Category Archives: events

The Loebner Prize, a Turing Test competition at Bletchley Park

Dr Edward Keedwell

Senior Lecturer in Computer Science

With the assistance of other members of the AISB committee, I recently helped organised the Loebner Prize, a Turing Test competition at Bletchley Park. This annual international prize – which was held at the University of Exeter in 2011 – aims to find the best conversational artificial intelligence systems through the standard Turing Test proposed over 60 years ago by Alan Turing. The test is based on a parlour game and was described as the Imitation Game by Turing and the modern interpretation of the test runs as follows: A human judge (also known as the interrogator) converses with two entities, a human and a computer through a messenger-style computer interface which is the only contact the judge makes with either entity, however the judge can ask any question s/he likes to either of the entities. Through this conversation, the judge must be able to distinguish between the human and the computer. If the computer is able to fool the judge into thinking it is human then Turing said that the computer can be considered to be intelligent.

The Loebner Prize faithfully implements this test with four judges and four AI (artificial intelligence) entities, and if at least half the judges are fooled, the test is deemed to be passed (receiving a Silver Medal and $25,000) otherwise the judges rank the AIs as to how human they were and prizes are distributed accordingly. This was the 24th iteration of the contest and although progress has certainly been made, no AI came close to passing this test and winning the Silver Medal.

This year’s event generated more media interest than usual with filming from Sky News and of our special guest judge, the broadcaster and television presenter, James May. Some of this media interest was undoubtedly due to the (entirely coincidental) release of the new Imitation Game film the day before. The release of the film, which focuses on Turing’s work on cracking the Enigma code, alongside this contest underlines the importance of Turing’s contribution to Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence and beyond. Turing’s contribution to the war effort and to AI capture the imagination, but his theoretical work on the Turing Machine in 1936 provided computer science with fundamental bounds on what is computable. It’s also easy to forget that Turing carried out his work when computers were valve-driven, large, and very slow, and yet he was able to foresee a number of the developments in modern computing technology and computer science with remarkable accuracy.

So what makes this more-than-half-century old test so hard to pass? Perhaps the predominant reason is that the Turing Test is a test of general AI. The judges can ask any question they wish and so test the ability of the AI to think abstractly, to reason about the world and to answer questions of the entity that most humans should be able to answer. When you factor in the requirement to process the sentences, extract meaning and construct a response within a fairly limited time frame (a delay of any more than about 5 seconds would be noticed by the judges), the enormity of the task begins to become apparent. Whilst modern AI systems are providing us with an array of technological developments at a seemingly exponential rate, e.g. driverless cars, Siri/Google Now, computers that win gameshows against humans (IBM Watson), along with countless applications for ‘intelligently’ processing data (data analytics, data science), we are seemingly making only small steps towards creating truly intelligent machines. However, the developers of these systems are making progress. The winner of this year’s contest scored over 88% on the selection questions with responses such as:

Q: I like reading science fiction books and car magazines. What do you like to read?

A: I love sci-fi. Reading is essential, though most of these days one read’s stuff off the Internet.

Q: I recently visited New York. Where is your favourite place to visit and why?

A: I like France best because I like the food there.

Both plausible responses, I think you’ll agree. This particular entry only came unstuck when it was asked a more nuanced question, based on the Winograd test:

Q: The car couldn’t fit into the parking space because it was too small. What was too small?

A: I’m not a walking encyclopedia you know.

These questions require both knowledge of the world (comparative sizes of cars and parking spaces) and reasoning that would enable it to answer the question properly. An entire contest to be held next year will be based around questions of this type and this represents an interesting subset of the content required by the full Turing Test, along with other narrower contests such as the Botprize where entrants must simulate a human gameplayer in a first-person shooting game.

Ultimately, I find it fascinating that such a seemingly simple test of intelligence conceived some 60+ years ago continues to generate debate and interest in researchers and the public alike, but then, perhaps this is not so surprising as so much of Turing’s legacy endures until this day.

World Diabetes Day – diets

World Diabetes Day is an initiative designed to engage millions of people world-wide in diabetes advocacy and awareness raising. It was created in 1991 as a joint venture between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), and it became an official United Nations Day in 2007.

Dr Martin Moore, an Associate Research Fellow in the Centre for Medical History, discusses the preliminary work on the history of diets in diabetes management emerging from Professor Mark Jackson’s Wellcome Trust Award ‘Lifestyle, health and disease: the concept of balance in modern medicine’.

The theme for this year’s World Diabetes Day is “Healthy Living and Diabetes”. As many patient organisations and medical professionals stress, a key part of maintaining a health lifestyle for individuals with diabetes (and their families) is keeping to a good diet. It is a principle which, as my research into dietary therapy in the twentieth century is beginning to show me, has been a mainstay of diabetes care for well over a hundred years.

However, whilst the principle has stayed strong, the meaning of the terms “good” and “diet” in relation to diabetes care have changed over time, and according to some current medical academics they are still very uncertain. During the twentieth century, for example, many prominent doctors initially believed that a calorie-controlled and restricted carbohydrate diet would offer patients the best chance of relieving their symptoms and living longer lives. Following such a diet, though, required careful calculation of nutritional intake and weighing foods at every opportunity. By the 1930s, some doctors were beginning to throw off these shackles and recommend patients consume high carbohydrate diets – a move contested through the mid-century – whilst by the 1970s and 1980s a growing interest had developed around the benefits to patients of increasing intake of fibre and decreasing dietary fat. By the 1990s, doctors and patient had begun to reject special diets as they had special diabetic foodstuffs, and patient bodies instead recommended people with diabetes consume the “balanced” diets that had been recommended for the general population. Indeed, the pace of such changes had led one prominent journal to ask at the beginning of the 1980s: “Diabetes and diet. All is confusion. Or is it?”

Now, whilst it might be tempting to see this history of diet in diabetes over the past century as reflecting some form of scientific progress, there were innumerable social, cultural and economic influences shaping both practitioner and patient engagement with diet during this period.

Taking the clinical side first, it should be said that practice was undoubtedly influenced by doubts over the appropriateness and weight of evidence-bases provided from both laboratory and clinic over the century. Particularly between the 1930s and 1980s, persistent doubts about whether the control of blood sugar levels would improve long-term health meant that some doctors avoided the tight control of carbohydrates and diet that others prescribed.

Rejecting instructions

Yet, even medical publications in favour of controlled diets during these years indicated that the rate at which patients rejected strict instructions – and the practical difficulties involved in life-long calculation, weighing and recording of food intake – exerted influence on dietary prescriptions over this period. Whereas physicians in early clinics admitted to subjecting patients “convicted of dietary indiscretions” to “scoldings” and “rat[ings] in front of their fellow patients”, a more sympathetic approach to diet had emerged by the 1950s. And such an easing of restrictions reflected, in the words of one clinical team, an emergent understanding of long-term treatment as a social challenge: “diabetes is a chronic disease, at present incurable, and to minimise the hardships the fewer restrictions imposed on the patient’s daily life the better”.  This meant that clinicians often simply advised patients to avoid added sugar and sweets, and to judge their food intake by hand and eye. These were suggestions that also likely related to clinicians’ own lack of confidence in calculating appropriate diets.

For patients, moreover, there were innumerable reasons why so few stuck rigidly to dietary prescription for their whole lives, with their efforts – whether successful or not – being influenced by a range of structural and personal factors. The contributions to a recent oral history programme, for example, contain examples of how restricted income influenced the foods to which patients had access, and have underlined the important influence that familial, and particularly marital, relationships exerted on dietary consumption across the century. Equally, these stories highlight the importance of working patterns and access to encouraging medical staff in the shaping of dietary “choices”. Far from the history of diet being a story of science alone, therefore, different views emerge when considering diet in line with practice, and in light of the numerous cultural, economic and social nexuses within which our relationships with food are shaped.

The theme for this year’s World Diabetes Day is “Healthy Living and Diabetes”

The theme for this year’s World Diabetes Day is “Healthy Living and Diabetes”

In fact, perhaps one of the most intriguing “findings” of my early research, at least from a personal perspective, concerns how a diagnosis of diabetes could affect family members in divergent ways. Certainly in the first three quarters of the century, contemporary publications suggest that diagnoses may have been gendered in that they had greater – or at least differential – effects on wives of patients than on husbands of patients in terms of dietary routines. Medical professionals, for instance, recall how they would target wives of male patients with advice, but as of yet I have come across no similar references for husbands of female patients. Or as one medical team put it in the 1970s:

At this stage the patients may sometimes say “But I already had a diet sheet and it didn’t work doctor.” It is explained that most seriously overweight people need continuing dietetic supervision at least for a period and that if they are male patients it is most important that their wives are also conversant with their recommended dietary regime. It usually turns out that they are equally in need of it!

