"This emphasises the role of the tropical region in forcing global climate change," Dr Turney said, “And with the scenarios for future climate change and the associated changes in El Niño behaviour predicted to take place, even Ulster society could start to feel the heat."

Notes for editors: The research is supported by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.

For further information, contact: Dr Chris Turney, School of Archaeology & Palaeoecology, Tel (028)9097 3980


Robert Baxter, Communications Office, Tel (028) 9097 5323

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From the West Bank and Gaza to the Naughton Gallery at Queen's
'The Inconvenience of History I'. One of the works by John Keane on exhibition in the Naughton Gallery at Queen's 31 March - 12 May 2004.
'The Inconvenience of History 1'. One of the works by John Keane on exhibition in the Naughton Gallery at Queen's 31 March - 12 May 2004.

'The Inconvenience of History' - an exhibition of paintings of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by acclaimed artist John Keane is set to open at the Naughton Gallery at Queen's on Wednesday 31 March.

 The Belfast exhibition will be the first stop on an international tour, when the paintings will be displayed in the West Bank later in the year.

John Keane accompanied Christian Aid staff on two tours to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2002. The first was in April 2002 in the immediate aftermath of the Israeli incursion into the West Bank. Based on this trip, John has produced an insightful series of paintings entitled 'The Inconvenience of History'.

John Keane was appointed official artist by the Imperial War Museum for the Gulf War of 1991 and gained notoriety for his controversial depiction of Mickey Mouse in Kuwait City after the hostilities. His work has often addressed conflict and has included subjects ranging from Central America to Rupert Murdoch, as well as an interpretation of the events around 9/11. John has had numerous exhibitions in the UK, Europe and the US.

On his trips with Christian Aid, John visited the town of Jenin to see a Palestinian refugee camp that had been all but destroyed by Israeli tanks and bulldozers during the fighting. He also travelled to Bethlehem, Ramallah, Gaza and Megiddo (the biblical Armageddon).

John took video images and pictures of bombsites and spoke to people experiencing hardship and poverty. He used these images and interviews as inspiration for this exhibition. 'The Inconvenience of History' is a deeply personal account of what John saw. He said: "My visits to Israel and the West Bank left me feeling the utter inadequacy of attempting to convey the reality of daily lives there to anyone who has not witnessed it first-hand, despite the prolific news coverage we receive. So in full comprehension of that fact I have tried in the work I have produced to explore ideas generated by what I saw through a very personal filter, bearing in mind that history can have an awkward habit of confounding preconception."

Commenting on the title of his exhibition, John said that history plays a more important role in the course of contemporary events in the Middle East than in any other part of the world. He added:

"Those taking one side or another will invoke from history facts to justify their cause, while choosing to ignore others that do not fit their argument. The act of forever invoking selective history to justify the acts and attitudes that continue to impede peace today suggests that history itself is, to put it mildly, an inconvenience. 'The Inconvenience of History' refers to the fact that history has a habit of confounding the justifications that are made in its name."

Shan McAnena Curator of Art at Queen’s University Belfast said she is delighted that the Naughton Gallery is able to attract an artist of such high international status as John Keane. She added, "The paintings for this exhibition are particularly powerful and of extremely high artistic merit. The exhibition will remain on show in our gallery until 12 May and it's a great opportunity for people in Northern Ireland to see this contemporary and thought-provoking work.

"I’m particularly pleased that John Keane has been able to come to Belfast to open the exhibition. I look forward to hearing his public talk about the paintings in 'The Inconvenience of History' and the trips that generated them at 1pm on Wednesday 31 March in the Naughton Gallery."

 The Ulster Museum exhibited the work of John Keane in a major exhibition in 1997 and owns several paintings in its permanent collection. In 2001 he completed Mo Mowlam’s portrait for the National Portrait Gallery – and is also currently painting a portrait of Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir George Bain on a Queen's University commission.


1. A preview event will take place on Tuesday 30 March, 6-8pm, in The Naughton Gallery at Queen's. Media facilities will be available. The Chair of Christian Aid's Irish Committee, Rev Dr Roger Purce, will be among those speaking. The author will give a talk in the gallery at 1pm on Wednesday 31 March.

2. Christian Aid approached John Keane in April 2002 and took him on two trips to Israel and the Occupied Territories to meet local NGOs and gain an insight into the work Christian Aid funds in the region. Christian Aid is an international development agency working with nearly 600 partner organisation in 55 countries worldwide to fight poverty and injustice. To find out more about their work visit their web sitewww.christianaid.org.uk

3. The Naughton Gallery at Queen's is open Monday –Friday 12 noon –4pm and Saturdays 10am- 4pm.

For further information, contact: Shan McAnena Curator of Art at Queens, 028 9097 5383; Dolores Vischer Communications Office at Queen’s 028 9097 5320; or Geri Martin, Media Assistant Christian Aid Ireland: 028 9038 1204

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Honours for social workers!

A huge number of applications has been received for places on a new honours-level degree course in social work available at Queen's University for the first time from September 2004. The launch of the new Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) honours degree has attracted 1016 applications for the 130 new course places, through the Universities and Colleges Application Scheme.

Queen's University is set to become Northern Ireland's leading provider of social workers. The demand for BSW places indicates that with an accessible undergraduate course in place people can be attracted to the profession, helping to address Northern Ireland's current shortage of social workers. The degree is normally a three-year programme, but students who are already graduates with social science or related degree can complete the BSW in two years.

An added attraction is that the government is committed to providing a financial support package for the BSW students that includes a non-means-tested bursary and the payment of all fees for the programme. The BSW will become the required qualification to practise as a social worker in the United Kingdom, and steps are being taken to ensure its compatibility with the relevant qualifications in the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the European Community.

