12-2011 Press Releases

Queen’s physicists find fastest rotating star
VFTS 102 as indicated by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope 
Fraser/Dufton/Dunstall/Hubble Legacy Archive
VFTS 102 as indicated by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope Fraser/Dufton/Dunstall/Hubble Legacy Archive
Queen’s physicists are among an international team of astronomers which has discovered the fastest rotating star ever recorded.

The bright young star, picked up by the European Organisation for Astronomical Research’s  Very Large Telescope, lies in our neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Astronomers think that it may have had a violent past and have been ejected from a double star system by the supernova explosion of its companion.

The team has been using ESO’s Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, to make a survey of heaviest and brightest stars in the Tarantula Nebula, in the Large Magellanic Cloud.  Among the many brilliant stars in this stellar nursery the team spotted one, VFTS 102, rotating at a remarkable 600 km per second, very close to the point at which it would tear apart due to centrifugal forces.

Among those involved in the discovery is Professor Philip Dufton of Queen’s University’s School of Mathematics and Physics.

He said: “The remarkable rotation speed and the unusual motion compared to the surrounding stars led us to wonder if this star had an unusual early life. It was suspicious. The star’s surface temperature is around 36000 degrees Celsius, compared to the Sun’s 5,500 degrees. It is extraordinarily brilliant, shining 100 000 times as brightly as the Sun, and has about 17 times the Sun’s mass. It is also moving through space at a significantly different speed from its neighbours.”

This difference in speed could imply the star is a runaway — a star that has been ejected from its environment by the powerful blast released by a nearby supernova. This idea is supported by two further clues: a pulsar and supernova remnant lie nearby.

The team has developed a possible back-history for this very unusual star. It could have started life as one component of a binary star system. If the two stars were close, gas from the companion could have streamed over and the star would have spun faster and faster. This could explain why it is rotating so fast. After a short life of about 10 million years, the massive companion would have exploded as a supernova — which would explain the supernova remnant found nearby. The explosion would have ejected the star and would explain the third anomaly — its difference in speed with other stars in the region. As it collapsed, the massive companion would then have turned into the pulsar that is observed today and complete the solution to the puzzle.

Professor Dufton added: “Although we can’t yet say for sure that this is what happened, this discovery is certainly providing intriguing clues about the short, but dramatic, lives of the heaviest stars.”

Media inquiries to: Anne Langford on 028 9097 5310, mob. 07815 871 997, a.langford@qub.ac.uk

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Global leader in law joins Queen’s
Colin Harvey and Christopher McCrudden, Queen's Univesity School of Law
Colin Harvey and Christopher McCrudden, Queen's Univesity School of Law

International equality expert, Belfast-born Christopher McCrudden, has been appointed to the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast. A Fellow of the British Academy, he will spearhead the University’s world-leading work on human rights and equality law.

A Queen’s graduate, Christopher McCrudden, has joined Queen’s from the University of Oxford to take up the post of Professor of Human Rights and Equality Law.

Welcoming his appointment, Head of the School of Law Professor Colin Harvey said: “This is a warm welcome home to a graduate of Queen’s who, through decades of research, education and community engagement, is recognised internationally as a world-leading scholar.

“Professor McCrudden’s work on human rights and equality continues to have a positive impact and makes a real difference. He has had a lasting and profound influence on generations of legal scholars, and his generosity towards colleagues is well known. Professor McCrudden joins a group of distinguished scholars here at Queen’s who are all engaged with global and local questions relating to human rights, equality and social justice; all concerned to reflect critically on the role of law, and the rule of law in modern society.”

Commenting on his appointment, Professor McCrudden said: “I am absolutely delighted to be rejoining Queen’s at this exciting time. The production of world-leading research across a range of subjects explains why the School of Law is now regarded as one of the leading centres of legal research in the UK. It also helps shape global and local debates in all areas of legal scholarship. I am looking forward to working alongside Queen’s exciting and vibrant intellectual community.”

