Worm turns scientists' friend

JON WELCH In terms of scientific progress, it's not so much a leap as a great wriggle forward. Already known as the gardener's friend, the humble earthworm could soon be put to another important use - decontaminating soil at former petrol station sites.

JON WELCH

In terms of scientific progress, it's not so much a leap as a great wriggle forward.

Already known as the gardener's friend, the humble earthworm could soon be put to another important use - decontaminating soil at former petrol station sites.

Research by a postgraduate student at UEA found earthworms were surprisingly good at helping to clean up polluted soil, removing up to 80pc of contaminants in laboratory studies.

The discovery, by environmental scientist Zac Hickman, could lead to the creatures being put to work cleaning up hundreds of derelict petrol station sites across the country, including many in Norfolk.

His findings, along with those of 27 other UEA students, will be presented to the public at an exhibition in Norwich today.

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They include a study into the benefits of broccoli in preventing cancer, a look at whether "emotionally intelligent" fathers have a better work-family balance and even a project examining why many of us are fascinated by TV show Big Brother yet find politics boring.

Organisers hope the event at the Forum will raise awareness of the breadth and quality of research taking place at the university among the general public and employers.

And they have promised that visitors will not be blinded with science: all the projects will be explained in simple, everyday, non-technical language.

"I'm very impressed with this year's projects. They cover a huge range of topics," said Dr Rebecca Wyand, career development adviser for PhD students and research staff at UEA.

"We see the students on our programmes as professionals and potential employees, and people will be able to see how many of the subjects they have been studying are applicable to everyday life."

The Showcase of Post-Graduate Research is at the Forum, Norwich, today from 9am to 6pm. Admission is free. An evening session runs tonight from 5.45pm to 8pm for employers. Admission is by ticket only - please call Judith Smith on 01603 593849.