North-East Postgraduate Conference 2021 – Abstract Call!

The North East Postgraduate Conference 2021: Empowering and Connecting Postgraduate Students

Abstract submission for NEPG 2021 is now open until midnight on the 3rd September 2021!

The North East Postgraduate Conference (NEPG) is a conference built by postgraduate students, for postgraduate students.  Whether this is your first conference, or you are an experienced presenter, the NEPG provides a supportive environment for postgraduate students to share their biomedical research through oral presentations or posters. As well as an array of student-led talks covering interesting topics within medical and biomedical research, the NEPG also promises exciting keynote speakers, interactive workshop sessions, and a wide range of exhibitors. Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, this year the NEPG will be a virtual event held on the 11th and 12th of November 2021. 

The theme of NEPG 2021 is Empowerment: Connect with fellow researchers, Empower your scientific mind, to Innovate in the changing world!

  • EMPOWER: Imposter syndrome amongst postgraduate students is more prevalent than ever, meaning it is vital that we take opportunities to empower both ourselves and others by giving out support and encouragement. Furthermore, the NEPG represents a brilliant opportunity to empower postgraduate students within the north and highlight the outstanding research they produce.
  • CONNECT: As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to restrict opportunities to network in-person, we need to create opportunities for postgraduate students to connect with each other, as well as with key field-leaders. The NEPG fosters an inclusive and supportive environment which enables postgraduate students to do just this.
  • INNOVATE: Postgraduate students as a collective have a huge amount of knowledge covering an infinite variety of subjects. Together, we have the power and the ability to innovate and change the world.

These skills and qualities have become increasingly valuable as the world continues to change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NEPG provides a brilliant opportunity to hear from keynote speakers and partake in workshops relevant to the theme of empowerment.

The importance of empowering, connecting, and innovating span all aspects of life, both in- and outside of science. By working together in a supportive environment, we really do become capable of almost anything!

We anticipate NEPG 2021 being a fantastic experience for attendees and presenters. For more information about NEPG 2021, please visit:

Abstract submission is open until midnight on 3rd September 2021.

To access abstract guidelines and submission, please visit:


COVID-19: gender inequalities during pandemics.

Gender inequalities are widened during pandemics, yet policies and public health efforts fail to reflect  this1. These inequalities are also evident in the COVID-19 pandemic where women carry higher  vulnerability to the physical, mental and economic impacts of this outbreaks2. Although data for COVID-19 show similar numbers of confirmed cases in men and women in most countries  which have provided data3, it should be noted that many  lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have no available COVID-19 sex-aggregated data and gender inequalities tend to be more prevalent within  these regions 4. However, data do suggest that men develop more severe cases of COVID-19, hence, have higher death rate5. Reasons for this could be due to higher rates of smoking in men compared to women6. Although death rates appear to be higher in men, the issues faced by women during this pandemic go beyond the primary health  impacts of COVID-19 and it is crucial that such secondary impacts, such as less publishing by women in STEM7 to sexual and reproductive issues, are investigated to produce  equitable interventions worldwide.

Women make up around 70% of the world’s global health and social sector workforce already putting them at an increased risk during pandemics8. However, women are also the primary caregivers and take on the role of providing health care within their families, particularly in low- and middle-income countries1. Such roles are often socially constructed in societies and cultures which view the role of women to be housemakers1. This places women in a position where social distancing measures are not an option, and many lack the appropriate resources and equipment to be able to safely care for their family during outbreaks. Women in developing countries are disproportionally affected due to limited education and literacy. Literacy rates are among the lowest in West and Central Africa and in South Asia9. Females making up 59% of the illiterate youth population worldwide9. Thus, health information is not comprehended or implemented by many women. Nevertheless, policies and guidelines introduce universal public health measures, such as social distancing and lockdown, which fail to recognise the unique needs of women and may negatively impact them if they are not implemented appropriately.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted access to essential services such as sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services10. With lockdown in many countries, women are vulnerable to gender-based violence trapped at home in abusive relationships, which may be exacerbated by the increasing financial difficulties caused by job loss. Reports around the world show a surge in domestic violence rates. In South Africa, authorities state there were around 90,000 cases of violence against women during the first week of lockdown11. Countries like Lebanon, Malaysia, China and France are all witnessing a rise in the number of calls for help from homes. This, along with counselling and support systems being striped back to due resources being funnelled towards emergency care, may result in detrimental physical and mental health impacts on women.