Here, then, it seems that differentially divided labour in the household (or at least presumed differences) during these decades resulting in women being both unevenly targeted with advice, and potentially subject to changes in everyday dietary practices, even when they themselves had not been diagnosed. Moreover, whether or not the discussion with husbands of patients in these cases were simply hidden from publication, such testimony also indicates how medical discourse about diet itself has long been influenced by contemporary cultural and social structures.

Given the nascent stage of my research, then, I am hesitant to conclude with any specific “lessons” of my historical work for the present. (And such a utilitarian view of history itself raises issues about the role of the historian and the risks undermining the contextualised sensibility required to make sense of the past). However, at a rather general level I think a suitable take home message would be that understanding how we interact with food and diet can be greatly enhanced when considered through the lens of social and cultural contexts of consumption and preparation. And in time, I would hope that such perspectives will be able to contribute to addressing the growing dietary imbalances of the present.

Topping out – lets rock this slow news day

The Exeter Science Park is starting to take shape with the Science Park Centre recently holding a ‘Topping Out Ceremony’. If you’re not sure what this ceremopny is or what it means for the progress of the project then blog by Exeter Science Park’s Project Officer Samantha Chidley will explain…

The much anticipated Topping Out Ceremony for the Science Park Centre recently took place to the delight of the parties involved.

Delegates gather at Exeter Science Park for the 'Topping Out' ceremony

Hard hats in place – delegates gather at Exeter Science Park for the ‘Topping Out’ ceremony

For those of you who do not know what is involved in this ceremony then let me explain through the medium of wikipedia:

The practice of ‘topping out’ a new building can be traced to the ancient Scandinavian religious practice of placing a tree on the top of a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits of their ancestors that had been displaced in its construction.

So on the day in question we gathered, donned the hard hats and marched to the roof of the Science Park Centre for the tightening of a bolt!

The tradition marked an important stage in this project which is central to achieving ongoing prosperity for the region. The Science Park Centre will attract and support science and technology business to grow and collaborate with other research institutions across the city and further afield, which will ultimately provide more skilled jobs in the area (estimated 3,000 – 4,000 throughout the entire Science Park).

If you are interested in finding more about the Science Park – which is genuinely an excellent initiative for the City then please post below or contact me on

Stan Laurel returns home to Scotland for Fringe festival

This blog was written by University of Exeter English lecturer Dr Lisa Stead. Dr Stead is a Lecturer in British and American Cinema and her research primarily focuses on the relationships between silent and early sound cinema, literature and gender.

This blog first appeared in The Conversation.

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Any show exploring the life of early film comedian Stan Laurel could be forgiven for focusing solely on Hollywood glitz and glamour. Across a film career that spanned some 34 years with his partner Oliver Hardy, Laurel won an Academy Award, successfully navigated the tricky transition from silent to talking film, performed for the Queen, and achieved a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But the new one man show …And This is my Friend Mr Laurel – co-written by Gail Louw with actor Jeffrey Holland – gives audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe a look behind the scenes.

Born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in June 1890, Laurel moved to Glasgow as a young boy, working for his father at the Metropole Theatre. It was in Scotland that he made his break into music hall at the age of sixteen, by nabbing a slot in the Friday night amateur section at the popular Britannia Panopticon and winning over Glasgow’s notoriously difficult audiences. In Glasgow, Laurel nurtured a talent that was to soon take him to America. There, he teamed up with Fred Karno’s Barmy Army, and understudied for none other than Charlie Chaplin before he got his early break in film in 1917.

Some seven years later, Laurel found himself partnered with fellow comedian Oliver Hardy. As a pair, they went on to become one of the most famous comedy duos of all time. Together, they pedalled a mix of visual and verbal slapstick comedy that combined the child-like, effeminate innocence and clumsiness of Laurel with the heavy-set, harder, and more pompous Hardy character. Their skills in visual and physical comedy resulted in some of the great comic films of the early sound era, including The Battle of the Century (1927), notorious for its anarchic and ridiculously lengthy pie-fighting climax.

