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Global Wind Day

To celebrate Global Wind Day, Mechanical Engineering Graduate, Jenny tells us about her experience of designing and creating a wind turbine.

Did you know that the UK now generates twice as much energy from wind as coal? Or that wind turbine blades are usually 60 metres long?! That’s roughly the same length as six double-decker buses!

As we’re all trying to combat climate change, the rise of wind power is excellent news as they generate ‘clean’ energy – wind turbines do not produce any harmful greenhouse gases or pollutants once they are built thanks to their clever design! Wind turbines might seem like a modern invention, but humans have been using wind power for over two thousand years. In the past, farmers in Iran and China would use windmills to grind grains for people to eat. The first wind turbine to generate electricity was invented in 1888 and it had 144 wooden blades!

You might be wondering – why do modern wind turbines always have three blades? There’s actually lots of science behind this. As the number of blades increases, so does the ‘drag’ – where force from the air slows it down. Ideally, wind turbines would only have one blade, as this would generate the most electricity, however it would be extremely unstable. Turbines with three blades are a compromise – the least blades possible to produce a stable turbine that won’t fall apart once it starts spinning!

Wind turbines work by generating electricity as they spin – the kinetic energy from the rotating blades powers a generator which turns the kinetic energy into electricity that we can use to power our homes. This is one of the benefits of wind power – it gives us a great way to generate electricity without burning fossil fuels, which emit gases which contribute to global warming.

As a mechanical engineering student, I learned a lot about wind turbines in my first year of University. My first group project was to take apart an old computer with my team, and re-build it into a small wind turbine. We were able to test our turbine in a ‘wind tunnel’ – where fast-moving air is channelled towards an object to see how it will perform in real life. Engineers use wind tunnels to test devices they’ve made for safety and performance. It’s not just wind turbines that get tested in wind tunnels though – engineers test cars, planes and even spacecrafts to see how they behave!

Jenny with her project team and their wind turbine

At university we learned about the different kinds of wind turbines. Most of the turbines that you’ve seen in real life are a specific type of turbine called a ‘HAWT’ – a ‘Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine’. They have three, long thin rotating blades. However, there’s a whole other category of wind turbines that you might not know existed – they’re called ‘VAWT’s (Vertical Axis Wind Turbines), such as the one shown below. VAWT’s rotate around a centre axis, like a merry-go-round. They are used when winds are too turbulent for regular (horizontal axis) turbines.

A Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT)

To celebrate ‘Global Wind Day’ on June the 15th, a great experiment to do at home would be to create your own wind turbine from paper or wooden sticks and test it out in front of a desk fan. Why not try out different blade shapes to see which ones work the best? How about trying a different number of blades? How does that affect how your turbine spins?

Space Day: Structure of the Planets

This year for Space Day, Earth Science student, Jade, explains all about the structure of the sun, moon and the planets in the solar system.

The Sun

  • The sun isn’t a planet, it’s a star in the Yellow Dwarf stage of its life.
  • The sun is in the middle of the solar system and is a ball of hot gases (mostly helium).
  • Even though it is made of gases it still has 6 layers within it:
    • Core – Where solar energy is generated which is where the heat comes from.
    • Radioactive zone
    • Convection zone – Where the heat travels up to the surface.
    • Photosphere – Visible surface
    • Chromosphere – Thin layer of gas
    • Corona – Thick atmosphere extending for millions of miles and it’s only visible during a solar eclipse


  • Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system.
  • It experiences extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. The heat is from being so close to the sun and the cold is due to the lack of atmosphere which causes the heat to escape.
  • Mercury’s interior is made up of a solid inner core, liquid middle core and a solid layer of iron sulphides. Then there is a mantle and a crust which together are around 400km thick at and mostly made from silicate minerals.
  • On the surface it has craters from meteorite impacts and lava plains from past volcanism that ended around 750 million years ago.
  • Although it has extreme heat there is ice at the poles, even during the heat as the ice is in the shadows of craters.


  • Second closet planet to the sun.
  • It has an iron core, a rocky mantle and a thin crust, similar to Earth.
  • As the rocky mantle moves underneath the crust it bulges and forms mountains and volcanoes.
  • There isn’t any water on Venus due to its high temperature.
  • It has an atmosphere mostly made up of Carbon Dioxide, but it doesn’t have any wind due to its slow rotation.
  • It can sometimes rain sulfuric acid.


  • Solid inner core made of iron and nickel.
  • Liquid outer core also made out of iron and nickel.
  • Rocky mantle which is mostly a fluid which convects heat from the core to the surface. As it convects, it forces the plates of the crust to move around forming mountains and volcanoes as they collide or move away from each other.
  • The crust made up mostly of silicon and oxygen (the crust is thinner under the ocean than the rest of the crust).

The Moon

  • Similar to Earth in composition but no longer has volcanism as there are no plate tectonics.
  • The composition is so similar because they were made from the collision between a small planet and the Earth and the moon was the bit left over.


  • Mars has a solid inner core made of dense iron, nickel and sulphur.
  • It has a rocky mantle and a crust mostly made of iron, magnesium and aluminium.
  • Previously it had tectonics which formed volcanoes and the largest canyon in the solar system (Valles Marineris).
  •  It also has similar sedimentary processes to Earth such as dunes.


  • One of the gas giants mainly made up of hydrogen and helium.
  • Structure similar to the sun. It is unclear what the core of Jupiter is made up of, but it is surrounded by metallic hydrogen formed when the hydrogen is under so much pressure that the electrons are squeezed off making it electrically conductive like metal. The upper layers of Jupiter are then more hydrogen either as a liquid or gas (the high pressure and high temperature makes the hydrogen a liquid).
  • Jupiter spins so fast that it generates a magnetic field.
  • It has 63 moons, one of which is Europa:

Europa (a moon of Jupiter)

Europa has an iron core, a rocky mantle, an ocean of salty water, and a lot of ice.  


  • Another gas giant mostly made of helium and hydrogen.
  • Saturn’s core is made up of dense metals like iron and nickel and some rocky material.
  • Saturn’s density is less than water which means it could theoretically float on a giant mass of water.
  • Saturn is the only one of the gas giants with visible rings as the rings are mostly made of ice which reflects the light well.


  • This ice giant rotates at nearly 90o from the plane of its orbit, which makes it look like it’s spinning on its side.
  • The icy mantle surrounding the small rocky core is made up of dense water, methane and ammonia.
  • The atmosphere is made up of methane gas which give Uranus it’s blue-green colour.
  • It’s bigger than Neptune but it has a smaller mass.
  • It has 27 moons.


  • Neptune is shrinking and releasing heat.
  • It has a similar structure to Uranus as its mostly made up of icy materials made of dense water, methane and ammonia fluids around a small rocky core.
  • It’s atmosphere is mostly made form hydrogen, helium, and methane and it doesn’t have a solid surface (similar to all of the gas giants.)
  • It has 14 moons.

Myth busting: Charcoal Toothpaste

In this guest post, Dental student, Jenny, reveals the science behind charcoal toothpaste

Dental students during a clinical placement

In the last few years, a massive surge in commercially available brands of charcoal-based toothpastes has swept through UK retailers and taken the online market by storm. With its ecological, all-natural, all-organic outward appearance, only a fool would turn down the opportunity for a whiter smile and fresher breath. Sound too good to be true? Well, I’m afraid it is.

Research within the dental industry has concluded that the vast majority of charcoal toothpastes advertised to the general public are backed by marketing campaigns built on a cracked foundation of scarce scientific evidence, distinct absence of controlled clinical studies and multitudes of misleading information.

How charcoal toothpaste claims to work in advertising is as follows:

Fine powder activated charcoal in the toothpaste traps toxins, plaque and bacteria in its many pores, removing them from the enamel of the tooth surface, leaving a whiter smile. As well as that, charcoal toothpaste has both antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties by binding to and absorbing harmful microorganisms. Furthermore, charcoal removes the bacteria responsible for causing halitosis (bad breath), resulting in a fresher aroma.

Let’s debunk this statement.

First things first, activated charcoal toothpaste will very rarely contain fluoride. One review from 2017, found that only 8% of 50 charcoal toothpastes available online contained fluoride. Fluoride in toothpaste is a tried and tested method in increasing enamel remineralisation, increasing tooth strength and thereby decreasing risk of tooth decay. However, activated charcoal readily absorbs fluoride, rendering it inactive and unable to remineralise enamel. Therefore, charcoal toothpastes both with and without fluoride potentially increase a person’s risk of dental decay.

Secondly, when it comes to removing so-called “toxins”, there is no credible, supporting scientific evidence that charcoal applied directly to the teeth or gums provides any detoxification benefits. As well as that, there is a vacuum of data to support any claims that charcoal can adhere to all deposits (e.g. plaque, bacteria etc) on tooth surfaces.

