Bloomin’ algae and blood vessels: researchers tell it straight at DCU

For the competition Tell it Straight, researchers must explain their work simply and quickly

Algal bloom off Ireland: it might look beautiful in satellite images, but its effects are anything but

Algal bloom off Ireland: it might look beautiful in satellite images, but its effects are anything but

 

How can you tell quickly if an algal bloom is about to hit? What’s the best way to teach Chinese? And how can we use materials to repair injuries in the body? Those were some of the questions posed by researchers at Tell it Straight at Dublin City University recently. In this annual competition, PhD students have just a few minutes to explain their work, either in person or through a short video.

Algal blooms: They might look beautiful in satellite images, but their effects are anything but. Toxins produced by the algae can contaminate shellfish, causing problems for fisheries and illness in consumers.

Knowing when an algal bloom is on the way can help reduce the impact of contamination. Daniel McPartlin is developing an early-warning system that will warn coastal fisheries of harmful algal blooms and their associated toxins as they occur off the coast of Ireland. McPartlin, a PhD researcher in DCU’s school of biotechnology, is developing biosensors to detect algal toxins, and he wants to deploy the sensors on a marine buoy to get the information on the spot rather than needing to send water samples off for analysis.

“I hope my research will alleviate the concern of toxin contamination in our food, improve food safety and save millions of euro each year,” says McPartlin, who scooped a top prize for his video about the research.

Teaching Chinese: Catriona Osborne won in the talks category for her explanation of how she looks for the most effective methods of teaching Chinese as a foreign language to beginner learners.

“I’m looking at how previously tested methods of teaching Chinese can improve the overall use of the language and not just the learning of characters, which has been the main focus of research up until now,” says Osborne, a PhD researcher at the school of applied language and intercultural studies at DCU. “The long-term goal of my research is to finally have a Chinese- language class set in the Irish school curriculum to be State-examined.”

Growing blood vessels: Jokes are all in the telling, but maybe tissue engineering is about how you spin it, too: Richard O’Connor of DCU’s school of mechanical and manufacturing engineering won for his talk on growing new blood vessels in the lab using a patient’s own cells so they can be implanted back into the patient.

“This involves combining cells with supporting materials known as scaffolds to grow new tissue, in my case blood vessels, within the lab,” he says. “We make the scaffolds through a process known as electrospinning, which can make fibres 100 times thinner than human hair that cells love to attach and grow on. We have modified the process to make yarn material that can be used to knit and weave highly porous scaffolds that will allow for better tissue regeneration.”

Communication: Other presenters at Tell it Straight, which was run by the DCU graduate studies office, covered maths education, hardening of blood vessels in diabetes, a technique to enable smaller transistors for electronic devices and the impact of family communication on the wellbeing of children with epilepsy.

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