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Going underground: Cambridge digs into the history of geology with landmark exhibition

9 hours 1 min ago

Uncovering how the ground beneath our feet was mapped for the first time – and revealing some of the controversies and tragedies geology brought to the surface of intellectual debate, Landscapes Below opens to the public on Friday, November 24, at Cambridge University Library.

Featuring the biggest-ever object (1.9mx1.6m) to go on display at the Library: George Bellas Greenough’s 1819 A Geological Map of England and Wales (the first map produced by the Geological Society of London), as well as a visually stunning collection of maps from the earliest days of geology – the exhibition explores how these new subterranean visions of the British landscape influenced our understanding of the Earth. All the maps belonging to the library are going on display for the first time.

“I think the maps are beautiful objects, tell fascinating stories and frame geology in a new light,” said exhibition curator Allison Ksiazkiewicz. “This was a new take on nature and a new way of thinking about the landscape for those interested in nature.

“We show how the early pioneers of this new science wrestled with the ideas of a visual vocabulary – and how for the first time people were encouraged to think about the secretive world beneath their feet.”

As well as maps, Landscapes Below also brings together an extraordinary collection of fossils, artworks and a collection of 154 diamonds, on loan from the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. Displayed together for the first time, the diamonds were collected, arranged, and produced by Jacques Louis, Comte de Bournon who later became the Keeper of the Royal Mineral Collection for King Louis XVIII.

Another important exhibit on display for the first time is the first edition of George Cuvier and Alexandre Brongniart’s Researches on the Fossil Bones of Quadrupeds (1811), on loan from Trinity College. It examined the geology of the Paris Basin and revolutionised what was considered ‘young’ in geological terms. 

Artists were also keen to accurately depict the geological landscape. After surviving Captain Cook’s ill-fated third voyage of discovery, artist, John Webber returned to England and travelled around the country painting landscapes and geological formations, as seen in Landscape of Rocks in Derbyshire. Christopher Packe’s A New Philosophico-Chorographical Chart of East-Kent (1743), on loan from the Geological Society of London, is a remarkable, engraved map that draws on early modern medicine in the interpretation of the surrounding landscape.

“The objects we’re putting on display show the many different applications of geological knowledge,” added Ksiazkiewicz. “Whether it’s a map showing the coal fields of Lancashire in the 1830s – or revealing how this new science was used for economic and military reasons.”

In many ways, the landscapes the earliest geologists worked among became battlegrounds as a scientific old guard – loyal to the established pursuits of mineralogy and chemistry – opposed a new generation of scientists intent on using the fossil record in the study of the Earth’s age and formation.

Exhibitions Officer Chris Burgess said: “Maps were central to the development of geology but disagreement between its leading figures was common. Maps of the period did not just show new knowledge but represented visible arguments about how that knowledge should be recorded.”

The exhibition also includes objects from those with rather tragic histories, including William Smith – whose famous 1815 Geological Map of England has been described as the ‘Magna Carta of geology’. Despite publishing the world’s first geological map (which is still used as the basis of such maps today), Smith was shunned by the scientific community for many years, became a bankrupt, and ended up in debtors’ prison.

John MacCulloch, who produced the Geological Map of Scotland, did not live to see his work published after his honeymoon carriage overturned and killed him at the age of 61. He spent 15 summers surveying Scotland, after convincing the Board of Ordnance to sponsor the project. There was some dispute about how MacCulloch calculated his mileage and spent the funds, and the Ordnance only paid for six summers’ worth of work. Five summers were paid for by the Treasury and four from his own pocket.

Added Ksiazkiewicz: “Not only do these maps and objects represent years of work by individuals looking to develop a new science of the Earth, they stir the imagination. You can imagine yourself walking across the landscape and absorbing all that comes with it – views, antiquities, fossils, and vegetation. And weather, there’s always weather.”

Landscapes Below runs from November 25, 2017 to March 29, 2018 at Cambridge University Library’s Milstein Exhibition Centre. Admission is free. Opening times are Mon-Fri 9am-6pm and Saturday 9am-16.30pm. Closed Sundays.