As for that “whiter smile”, once again we see the reoccurring theme of product endorsement that is completely unsubstantiated and devoid of any supporting scientific evidence. There have been no adequately controlled clinical studies to support any cosmetic benefits (i.e. whitening) or health benefits (antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic). Supposedly, fine powder activated charcoal gently removes tooth surface stains by light abrasive forces. However, as of 2019 there has been no independent verification of manufacturers’ claims of low charcoal abrasivity. If anything, there is the distinct risk of a person frequently and vigorously brushing their teeth with charcoal toothpaste in order to achieve the desired whitening effect faster. This will in fact strip the tooth of the outer white enamel layer, exposing the inner yellow dentine layer, thus creating the opposite of the desired effect. Finally, there is no supporting scientific evidence that charcoal diminishes the causes of bad breath.

Overall, the popularity of charcoal toothpaste is not founded in its incredible therapeutic benefits, but instead in carefully and cunningly designed marketing campaigns. Campaigns that will continue to claim extraordinary health improvements, until proven wrong. Campaigns that utilise trendy buzzwords, a generation’s desire to be as natural, pure and eco-friendly as possible, and the nation’s desire for that Hollywood smile. Charcoal toothpaste is nothing more than a trendy fad, capturing consumers with inaccurate and borderline deceitful claims. Such questionable ethics would see any licensed, practising dentist reprimanded for misleading patients. Surely it is time that the marketing behind these fashionable oral healthcare products should be held to the same moral and ethical standards?

World Health Day – the Eatwell Plate

To celebrate World Health Day, we have a guest post from Jenny, a Dentistry Student at Newcastle University

Eatwell plate

This is the Eatwell Plate. It is a handy visual guide showing exactly how much each food group should contribute to what we eat on a daily basis to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

The plate is divided into the 5 main food groups we should consume every day:

  1. Fruit and vegetables – 40% of what you eat in a day.
  2. Pasta, potatoes, rice, bread and other starchy carbohydrates – 38% of daily food intake.
  3. Protein sources such as beans, eggs, meat, pulses and fish – 12% of daily food intake.
  4. Milk and dairy (including dairy alternatives) – 8% of daily food intake.
  5. Oils and spreads – 1% of daily food intake.

You may have noticed that these percentages only add up to 99%. This is because the final 1% is allocated for high fat, salt and sugar foods such as fizzy drinks or chocolate bars. These food stuffs should rarely be consumed and only in small amounts.

As well as that, we should be drinking 6-8 glasses of fluids every day. This includes water, low fat and low sugar milk, and fruit juice that is not from concentrate.

The balance displayed on the Eatwell Plate does not have to be achieved in every meal of the day but should be attained for what you eat overall in a day. With that said, let’s take a more in depth look at the food groups.

Fruit and vegetables

You should always try to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and familiarise yourself with how much of each fruit or vegetable contribute to one portion (e.g. 7 strawberries = 1 portion). This can be in the form of fresh, frozen, tinned or juiced fruit (although juiced or fruit smoothies should be limited to 150ml/day because they have higher sugar content than fresh fruit). Fruit and veg is a vital part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle because they contain a variety of vital minerals, vitamins and nutrients. For example, broccoli, spinach and lots of other green vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C, great for maintaining strong bones, joints and to boost your immune system. Also, parsnips, Brussels sprouts and bananas are great sources of potassium, which helps to maintain healthy heart muscles.

Pasta, potatoes, rice, bread and other starchy carbohydrates

Every meal should be built on a starchy carbohydrate base, with wholegrain versions of pasta, rice and bread chosen when possible. Starchy carbohydrates are a very important source of energy because our bodies break down carbohydrates into sugars which are then converted into energy. They are also a source of calcium, iron, vitamin B and fibre, which aids digestion.


Protein is very important in building muscle strength and facilitating growth and repair in our bodies. To achieve correct protein intake, each week you should have two portions of fish, including one portion of oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel. This is because oily fish provides out bodies with the fatty acid, omega-3 and vitamin D, which help maintain a healthy heart.

Protein from red meats should be limited to less than 70g per day because high consumption of red and processed meats could increase risk of developing cancer in older individuals. However, red meats are an excellent source of iron which increases our blood’s ability to transport oxygen allowing us to be more active.

Milk and dairy

Dairy products and dairy alternatives (such as soya, oat or almond milk) are excellent sources of calcium which helps maintain strong bones and teeth. Dairy products include cheese, milk and yoghurt, although you should always pick products which are low in fat and sugar.

Oils and spreads

When it comes to choosing what to put on your toast in the morning, it is always better to use a spread that contains unsaturated fats, such as vegetable, olive and sunflower oils. The same applies to cooking oils. Unsaturated fats help protect our hearts and reduce cholesterol. Food stuffs with high fat content should be rarely consumed.

