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News ‘Smart’ projects on show at student exhibition

Crime solving smart speakers, talking plants and beauty-biased juries are some of the exciting student projects at GradEX19

GRadEX19 takes place on Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 June
Image: GRadEX19 takes place on Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 June

On Wednesday 5 June students from Computing, Digital Technologies, Engineering, Policing and Science courses will showcase their final year work with events taking place at a variety of venues across the University's Stoke-on-Trent campus. Art and Design students will also take part in the exhibition for the first time on Thursday 6 June.

Industry judges will award prizes to the best work and a host of employers will attend the event, which often leads to genuine job offers and career opportunities. Members of the public are also encouraged to visit the exhibition.

Specialist new equipment will also be unveiled on the day including a Formula racing car and cutting edge technology part-funded by the LEP to be used in the University’s Digital Shed maker zone.

Digital Forensics student Dan English put smart speakers on trial for his project and found that information retrieved from devices like the Amazon Echo could be used in criminal investigations.

He was able to access logs of when the speaker was used and was connected to the wifi – which could help to prove or disprove someone’s alibi. Search history could also be accessed via the mobile phone app and the last 50 recordings on the smart speaker were accessed via the user’s account on the Amazon website.

Dan, 23 from Bristol, explained: “These recordings could clarify someone’s searches. For example, their history might show ‘gun’ but when you listen to the audio recording they actually said ‘chewing gum’ and it was misheard by the speaker.

“I think that I’ve proved the worth of taking smart speakers as evidence from crime scenes which currently isn’t done. It’s a source of information that most people wouldn’t think to delete and could help to prove someone’s innocence or guilt.”

What did one pea plant say to the other? That’s what BSc (Hons) Animal Biology and Conservation student Alex Fitzroy investigated in his project.

Alex, 28 from Longton, explained: “We had a lecture about plants communicating through their roots by releasing chemicals and I wanted to test if they can also ‘talk’ to each other by sending airbourne signals."

Plants have adapted defences against pests, by releasing chemical signals that prime other parts of the plant when they are being eaten to reduce damage. Alex looked at whether these signals are also communicated from damaged to undamaged pea plants through the air.

He set up two pea plants next to each other in plastic cups then simulated one of the plants being bitten by an insect using either a hole-punch, salicylic acid, or both.

Alex said: “When the acid was used there was evidence of communication between the plants – which likely means the undamaged plant released the same chemical to protect itself.

“Although the study was only small scale, further research could be used for crop protection and to help reduce the reliance on pesticides.”

Another project on show is by Psychology student Kira Watson, 21 from Cannock, who looked at whether a defendant’s attractiveness could sway the verdict passed by a jury in court.

“I’d watch stories about crimes on the news and my nan would say things like ‘he’s got a kind face, he can’t be guilty’. So, I decided to use this project to find out if other people think like that!”

Kira asked participants to rate the attractiveness of male faces from an online database to select a ‘highly attractive’ and ‘highly unattractive’ image for her main study.  She then paired the faces with two crimes of varying severity – a burglary and a purse theft – and surveyed 130 participants.

Some participants were asked to read a description of the crime on its own, and others were asked to read the crime paired with either the attractive or unattractive face before rating how guilty they believed the accused was on scale of 0 to 100%.

“The results showed a slight relationship between attractiveness and the perceived level of guilt, with participants rating the unattractive defendant more highly for both crimes. Although there wasn’t a huge difference it still shows an overall bias towards the attractive person.”

Find out about more student projects in the exhbition by browsing the full GradEX catalogue online.

GradEX takes place on Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 June at Staffordshire University's College Road site - visit the website for more information.

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