 The degree is a mixture of study at Queen's and practice placements. Over one third of the course will be spent learning in social services agencies on a full-time basis. The BSW is the result of a radical reform of social work education and training in Northern Ireland announced by government in October 2001 and implemented by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council who will accredit the new qualification. The degree is based on a partnership between the University and social services agencies and will include regular contributions from users of social services to the students' learning.

Welcoming the introduction of the new course, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Students and Learning Professor Ken Bell said the launch of a full social work training programme at undergraduate level was recognition of the profession's growing importance. He added: "Social workers are in the front line of society's efforts to cope with many community and personal problems, and Northern Ireland provides a unique learning ground. We at Queen's are delighted to be chosen as Northern Ireland's leading provider for the qualification. For more than a century and a half, we have trained the professionals who meet the needs of the people of Northern Ireland, and we are pleased to build further upon this tradition."

The School of Social Work at Queen's is one of the leading departments in the United Kingdom. In national assessments it achieved the highest grade for its teaching and was judged to be producing research of national and international quality.


Notes for Editors: Social workers are employed throughout the statutory and voluntary social services. There is currently a shortage of social workers in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. There are many career development opportunities, leading to specialist posts or to the highest levels of management within social services agencies.

For further information, contact: Greg Kelly, School of Social Work, telephone 028 9097 5429, email g.kelly@qub.ac.uk or Dolores Vischer, Communications Office, telephone 028 9097 5320

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Historical monuments under the spotlight

A new survey, examining the state of historical monuments in Northern Ireland, is to be carried out by archaeologists at Queen's University.

Northern Ireland has 15,000 monuments, relics of a cultural heritage stretching back over 9,000 years, and includes some of our best known landmarks such as Carrickfergus Castle and Navan Fort.

The two year survey – the first of its kind to be carried out in Northern Ireland – has been commissioned by Dr Claire Foley, Principal Investigator with the Environment and Heritage Service: Built Heritage.

Archaeologists from Queen's Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork will begin work next month after securing the contract following a European-wide tendering process.

Of the 15,000 monuments across the Province almost 190 are under state care and open to the public, while 1,500, in private ownership, are scheduled which means they are protected from damage or alteration.

According to the Centre's manager, Dr Colm Donnelly, the study will examine 1,500 monuments to find out their current condition and provide statistical analysis on potential threats to their future, such as farming activities and building developments.

"This type of work has already been carried out in England by English Heritage and the University of Bournemouth, while a pilot study has also taken place in the Republic of Ireland, but this is the first time that such a comprehensive study has been carried out in Northern Ireland.

"These monuments are a non-renewable resource and once they're destroyed they are gone for good robbing us, not only of a valuable resource, but also of our heritage.

"This work will prove a benchmark for all future management strategies for the Protecting Historic Monuments branch of the Environment and Heritage Service: Built Heritage," he said.

The study is just one example of the work carried out by the Centre on behalf of the Environment and Heritage Service: Built Heritage. Established two years ago the Centre, based in 66 Fitzwilliam Street, has been involved in a total of 26 investigations.

Among them was last year's discovery of a bronze bell shrine, dating back between AD 1180 and 1200, at Drumadoon near Ballycastle. Regarded as one of the most significant archaeological finds in Ireland in recent years it is now on display in the Ulster Museum.

Note to Editors: The Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork (CAF) is part of the School of Archaeology and Palaecology, which has an international reputation for combining the study of the material culture of the human past with the history of the natural environment and its chronology.

It has been rated five star in the RAE Assessment Exercises of 1996 and 2001 and is the only School in Ireland and the United Kingdom which combines Archaeology and Palaecology.

Anyone who wants more information on the work of the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork can visit the website at http://radiocarbon.pa.qub.ac.uk/caf/Index.htm

For further information, contact: Dr Colm Donnelly, (028) 9097 3144, email: c.j.donnelly@qub.ac.uk

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Longley's new work launched at The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry

Marking the launch of Snow Water, acclaimed Belfast poet Michael Longley has been invited to read from his new book at an event hosted by the new Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University on Thursday 25 March.

Michael Longley’s international reputation is growing. His previous collections include Gorse Fires, which won the 1991 Whitbread Prize for Poetry, a Selected Poems, published in 1998, and The Weather in Japan (2000), which won the T.S.Eliot Prize, the Hawthornden Prize and the Irish Times Poetry Prize. He received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2001, and the Wilfred Owen Award in 2003.

The poems collected in Snow Water range widely in their attention – from ancient Greece to Paris and Pisa, from Central Park to the trenches of the Somme. In these meditations on nature and mortality, there is a depth and delicacy, a state of lucid wonder, that allow for the easy companionship of love poem and elegy, hymns to marriage and friendship and lyric explorations of loss. Snow Water is emphatically a celebration of humanity. These are all, in a way, poems of love and kinship – even the magnificent sequence that links the horrors of the Great War with those of the Trojan War, and with all the wars between.

The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, named after one of Queen's University's and Northern Ireland's most famous sons - poet and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney - was officially opened at Queen’s University last month. Funded by the Campaign for Queen's, the £3 million new Centre will be an international base for high-quality research and creative writing with a particular, but not exclusive, focus on poetry in modern Ireland.

"The Seamus Heaney Centre is especially pleased to host the launch of Michael Longley's latest book,” said Professor Ciaran Carson, Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. “This work will confirm his stature as one of the most important poets in the language: a writer of elegant wit and concentrated passion. Michael was a leading member of the Group which met in Queen's in the 1960s and included Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon and others; and his continuing presence in Belfast has been an example to many."

Snow Water, published by Jonathan Cape, will be launched at 6.30pm in the Visitor’s Centre at Queen’s University.



The launch of Michael Longley’s new collection Snow Water will take place at 6.30pm in the Visitor’s Centre at Queen’s University. The poet will read from the collection at 8pm in lecture theatre GO9, Lanyon North.

