College of Science, Engineering and Food Science - Masters by Research Theses

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    Development of a wearable system for monitoring people with Parkinson’s at home
    (University College Cork, 2023) Sica, Marco; O'Flynn, Brendan; Tedesco, Salvatore; AbbVie; Enterprise Ireland
    Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting the central nervous system. Besides impairing motor functions, PD is also characterized by a broad variety of non-motor symptoms, such as mood and cognitive disorders, hallucinations, and sleep disturbances. People with Parkinson’s (PwP) are evaluated using clinical assessments and self-administered diaries and, as a consequence, they receive the necessary pharmacological therapy to alleviate symptoms and enhance sleep quality. Tri-axial accelerometers and gyroscopes might be employed to objectively evaluate Parkinsonians’ condition and help clinicians in making decisions. PwP often have significant abnormalities in blood pressure (BP) due to comorbid age-related cardiovascular disease and orthostatic hypotension, which result in blurred vision, dizziness, syncope, and falls. Frequent BP monitoring may aid in the evaluation of such events and differentiate PD symptoms from those originated by hypotension. A number of commercially available devices designed specifically for PwP include accelerometers and gyroscopes for the estimation of main motor symptoms, gait parameters, and sleep quality; nevertheless, according to the authors' knowledge, neither commercially available systems nor published works include also photoplethysmograph (PPG) and electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors that can be used for Parkinsonians’ cardiovascular monitoring. In this work, the WESAA (Wearable Enabled Symptom Assessment Algorithm) system is introduced as a revolutionary tool for the remote monitoring of PD patients. It is comprised of two devices worn on the wrist and ankle, and its key purpose is to capture accelerations and angular velocities from these body parts, as well as PPG and ECG data. This information may be used off-line to predict common PD motor symptoms (such as tremor, bradykinesia, and dyskinesia), walking speed, sleep-wake cycles, and cuff-less BP measures. The system requirements, market overview, industrial design, hardware and firmware development, user experience, early results of the gathered inertial raw data, and validation of the PPG and ECG signals were looked at in detail in the present work. The created system fulfils all the defined user requirements, and the sensors used yielded results equivalent to gold standard technologies. This thesis also studied the PwP's viewpoints on the WESAA system which is crucial for usability and adherence, examining practical concerns such as size, design, and comfort, as well as emotional consequences, societal impact, and the significance of discretion. In addition, users discussed their data-sharing preferences and how wearable technology could enhance their lives (i.e., the necessity to give feedback, particularly on motor symptoms). The WESAA system thus presents a promising alternative for remote monitoring of PwP since it has the ability to assist physicians in decision-making in terms of medication and treatment, giving them potentially useful information about the motor symptoms and the overall health status of their patients. Future work involves the implementation of off-line solutions for the detection of PD motor symptoms, walking speed, sleep-wake cycles, and cuff-less BP; machine learning algorithms should be adopted and a broader data collection carried out.
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    Urban trees and biodiversity in Cork city
    (University College Cork, 2022) Marron, Caoimhe; Lettice, Eoin; Doyle Prestwich, Barbara
    Biodiversity is poorly quantified in urban landscapes and is not effectively incorporated into urban planning and policymaking. Land-use change (e.g., urbanisation) is one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss. Furthermore, urbanisation is expected to increase from 50 to 70% by 2050. The CSO reported a 0.6% decrease of residents living in highly rural areas of Ireland (2011-2016), including a 5.5% increase in residents living in independent urban towns. Urban trees have a broad range of ecosystem services; it is likely that many of these services will become increasingly important due to climate change pressures (e.g., changing climatic conditions, extreme natural occurrences). This thesis examines the role of urban trees/green spaces in supporting the biodiversity of other taxa (lichens, invertebrates, birds, and ground vegetation) in Cork city. There was a total of 102 individual trees studied across 6 Cork city sites, including the UCC arboretum (n=26); Cork city Marina (n=12); the Atlantic Pond (n=17); Kennedy Park (n=11); The Lee Fields (n=18); Fitzgerald’s Park (n=18). A full survey of all 4 taxa was conducted per tree, including the use of sticky traps for invertebrates; quadrat sampling for both vegetation and lichens; and observational point-counts for birds. There were no significant differences/associations between the species richness of the various taxa and the species of tree. This could be due to a limited number of replicate trees, which can be expected with an observational-based approach. However, community-level analyses have shown significant variations in the taxa communities among the 6 sites (p<0.001 for all taxa). These data suggest that the type of urban site is significantly associated with biotic community composition. Additionally, the research investigates the relationship that microclimate (light intensity and temperature) and canopy openness have with urban tree species. Microclimate data loggers were deployed at the base of all trees for each experiment and hemispherical canopy images were taken to determine canopy openness in Fitzgerald’s Park. In general, there were no, or little associations found between microclimate data, canopy openness and biodiversity. Thus, the assessment of the hypothesis that microclimate conditions impact taxa communities was inconclusive. Overall, the study supported the hypothesis that urban trees and green spaces support a large variety of individuals from other taxa and provides a baseline for biodiversity in Cork city, specifically regarding future studies and urban planning.