Such abuse often includes sexual violence resulting in unplanned pregnancies bringing its own set of challenges. Pregnancy puts women at an increased risk to infections due to immune and anatomic alterations and more frequent hospital visits12. However, globally, women may fear going to antenatal clinics compromising their health during pregnancy and the health of their unborn baby. In rural areas of low- and middle-income countries antenatal care is commonly provided by non-governmental organisations. During pandemics, restrictions on travel and movement nationally prevent such organisations to provide effective care for pregnant women in rural areas. The Ebola epidemic in 2014-2016 saw a reduction of access to antenatal care by 50% and 18% in Liberia and Sierra Leone, respectively13,14. There was a 34% increase in the facility maternal mortality ratio in Sierra Leone13. If governments and global health institutions do not act fast and put in place appropriate services for women, the COVID-19 pandemic may see similar devastating results in maternal health. Further analysis is required on gender and maternal health impacts of COVID-19, with increased efforts to collect data and implement socially and culturally appropriate strategies for the most vulnerable in developing countries.

Want to read more? Click on the links below!
1. Overcoming the ‘tyranny of the urgent’: integrating gender into disease outbreak preparedness and response. 
2. COVID-19 requires gender-equal responses to save economies.
3. Sex, gender and COVID-19
4. Girls’ hidden penalty: analysis of gender inequality in child mortality with data from 195 countries.
5.  Gender and COVID-19: Advocacy brief.
6. Why are men more likely to get worse symptoms and die from COVID-19.
7. Are women publishing less during the pandemic? Here’s what the data say.
8. The COVID-19 pandemic could have huge knock-on effects on women’s health, says the UN.
9. UNICEF Literacy Data.
10. Women, girls, health workers must not be overlooked in global COVID-19 response.
 11. Global Lockdown resulting in ‘horrifying surge’ in domestic violence, U.N. warns. NPR.
12. Maternal health care management during the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). doi: 10.1002/jmv.25787
13. Effects of the 2014 Ebola outbreak on antenatal care and delivery outcomes in Liberia: a nationwide analysis. doi: 5588/pha.16.0099
14. Women and babies are dying but not of Ebola: the effect of the Ebola virus epidemic ion the availability, uptake and outcomes of maternal and newborn health services in Sierra Leone. 

By Nafisa Insan
I am a PhD student in Population Health Sciences researching global maternal mental health. I am also on the committee for Students for Global Health Society. 


Brewing is a science not an art?

Maybe you’re finding yourself making a lot more coffee now you’re stuck at home. Maybe you shelled out on an espresso machine. Maybe you’re just a coffee enthusiast. Brewers at Frisky Goat coffee have partnered with analytic companies from Switzerland and the UK, and researchers from Cambridge, Huddersfield, Limerick, Portsmouth, and the USA, to pin down some fundamental improvements to making expresso in a recent article in the journal Matter.