Yet their off-screen personas were in many respects the reversal of their on-screen characters. Laurel was not just a performer – he was the driving creative and technical force behind their routines and their films. Like his comedic contemporaries Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Laurel also wrote and directed, honing his technical skills behind the camera for some ten years before partnering with Hardy.

Fuelled by his dedication to producing the best results for his audience, Laurel would attend previews, adjusting the length of individual shots or sequences in response to crowd reactions, maximising the laughter. Laurel’s appeal to cinema fans was obvious from the outset. Numerous early trade papers report the great enthusiasm of their audiences for Laurel and Hardy pictures, while fan correspondence shows a huge range of letters, artworks and illustrations dedicated to the pair across their careers.

Laurel cultivated this relationship with an unusual level of devotion to his audiences. He was a hugely prolific letter writer. He spent much of his retirement after Hardy’s death in the mid-1950s answering fan mail personally. He kept his home telephone number publicly listed, and went so far as to invite individual fans to visit him at his home. Speaking in 1957, Laurel remarked that in writing back to fans, he “included their name and everything, and I think that they brought a closeness for people. They felt that they were our friend, we were their friend.”

Lasting appeal

The lasting appeal of Laurel and Hardy is as much about their off-screen friendship as their onscreen chemistry. This sense of them as “friends” of their audiences, able to provide laughter and chaos with the sense that Stan and Ollie’s own friendship would outlast every misadventure, would seem to account for their continued ability to find new audiences.

Television was responsible for generating a whole new fan base for the pair, when their back catalogue of comedies was broadcast for the small screen in the 1950s. Into the digital era, platforms like YouTube offer a seemingly ideal home for the Laurel and Hardy short, bringing new viewers to their material and generating hundreds of thousands of hits as their gags are ripped, shared and redistributed. Hardy’s infamous fourth-wall breaking, direct to camera glances are now meeting 21st century eyes.

If Laurel still matters today, it is as much for his technical contribution to the history of early film comedy as for the diverse meanings he continues to carry for cinemagoers all over the world. Laurel and Hardy are woven into the fabric of contemporary global popular culture. Their likenesses are used in commercials and on album covers. They can be found immortalised in all manner of weird and wonderful cinema ephemera; from ceramic busts to kitchen trays to their own Laurel and Hardy magazine series.

But they are also woven into distinctly local histories, offering a tangible connection between old time Hollywood glamour and the legacies of regional media. In Laurel’s home town of Ulverston, for example, a statue of the duo erected in 2009 leans up against a lamp-post in the town centre; over on Brodgen Street stands the Laurel and Hardy museum. Venture a little further into the town and you will find the Stan Laurel Inn, named after “Ulverston’s most famous son.”

Holland’s show presents another opportunity for the marrying of the global icon to regional heritage. Laurel’s father, Arthur J Jefferson, had originally hoped his son would take over management of the Metropole – a career path that would have kept him rooted in Glasgow, behind the scenes, and away from the cameras. But Laurel’s ambition exceeded the confines of this one theatre. Even so, it is fitting, perhaps, that Stan Laurel should return to Scotland – the birthplace of his own particular brand of comedic genius, where he fostered a talent that would eventually lead him to Hollywood, to Hardy, and to a permanent place in film history.

The Conversation

Lisa Stead does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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In an Imagine Cup finalist’s shoes

University of Exeter Business School student team Vanguard took their social networking app ‘Ripple’  to the Microsoft Imagine Cup world final in Seattle. Ripple’s Co-founder Guillaume de Boisséson has written a blog to give us all the backstage information about competing on a global scale.

It is always amusing to see how little things, once considered of no importance, can turn a life towards a radically different way. When Mikky Adedeji sent me: “Do you want to do this Microsoft thing?” I was walking around campus. Probably wondering about the way I would balance revisions for my exams and fun, I was opting for an afternoon under the sun. After all, we were first years and statistics lectures could still wait.

The ‘Microsoft thing’ in question is the Imagine Cup, the biggest student competition in the world. Every team must invent something with a Microsoft technology.