For further information, contact: Dolores Vischer, Communications Office, 028 9097 5320

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Joint potato blight research
Portadown's Gillian Young at work with potato plants in the greenhouses at Queen's School of Agriculture and Food Science
Portadown's Gillian Young at work with potato plants in the greenhouses at Queen's School of Agriculture and Food Science

What once compelled thousands of Irish folk to flee to America during the potato famine has now reunited both countries in the form of a collaborative research venture on potato blight.

A potentially devastating disease, potato blight is caused by the oomycete Phytophthora infestans. This pathogen continues to attack potato foliage and tubers throughout the US and Europe although genetically the two populations are distinct.

The collaborative project between Queen's University's School of Agriculture and Food Science and Michigan State University (MSU) developed after a meeting between Dr Louise Cooke from the Applied Plant Science Department at Queen's and Dr Willie Kirk from the Plant Pathology Department of MSU.

Both universities have substantial track records on potato blight research and the meeting stimulated discussion of the differences between current potato blight populations in the US and Europe.

Dr Cooke said: “We lack information on how blight populations in the two regions differ in aggressiveness and the extent to which they are influenced by the potato varieties grown in both areas. So, when Dr Kirk asked if I knew of a Queen’s student who would be interested in pursuing the topic, the project began with a summer placement at MSU.

Gillian Young, from Poratdown, is now in the second year of her PhD after completing a BSc Honours degree in Environmental Biology. Her PhD research is conducted jointly between the Department of Applied Plant Science at Queen’s University and the Plant Pathology Department at Michigan State University.

Gillian’s research involves a mixture of field trials and laboratory characterisation of P. infestans isolates. “International projects are important to the scientific community as a whole. Individual laboratories can only do so much with the materials, resources and manpower they have. Co-operative projects such as mine allow for ideas and materials to be exchanged so that a bigger and more reliable picture may emerge.

"Such projects can be hard to get off the ground because of the highly structured and controlled nature of funding bodies and universities but I have been very lucky," she said.

Even at this stage, Gillian’s success is evident. Through the Society of Irish Plant Pathologists, she recently won a student paper competition for a piece entitled “Competitive selection of Phytophthora infestans in the US and Northern Ireland”.

For further information on any of the degree programmes available within the School, please see our web site at www.qub.ac.uk/afs or contact Dr Donna Rogers, School Information & Promotional Officer, School of Agriculture and Food Science, Queen’s University, Newforge Lane, Belfast, BT9 5PX, Tel (028) 9025 5517, email d.rogers@qub.ac.uk.

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Queen's team leads European drive for emotion-sensitive computing
Professor Roddy Cowie from the Queen's University Belfast School of Psychology is co-ordinator of the Europe-wide HUMAINE project to improve interfaces between people and computers
Professor Roddy Cowie from the Queen's University Belfast School of Psychology is co-ordinator of the Europe-wide HUMAINE project to improve interfaces between people and computers

A Europe-wide project to enable computers to think and behave more like humans has got under way.

The 10-million-euro, four-year project is being coordinated from the School of Psychology at Queen's University Belfast, and will build upon ground-breaking work already carried out there to create "multi-modal interfaces" which allow machines to sense and respond to the moods of the user.

The "HUMAINE" project pulls together leaders in the area from 27 institutions across Europe, and will involve about 160 researchers. Funding is being provided on a 50-50 basis by the European Commission and the partners. Researchers from Queen's developed the proposal, negotiated the contract with the EC, and are now leading the project.

"Computers that respond to human emotion may sound like science fiction, but they are bound to come," said project coordinator Professor Roddy Cowie.

"At the moment, our use of computers is limited by the fact that we need a keyboard and a screen to access them. It would make an enormous difference if we could interact with them by speaking normally - perhaps though a microphone and a transmitter in a 'Star Trek' badge. But emotion is part of normal speech, and experience has shown that most users are deeply uncomfortable with speech interfaces that ignore it ? too uncomfortable to use them very much.

"If we can make computers more intuitive and expressive, and also less challenging to use, there is enormous potential to let people make fuller use of information technology.

"To achieve this, we are developing methods of programming and training computers to recognise and interpret the mood of the user and to react accordingly. That involves asking how they could have a kind of `personality', show some degree of autonomy and, in general, establish a social relationship with the user. It also involves thinking carefully about the kind of development we think is right - the humans have to stay firmly in charge. It's a fair bet that in 30 years' time, emotion-sensitive interfaces will be as much part of life as windows and mouse interfaces are now," Professor Cowie said.

Emotion-sensitive computing is expected to play a major role in many areas. Teaching is much more effective if it takes account of the learner's emotions - pupils do not learn if they are bored or frightened - but present-day computer-aided instruction has no way to take that into account. Advice is similar. Monitoring the emotional state of a driver is a problem that the Belfast team have already studied in an earlier project (ORESTEIA), using a driving simulator. The computer entertainment industry is also very interested in systems that engage users emotionally.

The project is part of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme to enable European science and technology to challenge world leaders in key areas. "Networks of excellence" bring together most of Europe's top expertise on a topic of particular importance, and weld them into a world-class research community. Contracts for the first networks of excellence, including HUMAINE, were signed in December.

The first plenary meeting of HUMAINE took place this month at the German national institute for research into artificial intelligence in Saarbrucken. Over 80 network members attended, along with representatives from other European projects dealing with related topics.

Attempts to develop emotion-sensitive computing have been gathering momentum for more than a decade. One of the obstacles has been that relevant knowledge is dispersed across many disciplines. Within Queen's, HUMAINE unites the efforts of the Schools of Psychology, English, Computer Science and the Sonic Arts Research Centre. Across Europe, the project also includes companies such as German and French Telecom, in addition to two Israeli universities. Their expertise covers signal processing, natural language processing, speech science, image processing and computer graphics, artificial intelligence, user-centred design, the psychology of emotion, philosophy, ethics, and many others.