Law has been taught at Queen’s for over 150 years. Today the University’s School of Law is one of the most eminent centres for legal research and education in the UK and Ireland. This was confirmed in the 2008 national Research Assessment Exercise when it was ranked joint seventh out of 67 Law Schools in the UK.

Media inquiries to Kevin Mulhern, Head of Communications and External Affairs, Queen’s University. Telephone 0044 (0)28 9097 3259 or m +44(0)7813 015431 or k.mulhern@qub.ac.uk

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Ulster Orchestra member hangs up horn to help children with autism
Chris Blake
Chris Blake
Chris Blake, former Principal Horn Player with the Ulster Orchestra, will graduate today with distinction from his MSc in Autistic Spectrum Disorders from the School of Education at Queen’s.

He hung up his horn last year after education work with the Orchestra led him to discover the powerful effect music can have on children with learning difficulties.

Chris said: “Working in a variety of Northern Ireland Special Schools, I was bowled over by the response of the children to music. My colleague Ricky Matson and I set up a partnership RiCh Music to focus on creating musical connections between professional musicians and children in Special Schools.  I began to work regularly in Parkview Special School in Lisburn, where I focused on lessons with children with severe learning difficulties. I began to realise that many of the musically responsive children had a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and it was this that prompted me to embark on the MSc at Queen’s.

“Making the decision to leave a job of 31 years to work in a relatively new field was daunting but I was lucky enough to be awarded a grant by the Katherine McGillivray Get a Life Fund which helped with study costs.  Taking the course at Queen's was a life-changing experience which further fired my enthusiasm and increased my knowledge and confidence in working in this area. I am more and more convinced that children with learning difficulties should be given the opportunity to develop their musical skills.  There is a growing body of research suggesting a link between autism and musicality, and I hope to investigate this link further and explore the possibility of training other teachers for this type of work.”

Born in Southampton, Chris came to Belfast in 1979. His career with the Ulster Orchestra, where he was Principal Horn Player for 31 years, had many highlights including major tours of Europe, South Korea and the USA, the CD recordings of French Orchestral music with Jan Pascal Tortelier and the opening season at the Belfast Waterfront Hall.

Chris will celebrate graduation with members of his family.

For media inquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on 00 44 (0) 2890975391 / 07814415451 or c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Award Winning Nurses at Queen’s

Lyndsay Alexander from Newtownbreda, Belfast is celebrating after being named the best overall Nursing and Midwifery student at Queen’s University Winter Graduations.

Lyndsay will receive the Florence Elliott Prize at today’s (Friday 16 December) graduation ceremony in recognition of her outstanding academic and clinical achievement on her BSc Adult Nursing course.

Lyndsay said: “I’m really shocked, but feel very blessed to have been awarded the Florence Elliott Prize.  I have really enjoyed my training, and my time at Queen’s has definitely prepared me for my future career.  I’ve been helped along the way by very supportive staff members and my colleagues and am very thankful to all of them. It makes me feel very privileged to accept today’s award.”

Awards for Academic Excellence are awarded to the nursing students with the highest marks from the University-based aspect of the degree, while Clinical Excellence awards are given to those who have received outstanding feedback from staff in the wards where they completed their nursing placements.

Professor Linda Johnston, Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s said: “Queen’s is the foremost provider of Nursing and Midwifery education in Northern Ireland. Our graduates play a central role in delivering healthcare to us all and I congratulate Lyndsay and her fellow award winners for their hard work and dedication.”

Another eight students will also be recognised by the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s for academic or clinical excellence. They are:

  • The Florence Elliott Prize    
    Lyndsay Alexander    

  • Dame Mary Uprichard Prize for Academic Excellence in Midwifery Sciences    
    Susan Stitt    

  • Elizabeth Rainey Prize for Clinical Excellence in Midwifery Sciences    
    Emma Wallace    

  • The Cleland Ormond Rogers Prize for Academic Excellence in Children’s Nursing    Deborah Evans    

  • The RBHSC/QUB Joyce Gardiner Prize for Clinical Excellence in Children’s Nursing    Jill Tedford    

  • The Professor Sheila Harrisson Prize for Academic Excellence in Adult Nursing    Gemma McEvoy    

  • The Mary Waddell Prize for Clinical Excellence in Adult Nursing    
    Margaret Donnelly    

  • The Moutray/McAuley Prize for Clinical Excellence in Mental Health Nursing   
    Joanne Kidd    

  • The Lawrence and Nora McAuliff Curtin Prize for Academic Excellence in Mental Health    
    Aneta Drabarek    
Media inquiries to Communications Office. Tel: 028 90 97 3091 or email comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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Caring banker part of sister act at Graduation
Sisters-in-law Kim and Jennifer Byrne
Sisters-in-law Kim and Jennifer Byrne
Sisters-in-law Kim and Jennifer Byrne will both graduate from Queen’s University today.
Kim, who is married to Jennifer’s brother Edmund, will graduate with a Masters of Science in E-Learning from the School of Education, while Jennifer will receive a Bachelor of Science in Adult Nursing from the School of Nursing and Midwifery.

From Newry, Jennifer left her job in banking of eight years to return to her studies. She said: “I had been a banker for many years but always had an interest in nursing and caring.  It was a huge step for me to go back to university after having been in a top banking job for years, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Graduating with my sister-in-law Kim is just the icing on the cake.”

Originally from Queensland Australia, Kim said: “I had originally been a teacher before I met my husband 11 years ago. I joined the family business and after a time was looking for a fresh challenge. I wondered whether going back to university was the right choice and so opted for a Masters of Science in E-learning.  It was, and now it’s a lovely coincidence that Jennifer is graduating at the same time after deciding to return to university for a career change.”

Kim and Jennifer will celebrate their graduation alongside brothers Edmund, Ronan, Mark, and mother Geraldine.

For media inquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on + 44 (0) 2890975391 / 07814415451 or email c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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A family affair – mother and daughter graduate together
Joanne and Kerry O’Neill
Joanne and Kerry O’Neill
A mother and daughter from Aghagallon, Co. Antrim, will make it a family affair today when they both graduate from Queen’s.

Joanne and Kerry O’Neill will each receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the School of Nursing and Midwifery.

A civil servant for many years, Joanne returned to education at the age of 41 as she couldn’t get the desire to try nursing out of her mind. She said: “After having worked for over 25 years, making the decision to undergo a career change via a return to study was incredibly daunting, but it has been well worth it.  I feel like I’ve been given a second chance to pursue the career I had always wanted.  Today is such a special day, and sharing it with my daughter makes it even more so.”

Kerry said: “I’m so proud of my mum and all that she’s done.  It wasn’t always easy, but mum and I have had great fun studying and working together to achieve our goals.  An added bonus has been that we’re both so lucky to have secured our dream jobs as a result of our nursing degrees.”

Joanne and Kerry will celebrate their graduation alongside Joanne’s mother and father Aidan and Isa Heaney, Joanne’s husband Andrew and Kerry's brother Jamie.

For media inquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on 00 44 (0) 2890975391 / 07814415451 or c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Mental illness no barrier to scholarship-winning Queen’s student
Neil Vallelly
Neil Vallelly
A Coleraine student, who has won a prestigious scholarship to a New Zealand university, will today graduate from Queen’s after a lengthy battle with mental illness.

A former pupil at Coleraine Academical Institution, Neil Vallelly, began his degree in English and Modern History in 2005, but fell ill with an anxiety disorder and severe depression after his second year.  After taking a year out to treat his illness, Neil returned to Queen’s to continue his studies on a part-time basis.

After successfully completing his undergraduate studies, Neil graduates today with a Masters in English: Reconceiving the Renaissance, before leaving for a three year PhD Commonwealth Scholarship at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Speaking about his graduation Neil said: “I never thought I would see the day where I graduated from my undergraduate degree. Now I am not only graduating with a Masters, but I have been awarded a three year scholarship to study in New Zealand.  When I became ill I didn’t know how I would manage to keep studying, but the support from Queen’s was so good it meant nothing was impossible.

“Mental illness still has a certain stigma attached to it but Queen’s were so understanding and helpful to me throughout my illness.  The Student Guidance Centre at Queen’s offers so many different support services including counselling. I can’t emphasise enough the work they did to help me through my degree and to achieve everything I set out to do as I battled my illness.”

Helen McNeely, Head of Student Affairs at the Student Guidance Centre said:  “The Student Guidance Centre offers a number of support services to our students.   Counselling is available for free to any student who needs to talk to someone.  Mental illness is something that affects a lot of people and Neil is an example that it needn’t stand in the way of success.  We would encourage any student who feels like they could do with support to contact us in the Student Guidance Centre.”

For media inquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on 00 44 (0) 2890975391 / 07814415451 or c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Father surprises son as both graduate at Queen’s
Edward Cooke Snr and Edward Cooke Jnr
Edward Cooke Snr and Edward Cooke Jnr
Belfast father and son, Edward Cooke Snr and Edward Cooke Jnr, will both graduate from Queen’s today with Masters in Law degrees.

A surprise is in store for Edward Jnr, however, as his father will be attending his first graduation ceremony, despite having another ten degrees under his belt.

Edward Snr said: “My son is not expecting me to attend today’s graduation ceremony as I don’t normally attend them, but I couldn’t miss today as it is also my son’s and that makes it very special.

“The thirst for knowledge runs through our family. My other children have also studied at Queen’s and I have a continuing desire to return to study over and over again. It just goes to show that no matter your age, or generation, studying is always an option.”

Edward Snr, will graduate with LLM in Environmental Law (commendation).  Edward Jnr, who is a qualified solicitor, will graduate from LLM Human Rights Law with distinction.  Edward also met his wife at Queen’s during their training to become solicitors.

For media inquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on 00 44 (0) 2890975391 / 07814415451 or c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Special day for married couple
Husband and wife Simon and Laura Lee, from Carryduff, Co. Down, graduate with a Certificate and a Diploma in Counselling respectively from Queen’s University.
Husband and wife Simon and Laura Lee, from Carryduff, Co. Down, graduate with a Certificate and a Diploma in Counselling respectively from Queen’s University.
Husband and wife Simon and Laura Lee, from Carryduff, Co. Down, will graduate with a Certificate and a Diploma in Counselling respectively from Queen’s today.

Laura and Simon, who have a two year old son Benjamin, met while they were both studying for their undergraduate degrees at Queen’s and married in 2009. 

Laura, originally from Richill in Country Armagh, already has a degree in Nursing from Queen’s and will graduate with a Diploma in Person-Centred Counselling, while Simon, who has previously obtained a degree in Divinity, a Masters of Theology and a PGCE, will graduate with a Certificate in Person-Centred Counselling.

Speaking about their graduation, Simon said:  “Returning to study counselling was a new but rewarding challenge.  We were both interested in counselling, and Laura always wanted to be in a caring profession, so the courses at Queen’s suited us.  We now intend to seek accreditation in order to pursue jobs as counsellors.”

Laura added: “Having both of us studying, as well as looking after a new baby was hard work, but celebrating our graduation today makes it all worthwhile.  It’s a big day of celebration for our family, and who knows, maybe one day we’ll be at Queen’s again watching Benjamin graduate.”

For media inquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on 00 44 (0) 2890975391 / 07814415451 or

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Cancer risk in Northern Ireland lower than the Republic of Ireland
Dr Anna Gavin
People in Northern Ireland have a lower risk of developing some cancers than those living in the Republic of Ireland, according to the All-Ireland Cancer Atlas - a collaborative publication by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry at Queen’s University Belfast and the National Cancer Registry in Cork.

The first ever All-Ireland Cancer Atlas analysed 18 types of cancer by electoral division over a 12-year period.

Those cancers which were significantly higher for both sexes in the Republic of Ireland were:
  • Non-melanoma skin cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Leukaemia
  • Bladder
  • Pancreas
  • Brain/central nervous system cancers
For men, the risk of prostate cancer was higher in the Republic of Ireland and, for women, cancer of the oesophagus and cervix were higher.

Lung cancer, however, was higher in Northern Ireland compared with the Republic.

The following cancers were higher for women in Northern Ireland:
  • Uterus
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Head and neck cancers
The Atlas also found that the following cancers were more common in areas of higher unemployment and/or lower levels of degree attainment across the island:
  • Lung
  • Stomach
  • Head and neck
  • Cervical cancers
The following cancers were lower in areas of higher unemployment and/or lower levels of degree attainment:
  • Non melanoma skin cancer
  • Female breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Melanoma
Other findings include:

  • Stomach cancer rates were higher in a band running from Dublin to Donegal, excluding the north-east, but including Belfast.
  • There was no statistically significant difference in female breast cancer risk between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
  • The risk of diagnosis of prostate cancer was 29 per cent lower in Northern Ireland. Men in areas with the highest educational attainment had the highest risk.
  • The risk of head and neck cancer was greater, by 21 per cent, for women in Northern Ireland compared to the Republic of Ireland but there was no statistically significant difference for men.
Commenting on the findings in the Atlas, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: “Mapping the incidence of cancer geographically in Ireland is hugely important in our quest to understand factors that increase cancer rates and also to provide appropriate treatment and cancer services. 

“While it is generally accepted that geographic variations in cancer risk are predominantly the result of factors such as tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking, obesity, diet and sexual behaviour there are also a number of findings which we cannot explain yet including the band of increased stomach cancer incidence from Donegal to Dublin.  The launch of the first All-Ireland Cancer Atlas today will enable us to further identify different contributing factors to cancer in Ireland."

Dr Harry Comber, Director of the National Cancer Registry, said: “The Atlas shows major variations, sometimes more than two-fold, in the risk of several cancers, across the island.  Understanding the reasons for this geographical variation, and taking appropriate action, would reduce the cancer burden significantly in Ireland.  Areas with unexplained higher than average risk should now be studied in detail and a comprehensive programme of research into already known determinants of cancer risk in Ireland is needed to inform cancer control.”

The full report will be available at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/Publications/AllIrelandReports/

For media inquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on 00 44 (0) 28 9097 5391 / 07814 415 451 or c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Better understanding of worldwide mortality rates
Colin O'Hare
Programme Director, BSc Actuarial Science and Risk Management, QUMS
Colin O'Hare Programme Director, BSc Actuarial Science and Risk Management, QUMS
A better understanding of worldwide mortality rates is on the cards thanks to a novel study by researchers from Queen's University Management School (QUMS).
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries has awarded researchers over £10,000 of funding to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of mortality and to identify the factors driving the future of mortality rates worldwide.
Colin O’Hare, program director for Actuarial Science and Risk Management, and Dr Declan French, a lecturer in Finance at Queen’s, will investigate the relationships between improvements in the five main causes of death across a range of OECD countries.
Colin O’Hare said: “We know the spread of health behaviours and medical technologies throughout the world happens at varying rates and for various reasons. With this part of the research we aim to identify the leading nations in terms of improvements in specific cause of death mortality, and to identify for other countries the speed to adjustment in relation to the lead country for each cause of death. Finally, we will then be able to quantify the impact of mortality shocks in the leading country on the rest of the system. 
“We are very pleased to have received this funding which recognizes the high quality research going on within actuarial science at Queens University Management School. This is the first time  the actuarial profession have supported research in Queens University and it follows the development of a highly successful actuarial undergraduate degree, the first cohort of which graduated in July 2011.”
The study will firstly focus on linking mortality improvements across countries through a cointegration approach. It will then analyse international mortality data split by country, gender and cause of death across a range of OECD countries.
A second study will assess the exogenous factors driving mortality rates across OECD countries building an explanatory model of in order to improve forecasting.

For further information please contact Communications and External Affairs. Tel: +44(0)28 90 97 3091 or email comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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