The article: Systematically Improving Espresso: Insights from Mathematical Modeling and Experiment, lays out their thesis for a perfect cup of Joe. The goal of the study was not to tell baristas what a good coffee tastes like, hopefully they knew that already. Rather, the team aimed to reduce waste by finding the conditions in which perfect coffees could be reliably made using less water or dry coffee. They targeted several important brewing parameters for their study, such as grinder setting (fineness of the coffee ground) and extraction yield , while considering the espresso machines water pressure and how this combines with coffee particle size to affect the flow rate through the grinds. They monitored extraction yield – the ratio of dry coffee going in, to concentration of coffee in the espresso shot – which typically ranges from 17% – 23%. Coffees over 23% tend to taste bitter, whereas those under 17% tend to taste sour. They recommend that baristas identify conditions where their coffees taste good to them – the “tasting-point” – and then use their recommendations to calculate a more material effective way of producing the same espresso. The article claims that espresso is the coffee style most vulnerable to fluctuations in brewing and beans that might affect quality. And argue that there is a clear need for guidance in this area from the scientific community.

Coffee grind setting was identified as being very important. Courser grinds create more variably sized (and shaped) particles of coffee, which in turn produce larger pore spaces for water to flow through. This increases flow rate but decreases the surface area of coffee the water is exposed to. The particulate size was identified as being bimodal – having two peaks. The smaller peak represented the fines produced from the point of fracture of the bean and a larger peak was the large coffee boulders which peaked around the largest size at which they could escape the burr grinder. Although more of the coffee ended up boulder-sized the majority of the flavour comes from the finer material. However, the article warns against grinding too fine and identifies that a minimum grind size for homogenous extraction exists, a grind below this results the machine becoming partially clogged and highly inefficient. Tamping pressure and machine pressure are also important parameters.

The final recommendations include locating the “tasty point” of the coffee and then identifying the best combo of grind setting and either added water, or grind volume needed to achieve an equivalent tasting, less wasteful coffee:      
“Thus, a barista is able to achieve highly reproducible espresso with the same [extraction yield] as the 20g espresso by reducing the coffee mass to 15 g and counter-intuitively grinding much coarser. This modification may result in very fast shots (<15s), a reduction in espresso concentration, and a different flavour profile.”

The article declares no conflicts of interest, though this is highly suspect as we could all benefit from knowing the secrets of a better brew.

Want to know more: Cameron et al., Matter 2, 1–18, 2020 Elsevier Inc.

By Justin Byrne | {react} Committee Member


Modelling COVID-19 – Imperial versus Oxford

With COVID-19 affecting all aspects of our lives, mathematical models have been thrust into the limelight as the main way decisions are being made regarding the crisis. Models are a way to simulate possible outcomes in the real world and are useful when key information about a phenomenon is unknown. They are based on a series of assumptions and these assumptions are what determine how accurate our model is. In the case of COVID-19, these can include how likely you are to get infected to how people interact with others and their movements. We cannot predict human behaviour with 100% accuracy, nor do we know all the parameters that affect this particular outbreak, so there will be some error in any model we create, however a level of simplification is necessary for efficient computation.

A simple example of an outbreak model is the SIR model, which stands for “susceptible”, “infected” or “recovered”. The model assumes that everyone starts off susceptible – which is a reasonable choice given the information we have about COVID-19 and if you come into contact with an infected person you have a certain chance of getting infected. Since this is a relatively simple model that we will use, it does not take into account any organised travel such as travelling to a central place in a community (shops, places of worship etc), but these things can be implemented into the model. This also does not consider mitigation methods such as self-isolation, in this model, infected individuals act as susceptible individuals would. After infection you become “removed” or commonly known as “recovered”, this category refers to those who can no longer pass on the disease whether they overcome the illness or die from it.

Firstly, people are assigned to the “susceptible”, “infected” or “recovered” groups. We usually have two parameters which we can change, β and γ. The maths behind the SIR model – without births and deaths independent of the infection – is described by a set of differential equations as follows:

*No new people enter the population. This would not be the case for a model where we allow for births and migration.

Below we have the results of a simple simulation as an example SIR model. Between the three simulations, we have kept γ constant and only changed the value of β. As you can see the last plot with the highest value of β = 5 has a very quick spike as a large proportion of the population get infected very quickly. If we decrease our parameter β = 2, we see that the infections decrease quite significantly and we have started to “flatten the curve”; you may think of this change as perhaps increased hygiene measures or self-isolation. In the first plot, we have decreased β further to β = 0.5 and we see that the infection does not really manage to get a hold, and, in fact, in most simulations, the infection does not really start, as now the R0 is below one. The main takeaway from this small simulation is how sensitive the model is to the small changes in parameters and why measures such as simple as better hygiene have been recommended.

The Imperial College London Model

The Imperial College London model was what was cited for the policy decisions regarding the UK’s response to COVID-19. The simulations looked at both UK and the US but here we will mainly consider the results surrounding the UK. The study looked at the effects of mitigation (slowing the growth of the epidemic) and suppression (reducing R0 < 1) methods on the number of cases in the country and whether it is possible to keep cases below ICU bed capacity.  The model was a modified simulation model used for pandemic flu planning but the crux of it is individuals being simulated in a similar manner to SIR. The model does, however, contain more variables such as moving people to isolation and specific movement behaviours to take into account the country’s specific challenges. For example, contact was made with individuals in households, schools and at work as well as the wider community, which was not accounted for in our simple SIR model. Clearly, if a member of your household gets infected you are more likely to also get infected than if an arbitrary person in your community is infected. The model also took into consideration demographical data such as age to determine the number of critical care beds that will be occupied. In the model, the incubation period was assumed at 5.1 days and infectiousness was assumed from 12 hours before the onset of symptoms but with reports of asymptomatic people spreading the virus, we do not know how accurate this assumption is at this moment. R0was placed at around 2.4, which is in line with estimates from Wuhan. The mitigation options that were considered in the study were case isolation in the home, voluntary home quarantine, the social distancing of those over 70 years of age, social distancing of the entire population and the closure of schools and universities. These variables all have their own assumptions on the decrease of contact due to them however an interesting assumption was that 25% of universities would remain open.

Mitigation strategy scenarios for GB from Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID- 19 mortality and healthcare demand. Image taken from: Ferguson et al., 2020, p. 8

What we can see from the simulation is that in all considered scenarios we exceed the critical care bed capacity significantly, a minimum peak demand of 8 times higher than capacity.

The best outcome is seen from a combination of school and university closure, case isolation and general social distancing, however it is predicted that when restrictions are lifted that the epidemic will reach a peak later in the year.

Suppression strategy scenarios for GB showing ICU bed requirements from Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID- 19 mortality and healthcare demand. Image taken from: Ferguson et al., 2020, p. 10

The Oxford Model

The Oxford model gained publicity after headlines suggested up to 50% of people may have been infected. This was not quite the full story and has been contested by other scientists. The yet to be peer-reviewed Oxford paper is less modelling what will possibly happen and more a set of hypothetical scenarios given what we know right now. What the team did was use an SIR model, with the usual assumptions, with some added assumptions that deaths due to the disease were well reported and only occurred in the vulnerable subset of the population. The model also assumed R0 (the basic reproduction number) as between 2.25 and 2.75, which is where other professional estimates lie, so this seems reasonable. The other parameter which changed was the proportion of the population at risk of serious disease, this just seems to range from 0.001% to 0.1% of the population arbitrarily. The model was fitted to the first 15 days after the second death recorded to avoid the effect of control strategies put in place. Then, given a number of deaths and a proportion of the population that was at risk of these deaths, reverse engineered the model to show how many people are likely to be currently infected. Where the headlines come in is that if the proportion of vulnerable people was 0.001% then over 50% of the population must have been infected by March 15th to give us the number of deaths that we have.

This has been controversial as over 1 in 8 people in the UK are over 70 with many of those having underlying health conditions so it is unlikely that only 0.001% of the population is at risk of dying from COVID-19. What we have to bear in mind is that, in the end, we do not know how many people have already been infected as we are not doing the antibody tests to determine that.