Notes for editors: Professor Roddy Cowie, from the School of Psychology, is overall project coordinator of HUMAINE; Professor Ellen Douglas-Cowie, School of English, is a member of the Steering Board and has responsibility for one of the main research strands; Ruth McAreavey from Research and Regional Services is employed full-time by HUMAINE as project administrator. Queen's staff participating as researchers include Ian Sneddon, Cate Cox and Edelle McMahon (School of Psychology); Steffi Stronge (School of English); Professor Michael Alcorn and Christina Anagnostopolou (Sonic Arts Research Centre); and Ian O'Neill (School of Computer Science).

For further information, contact: Professor Roddy Cowie, School of Psychology, Tel 028 9097 4354, r.cowie@qub.ac.uk; Ruth McAreavey, Research & Regional Services, Tel 028 9097 2574, r.mcareavey@qub.ac.uk; Robert Baxter, Communications Office, Tel 028 9097 5323, r.baxter@qub.ac.uk

Or see the HUMAINE website http://emotion-research.net


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Ark presents statistics on carers

One in six adults in Northern Ireland in caring role

A seminar hosted by the Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive (ARK) is to take place on Tuesday 23 March to examine the circumstances of carers in Northern Ireland.

Carers are an important group in our society, although little is known about precisely who they are, who they care for and how these caring responsibilities impact upon their lives.

Data from the 2001 Northern Ireland Household Panel Survey (NIHPS), carried out jointly by Queen's University and University of Ulster ARK researchers, will be used to shed light on how carers are coping with their caring responsibilities.

The key points arising from the 2001 NIHPS survey are that:

  • 16 per cent of respondents identify themselves as carers.
  • Caring is very much a family matter - the vast majority of carers provide help to family members (91 per cent).
  • 12 per cent of carers say their caring responsibilities involve in excess of 50 hours a week.
  • 64 per cent of carers are female and 36 per cent are male.
  • 43 per cent of those caring for elderly parents or in-laws also have dependent children.
  • The majority (61per cent) of carers report that they have some health problems.
  • In general, carers have poorer levels of mental health than non-carers as measured by the GHQ12.
  • Almost half (49 per cent) of the carers meet people from outside their immediate household most days but 8 per cent report such contact once or twice a month or less.
  • Only 9 per cent of carers are in receipt of the Carers Allowance.

Eileen Evason, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Governance, Public Policy and Social Research at Queen's University, will lead Tuesday's seminar. She said: "The research found that one adult in every six in Northern Ireland is a carer. Without them the cost of health and social services would multiply. All of this shows the importance of supporting and listening to this important group in our society."

The NIHPS Analysis Unit is a constituent part of Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive (ARK) which makes social and political material based on Northern Ireland available to the widest possible audience. A Research Update based on this seminar is available on the ARK website at www.ark.ac.uk/publications

Notes for editors:

The seminar will be held at NICVA, 61 Duncairn Gardens, Belfast, on Tuesday 23rd March 2004 at noon.

The Northern Ireland Household Panel Survey (NIHPS) is an extension of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). The Wave 1 sample of the NIHPS consists of 1,978 households drawn randomly from across Northern Ireland. 3,458 adults (aged 16+) living within these households took part in the survey. Full details can be found on the website at www.ark.ac.uk/nihps.

For further information, contact: Eileen Evason, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Governance, Public Policy and Social Research, Queen?s University Belfast and Emeritus Professor in Social Administration, University of Ulster. Tel: 9079 3563

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Local entertainer and top composer take honours

TV celebrity Patrick Kielty, avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, actor Stephen Rea, and "tele-dons" Robert Winston and Adam Hart-Davis are amongst the public figures who will be honoured by Queen's this year.

A total of 15 honorary degrees are to be conferred upon a range of well-known names from the worlds of entertainment, academia, sport, business and the judiciary.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, arguably the world's most famous living composer, will attend a special ceremony in late April. The avant-garde musician will be visiting the University to open the Sonic Arts Research Centre, where experts in music, computer science and electrical and electronic engineering take research in music and audio into new dimensions.

Patrick Kielty, who will become a Doctor of the University in the summer graduations, co-opened the Comedy Club at the Empire in Belfast while studying at Queen's, and had his first television break on BBC Northern Ireland hosting his own live show. He soon progressed to national television, winning true celebrity status as presenter of `Fame Academy'.

Also taking part in the summer graduations will be three-times winner of the World Blind Water Ski Championship Janet Gray from Hillsborough, Co Down; Adam Hart-Davis, the face of science and technology in TV programmes such as `Tomorrow's World' and `Science Shack'; and Lord Robert Winston, famous both as a world expert on fertility issues and as presenter of TV programmes on medical science.

Other notables who will grace the stage of the University's Whitla Hall will be: Canadian Chief Justice Rt Hon Beverley McLachlin; telecommunications pioneer Professor John Midwinter; philosopher Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve; Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea who starred in films such as `The Crying Game'; Vice-Chancellor of Uganda's Makerere University Professor John Ssebuwufu; political scientist Professor Arend Lijphart; and one of Ireland's top entrepreneurs in the "e-learning" revolution Bill McCabe.

International film star Liam Neeson will take his honorary degree during the winter graduation ceremonies in December. Professor Kim Barrett, one of the world's most prominent female scientists, and historian Thomas Pakenham will also accept their awards in December.

Patrick Kielty, Bill McCabe, and Stephen Rea are all Queen's graduates, while John Ssebuwufu took a PhD at the University and Kim Barrett was visiting professor.

For further information, contact: Robert Baxter, Communications Office, Tel 028 9097 5323.

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Three B's join scholars' elite
Professors Brewer, Boyd and Bew - newly elected members of the Royal Irish Academy
Professors Brewer, Boyd and Bew - newly elected members of the Royal Irish Academy

Three Queen's professors have been invited to join the Royal Irish Academy after the latest round of elections to Ireland's foremost learned society.