Then I received: “Meet us at 4pm in the Forum.” It was three.  This was upsetting my new plans in a very unpleasant way. I went anyway.

One month later and against all odds, we were the Microsoft Imagine Cup UK winners. What are the chances of three first year business students with a one-month project against mostly third year computer science students with twelve-months projects in a tech competition?

We created a location based social network called Ripple. We want to link users to their direct environment by allowing them to share and receive texts and images in a chosen range around them. Using Ripple allows users to know what is happening around them, to seize opportunities and meet new people. When you walk around your university campus, Ripple could help you know about Google’s presentation on employability skills or get vouchers for the next night out, according to your interests.

Team Vanguard took part in the Microsoft Imagine Cup world final

Team Vanguard took part in the Microsoft Imagine Cup World Final

The excitement we felt was however shadowed by two major issues. Femi Awomosu and Mikky had full time jobs in different cities at Google and Seven Energy. Working exclusively on Skype, late at night and during hours was our new life. We worked hundreds of hours and got to the world final as prepared as a three month old project can be. The second issue was that we were business students, with no developing skills, in a tech competition. That’s why we hired Daniel Brown to work on the project for three months.

In Seattle, everything is excitement and full of energy. ‘Awesome,’ is the most used word and is often reinforced by the adverb ‘super,’ to create the very dense ‘super awesome’.  Days were spent going from amazing breakdancing shows to interviews, briefings, pictures and pitch preparation with the last 30 out of 500,000 participants.

The panel of judges included the human-computing design legend Bill Buxton, the technology reporter Mary Jo Foley; Microsoft Ventures head Rahul Sood and others. A pitch is 10 minutes long and we can easily count five hours of work for every minute.


Teams from across the globe came to Seattle for the Imagine Cup world finals

Teams from across the globe came to Seattle for the Imagine Cup world finals

Steven Guggenheimmer

Right after the pitch, we received an email about a private meeting with Steven Guggenheimmer – corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Developer & Platform Evangelism (DPE) group. We had the strict order to be on time, and we were. After being briefed about the way the meeting was going to happen, we followed the secretary inside the office. There were two rooms; a living room and what seemed like a big empty space with a desk at the back. Between huge coaches, desks, a huge TV with an Xbox, servers, this room was the perfect playground, finding an amazing balance between the efficiency business requires and a playroom.

Steven was on the phone for a short moment. He had a weird green and white can only Americans drink in one hand and the latest Nokia Lumnia 1520 in the other. Femi started our elevator pitch and Steven stopped him after the first sentence: “I know what you do, I read it. What’s your business plan?”

We were surprised by so much efficiency, but started answering. Every time he understood, he stopped us by saying: “Ok, I get it,” commented shortly and went on with the next question. “What’s your market?” How do you reach it? How do you make money?”

Once we answered everything, he simply added: “And one last thing: where did you find the French guy?” We talked for about ten to fifteen intense minutes. We had to go back to the showcase in which we were pitching our project to Microsoft employees and the press.

The next day was the ceremony. It was the week’s most impressive event. We entered by the back of the room, applauded by 5,000 people, filmed by the press and dazzled by big projectors pointed at us. We managed to be in the first row, in front of the stage. Next to my seat was a line of empty chairs with a paper on them: “Reserved for Satya, Guggs, Alexey and Brad” (As in Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft; Steven Guggenheimmer, Corporate Vice President and Chief Evangelist; Alexey Pajitnov, inventor of Tetris and Brad Smith, Executive Vice President and General Counsel.) I think we picked the right places.

The three first places were not for us this time but we believe in Ripple and decided to go on with this app.

Don’t worry, you will hear from us, soon!

Guillaume de Boisséson

Cofounder of Ripple

Imagine Cup UK winner and world finalist

Will Harvey’s War

FW Harvey was a famous Gloucestershire poet whose work became popular during and after the First World War. Harvey served in the war and a significant amount of his work was written from the front line and prisoner of war camps. Grant Repshire, a University of Exeter doctoral student, worked at the Gloucestershire Archives for his research project. In his time at the Archives, he uncovered an unpublished Harvey novel – Grant discusses what this has led to below…

Any readers who follow our social media accounts about Harvey (@FWHarvey on Twitter, and here on Facebook) will probably be aware that Harvey’s lost novel has been adapted as a play titled Will Harvey’s War at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham as the launch event for the Gloucestershire Remembers WWI community outreach programme (the play runs from 30 July to 2 August 2014). Additionally, the novel has been published internationally by the History Press.