Finally, a few handy tips for a healthy and balanced meal:

  1. Everything in moderation – eating the recommended portions of each food group outlined by the Eatwell plate, will ensure you get all the vital daily vitamins, nutrients and minerals you need. Cutting out whole food groups (like carbohydrates) rather than improve your health will actually result in poor health effects such as tiredness and stomach upsets.
  2. Make your plate every colour of the rainbow – if your meal looks too beige or too much of one colour, you won’t be getting all the necessary micronutrients you need.

In the spirit of World Health Day, why don’t you take the opportunity to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and make your plate and Eatwell Plate.

A Week in the Life of a Marine Biology Student… in the Field!

First-year Marine Zoology student, Demi, tells us about her experience of a spending a week at our Dove Marine Lab in Cullercoats and in the surrounding coastal area.


To start off the week we boarded the coach to the Dove marine lab; the university’s specialised research facility right on the beach. In our morning activity we learnt about the different types of keys that can be used to identify marine organisms, which is very important so that when you find animals out on the shore you can tell what they are. We then split into groups and tried making our own keys to identify people in our groups; this was a great activity as it allowed us the get to know our course mates better.

The afternoon was spend looking through seaweed samples and identifying all the little organisms living within the seaweed. I really enjoyed this as it highlighted that all the little and “less exciting” animals can be just as fun to look into as learning about the larger animals!

The view from the classroom in the Dove Marine lab


Back at the Dove Marine lab, Tuesday morning was spent out on the rocky shore of North Cullercoats Bay (battling the northern wind and rain), collecting all the organisms we could find (essentially rock-pooling). We found everything from crabs and fish to starfish, snails and limpets. In the afternoon we did scientific drawings of the organisms we found. For this we used the keys we learnt about the day before to identify the scientific names for all of the animals. My favourite was the bloody henry starfish (Henricia sanguinolenta)

One of the crab species we found on the shore; Carcinus maenas


On Wednesday morning we went to Black Middens, at the mouth of the River Tyne. Here, we had the chance to look at different sediment types in an estuarine environment and how this influences the organisms found there. It was such a beautiful place! We did field sketches, which is an important skill for ecologists and looked at the human impacts on the site. In the afternoon we visited the commercial fish quay at North Shields to look at the fishing boats and the types of fish caught in the North Sea. We also met the Quay Master who spoke to us about management mechanisms and fishing quotas, which was very interesting!

Black Middens


Thursday was spent at St. Mary’s Island; a small island near Whitley Bay where we experienced a different type of rocky shore to the one at Cullercoats. We were introduced to the key identifying features of common rocky shore plants and animals and how they’re adapted to their place on the shore. We also had time to get all our notes and field sketches up to date before heading back to campus.

St Mary’s Island


To end the week, we were back on the rocky shore at Cullercoats assessing the abundance of 3 common rocky shore animal species: the limpet, Patella vulgata; the dogwhelk Nucella lapillus; and the barnacle Semibalanus balanoides. In the morning we were out with quadrats collecting data, in the afternoon we were back in the classroom at the Dove Marine Lab where we learnt how to do basic statistics on our data in order to analyse their distribution patterns.  

The common limpet; Patella vulgata

   If you would like to learn more about studying Marine Zoology, click here to visit the course page or click here to chat to current student.

World Animal Day: Zoology vs Animal Science – What is the difference?

To celebrate World Animal Day, we’re finding about the people that study animals – Zoologists and Animal Scientists and finding out what the difference between these subjects actually is.

First of all, both are branches of Biology, the study of all living things. Zoology is the study of the animal kingdom, including the distribution, evolution and behaviour of animals. Animal Science is the study of animals under human control, such as pets and farm animals, but what does this mean to our students?

We quizzed Chess, who recently finished her Zoology degree, and Iona, currently studying Animal Science, to find out what the courses were really like for them.

Why did you decide to study your course?

Chess: I always knew if I was going to university it would be to study Zoology. Sciences were always my strongest subjects and I’ve had a love of animals for as long as I can remember. I explored veterinary at first, but the day to day working life of a vet wasn’t for me. After spending six months training to be a field guide in South Africa I became certain that I wanted to work in either conservation planning or research. Therefore, studying zoology was an essential next step.

Iona: I came across the course on an open day, having come to Newcastle to look at Biology and Zoology. I liked all of the courses but Animal Science stood out for me because it focuses on the physiology, biochemistry and behaviour of domestic animals alongside the issues surrounding the industry.

Iona with her pet dog

Do you get to go on any cool field trips?

Chess: When I was studying the options were Kielder forest, Millport in Scotland, or Crete. I chose to study birds in Kielder forest where we surveyed them by their calls. Other groups studied deer, small mammals, and beetles. There is also the option of a residential field course abroad in an additional module. In my year the group went to Thailand, others have been to South Africa. Everyone who went had nothing but good things to say about it.

Iona: We’ve been to the Northumbria Mounted Police stables, local animal shelters and a couple of zoos. They were all very different and provided unique learning experiences. We have also visited both of the two uni farms to look around the pig and dairy units which really helped to reinforce what we learnt in lectures.

A macaque monkey, photo taken by Biology Grad, Matt Pindar, on his Thailand field trip.

Have you ever done any work experience or a placement related to your degree (either before or during uni)?

Chess:  I did a summer vacation scholarship between stage two and three, and I received maintenance funding to undertake an eight-week research project over the summer. This was an invaluable experience for me. It was the first opportunity to experience what a career in research would involve by working with academics to design and deliver a piece of my own research.

Iona: This summer, I spent some time with a multinational feed company, working with ration advisers, sales reps and regional managers. I’ve also worked with farm managers and herdsmen on large dairy units and sheep farms.

Chess with her research poster the the British Conference of Undergraduate Research

What do you hope to do after your degree?

Chess: I still want to continue into a career in research. After graduating, I completed an MSc Global Wildlife Science and Policy also at Newcastle and I am now just starting my PhD.

Iona: I am currently undecided about what I’d like to do after I graduate but I am looking into livestock nutrition or consultancy roles.  Quality control and marketing also interests me so I’m currently exploring these options.

How much time do you spend in labs vs in the field vs in lectures/seminars?

Chess: The most time is spent in lectures. At stage one there are weekly lab sessions and regular field visits though the amount of these at later stages depends on the optional modules and projects you choose to undertake.

Iona:  I spend the majority of my uni time in lectures and seminars but we’ll have a couple of field trips per term. We had about one lab session per week in Stage one and it varies in Stages two and three depending on the modules you choose.

The great thing about Animal Science is that we are a small cohort so our class sizes range from 20 when it’s just our course to 150 when we take modules with larger courses. You become very close with your course mates but also have the opportunity to make friends on different courses.

A student at Newcastle University’s Nafferton Farm

What do you think the biggest difference between Animal Science and Zoology is?

Chess: The biggest difference is definitely that Animal Science shares a lot of modules with Agriculture, so it focuses on domestic animals. This includes their care and management in an agricultural setting. Zoology on the other hand shares its first year with Biology. Therefore, the focus is on understanding the natural biological systems involving animals.

Iona:  Animal Science mainly focuses on domestic species and the issues surrounding both companion and farm animals. Sustainability is a major theme that runs through the modules and topics are usually linked to current and future management techniques. I think that Animal Science contains the best aspects of Agriculture, Biology and Zoology.

Zoology focuses on mainly un-domesticated animals and their conservation along with physiology, behaviour and evolution.

Most importantly, what is your favourite animal?

Chess: In terms of unexplainable connection, a wolf. In terms of research interest, all species of rhino.

Iona:  The dog! The wide range of dog breeds is incredible and the variety of roles they can play in our lives is endless.

Advice from the Experts

We also asked for an input from the lead academics from the courses what their advice would be for anyone deciding between the two.

Dr. Richard Bevan, a Senior Lecturer for Zoology said:

In its simplest form, I’d say that Animal Science can be thought of as ‘Applied Zoology’ and concentrates on farm and domestic animals while ‘Zoology’ deals with animals (all of them) in the wider context: from amoeba to whale. It is then an easy choice – if you are more interested in fish, sloths, crabs etc. then choose Zoology. If you are interested in how domestication has affected animals then Animal Science would be a better choice

From Animal Science, Dr. Catherine Douglas advised:

Animal Science – it’s not Veterinary or Biology or Zoology – it’s a bit of all of the these and more. I would suggest students look carefully at the topics (modules) covered and the species that each particular university specialises in.  If you love domestic mammals, you don’t want a zoology course that focuses on wild animals, insects and birds.

Richard Bevan with students on the Farne Islands

Career Prospects

Graduates from both our Zoology and Animal Science degrees have gone on to a range of exciting career paths. Animal Science graduates have gone on to work as Animal Nutritionists and Geneticists and many have gone into further study with Masters in Animal Behaviour as well as Journalism and Museum Studies. Some graduates have also gone on to study Veterinary Medicine.