Professor Paul Bew of the School of Politics & International Studies, Professor Derek Boyd of the School of Chemistry, and Professor John Brewer of the School of Sociology & Social Policy have all been honoured for their achievements.

The Academy described Professor Bew as "one of the most productive and distinguished historians of his generation in Ireland", noting that his works on the Irish land and national questions had achieved the status of 'classics'. Professor Bew is currently working on the preparation of a comprehensive survey of modern Irish history for the Oxford History of Europe.

Professor Boyd's research interests are mainly in biological organic chemistry and biotechnology. His current research involves the School of Chemistry, the Queen's Environmental Science and Technology Research Centre - QUESTOR, and the University's new Catalysis Centre - CenTACat. He has spent sabbaticals at leading US institutions, including the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Professor Brewer is the author of 13 books on complex societies across the globe, including Inside the RUC (1991), After Soweto (1986), Black and Blue: Policing in South Africa (1994), and Crime in Ireland 1945-95 (1997). His current research is on grassroots peacemaking in Northern Ireland, and forms part of a seven-country study which includes Rwanda, Sudan and Sri Lanka.

Announcing the election of the new members, Dr Michael Ryan, President of the Royal Irish Academy, said: "Excellence is the only benchmark of the knowledge society. Those elected as Members of the Royal Irish Academy have raised the benchmark of excellence in their respective fields internationally and bring honour on themselves and Ireland by their achievements."

The Royal Irish Academy is an all-Ireland, independent, academic body that promotes study and excellence in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. It has approximately 320 Members elected in recognition of their academic achievement.

For 217 years the Royal Irish Academy has been honouring Ireland's foremost academics by electing them as Members of the Academy on 16 March.

For further information, contact: Robert Baxter, Communications Office, Tel (028) 9097 5323

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SWOTing up for charity
BBC presenters Christine Bleakley and John Daly with members of the SWOT organising committee, Emma-Sue Curran, Micheal O'Gallagher and Roisin Gardner get ready for the annual SWOT fashion show at Queen's on 23 March.
BBC presenters Christine Bleakley and John Daly with members of the SWOT organising committee, Emma-Sue Curran, Micheal O'Gallagher and Roisin Gardner get ready for the annual SWOT fashion show at Queen's on 23 March.

Queen's University's medical and dental students will be strutting their stuff on the catwalk next week, all in the name of charity.

The annual Queen's University SWOT Fashion Show, which was launched by BBC Northern Ireland presenters Christine Bleakley and John Daly, will be held at Queen's on Tuesday 23 March, with the generous support of First Trust Bank.

Patrons of the show will see fourth year medical and dental students take to the Whitla Hall catwalk to raise money for hospitals in the developing world. They will be showing off the latest offerings from many of Belfast’s city centre stores along with the work of some of Northern Ireland’s up-and-coming designers.

The Queen’s University of Belfast Students Working Overseas Trust (SWOT), now in its 27th year, is run entirely by medical and dental students with the aim of raising money to promote the improvement of hospitals in the developing world. SWOT members complete a six week work placement in these hospitals and with the money raised they are able to provide much-needed equipment and financial aid.

Each year they raise in excess of £40,000 through street collections, blood pressure clinics, social events and the annual SWOT Fashion Show. Money raised this year will help hospitals in countries such as Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Tobago, South Africa and Vanuatu to name but a few.

The SWOT Fashion Show is now firmly established as one of the most popular events at Queen’s. Christine Bleakley and John Daly will present the show in front of an audience of 1,150 in the Sir William Whitla Hall at Queen’s. Joining the student models on the catwalk will be special guests Miss Northern Ireland, Belfast Harlequins RFC and some of the teaching staff from the School of Medicine.

Among them will be Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Professor Rod Hay, who said: “The SWOT initiative is one of the most exciting projects undertaken by medical students in Europe. In raising and providing resources to developing country hospitals and clinics, students working in these areas as part of their medical training become true participants in one the greatest challenges, the improvement of health care to those in the greatest need.

“I am delighted and very proud to lend my support to this work, whose chief event is the annual student Fashion Show. We would like as many of you as possible to support what promises to be a serious rival to similar events in the international style calendar - in Milan, Paris and New York."

Gerry Hawkins, First Trust Bank's University Road Manager said: "We at First Trust Bank are delighted to be supporting the SWOT Fashion Show again this year. The time and dedication of the students on the organising committee make this an extremely professional event and one not to be missed."

SWOT would like to thank the many organisations that have lent their support to the show, especially the show’s official sponsor, First Trust Bank.

The show will be held on Tuesday 23 March 2004. Tickets are priced £17 and are available by calling 07739318242 or by emailing swotfashionshow@hotmail.com.

For further information, contact: Micheal O'Gallagher, 07739318242 or email O1258300@qub.ac.uk

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Research launched into world-wide St Patrick's Day celebrations
St Patrick's Day carnival on the Caribbean island of Montserrat - an example of the global diversity of St Patrick's Day celebrations that Queen's University researchers will record in their new web-based project.
St Patrick's Day carnival on the Caribbean island of Montserrat - an example of the global diversity of St Patrick's Day celebrations that Queen's University researchers will record in their new web-based project.

A new project, being launched fittingly on 17 March, marks the start of work by a team of researchers at Queen's University Belfast into the variety of St Patrick's Day celebrations around the world.

'On St. Patrick’s Day everybody is Irish' is an oft-quoted cry by the organisers of St. Patrick’s Day parades around the globe. In the London event, for example, organisers even state ‘you don’t have to be Irish to join in - Chinese dragons, Bhangra drummers and Carnival costumed walkers are all welcome to join in this big celebration’.

