Reading Research Blog

Retreating glaciers: the science behind the story

Professor Maria Shaghedenova’s research looks at the shrinkage of glaciers due to climate change, and the effect of this on rivers and lakes. Her work recently featured in a  visually stunning interactive New York Times piece about melting glaciers in Kazakhstan. Here she tells us about the University of Reading science behind the story.

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From Brexit to the peasants’ revolt: what does it mean to be a ‘rebel’?

The word ‘rebel’ is usually associated with violence, but we hear it almost daily at the moment as MPs grapple over Brexit. Medieval historian Andy Ford explores the fourteenth century origins of the word and finds some similarities with how it is being used today.

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We revealed the value of Zambia’s wild yam. Why it matters

Lusala is a wild yam that grows in the forests of Zambia. Research has highlighted that this tasty tuber is part of the staple diet of 96% of rural households in Zambia – but rampant deforestation is putting it under threat. In a recent post for The Conversation, Reading’s Professor Richard Ellis, Dr Alastair Culham and Donald Zulu say that harnessing the knowledge of elders in the community is the secret to protecting this vital food supply – and the forests it grows in – for future generations. 

People in Zambia selling charcoal by the roadside made from burning the forests. Deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate in Zambia. Image credit: SuSanA Secretariat/Flickr, CC-BY-SA

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Using design to beat bad bugs in Rwanda

As the government unveils its 5-year national action plan for tackling antimicrobial resistance , a University of Reading team has been in Rwanda, using design thinking to explore ways of explaining the dangers of drug-resistant bugs in the context of a community pharmacy. Professor Sue Walker, the project lead, explains more here.

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Hydrogen trains are coming – can they get rid of diesel for good?

Hydrogen-powered trains offer promise for reducing the carbon footprint of railways – but could they be adopted in the UK?  Brian Scott-Quinn, Emeritus Professor of Finance from our ICMA Centre, explores the possibilities in a new post for The Conversation.

The world’s first hydrogen train. Image credit: Linus Follert/Flickr, CC-BY-SA-2.0

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Stronger justice to keep children safe

Although most  UN peacekeeping personnel perform their jobs with courage, dedication and professionalism, a few commit sexual offences that can ruin lives and betray the trust of those that they were sent to protect. Rosa Freedman, Professor of Law, Conflict and Global Development, recently travelled 16,000 miles across three continents to meet with victim’s rights advocates, UNICEF and representatives of the UN. Together they are developing  proposals for policies that will help keep more children safe, as she explains here.

In January, I was invited to speak at the UK Mission to the UN in New York on Sexual Abuse and Exploitation: Justice and Accountability. The meeting, with the UN Secretary General’s Victim’s rights advocate Jane Connors, also included Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon and Jonathan Allen, the UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, and representatives from UNICEF.

It was a valuable opportunity to highlight my work with the UK charity Keeping Children Safe. We are implementing a robust, evidence-based toolkit for UN peacekeeping forces to help reduce the number of offences and to hold perpetrators to account.

A complex legal situation

A key problem within humanitarian and conflict settings is that current laws, policies and practices operate across  international, regional and local scales. This means that organisations require knowledge and understanding of the range of laws, policies and contexts that apply. This is particularly difficult when those organisations have to act quickly in an emergency situation, or when rule of law has broken down within a society. In those most fragile contexts, the opportunity for impunity for crimes or harms caused are significantly higher.

We work with each organisation or entity to carry out a comprehensive mapping of laws and practice on safeguarding in the countries in which they operate. We identify areas of weakness and strength and then co-produce safeguarding measures. These measures are sensitive to the local culture but uphold international standards on who is a child and what constitutes abuse.

International policy

The work is helping to inform policy development at an international level. Following my meeting in New York I travelled another 7,000 miles to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, to speak at the United Nation Peacekeeping Ministerial Preparatory Meeting to discuss  ‘Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: Strengthening victim assistance and policy coherence’.

The primary aim here was to finalise our proposals for coherent and pragmatic policies to support the Secretary General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative (A4P). The proposals will be shared, and potentially adopted, at a summit of the Peacekeeping Ministerial at the United Nations Secretariat Headquarters in New York on 29 March 2019 themed ‘Uniformed Capabilities, Performance and Protection’.

Since 2000, the UN Security Council has set successive targets to increase the deployment of women to peace operations in military and policing roles to help redress issues of gender balance. More recently, in 2015, the UN Security Council called the number of women in military and police peace- keeping contingents  to be doubled by 2020.  Since  then, the overall rate has increased by just 0.2%, from 4.2% to 4.4%.

43 ideas for change

To accelerate change, the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative lists 43 undertakings, focussing on peace keeping, people, partnerships, performance and political solutions, to renew political commitment to peacekeeping operations. It also lays the groundwork for ensuring that the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) initiative is integrated into peacekeeping efforts.

We continue to work in countries around the world to reduce levels of abuse. We are delighted to be working with international policy makers and influencers to endorse the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse with its victim-centred approach.

Read more about Rosa Freedman’s research and resources

Find out more about Keep Children Safe campaigns and resources


Spreading the word about snakebite

While most of us were tucking into our Christmas dinners, Dr Sakthi Vaiyapuri was travelling around southern India teaching people how to avoid being bitten by venomous snakes. He talked Sarah Harrop through pictures from his trip, what he achieved – and the snakebite diagnostic test he’s developing here in his Reading lab which he hopes will save many more lives.

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Business as usual: Zimbabwe in crisis

Unrest has broken out in Zimbabwe after fuel prices were doubled overnight, leaving many people unable to even afford the commute to work. Dr Heike Schmidt says this is business as usual for a government which, despite having a new leader, remains largely unchanged since the Mugabe era.

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Q fever: a former soldier is suing the government over it, but what is this mysterious disease?

Q fever has been in the news recently – but what exactly is it? In a new post for The Conversation, Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology here at Reading, sheds light on this largely unheard-of disease which can be picked up from farm animals.

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The dark side of Drake

Five centuries ago, Sir Francis Drake had a hero’s return from the first English circumnavigation of the globe, bringing home treasure to a delighted Queen Elizabeth. But how much of a hero was Drake in reality? Fresh from his appearance on Channel 5’s ‘Great British Ships‘, Reading historian Dr Richard Blakemore  explores some lesser known truths about this momentous voyage.

Francis Drake in California, 1579; engraving by Theodore de Bry, 1590. Image from wikimedia commons.
Francis Drake in California, 1579; engraving by Theodore de Bry, 1590. Image from wikimedia commons.

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