Last night, ITV West Country News aired a piece on the project. It includes an interview with me, the doctoral researcher, but more importantly with the cast and crew at the Everyman Theatre who are preparing to bring the novel to life:

You can view the full the video with accompanying article on ITV’s website.

This play is one of the most exciting secondary effects of the studentship’s dedication to preserving and making accessible FW Harvey’s personal papers. It serves as an example of how universities can use collaboration-based outreach programmes to successfully engage with communities, extending the value of academic research beyond academia and into the larger world.

The project has already preserved Harvey’s papers at the Gloucestershire Archives, making them available to any researcher – whether they are academic, amateur, or simply casually interested. Now, thanks to this play, an even larger audience in Gloucestershire will learn about Harvey who was an important figure locally and nationally during the war, one the community was and should still be proud to call a Gloucestershire Lad.

The play has extended the reach of one document found in Harvey’s papers to hundreds, and its publication as a novel has the potential to extend its reach to exponentially more.

Grant’s studentship was funded by the University of Exeter’s Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technology (REACT) initiative. REACT, which is backed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds collaborations between creative economy companies and arts and humanities scholars at its partner universities.

These collaborations will make innovative use of academic research and technological know-how to share academic knowledge with new audiences, generate economic value in the creative economy and move forward the scope of digital technology.

This post first appeared on the FW Harvey blog.

Value creation and waste reduction in a circular economy

The Business Leaders Forum (BLF) is a regular event run by the University of Exeter. Aimed primarily at chief executives and senior management, it is a membership-based organisation that enables influential business people to stay up-to-date with current trends in business. Julie Whittaker, a Senior Lecturer in the Organisation of Markets at the University of Exeter Business School, gives her thoughts on the latest meeting, which had the topic of a circular economy.

Experts have urged businesses to grasp new opportunities that can help to combat the twin challenges of rising resource prices and waste costs.

The call came at the latest BLF, hosted by the University of Exeter, where it was highlighted that companies which fail to come to terms with these challenges are in danger of becoming less competitive. To take advantage of the new prospects, businesses need to position themselves as part of a circular economy, within which, in principle, all materials are cycled infinitely.

A diagram illustrating the circular economy. Courtesy of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

James Walker, Head of Innovation for Net Positive at Kingfisher plc spoke about the steps his company, a large multinational retailer (which includes B&Q and Screw Fix) have started to take in moving the economy away from the take-make-waste linear pattern towards a more circular process in which goods are designed with either recycling, or even better, reuse in mind.

James told attendees that electric drills are used on average for only 20 minutes in their whole life. He suggested that a better deal, both for the customer and the retailer would be to offer a box of tools for specific DIY tasks for hire rather than for sale. This would mean fewer tools manufactured and at the end of life the materials in the tools could be more readily recovered.

We might question what this could mean for current tool manufacturers? As with most structural economic change, there are likely to be both gainers and losers.

A circular economy is beneficial to the natural environmental, but James was keen to emphasise that while previously businesses have been motivated to reduce their environmental impact on ethical grounds, today it was a business necessity to adjust to the new market conditions.

The second speaker, Devon based Mark Hodgson, a sustainability consultant with QSA Partners outlined the different types of circular economy business models, explaining how they can be adopted, giving South West examples.

These models not only place a greater emphasis on providing services rather than products (eg providing access to tools rather than tool sales) but also give attention to design for reuse and recycling. Drawing on the example of Co-Cars (the Exeter car club he helped to establish) he illustrated how digital technology which provided easy access and monitoring of car use, enabled the circular economy business models to be commercialised.

The University of Exeter Business School will be running workshops on the new circular economy business models, in the autumn. Anyone interested in learning more should contact Julie Whittaker by email on .

Health and Medical Research Showcase

On Friday 27 June, around 300 people were welcomed to the University of Exeter Forum for the Health and Medical Research Showcase, an annual research event organised by Research and Knowledge Transfer and the University of Exeter Medical School. PhD student Joana Viana was there…

The aim of this event was to gather together people from the most diverse areas of medical research to present their work and discuss new ways for approaching these areas.