Reflecting on comments like that above, Dominic Bryan, Director of the Institute of Irish Studies, said the project idea germinated from a discussion he had with two lecturers from the School of Anthropological Studies. “We talked about the widely differing and developing traditions of celebrating St Patrick’s Day that we had witnessed over the last decade in Belfast, Dublin, London, New York – and further afield.”

Project team member Jonathan Skinner, Lecturer in Anthropological Studies, described his fascinating experience of celebrating St Patrick’s Day in 2000 on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. “Some people of Montserrat celebrated the slave Patrick who freed them – as a slave uprising commemorated; while for others it was perhaps a tourist attraction to see the Black Irish of the Caribbean celebrating!” he explained.

From such discussions the ‘St Patrick’s Day Project’ was born. A web-based survey is being launched this week, where the Queen’s researchers invite people in all parts of the world to contribute to their study by providing details of their own St Patrick’s Day experiences. All anyone need do is answer a few simple questions on the web site, that include for example:
 - What Irish connections, if any, do you have to St Patrick’s Day?
 - What sort of events took place around you to celebrate St Patrick’s Day?
 - Were the events the same as on previous St Patrick’s Days, or have there been changes over  the years?
 - What does St Patrick’s Day mean to you and those around you?

“The Project will map and record the variety of St Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world, leading to improved understanding of the reasons behind the celebrations,” said Dr Bryon. “ We are interested in hearing what people do on St Patrick’s Day where they live – even if they do nothing in particular.”

John Nagle, the third researcher on the Project, and also a lecturer in Anthropological Studies, commented on the cultural associations of the Day’s festivities:

“It is often said nowadays that Ireland has escaped from itself. Such sentiment has popularly come to mean that ‘Irishness’ seems to be less defined by state (the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland) but by a ‘state of mind’. Anyone can be Irish if they put their mind to it. All you have to do is get into the ‘craic’ on ‘St Paddy’s Day by donning your frizzy, green Afro-wig and playing a ten-minute bodhrán solo on the theme of ‘Danny Boy’.

“But while this might seem to suggest that St Patrick’s Day provides a focus for harmonious celebrations across the globe, whether in Belfast, Montserrat or New York City, bitter arguments can arise over the political and ethnic meanings of the festivities,” Dr Nagle added.

To have your say on celebrating St Patrick’s Day, visit the Queen’s University Institute of Irish Studies web site.

Note: The internationally renowned School of Anthropological Studies at Queen’s University Belfast is highly rated for its research quality, awarded an RAE Grade 5 in the most recent nation-wide government assessment exercise. The main research strategy of the Institute of Irish Studies (which acts as a focus for the larger body of research being undertaken at Queen's University and beyond) is to explore the social, political, cultural and geographical factors that have influenced the people of this island and its diasporas.

For further information, contact: Dolores Vischer, Communications Office Tel: 028 9097 5320 or Jonathan Skinner, Tel: 028 9097 3705 email: j.skinner@qub.ac.uk

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Queenswomen in spotlight at major public lecture


"Women Emerging from the Shadows" - the epic painting celebrating the contributions and achievements of Queen's University's women - is to be the focus of a major public lecture on Thursday.

Distinguished art historian and Byzantinist Lyn Rodley, Helen Waddell Professor at Queen's, will talk on "'Women Emerging from the Shadows' in its art-historical context" in the lecture which takes place during the week of International Women's Day.

Professor Rodley, author of the award-winning 'Introduction to Byzantine Art and Architecture', described the painting, the work of Newry-born artist Michelle Rogers, as "a very strong and monumental work of art".

She said: "It is quite brilliant. It manages to combine various historical conventions of art to convey a very important message. I aim to look at some of the conventions of earlier European art and suggest how this painting adjusts them to show that women bring a highly positive, constructive approach to our institutions."

The 16 ft by 6 ft painting - one of the largest in Northern Ireland - represents all female staff, students and alumni and depicts 25 women, some almost life-size, striding forward into the light.

The £20,000 art commission was the brainchild of the award-winning Queen's Women's Forum and Gender Initiative which is working to improve the profile and position of women within the University.

The commission attracted interest from artists around the world and an overwhelmingly high standard of entries, from which Michelle Rogers' proposal emerged as the unanimous winner.

The work of Queen's Gender Initiative, set up in 2000, has produced a stream of tangible results ranging from the establishment of a central maternity fund to enhanced childcare provision and the introduction of flexible working for clerical staff. A very successful mentoring scheme for academic women has been introduced, and already female representation has increased in many decision-making areas of the University.

Professor Rodley's lecture will take place in the Council Chamber, Lanyon Building, at 5.30pm on Thursday 11 March. Admission is free.

For further information contact:
Professor Margaret Mullett, Tel 028 9097 3712 or 028 9097 3238
Anne Langford, Tel 028 9097 5310

Notes for editors:
Full media facilities will be available at Professor Rodley's lecture. An image of the painting can be obtained by contacting Anne Langford on the above number or by e-mailing a.langford@qub.ac.uk.

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Role of genetics in mental health

Scientists and mental health experts will be gathering in Belfast tomorrow to discuss the role of genetics in psychiatric disorders.

Organised by Queen's University's Neuroscience Research Group, which is based in the School of Medicine, the event will be run in association with the British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP).

Among the speakers will be Professor Gavin Reynolds, who is internationally known in the field of schizophrenia research and who took up post last week as Professor of Neuroscience in the School of Medicine at Queen's. He was formerly based at the University of Sheffield.

The appointment of Professor Reynolds and his research team will help enhance the work of the Neuroscience Research Group which largely focuses on schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. Professor Reynolds' interests also include neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington's disease.

The conference will examine the issue of how genetics can play a role in predicting how psychiatric patients will respond to treatment. It will also look at whether risk of adverse effects from drug treatments can be predicted.

Other speakers include Dr Maria Arranz, from the Institute of Psychiatry in London, Dr Tony O'Neill, from Queen's, who was part of the team that discovered that the dysbindin gene is linked to schizophrenia and Professor Alessandro Serretti, from Milan's University Vita-Salute.

According to organiser Dr Stephen Cooper, head of the Department of Mental Health, and director of the Neuroscience Research Group, the conference will allow experts to examine an important area of clinically related genetic research.

"This type of research may bring benefits to patient care before other work which finds out what genes may predict specific illness," he said.

Note to Editors: The conference, in Malone House, Barnett Demesne, runs from 12.15pm to 5pm.

The British Association for Psychopharmacology is the second largest Psychopharmacology society in the world.

Professor Reynolds is a member of the executive committee of the BAP.

The Neuroscience Research Group at Queen's organises meetings on aspects of Psychopharmacology every two years.

For further information, contact: Dr Stephen Cooper, Department of Mental Health, (028) 9097 5790, email: s.cooper@qub.ac.uk

Elaine Fitzsimons, Communications, (028) 9097 5384

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Lattes not lectures to debate science ideas

A novel approach to exploring the latest ideas in science and technology has been launched in Northern Ireland.

Cafe Scientifique is a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings have taken place in cafes, bars, restaurants and even theatres, but always outside a traditional academic context.

The first meeting - the first of its kind in Ireland - will be held at 6pm on Tuesday 9 March in the China Room of Belfast's TENsq. Hotel. The speaker will be Queen's University virologist and microbiologist Professor Bert Rima, who will discuss AIDS, SARS and bird flu.

According to Dr Jill Turner, from the School of Nursing at Queen's University, the Café Scientifique has its origins in France, borrowing upon the idea of philosophical debate in public spaces using the concept of the public sphere.

The concept has now spread to Ireland where Dr Turner has established the Belfast branch of Café Scientifique.
"All members of the public are warmly invited to attend what is hoped will be an opportunity for lively, interesting and friendly debate about important scientific matters in a social atmosphere, " she said.

The speaker for April's meeting will be Professor Angus Clarke, Professor in Clinical Genetics who will discuss "Genetics and Society", while Professor Mike Bailie, Professor of Palaeocology at Queen's, will speak about the environmental causes of the 'Black Death' on June 8.

Note to Editors: TENsq. Hotel is at Donegall Square, behind the City Hall, near Linenhall Street.

For further information, contact: Dr Jill Turner, School of Nursing, (028) 9097 2376 Elaine Fitzsimons, Communications, (028) 9097 5384

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New Glenn Patterson novel launched at Queen's University
Author Glenn Patterson whose new novel was launched at Queen's on 4th March. (Photograph by Jill Jennings)
Author Glenn Patterson whose new novel was launched at Queen's on 4th March. (Photograph by Jill Jennings)
'That Which Was' - the new novel by Glenn Patterson
'That Which Was' - the new novel by Glenn Patterson

The English Society at Queen's University Belfast will host an event on Thursday evening (4 March) to mark the launch of a new novel by Glenn Patterson, acclaimed contemporary Irish novelist - and teaching assistant in the University's School of English.

The publication of That Which Was on 4th March will take place on international World Book Day. Students, academics and book lovers from the wider community will gather in the Visitor's Centre at Queen's to hear author Glenn Patterson read from his new work, after an introduction from fellow writer Carlo Gebler.

"Glenn's career as a novelist goes from strength," commented Professor Hugh Magennis, Head of the School of English at Queen's. "We are privileged to have him as a member of the creative writing teaching team in the School of English, where he offers courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. He is also a regular contributor to events put on by the English Society, which for decades has been a focus for literary activity in Belfast, involving the University and the community."

Described by Will Self as "Northern Ireland’s prose laureate" and by Colm Toibin as "one of the best contemporary Irish novelists", Glenn said he was "delighted to be launching his new book among friends and colleagues at the University". He added that it’s a "double celebration", with the paperback edition of his 2003 highly-acclaimed book Number 5 also being published on March 4th.

That Which Was is set once again in Belfast. Its central character, Ken Avery, is a rather unusual Presbyterian Reverend (a former bank-worker, closet Velvet Underground fan and student of stand-up comedy). The plot centres on a visit paid to him by a middle-aged man who confesses to murder, but doesn't know who he has killed, why or when. Avery commits himself to finding out what really happened, but doesn't realise that he’s about to put his own friends and family in the firing line…

Glenn Patterson described how the idea for the new book and its title came to him:

"I had been thinking for a couple of years about the idea of a man who claimed his brain had been interfered with, thinking that control of individual memory was the ultimate paranoia in a place so obsessed with remembering. What kept me from writing it was the question of who should tell the story, or who the man should tell his story to. I was in the middle of writing Number 5 and was on Christmas holiday in Cork when I woke up very early on Boxing Day and thought: minister. Ministers are obliged to listen, believe and remain confidential. I started writing then and there in bed and had the outline by the time everyone else woke up.

"The title came late. Avery would probably say of it, Trust the Bible to guide you. I prefer to put it down to a tiler playing the radio too loud in the bathroom next to where I was working, reducing me to flicking through a file of potentially useful quotations. A verse from the book of Judges leapt out at me, the words, ‘that which was’. This was exactly what Avery had to determine. At the same time the phrase suggested a chapter closing, or about to close: just right for Belfast in the second half of 2000."

Copies of That Which Was, published by Hamish Hamilton, are on sale at £16.99.


For further information contact: Dolores Vischer, Communications Office, 028 9097 5320

Notes for Editors:

1. The book launch will begin at 6pm on Thursday 4th March in the Visitor’s Centre at Queen’s University. Media facilities will be available.

2. The English Society at Queen's University organises a wide range of readings, lectures and social events during the academic year and has long been associated with remarkable achievements in creative writing. Although the English Society is a student-based organisation, it is also supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland which enables it to bring an exciting number of writers and academics to Belfast each semester.