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    The ecology and phylogeography of the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) in Ireland
    (University College Cork, 2023) Lyne, Linda; Butler, Fidelma; Ramsay, Ruth; European Regional Development Fund
    Ireland has only one native terrestrial reptile, the common lizard Zootoca vivipara. Many people are unaware of its presence in Ireland and little research has been conducted on the species here. However, understanding the ecology of the common lizard in Ireland could greatly help with the conservation of our only native lizard. Here we show that records of common lizards in Ireland are predominantly from coastal areas and that it occupies smaller microhabitats, such as banks or stone walls, which potentially have microclimates that offer advantages for thermoregulation. Using records of Z. vivipara sightings from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, this research identified data gaps within the distribution of Z. vivipara in Ireland, but it is uncertain if these gaps are explained by unsuitable habitat type or low sampling effort. In addition, distribution of records were found to be centred around coastal areas and sites popular with human outdoor recreation. Recorder bias, habitat suitability, and coastal sunshine hours were identified as potential factors influencing the distribution of records. A focused study on the Iveragh Peninsula, in the south-west of Ireland, observed Z. vivipara from habitat types such as upland peatland/heath (23%), gardens (17%) and old stone walls/ruins (16%). Wind speed, air temperature, and relative humidity were environmental parameters examined in this research to investigate the influence of microclimates within the microhabitats which lizards occupy. Wind speed was found to be significantly lower at ground level (P<0.05) compared to 2m height, and thus, wind may have an influence on where lizards are found within habitats. In addition, through genetic analysis, we confirm for the first time, that Irish Z. vivipara belong to the Western viviparous clade. This brings Irish phylogeographic research on the species up to date with similar research in other parts of the species’ range. We also identify that unique haplotypes are present in Ireland and that unique lineages also exist within geographically disparate populations here. Additional genetic sampling is recommended to fully understand how Z. vivipara colonised Ireland post-glacially. It is recommended that a long-term study is established to perform focused surveys for lizard presence/absence in areas where data gaps occur in sightings records of the species in Ireland. This focused study should also identify reasons for data gaps, such as habitat suitability or recorder effort. A population dynamics and behavioural study is needed to examine how environmental parameters influence Z. vivipara presence/absence in certain habitats. Finally, additional samples for genetic sequencing would greatly benefit the research into the different haplotypes identified in this study. A more geographically widespread range of samples, including from off-shore islands, would aid in understanding how Z. vivipara arrived and dispersed in Ireland.
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    Biodiversity, people, and logistics: the balancing act of urban park management
    (University College Cork, 2023) Horan, Sadhbh; Harrison, Simon; Lettice, Eoin
    In a time when global populations are moving to urban centres, the need for adequate green spaces in towns and cities for the health of both people and nature is paramount. The management of such spaces in Ireland is idiosyncratic and requires investigation. Multiple studies have tried to quantify the key influences to take into consideration when managing an urban park and for this thesis it was determined that the intersection of biodiversity, people and logistics encompassed theses influences. The aim of this study was to determine how best to manage parks in terms of habitat, amenity and management choice, based on the three selected influences. Diversity of vascular plants and fungi were assessed at six parks in Cork city. In addition, park user questionnaires and SOPARC (System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities) observations were made to quantify people’s park use and opinions. Finally, in order to determine what systems were already in place, structured interviews were undertaken with individuals and organisations who manage urban parks in Ireland. Results show that dry meadow is the optimal choice of habitat for Irish parks due to it high level of biodiversity, its popularity among park visitors, and its compatibility with park amenities however the choice of habitat needs to take abiotic and social factors into account also. Basic amenities such as footpaths and litter bins were preferred over elaborate ones such as outdoor exercise equipment, while overall, recreational facilities were more popular than sports facilities. Logistically, in urban centres where a park management sector was present, it was often underfunded and understaffed, and so while the progress made by these groups is commendable, they are simply not rigorous enough to sustain the growing number and need for urban parks in Ireland. Urban green spaces require a complex understanding of each of the three influences highlighted in this study both across urban centres and within individual parks and cities in order for optimal management to take place.
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    Time in quantum mechanics and the Page-Wootters formalism
    (University College Cork, 2023) De Rosa, Guido; Ruschhaupt, Andreas
    This work relates to the "problem of time", the difficulties of which represent a classic problem in the foundations of quantum mechanics. It can be traced back to the argument, by Wolfgang Pauli, on the impossibility of defining time as a quantum observable, due to contradictions related to the spectrum of energy (1933). A number of models, aimed at overcoming such difficulties, have been developed over the decades, and are reviewed in the present work. Particular attention is paid to the theoretical framework first proposed by Page and Wootters in 1983 (later improved by Lloyd, Giovannetti and Maccone and others), where time and unitary evolution only emerge in terms of entanglement between non-interacting subsystems of an otherwise stationary "universe'", and where one of the subsystems acts as a "clock'" for the `"rest" of it. Discrete clocks, within the framework, are implemented, using existing results related to quantum systems described by finite-dimensional Hilbert spaces. The formalism is then applied to some simple quantum systems, and a numerical comparison is performed between the Page--Wootters model and the predictions of "ordinary'" quantum mechanics. The Page and Wootters formalism is also applied to non-unitary systems, such as those modeled in absorption theories of time-of-arrival at a particle detector. A comparison is made between the predictions of the two models as well. The case of a differing result opens the way to the potential of an experimental verification. Future lines of research may cover a broader phenomenology, and include a relativistic extension, which is briefly introduced.