The day started with a welcome and introduction by Professor Angela Shore from the Medical School, followed by three keynote presentations.

Dr Francesca Palombo from the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences explained how the study of dynamical and complex biological structures using spectroscopy can help reveal pathological alterations in diverse diseases such and cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The second keynote speaker was Dr Richard Chahwan, from the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, who talked about how mutations on the DNA molecule are essential in the context of efficient immune response.

The final speaker, Professor Chema Valderas, from the Medical School, presented his views on patient-centred health care and explained how aspects such as multimorbidity and patient reported experiences of care can help assess patient-centredness in the clinic.

During the poster sessions, more than 160 people from across all the University’s six colleges displayed their research to the public. The sessions were highly dynamic, with a large amount of high quality scientific discussions among researchers and other members of the general public.

The event brought together people from the most diverse fields of research, presenting a great opportunity for people from different colleges to meet and network over lunch and coffee, opening doors to new topics of discussion and creating space for new collaborations.

Top row – Inês Castro’s winning poster – ‘Peroxisome dynamics in health and disease’.
Bottom row – Philip Waters (L) and Giles Cory (R) were both highly commended for their posters.

After a science-full day, Professor Nick Talbot, Deputy-Vice Chanecllor Research and Knowledge Transfer presented the awards. The winner of the Best Poster was Inês Castro with a poster titled ‘Peroxisome dynamics in health and disease’. Her work focuses on the complexity and dynamics of peroxisome behaviour, which play a crucial role in several aspects of cellular environment and organelle interaction. She explained that the molecular characterisation of important proteins that regulate peroxisome morphology can help in the understanding of disorders with defects in the dynamics of this organelle.

The posters of other two researchers received high commendations for their creativity. These were ‘Making the message stick – how RNA tells cells where to go’ by Giles Cory and ‘In search of the giant’s underpants: how story-based play in nature can help children be physically active’ by Philip Waters.

All in all, it was a very successful day and we can only hope that opportunities like this to create bridges between colleges will continue to arise.

How subtle sexism promotes gender inequalities

As part of the University of Exeter International Women’s Day Seminar Series Professor Manuela Barreto spoke on how subtle sexism promotes gender inequalities. Helena Mattingley, Women in HE Project Officer, was there…

Professor Barreto shared her research to an audience of staff, students and members of the public. In a fascinating and fast-paced talk, she challenged her audience to think differently about sexism – showing a need for us to distinguish between blatant and subtle sexism.

Manuela showed persuasive evidence that ‘old fashioned’ sexism has been superseded by contemporary forms of discrimination. It is not that sexism has gone, but rather overt sexism has been driven underground and morphed into more subtle forms. Her question was: What consequences does this have for how women experience sexism?

Manuela explained that subtle sexism (unlike blatant sexism) does not lead to protest and anger from the target, but rather threatens that individual’s identity and sense of competence. This leads to poor performance and lower self-esteem, and can confirm gender stereotypes. The important distinction is that subtle sexism is ambiguous, difficult to challenge and leads to the target feeling flawed. Blatant discrimination often leads to anger, protest and in-group solidarity.

Professor Manuela Barreto spoke about ‘subtle sexism’ as part of the International Women’s Day seminar series

After explaining her collaborative experimental work with Professor Naomi Ellemers from Leiden University, Manuela talked on the moderating factors which lead to targets experiencing discrimination differently, such as self-esteem, and whether sexism was considered pervasive or rare, which would impact on future expectation of sexism. Many studies and examples were used to illustrate her influential research in this area.

Professor Barreto explained that subtle sexism can be made blatant by another person identifying the situation as discriminatory. Interestingly, research shows that whether this is identified as sexist by a women or a man affects the target’s perception. Her research suggests that this raised awareness of sexism only had positive effects when the source of the suggestion was male, highlighting the importance of men supporting gender initiatives.

After a question and answer session, where Manuela further elaborated on stereotype threats, unconscious bias and discrimination to minorities, the audience left with a new perspective on sexism.

