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January 6 start date for spring term in Swansea

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Schools in Swansea are set to open two days later than planned at the start of next term to allow them to plan and prepare for the term ahead.

It means in Swansea the first day of the spring term in most schools will be Thursday January 6.

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Swansea Council’s Director of Education, Helen Morgan-Rees, has written to all parents and carers in the city outlining the changes following updated guidance from the Welsh Government due to the Omicron variant.

She said: “Our collective priority continues to be to minimise the disruption to education, and ensure where possible learners continue to receive in person learning, as well as protecting school staff and learners.

“The Welsh Government will be providing all schools with two planning days at the start of the new spring term, this will allow us time to assess staffing capacity and put the necessary measures in place to support the return of learners.

“However, schools will also be ensuring that they have robust plans in place to move to remote learning if needed. This could be for individual classes/year groups or possibly for the whole school, depending on staffing pressures.

“The planning days will also allow our secondary schools to plan for learners to safely sit their January exams. At the beginning of term these students will be prioritized for onsite learning and to ensure that the exams can take place safely.

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“Given the current uncertainties around Omicron the Minister has asked schools to move to the ‘very high’ risk level on the schools’ infection control framework.

“At a school level this could see staggered start and finish times from the start of the new term as an additional mitigation as well as the re-introduction of contact groups and potentially pausing after school and breakfast provision, or team sports where necessary.

“These decisions will be taken based on each individual school’s risk assessment. Please support our headteachers when these difficult decisions have to be taken.”

Following updated Welsh Government advice staff and pupils are being asked to take lateral flow tests (LFT) three times a week instead of two.

All staff and secondary-aged pupils should continue to use face coverings in communal areas and classrooms where physical distancing cannot be maintained as well as on school transport and this will continue to be kept under review.

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The families of pupils entitled to free school meals will receive payments during the Christmas holidays and the additional two days while food parcels will be delivered to the homes of those who have chosen that option.

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Health

Swansea scientists develop new method to detect viruses in a pinprick

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Scientists at Swansea University, Biovici Ltd and the National Physical Laboratory have developed a method to detect viruses in very small volumes.

The work, published in Advanced NanoBiomed Research, follows a successful Innovate UK project developing graphene for use in biosensors – devices that can detect tiny levels of disease markers.

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For many parts of the world that do not have access to high-tech labs found in hospitals, detecting viruses such as hepatitis C (HCV) – could save millions of preventable deaths worldwide. In addition, biosensors such as this could be used at the point-of-care – opening effective healthcare in difficult-to-reach settings.

What makes the detection of viruses in such small volumes possible is the use of a material called graphene. Graphene is extremely thin – only one atom thick – making it very sensitive to anything that attaches to it.

By carefully controlling its surface, scientists at Swansea University were able to make the surface of graphene sensitive to the HCV virus. These measurements were done with graphene specialists at the National Physical Laboratory.

In the future, it is hoped that multiple biosensors can be developed onto a single chip – this could be used to detect different types of dangerous viruses or disease markers from a single measurement.  

Ffion Walters, Innovation Technologist at Swansea University’s Healthcare Technology Centre said: “Highly sensitive and simplistic sensors have never been more in demand with regards point-of-care applications. 

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“This collaborative project has allowed us to realise proof-of-concept real-time sensors for HCV,  which could be especially beneficial in resource-limited settings or for difficult-to-reach populations.”

Professor Owen Guy, Head of Chemistry at Swansea University, said: “At Swansea University, we have now developed graphene-based biosensors for both Hepatitis B and C. This is a major step forward to a future single point of care test”

Dr Olga Kazakova, NPL Fellow Quantum Materials & Sensors added: “NPL was delighted to be part of this multidisciplinary team. Participation in this project allowed us to further develop our metrological validation facilities and apply them to the characterisation of graphene biosensors and aid in solving an important challenge in the health sector.”

Lead image: Graphene device chip attached to an electrical connector, with two 5 μL HCVcAg samples (one applied on each graphene resistor). (Image: Swansea University)

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Science

Public health professor becomes Fellow of Academy of Medical Sciences

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A Swansea University public health expert has been honoured by the prestigious Academy of Medical Sciences

Professor Ronan Lyons, Clinical Professor of Public Health at Swansea University Medical School and one of the two Directors at Population Data Science, is one of 60 outstanding biomedical and health scientists admitted to the Academy’s influential Fellowship.

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The new Fellows have all been recognised for their remarkable contributions to biomedical and health science and their ability to generate new knowledge and improve the health of people everywhere.

Professor Lyons’s research focuses on the use of health information to support the targeting and evaluation of health and non-health service interventions to improve prevention, care and rehabilitation.

During the pandemic, his team have used insights from the rich health data in SAIL Databank to support policy decisions to protect the public, including providing intelligence to the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group and subsequently feeding into the UK’s SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).

Professor Lyons said: “I am delighted and honoured to be selected as a Fellow by the Academy of Medical Sciences.

“This undoubtedly reflects the widespread appreciation of the contribution research conducted using the SAIL Databank make to individuals and society. 

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“It is also recognition of the fantastic team science approach in Population Data Science at Swansea University and our dedication to the advancement of health research through our many collaborations across the UK and around the world.”

The Academy of Medical Sciences is the independent body in the UK representing the diversity of medical science. Selected from 366 candidates from across the UK, the 60 scientists chosen marks the highest number of new Fellows ever elected.

Academy President Professor Dame Anne Johnson said: “It gives me great pleasure to welcome these 60 experts to the Fellowship to help to address the major health challenges facing society.

“The diversity of biomedical and health expertise within our Fellowship is a formidable asset that in the past year has informed our work on critical issues such as tackling the Covid19 pandemic, understanding the health impacts of climate change, addressing health inequalities, and making the case for funding science. The new Fellows of 2022 will be critical to helping us deliver our ambitious 10-year strategy that we will launch later this year.”

The new Fellows will be formally admitted to the Academy next month.

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(Lead image: Swansea University)

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Education

Swansea talent to compete in international skills competition

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WorldSkills UK has announced that four Welsh competitors will be joining Team UK at the 46th WorldSkills competition in Shanghai, China 2022, with two hailing from West Wales.

WorldSkills supports young people across the world to take part in competition-led training, assessment, and benchmarking, with the competitors from national teams testing their ability to achieve world-class standards in an Olympic-style skills competition.

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The finals in Shanghai are due to run from the 12th – 17th October, with the finalists competing to be the best in the world at their chosen skill. Welsh competitors are hoping to achieve medals in categories including Manufacturing Team Challenge and Industrial Economics.

The selection follows several rounds of competition and an intense training and development programme where young people from all over the country have been competing and training in different skills categories.

The international competition is the final stage in the WorldSkills journey – running every two years – and is the biggest vocational education and skills excellence event in the world.

George Denman

George Denman, 22, from Swansea, is competing in the Manufacturing Team Challenge category.

He said: “The competitions have allowed me to develop and broaden my skills and have encouraged my ambition to improve as a young engineer.

“It’s been an amazing achievement to be chosen as part of Team UK.”

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Ben Lewis

Ben Lewis, 22, is another Swansea-based competitor who has made it through to Shanghai 2022. Competing in the Industrial Electronics category, he said: “I’ve loved taking part in the competitions; the biggest highlight has to be all of the extra training that we have been given.”

“It means a lot to be chosen for Team UK and to be given the opportunity to win a gold medal. It just goes to show that I’ve improved in my skill and that I’m good enough to compete internationally for Wales.”

Wales has previously taken 12 competitors to the WorldSkills international finals in the past few years, including Kazan and Abu Dhabi.

Minister for Economy Vaughan Gething said: “It’s fantastic to see so many Welsh competitors taking part in the international WorldSkills competitions. WorldSkills brings together some of the most creative, skilled, and driven young people in Wales.”

“It’s vital that we continue to invest in future generations and continue to provide opportunities for young people to showcase the exceptional talent we have in this country and bring back skills they learn to our Welsh businesses. I wish all of the competitors the very best of luck.”

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