Other English Society events this semester include Colm Toibin reading from his new novel ‘The Master’ on Thursday 18 March and a reading on 13 May by Sarah Waters, author of the popular novels ‘Tipping the Velvet’ and ‘Fingersmith’.

3. Born in Belfast, Glenn Patterson continued his education at the University of East Anglia, where he studied for an M.A. in Creative Writing under Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter. He is the author of six novels: Burning Your Own (1988), Fat Lad (1992), Black Night at Big Thunder Mountain (1995), and The International (1999), Number 5 (2003), and That Which Was (2004). He has also worked on a number of television documentaries and presented an arts review series for RTE.

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Queen's ceremony rewards international work experience

More than 150 Queen's University students who gained workplace experience in companies around the world will take part in a special ceremony on Wednesday.

The students will receive their City & Guilds Senior Awards at Licentiateship level for skills and competencies gained during work placements in Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the United States.

In addition, 15 Senior Awards at the higher levels will be presented to lecturers in further and higher education who took part in the Lecturers into Industry initiative. The Lecturers into Industry scheme is funded by the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) and is co-ordinated by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA). It aims to match the outputs of the further education sector with the needs of the Northern Ireland economy.

Structured placements allow the candidates to update their experience and skills, enhancing their professional development and offering an opportunity to embed new ideas into the curriculum. Among the companies taking part were Bombardier Aerospace, Deans Restaurant, Montupet and Synergy Learning.

This will be the ninth City & Guilds presentation ceremony at Queen’s, bringing the total number of candidates who have received Senior Awards to almost 950.

The awards are administered by the University’s Institute of Lifelong Learning, whose Director, Paul Nolan, said: "Queen’s participation in the awards scheme underlines our strong commitment to continuing professional development and lifelong learning, in line with current Government policy and University strategy.

"Queen’s joined forces with City & Guilds in 1994 to become the first organisation in Northern Ireland – and one of the first universities in the United Kingdom – to administer the Senior Awards scheme."

The scheme is based on the recognition of competence and achievement through a combination of education, training and work-based experience, and it provides a progressive vocational route to higher level qualifications.

The undergraduates will receive their Licentiateship (LCGI) Awards in Agricultural Economics and Management, Agricultural Technology, Application of German in a Business Environment, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Finance, Food Science and Technology, Information Technology, and Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

The guest speaker at the event will be Dr Philip Riseborough, Head of Higher Qualifications and Awards at City & Guilds.

For further information contact:

Marc Forte / Paul Nolan, Tel: 028 9033 5260

Anne Langford, Tel 028 9097 5310

Notes for Editors:

The ceremony will take place in the Sir William Whitla Hall on Wednesday 3 March 2004, starting at 2pm and ending at 4.30pm. Media facilities will be available.

The lecturers who took part in the Lecturers into Industry initiative came from Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, North East Institute of Further and Higher Education, East Antrim Institute of Further and Higher Education, Limavady College of Further and Higher Education, Upper Bann Institute of Further and Higher Education and Lisburn and East Down Institute of Further and Higher Education. They received Membership and Graduateship Awards in Construction, Engineering, Hospitality and Tourism, and Software Engineering.

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Queen's pays tribute to Cormac McAnallen

Queen's University has paid tribute to one of its graduates, Cormac McAnallen, who died suddenly today.

The 24 year-old Tyrone man, who graduated with a BA in Modern History in 2000, played a central role in his county's historic All Ireland win last year. He was a member of the winning Queen's Sigerson Cup team of 2000 and was awarded a Queen's Blues Award in 1999 for outstanding contribution to sport at the University.

Queen's Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Students and Learning, Professor Ken Bell, said the University was "deeply shocked and saddened" to learn of Mr McAnallen's tragic and untimely death and offered its sympathies to his family and friends.

For further information, contact:

Elaine Fitzsimons, Communications, (028) 9097 5384

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'The Snip' may not be reversible

Scientists are calling for further research into the long-term effects of vasectomy, as results revealed today suggested the effects of "the snip" might not be as reversible as previously thought.

Work on testicular biopsies carried out at Queen's University Belfast showed that men who had a vasectomy more than 10 years ago have a much lower sperm count than fertile men who have not had a vasectomy. Pregnancy success rates using the ICSI technique, where a single sperm is injected into a woman's egg, were more than 50 per cent lower with the same group of men.

Researchers from the Reproductive Medicine Research Group in Obstetrics & Gynaecology told the Annual British Fertility Society Meeting in Cheltenham that they had tested 21 men who had had vasectomies after having children. They found that their sperm count was about three times lower than that of the 39 non-vasectomised fertile men who were also assessed, at 3.6 million sperm per gram of biopsy tissue compared to 11.2 sperm per gram.

Analysing the biopsies, they discovered that the number of Sertoli cells - which nourish the sperm through their development in the testis - was normal in the vasectomised individuals. However, the numbers of developing sperm (spermatids) were significantly reduced.

More alarmingly, they found that couples undergoing fertility treatment where the male had been vasectomised, and reversal had failed, were less than half as likely to get pregnant as couples with other infertility problems. However, only 17 couples post-vasectomy and 37 other infertile couples have been assessed in this part of the research. A larger multi-centre study is required to elucidate these findings.

Dr Carmel McVicar, who presented the work, said: "We did not expect to see this reduction in sperm count or pregnancy due to previous vasectomy, and ongoing studies are attempting to decipher the reasons for it.

"In the past, a vasectomy was for life. Now men attend our clinic every week wanting to have a second family with a new partner. Men who are considering vasectomy certainly need to think very carefully about the long-term consequences to their future fertility."

Notes for editors: The British Fertility Society is a national, multidisciplinary organisation representing professionals practising in the field of reproductive medicine. www.fertility.org.uk

For further information, contact:

Dr Carmel McVicar, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Tel (028) 9063 5060 Or Elaine Fitzsimons, Communications Office, Tel (028) 9097 5384

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