Zoology grads have gone on to work in research as well in education and charities. Their job titles range from Research Assistant to Football Analyst to Events Officer at the Royal Society of Biology.

Find out More…

Explore our course pages to find out more about Animal Science and Zoology. Or if ocean wildlife is more your thing, we also offer a course in Marine Zoology.

A Short Guide to Studying Civil Engineering (Year 2)

In this post, recent Civil Engineering graduate Jasmine continues her guide through the degree, and details what you can expect to study and gives some helpful tips on what to prepare for. 

Exams and Coursework

This year written exams are 55%, practical exams are 2% and coursework is 43%. Although the percentages may change, second year always tends to have a lower percentage of written exams and a higher percentage of coursework compared to first year.

During second year, I found that making notes and taking pictures during practicals (when allowed) helped me with the coursework and practical exams. And as with first year, asking questions is a great way to engage with the work and definitely helped me with my understanding.

This year contributes to your final degree mark, so make sure to set goals and work towards them during the course of the year. There is a lot of coursework and there are a lot of tests this year, so it is a good idea to use a calendar or planner to keep track of coursework, exams and other commitments.

Should I Choose Civil Engineering or Civil and Structural Engineering?

During second year you will have the opportunity to switch between Civil and Civil and Structural (depending on the amount of spaces available and your grades). In third year, Civil Engineering students and Civil and Structural Engineering students have the same modules except for 3: Civil students have Spatial Data Modelling and BIM, Design of Transport Infrastructure and Hydrosystems Engineering, while Civil and Structural students have Introduction to Architecture, Design of Building Systems and Structural Analysis 2. Consider which modules you would enjoy more and which would most suit the career you want to pursue.

Should I do BEng or MEng?

This is definitely something you will have to decide on during second year to avoid any confusion and disappointment during year 3. I chose BEng because MEng is not regularly accepted in South Africa (where I’m from), so if you are an international student or want to work in a different country, look into what qualifications are accepted in that country.

Something else to consider is finances. An MEng degree is considered one degree although it includes undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. If you do a BEng and then decide to do a Master’s at Newcastle University, this will be two separate degrees and will be priced differently – to clarify, the final year of an MEng degree and a Master’s degree will have different tuition fees. Be sure to contact the relevant people to get more information on how each option will affect you financially.

Finally, to progress onto an MEng course, you need to have a minimum Year 2 average of 55% (this may change).

A Short Guide to Studying Civil Engineering (Year 1)

In this post, recent Civil Engineering graduate Jasmine gives us a brief overview of what the first year of the degree is like to study.

What Should I Bring to Lectures?

In First Year, the main thing to bring to lectures is something with which to take notes and something on which to take notes. You’re given a tablet with a stylus during Induction Week which you can use for the rest if your degree. If you are going to use your tablet, bring the charger with you as first year has the most contact hours compared to the following years, and most days start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. However, if you prefer using a pen and paper, make sure to bring along a pencil with you to lectures as we draw a lot of diagrams.

Just as important is a calculator. Before you start the course, make sure that you have the correct calculator as there are only certain types that are allowed in assessments:

  • Casio FX-83
  • Casio FX-85
  • Casio FX-115

Throughout the degree, we use calculators in lectures, labs, field practicals, etc. So using the correct calculator during the course will help you during exams as you will already know how to operate your calculator so you won’t waste any time trying to figure it out.

Exams and Coursework

This year is 60% written exams and 40% coursework. Because tests are considered coursework, there was actually a lot more studying in Year 1 than I expected. Other coursework included reports and presentations, which I found to be particularly nerve-wracking at first, but really helped with my confidence and presentation skills.

In my experience, going to lectures really helps with studying because you will have had the information explained to you at least once by the time you get to revision. I also found that asking questions during lectures and practicals is a great way to engage with the work and definitely helped me with my understanding.

If you have a disability, specific learning difficulty, mental health condition or injury, make sure to contact the University’s Student Health and Wellbeing service as soon as possible to discuss alternative arrangements for exams.

Where to Get Academic Support

The Writing Development Centre offers advice and guidance on writing and works with students form all years and disciplines. Maths-Aid provides tutors who can help undergraduate and taught postgraduate (PGT) students from all disciplines, except those who are in the School of Maths and Statistics. Appointments are available throughout the academic year (except for weekends and University closure days). You can find more information on, and contact both through the Academic Skills Kit Website:

Diagram showing water research at Newcastle University

How Newcastle University is helping deliver #water4all on #WorldWaterDay

In this post, Brett Cherry – our Writer in the Lab blog author, talks about the global water challenges we are facing and how Newcastle University is tackling them.

The challenges we face for water are similar if not more critical than that of energy. While both are necessary to survival, water is even more essential to life especially clean water. Access to clean water and sanitation is largely taken for granted in richer countries, while the vast majority of the world’s population struggle to live without them.

But even the UK, where it is often quite wet is threatened by water shortages in the future, indeed some parts of the country have already experienced them and will likely continue to. The main pressures here are climate change which will result in water shortages due to drought and a population increase of 8 million people by 2050.

Think for a moment that while many of you reading this will have access to a working toilet, over 2.3 billion people do not have such a luxury. The consequences of inadequate sanitation are many, not to mention deadly. 1800 children die every day from poor water, sanitation and hygiene.

The challenge for us in the ‘more developed’ world is to find solutions that are not merely scientific, technological or even economic, but also social, educational and governmental. Enter the Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub that brings together 94 organisations from 25 countries to tackle challenges around water security.

Water security for all

If we are to make sure that no one is left behind in making available clean water and sanitation for all then we must work together to achieve this. No single university, government, industry, NGO or individual will be able to do this alone. There are of course obstacles in collaborating with those whose objectives and values may slightly differ, but the stakes are simply too high not to.

Sometimes working together may be easier than originally thought, as the questions from one field may be answered by an entirely different but related one. If authorities ask why a population behaves or acts in a certain way, social scientists or NGOs may be best placed to answer.

The solution is simple: make provisions for clean water and sanitation available to those who need them. But the answer to ‘how do you do it?’ may be far from simple. Similar to the problem of making energy low-carbon, there is no one way to make clean water and sanitation a global reality.

If a community needs a low-tech, low-cost approach to supplying or storing clean water, engineers may have a solution for them. If knowledge of it needs to spread throughout the community then education will be involved. If national policies are needed for it to be adopted in a uniform way across the country, then it involves governance.

The Water Security Hub aims to work in an interdisciplinary way that cuts across disciplinary, national and professional boundaries. It is looking to highlight and enable hidden voices, such as young people, to be heard as they are one of the main stakeholders for SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

For more info about the Water Security Hub check out this podcast:

Wastewater and sanitation

The impacts of poor wastewater treatment and inadequate sanitation have already had global knock-on effects. After all it should come as no surprise that the combination of concentrated populations in cities, for example, with little to no sanitation, dramatically increases the risk of antimicrobial and drug resistance. It also spreads.

Numerous studies from researchers, such as Professor David Graham and colleagues at Newcastle University, have repeatedly shown from their field work that microbial resistance to antibiotics is spreading from regions of the world with high populations, but little to no adequate sanitation facilities like toilets.

As announced late January, AMR genes have been found in the High Arctic, what many would consider one of the last pristine environments on Earth. But as this and other research has shown, there are few if any places in the world that have not been touched by human influence.

To stop the global spread of antimicrobial resistance the world must work towards Goal 6 everywhere. The health and welfare of local communities and the wider global community depends upon it.

Flood risk management

While some parts of the world struggle with not enough water, others struggle with too much water. Water giveth life and taketh away. It is a force of creation as well as destruction. Similar to wastewater and sanitation, managing flood risks also must involve a holistic approach.

Flooding in urban and rural areas alike leads to incredible damage to life, property and livelihood. In the UK the cost of flooding is around £2.2 billion per year. But there are now tools for modelling and better understanding flood risks that enable cities and rural areas to mitigate or at the very least learn to live better with flood hazards.

Flood research at Newcastle University employs high resolution, integrated models for flooding that include the influence of climate change. Climate affects flooding in a big way. In the summer climate change intensifies short bursts of rainfall known as ‘convective storms’ (intense showers formed by rising air).

Forecasting tools integrated with high resolution climate models make possible more accurate forecasts, and modelling the movement of water through a sewer system leads to more accurate simulations of flooding. Not to mention ‘digital twin’ technology which has the potential to create a real-time digital replica of an entire city. This makes it possible to prepare in advance and manage flood risk more effectively.

Climate impacts and adaptation

Climate hazards are numerous throughout the world. They include not only floods, but droughts, heat waves, storms and other extreme weather events. We need to ask the question ‘how much more likely are these events under a changed climate?’ to get a more accurate picture of how climate change affects us.

To improve forecasting research led by Professor Hayley Fowler and colleagues, uses high-resolution climate scenarios that scale down these extreme events to the local areas they impact. All of this work is about improving adaptation to climate change.

