Postgraduate: Humour school; successes at Queen's University, Belfast; mooting at Westminster

Laughter is a serious matter for some. A conference on humour and laughter, billed as a "prestigious annual event", will be held at Wolverhampton University in September. "It's aimed particularly at researchers and PhD students," says Josiane Boutonnet, who is organising the event. "A lot of research is being carried out into the effects and benefits of humour." Guest speakers will attend from around the world. Among them will be Dr Paul McDonald, of Wolverhampton's English faculty, who has written two comic novels,
Surviving Sting and
Kiss Me Softly. One of his research interests is modern American humour - he has written papers on comedians such as Woody Allen and the late Bill Hicks. To sign up for the conference, go to:
www.wlv.ac.uk/humourschool04

Laughter is a serious matter for some. A conference on humour and laughter, billed as a "prestigious annual event", will be held at Wolverhampton University in September. "It's aimed particularly at researchers and PhD students," says Josiane Boutonnet, who is organising the event. "A lot of research is being carried out into the effects and benefits of humour." Guest speakers will attend from around the world. Among them will be Dr Paul McDonald, of Wolverhampton's English faculty, who has written two comic novels, Surviving Sting and Kiss Me Softly. One of his research interests is modern American humour - he has written papers on comedians such as Woody Allen and the late Bill Hicks. To sign up for the conference, go to: www.wlv.ac.uk/humourschool04

* A coral reef has been discovered in Scotland by a group of researchers, including a doctoral student. Marine ecologist Annika Mitchell, whose part-time PhD at Queen's University, Belfast, is on the mapping of sea beds, was working as an assistant on a research cruise when the reef was found. The cold water reef, near the Hebrides, is the only one to have been found in the UK within inshore waters. Each night the team ran acoustic surveys, which produced topographic maps. In the mornings, the data would be reviewed. "On one of the very first surveys we got a map which showed bumps on the edge of a trough," says Mitchell. "We targeted this area with underwater video - I was actually operating the cameras - and saw these very bright white coral mounds." The reef is similar to a tropical coral reef, and alive with an array of species including sea firs, anemones, sponges, squat lobsters and featherstars.

* And there's another success story from Queen's. Zhipan Liu, a chemist, has won an international prize for his PhD. It is on the nature of chemical reactions and designing new catalysts, and was judged the most outstanding chemistry PhD of 2004 by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Dr Liu is now working on finding a catalyst that can efficiently remove NOx, the exhaust from vehicle engines.

* Michael Mansfield QC turned judge for the day at Westminster University recently. He was officiating at a mooting competition for law diploma students, held to mark the opening of the university's new mock courtrooms. The students presented opposing legal arguments as if at court. Mr Mansfield said that mock courtrooms are a good idea because they give trainee barristers an idea of how it feels to stand up in front of a judge and jury. He was impressed by the competitors, who were six months into their legal conversion courses. "For people who have not got a law degree, that level is astonishing," he said. Two mock courtrooms have been set up at Westminster. They are converted lecture theatres, and each has a witness box, areas for the judge and jury, and heavy velvet backdrops.

g.mccann@independent.co.uk

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