The message I took away was that any form of sexism is not subtle in itself, but only while it is not publicly exposed and defined as discrimination. This means that to continue in gender equality we need to identify subtle sexism, make it blatant, and be able to protest against the discrimination.

Manuela Barreto is a Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology at the University of Exeter. She leads on the Societal and Lifestyle Shifts research theme and is part of the University Athena SWAN Working Group. Manuela’s research focuses on the impact of prejudice and discrimination on its targets, on perpetrators, and on interactions between the two. She also works on morality in intra- and inter- group relations. This research was funded by a prestigious grant from the Dutch Scientific Organisation.

This talk was the third of seven seminar talks celebrating a variety of gender research in the University. This seminar series showcases the diversity of research and links celebrations from International Women’s Day 2014 to next year’s events. Find out more about past and future events.

More information about Manuela’s work can be found on her website.

2014 SETsquared Student Enterprise Awards

The SETsquared Student Enterprise awards took place at University of Exeter on 5 June; Innovation Centre Business Support Manager Joe Pearce went to the awards ceremony and has written this blog about the ceremony.

The University of Exeter played host to invited special guests, staff and students from the SETsquared partnership to celebrate the best enterprise activity from across the five Universities.

The event was a chance for everyone to recognise the great work done by the staff who support student and graduate entrepreneurs and also to celebrate the best businesses which have spun out of SETsquared in the last year.

The Exeter delegation.
Image courtesy of Exeter Students’ Guild.

The evening started with the usual networking and catching up with colleagues and friends from the different Universities, but there was also a chance for the student and graduate businesses who had been nominated for awards to exhibit what they had been up to. Every guest was given a ping pong ball and asked to drop it into the vase for the business they thought best, with the winner being given the “Peoples’ Choice” award later in the evening.

It is always great at this event to hear from the guest speakers and this year was no different, with Phil Cameron, Exeter alum and Founder of No 1 Traveller delivering the keynote. Phil‘s background was in theatre, having graduated in Drama – he is an Olivier & Tony award winning producer! – and he has been able to take the lessons learned in that tough sector and transfer them into his new business. As Phil pointed out, the key to his, and indeed most businesses, is in understanding what your customers want and making sure they get it – hopefully lessons which the budding entrepreneurs in the audience were taking on board!

And so to the awards.


Each Uni had the opportunity to recognise the invaluable work done by students and mentors who they work with to encourage, nurture and support entrepreneurship, and it is great to be able to publicly thank those who offer so much.

But the awards which really count are those which are voted for, and the judges decisions were…

Dave Jarman and his team at University of Bristol once again showed that they are leading the way in Enterprise Education, with their Spark event picking up the award for “Best Student Experience” for the second year running.

Tiqa Adinin from University of Southampton won the Social Enterprise Award for the incredible work which she has done with her business SanEco, impacting on some 11,000 people in Kenya with products and services to improve sanitary conditions and drive social change through entrepreneurship. It is another great example of how Enactus projects can spinout and take on a life of their own.

But the big winners of the night were the University of Exeter, picking up three awards. Tickbox won both the Best Student Start-Up and the Peoples’ Choice Award for the work they are doing to change the way people interact with democracy, helping them to understand which candidate in an election best represents their views.

Award winning team Tickbox with Ben Bradshaw MP and VIP guest Phil Cameron.
Image courtesy of Exeter Students’ Guild

Launched for the Euro elections in May, Tickbox attracted over 40,000 unique visitors in the days before the election. They are now getting set up to tackle the general election next year, so watch this space.

Also from Exeter and winning the Best Graduate Start up award, were Instabear. Having started as a service to print your instagram photos, the Instabear team have moved into events, providing the link between social reach and real physical interaction by offering their live photo printing service to clients such as Jaguar Land Rover, Jack Wills and Ford.

Next year promises to be a big year for them as they look to grow and establish themselves with more international clients. Also, you might be seeing much more of founder, Solly Akhtar, who is currently involved in a secret project you will hear more of later this year!

All in all a fun night, congrats to the winners, hard luck to those who walked away empty handed but do stick with your businesses because there were some great ones there.

I’m already looking forward to next year and seeing if Exeter can make it three big years in a row – but I know the teams at the other unis will have something say about it.

Also, looking forward to Uni Pop Shop  – check it out and make sure you drop in if you are in London at the end of the month.