Climate change has major implications for infrastructure, such as energy, water, health care and transport. We need to understand also how these different infrastructures are interdependent, for example how a major power outage affects health care infrastructure like hospitals, or blocks emergency services.

Shortages in water affect energy services as it is used to cool down power plants. For these and many other reasons climates risk should be factored into infrastructure planning.

In a recent speech given by Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the UK Environment Agency, he says all water companies in the country ‘identify the same thing as their biggest operating risk: climate change’. This means we need infrastructure that can act as a water sink as well as a water supply, a reason to make infrastructure ‘blue-green’.

Blue-green cities and resilient infrastructure

Green walls, rain gardens and permeable surfaces that serve as buffers for rainwater are examples of ‘green’ infrastructure. Ponds, pond systems, leaky dams or water courses that store water on the surface are forms of ‘blue’ infrastructure. Put them together and you have ‘blue-green infrastructure’.

Blue-green infrastructure is potentially an important tool for allowing cities to adapt to climate change. It also can improve air quality and enhance ecosystems.

Newcastle University research on blue-green cities spans modelling, monitoring and demonstrating blue-green infrastructure. The National Green Infrastructure Facility, led by Dr Claire Walsh and Dr Ross Stirling, based at the Urban Sciences Building at Newcastle Helix, evaluates the benefits of blue-green infrastructure. An important part of this research is using digital sensors to monitor say how much water a tree stores or a swale.

While there are many good reasons for using blue-green infrastructure in cities, testing them with science makes possible new innovations that may not have been known or made possible before. To make cities resilient to flooding means overcoming any existing barriers to sustainable flood mitigation. Cities are also part of a wider water catchment that should be taken into account.

Catchment and water management

A water catchment is the area where water is collected in the landscape and drains into a water body or course such as a lake or river. Whether in the countryside, the city or somewhere in between we live and interact with a water catchment, although the ways in which water travels through the landscape may radically differ as cities have mainly paved surfaces.

In rural catchments much of the research from Newcastle has focused on ‘natural engineering’ approaches to slow, store and filter water. This means working with the landscape to mitigate flooding and combining multiple sets of expertise from science and engineering to social science and knowledge of local communities.

Most of the problems of flooding and drought are due to enhanced loss of water from the landscape. This means finding ways to retain water within the landscape makes it possible to manage the catchment in an integrated way that takes into account ecosystems and communities.

The programmes of research at Newcastle University on water are many, to discover more visit the Global Challenges Academy’s website.

World Wildlife Day

To celebrate World Wildlife Day, we’re taking a look at some of our favourite wildlife that is local to Newcastle and the North East.



Image by Ian Cook, RSPB

These seabirds are known for creating their nests on cliff-tops and rock ledges around the UK’s coast line. Since the 1960s a colony of Kittawakes have made a disused-flourmill-turned-art-gallery their home. This groups of Kittawakes nesting on the Baltic building in Newcastle upon Tyne are famous for being the furthest inland colony in the world.


Red Squirrels

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Once common across Europe, the number of red squirrels found in the UK have decreased since the introduction of the grey squirrel 150 years ago. It’s now thought that only around 15,000 red squirrels are left in England so they are difficult to spot. Luckily for us, around half of that population live in Kielder Forest in Northumberland.


Cheviot Goats

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Image by John Dalrymple

This wild group of British Primitive Goats live so remotely in the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland that they are genetically distinct from others of their species. Such goats were once domesticated and brought to the UK around 5000BC as farm animals. The group of Cheviot goats are thought to have been wild for at least 2000 years. Our researchers are now tracking the goats using GPS to gain an insight into their range and behaviours.


Rock Pools at Cullercoats

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Not far from our Marine Biology Lab in Cullercoats Bay there is an entire ecosystem of wildlife to be found on the rocky shore. In the tide pools you can find hermit crabs, limpets, velvet crabs, starfish, sea snails, and maybe even a lobster if you’re lucky.



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There are a few places you can visit in the North East for Seal-Spotting. If you’re after Harbor Seals, head to Seal Sands at the mouth of the Tees for the North East’s only breeding colony. If you fancy seeing the even bigger Grey Seals, head to the Farne Islands. There over 8,000 grey seals there, making it one of the largest colonies in Europe.



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These distinctive birds can also be found in abundance in the Farne Islands. No wonder David Attenborough said this was his favourite place in the UK for “magnificent nature”. Puffins can be found on the islands each year between April and July for their breeding season, the rest of their year is spent out at sea.