The team themselves tweeted, saying their “results are not forecasts,” and that the country doesn’t “know the current state of the epidemic because we do not know the parameter ρ,” (the proportion of the population that is vulnerable).

In the end, modelling allows us to see the effects of our strategies quickly, before we even implement them. It’s obvious, however, that even small changes to the parameters of these models, which represent simplified versions of reality, can have large effects on the outcomes. Therefore it’s critical that we continue to gather more real-world data, by monitoring the outcomes of other countries, or measuring the real spread of the virus in the population through testing. It’s vital too that we understand the statistics behind the headlines and maintain a healthy scepticism of sensationalist stories.

By Laura Etfer

Laura is a third-year Maths and Statistics student interested in medical statistics and infectious diseases. Outside of university, she helps to run a team of charity volunteers and is working on perfecting her lemon cake recipe.


Write for {react} magazine!

{react} is now accepting proposals for its 13th issue, on the theme of:

Entropy: the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder; measure of randomness in a system.

See below for more information and send us your proposal via the form ( or email (!



Maker Faire UK 2018

Date: Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 April 2018
Venue: Life Science Centre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 4EP
Opening times: Saturday 10.00 am – 6.00pm, Sunday 10.00 am – 5.00pm
Ticket prices: Family (2 adults and 2 children, or 1 adult and 3 children): £24.00, Adults (18+): £8.00, Concession (OAP, student, unwaged): £7.00, Child (aged 5 – 17yrs): £6.00, Child (aged 4 and under): Free

Maker Faire UK is the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly festival of creators, crafters, coders and DIY-ers, where everyone is encouraged to get stuck in! It brings together hundreds of hackers, crafters, inventors and coders from across the globe – people who love to make stuff and who want to share their passion with the public.
This year’s headline Makers include Steamroadsters, wasteland versions of penny farthings, Waterlight Graffiti, who have combined water and LEDs to make art and The Herd, a scrapheap safari. It’s really great fun for adults and kids alike, with all sorts of different things to try your hand at, from traditional crafts – including leather making and weaving – to hi-tech hacks, including robotics and coding. Prepare to be inspired!

There’ll be plenty of live entertainment on the day too. You can find out more about Maker Faire 2018, as well as check out a full list of makers at

Tickets are available to purchase now at
Extra charges may apply for some workshops and activities.


Palace of Science

To celebrate the beginning of British Science Week and Brain Awareness Week, the Palace of Science festival is taking place at Wylam Brewery on 12th March from 5pm-midnight. Over the course of the evening there will be volunteers roaming the floor with science busking, thermal cameras, superconductivity levitation and much more!

More information and tickets can be found here. See you there!


Introduction to Science Journalism and the Media with {React} Science Magazine

Don’t forget that our Introduction to Science Journalism and the Media with {React} Science Magazine workshops are happening tomorrow from 9:30 til 16:30 in the FMS Graduate Training Room (MG207)!

The timetable will be as follows:

9:30 – 10:00 meet and discuss aims of {react}
10:00 – 12:00 Principles behind Public Engagement with Science, what is a science magazine for? – Duncan Yellowlees
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
13:00 – 14:00 Design of a Science Magazine – Danielle Stone (JUMP)
14:00 – 15:00 Science Communication the University perspective – Brett Cherry
15:00 – 15:30 Tea & discussion time
15:30 – 16:30 Balance and avoiding the echo chamber – SarahJayne Boulton
16:30 Close

You can still register for this event HERE, looking forward to seeing you there!


Issue 10 is live!

Thank you to everyone who made it down to our Issue 10 celebration at Wylam Brewery last night – we hope you you enjoyed it! If you didn’t manage to make it, you can read Issue 10 online now.

At the event, we announced the theme for Issue 11: synergy! If you would like to get involved with our next issue, we are now accepting abstract submissions so get your synergistic ideas to us. The deadline for submissions is the 28th February, just email your abstracts to us at