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Bats use polarised light to navigate

Queen’s University scientists have discovered that greater mouse-eared bats use polarisation patterns in the sky to navigate, making it the first mammal that is known to do this.

The bats use the way the sun’s light is scattered in the atmosphere at sunset to calibrate their internal magnetic compass, which helps them to fly in the right direction, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

Despite this breakthrough, researchers have no idea how they manage to detect polarised light.

Dr Richard Holland, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, co-author of the study, said: “We know that other animals use polarisation patterns in the sky, and we have at least some idea how they do it: bees have specially-adapted photoreceptors in their eyes, and birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles all have cone cell structures in their eyes which may help them to detect polarisation.  But we don’t know which structure these bats might be using.”

Polarisation patterns depend on where the sun is in the sky. They are clearest in a strip across the sky 90 degrees from the position of the sun at sunset or sunrise.

But animals can still see the patterns long after sunset.  This means they can orient themselves even when they cannot see the sun, including when it is cloudy.  Scientists have even shown that dung beetles use the polarisation pattern of moonlight for orientation.

A hugely diverse range of creatures – including bees, anchovies, birds, reptiles and amphibians – use the patterns as a compass to work out which way is north, south, east and west.

Stefan Greif, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, lead author of the study, said: “Every night through the spring, summer and autumn, bats leave their roosts in caves, trees and buildings to search for insect prey.  They might range hundreds of kilometres in a night, but return to their roosts before sunrise to avoid predators.  But, until now, how they achieved such feats of navigation was not clear.  More...

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Commonwealth Shared Scholarship Scheme (Masters) 2014-15

The University has been awarded five scholarships for taught MSc Programmes (all within the School of Biological Sciences) through the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship Scheme. This is a joint initiative between the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (with funding from DFID) and Queen’s University to support students from developing Commonwealth countries who would not otherwise be able to study in the United Kingdom.

The awards are available to students taking the following one year Master's degree programmes in 2014/15:

  • MSc Leadership for Sustainable Development
  • MSc Leadership for Sustainable Rural Development
  • MSc in Advanced Food Safety

It is a two-step process: Candidates apply for admission to the Queen's course and also must complete an online application for the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship scheme via the Commission's EAS portal.

Details of the application process and criteria for the 2014 Commonwealth Shared Scholarship (DFID) awards can be found at:

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Scholarships Plus Awards up to £2,500.

Queen’s University is delighted to introduce a brand new SCHOLARSHIPS PLUS AWARD
scheme for 2014 entry.  You can choose between:

  • a tuition fee scholarship
  • a tuition fee scholarship combined with accommodation and lifestyle benefits

Scholarship awards up to £2,500 are available and apply to each year of study.   [More...]

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Fully funded MPhil Scholarship Opportunity

A one year, fully funded MPhil by Research is available within the Institute for Global Food Security.

The project is to develop a rapid biosensor based test capable of detecting a range of antibiotic residues in milk.  The project will be based in the world famous ASSET Technology Centre, David Keir Building and will be supervised by Professor Chris Elliott and Dr Katrina Campbell.

The project is due to commence October 2014.

Full training in the development of sensor based assays will be given.

Applicants must have at least a 2.1 in a Biological Science or related degree.

The Scholarship includes full fees (EU student) and a £1000 per month, tax free stipend.

For further information please contact Prof Elliott (

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Launch of the new Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS)

Tesco Chief Executive, Philip Clarke officially launched Queen’s new Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) which will improve global food safety through the establishment of an international ‘food-fortress’ in Belfast.

An investment of over £33m from Queen’s will see the Institute play a key role in national and global efforts to provide the world’s growing population with a sustainable, safe and secure supply of high quality food. [More... ]

Tesco CEO launches the new Institute - video

Please visit the Institute for Global Food Security web site.

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