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Review of the Year: Five things we learned in 2017

Posted on 21 December 2017

It has been a busy year for research at the University of York, with our stories making headlines around the world. Here are highlights from five topics and some of the amazing things we have learned from our researchers in 2017:


Researchers showed through a mathematical formula how sperm swin towards an egg.  They found that the sperm's tail creates a characteristic rhythem that pushes the sperm forward, but also pulls the head backwards and sideways in a coordinated way.

Love it or hate it, Marmite could be good for your brain!  Scientists discovered a potential link between eating marmite and activitiy in the brain, through an increase in a chemical messenger associated with healthy brain function.

The common cold  could soon be a thing of the past, as scientists at York stepped closer to cracking the 'enigma code' of the virus. The team identified the workings of a 'hidden code' within the genome of the Human Parechovirus, which includes the common cold, polio and hand foot and mouth disease.

Scientists showed that there was a link between air pollution and 2.7 million preterm births per year. For the first time, the team at the Stockholm Environment Institute quantified the global impact of pollution in association with preterm birth rates.


The gruesome reality of Guy Fawkes' England was realised in BBC drama, Gunpowder, under the guidance of York historians, Dr Hannah Greig and Dr John Cooper.  Dr Greig and Dr Cooper were historical advisors to the series, which received a strong reaction from audiences due to the realistic depiction of the turbulant times of King James' reign. 

The 'Lost chapel' of Westminster came back to life in a new 3D model developed through a collaboration between historians and the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture.  The first dedicated House of Commons chamber was destroyed in the 1834 Palace of Westminster fire, but can now be viewed in a 3D reconstruction online and on digital screens at Westminster.

Old Norse is back!  Researchers and students at the University provided the voices of new animatronic Viking characters at the world-famous JORVIK Viking Centre, which opening again after a 16 month refurbishment.  The characters speak in Old Norse and tell the stories of what it was like to live in AD960 based on more than 30 years of archaeological research. 


Scientists solved a puzzling break in continuity of ocean warming records that sparked much controversy after climate data was published in the journal Science in 2015.  The latest work confirms that the conclusions of the 2015 paper, which sparked wide debate following the suggestion that there was no detectable slowdown in ocean warming, were in fact accurate.

More than three quarters of plants and animals in England are likely to be significantly affected by climate change by the end of century.  Research showed that 54 per cent of 3,000 species could significantly expand their populations in different areas of the country where climate suitability is increasing, but 27 per cent may not find an alternative climate to survive in.

Estimates of nitrogen dioxide emitted from vehicles may have been overestimated.  Chemists at the University examined 130 million hourly measurements from 61 European cities and future projections of roadside pollution may have been overly pessimistic. 


Playing music, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Adele, and Justin Bieber, has no impact on chimpanzee welfare. It was previously thought that playing music to primates in captivity had a positive effect on the animals' welfare, but research at York showed that neither classical or pop music had a positive or negative effect on chimps.

Yoda bat is now a happy bat!  A fruit bat, nicknamed 'Yoda', was formally identified and registered as happy (Hamamas) tube-nosed fruit bat by a York researcher.  Discovered in a remote rainforest in Papua New Guinea, the broad round jaw of the bat gives the appearance of a constant smile.

Male killer whales are more likely to die if they are not at the centre of their social group. Researchers found the most socially isolated males were three times more likely to die in any given year than those in the ‘most central social positions’.


Young people who perform well at video games, also have high levels of intelligence. Researchers found that some action strategy games can act like IQ tests and there is a correlation between performance in the game and paper-and-pencil intelligence tests.

York is the UK's first Human Rights City. The Lord Mayor of York declared the city a Human Rights City, following the launch of network that campaigned for the new status after establishing close partnerships between the University, the voluntary sector, and civil society.

Researchers have found that the majority of places of worship that permit same-sex marriage carry out small numbers of ceremonies, with just over half having actually married a coupleSame-sex couples are still prohibited from marrying in approximately 40,000 places of worship that permit different-sex couples to marry.

To read more research news stories from 2017, please visit our news pages: