Credit: Katie McCollum

World Changers: October

By Odhran Gallagher, Alan Rubin-Castejón, and Sarah Green.

A rundown of the research that has been going on behind the scenes at the University of Glasgow throughout the previous month.

Research at the University has seen some remarkable output within the past number of months, with the latest Complete University Guide ranking Glasgow University 10th in the UK in terms of research. September and the beginning of October have seen groundbreaking new research in neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and archeology, as well as a fascinating study about the effects of social media on young people. 

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have made strides into the field of neuroscience with new research involving the processes of memory creation in our brains. A new study, conducted in collaboration with the University of Birmingham and University of Erlangen, has used electrodes to allow the researchers to monitor activity of individual neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain. This type of research could potentially aid the development of new treatments for degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, through creating neuroprosthetic devices which help patients experiencing memory loss.

Researchers discussed the challenges of conducting a study involving the hippocampus because of its difficult to access position within the brain. As a result, a special form of electrodes were used which had to be implanted directly into the brain via surgery. Researchers in the study have concluded that the neurons discovered could be crucial to memory formation. Therefore, the use of prosthetics which could stimulate those neurons as a treatment could potentially alleviate the memory loss associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s

One of the researchers involved in the study, Professor Hanslmayr, said: “We are incredibly excited by our findings because neurons that behave in such a way have been speculated to exist in the human hippocampus for a long time, but this is the first time we actually observed such neurons. Our next step will be to test whether stimulation of these neurons can trigger the recall of memories, which would demonstrate causality. Thereby, this research could lead to the development of devices which can help with those suffering memory-related health conditions.”

A team of international researchers, including academics from Glasgow University, have collaborated on an innovative study which has developed a new interdisciplinary framework bridging biology and physics to help understand the emergence of complexity and evolution in the natural world.

A press release from the University described the research, dubbed ‘Assembly Theory’ as “[representing] a major advance in our fundamental comprehension of biological evolution”. The research has been in the works for a period of time, with the researchers previously developing Assembly Theory as an empirically validated approach to studying evolution. The researchers claim that the new theoretical framework they have developed could have external implications for the search for alien life and the artificial creation of life within laboratories.

Glasgow University chemist, Professor Lee Cronin, and one of the study’s lead authors said: “Assembly Theory provides an entirely new way to look at the matter that makes up our world, as defined not just by immutable particles but by the memory needed to build objects through selection over time

“With further work, this approach has the potential to transform fields from cosmology to computer science. It represents a new frontier at the intersection of physics, chemistry, biology and information theory.”

We now turn to the field of archeology, where the University has been involved in the study of an early medieval sculpture, remarkably discovered during a community dig.

A new historic find has recently emerged from Govan Old Churchyard, as archaeologists led by Professor Stephen Driscoll of the University of Glasgow and Clyde Archaeology unearthed an early medieval carved stone: ‘the Govan Warrior’.

Carved over a millennium ago, the stone artwork portrays a warrior, seen in profile, bearing a round shield and a shaft over their shoulder. Despite the passage of time, intriguing details such as a flowing ponytail and a sharply pointed beard have endured. The stone itself dates back to a time before Scotland as we know it today had emerged, and when Glasgow was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

Professor Stephen Driscoll, a Trustee of Govan Heritage Trust and the driving force behind the excavation, expressed his excitement, calling the Govan Warrior “probably the most important find that I’ve made in my thirty years of working at Govan Old.” What sets this discovery apart, archeologists have said, is its distinct stylistic characteristics, which have drawn comparisons with Pictish art and carvings from the Isle of Man.

Now, back to the modern day, with research led by the University of Glasgow which has found that young people who spend more time on social media are more at risk of alcohol use and binge drinking.

The study examined the daily social media use by teenagers who were 14 years of age to find out how this impacted their alcohol use by the time they were 17. The study also investigated whether this included dangerous modes of alcohol consumption, such as binge drinking.

It was found that if the amount of time spent on social media each day increased, so did the likelihood of alcohol use and binge drinking. Those who spent over two hours on social media per day were five times more likely to report alcohol use than those who spent less than an hour to 30 minutes on social media per day.

Adolescents who were more socioeconomically advantaged were more likely to binge drink as a result of their time spent on social media, in comparison to the more disadvantaged.

The specific reason for the link between binge drinking and increased social media use is not known. There is speculation that it may be because of negative online experiences, exposure to alcohol advertisements, or normalisation of seeing people drunk, according to researchers at University College London.

The study’s lead author, Amrit Kaur Purba, believes that there needs to be “tailored guidance for the length of time young people should spend on social media, accounting for their individual needs and circumstances.” Purba also suggested that there needs to be “regulation around how alcohol-related content is displayed to young users.”


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