PubhD Leicester November 2015

PubhD returns to Duffy’s with talks on moons, memory and management.

First up is Hannah, researching the moons of Mars.

Jonathan Swift predicted that Mars would have two moons, one that would orbit three times in a Martian day. In 1877, it was confirmed that Mars does have two moons, subsequently named Phobos and Deimos, and one does orbit the planet on less that one day. We have no idea what they are or where they came from and it took until the 1970s before we could even photograph them. This is mainly due to their size – Phobos, the larger moon, is 150 times smaller than our Moon. These moons are unlike any other that we know about. They are oblong in shape, known as “potato moons”

Phobos has a crater at one end and streaks down its body that we don’t see on anything else in the solar system. Was the crater caused by an impact? In addition, Phobos is being torn apart by Martian gravity. Deimos is smaller and really smooth. Like our Moon, it is moving away from the planet, while Phobos is getting closer.

Where did they come from? Were they asteroids from the early solar system? It that were the case then they’d have elliptical orbits whereas they actually have circular ones. Where they created by large impact(s) on Mars? If that were the case then why do they have similar compositions to asteroids? Phobos is like an outer system asteroid, Deimos like an inner one.

If they were asteroids then they could teach us about the early solar system. If they were created by an impact then they could teach us about early Mars. So Hannah is looking at what instruments would be advantageous for a mission to the moons of Mars.

Key learning: the moons Phobos and Deimos are named after the sons of Ares in Greek mythology (Ares was the Greek equivalent of Mars, the Roman god of war) They were the gods of fear and loss.

Next up is Simon, who is researching the role of the M1 receptor in learning and memory.

Your central nervous system is responsible for your learning and memory. It is less active in people with Alzheimer’s and so is important for researching into the disease. The question is whether the “G-protein” reduces the protein that “gums up” the brain. Initially it was thought that by stopping the enzyme working would help but this also affects other parts of the brain. Instead, they are looking at the ACH receptor to try and reclaim its function.

In Alzheimer’s, the G-protein is not working but it still has an arresting effect, which stops the function of the receptor. What happens when we remove the arrester pathway? The idea is to make people be able to learn again. There are five “M” receptors in the brain. If you affect one then it can also affect these other receptors. For example a drug designed to work on M1 and M4, which are both related to memory, caused people to salivate. That’s because it has also hit on M2 and M3. By not hiring the other M receptors, you can reduce side effects and so people can take a drug for longer. However, the brain doesn’t like letting things in and so this might need to be a regular injection over a long period of time.

It is possible to virally infect the brain to turn on or turn off parts of it. But if we can’t turn a receptor back on, can we really tell the impact? The next stage for Simon is animal models and he’s hopeful that this technique may help with schizophrenia, depression and Parkinson’s as well as Alzheimer’s.

Key learning: We don’t actually know what the G-protein does.

Finally, we have Aime, whose research is in change at work.

The Human Resources department are responsible for hiring and firing. They look after recruitment and also investigations where things go wrong. Now, they also have to deal with organisational change and how it affects employees. For this, there are a number of questions that need to be asked

Why are we doing this?
What will we get out of it?
Will anyone actually lean if we do it this way as opposed to a different way?
How do we actually implement the change?
How does it feel for the individual?

70% of organisational change either fails completely or does not deliver what it’s supposed to. Research shows that there are two main reasons for success:

Communication
Having a good reason for the change

People’s responses to change can be completely different. To predict how they might respond to to change, we need to look at their traits, things like locus of control and self-efficacy. Once we understand how they’ll respond then we can help them deal with the change. In general, there is a pretty good “normal” distribution of people – some love change, some hate it but most as somewhere in the middle.

Once we understand the likely response of the employees, HR have to decide whether the change is actually worth it. At this point, it’s crucial that a decision isn’t made from a purely financial point of view. How much pain, effort and time will it take to get people to accept the change? How can we minimise this?

Key learning: Myers-Briggs make $30million a year

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