A box full of diamonds, volcanic rock from Mount Vesuvius, and the geology guide that Darwin packed for his epic voyage on the Beagle will go on display in Cambridge this week as part of the first major exhibition to celebrate geological map-making.

We show how for the first time people were encouraged to think about the secretive world beneath their feet.Allison KsiazkiewiczCambridge University LibraryA Treatise on Diamonds and Precious Stones, 1813, by John Mawe

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How to cut your lawn for grasshoppers

Wed, 22/11/2017 - 00:45

One could be forgiven for wondering what the point of such a question might be. But the solution, proposed by theoretical physicists in the UK and the US, has some intriguing connections to quantum theory, which describes the behaviour of particles at the atomic and sub-atomic scales. Systems based on the principles of quantum theory could lead to a revolution in computing, financial trading, and many other fields.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, used computational methods inspired by the way metals are strengthened by heating and cooling to solve the problem and find the ‘optimal’ lawn shape for different grasshopper jump distances. Their results are reported in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

For the mathematically-inclined gardeners out there, the optimal lawn shape changes depending on the distance of the jump. Counter-intuitively, a circular lawn is never optimal, and instead, more complex shapes, from cogwheels to fans to stripes, are best at retaining hypothetical grasshoppers. Interestingly, the shapes bear a resemblance to shapes seen in nature, including the contours of flowers, the patterns in seashells and the stripes on some animals.

“The grasshopper problem is a rather nice one, as it helps us try out techniques for the physics problems we really want to get to,” said paper co-author Professor Adrian Kent, of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. Kent’s primary area of research is quantum physics, and his co-author Dr Olga Goulko works in computational physics.

To find the best lawn, Goulko and Kent had to convert the grasshopper problem from a mathematical problem to a physics one, by mapping it to a system of atoms on a grid. They used a technique called simulated annealing, which is inspired by a process of heating and slowly cooling metal to make it less brittle. “The process of annealing essentially forces the metal into a low-energy state, and that’s what makes it less brittle,” said Kent. “The analogue in a theoretical model is you start in a random high-energy state and let the atoms move around until they settle into a low-energy state. We designed a model so that the lower its energy, the greater the chance the grasshopper stays on the lawn. If you get the same answer – in our case, the same shape – consistently, then you’ve probably found the lowest-energy state, which is the optimal lawn shape.”

For different jump distances, the simulated annealing process turned up a variety of shapes, from cogwheels for short jump distances, through to fan shapes for medium jumps, and stripes for longer jumps. “If you asked a pure mathematician, their first guess might be that the optimal shape for a short jump is a disc, but we’ve shown that’s never the case,” said Kent. “Instead we got some weird and wonderful shapes – our simulations gave us a complicated and rich array of structures.”

Goulko and Kent began studying the grasshopper problem to try to better understand the difference between quantum theory and classical physics. When measuring the spin – the intrinsic angular momentum – of two particles on two random axes for particular states, quantum theory predicts you will get opposite answers more often than any classical model allows, but we don’t yet know how big the gap between classical and quantum is in general. “To understand precisely what classical models do allow, and see how much stronger quantum theory is, you need to solve another version of the grasshopper problem, for lawns on a sphere,” said Kent. Having developed and tested their techniques for grasshoppers on a two-dimensional lawn, the authors plan to look at grasshoppers on a sphere in order to better understand the so-called Bell inequalities, which describe the classical-quantum gap.

The lawn shapes which Goulko and Kent found also echo some shapes found in nature. The famous mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing came up with a theory in 1952 on the origin of patterns in nature, such as spots, stripes and spirals, and the researchers say their work may also help explain the origin of some patterns. “Turing’s theory involves the idea that these patterns arise as solutions to reaction-diffusion equations,” said Kent. “Our results suggest that a rich variety of pattern formation can also arise in systems with essentially fixed-range interactions. It may be worth looking for explanations of this type in contexts where highly regular patterns naturally arise and are not otherwise easily explained.”

Olga Goulko and Adrian Kent. ‘The grasshopper problem.’ Proceedings of the Royal Society A (2017). DOI:

Picture a grasshopper landing randomly on a lawn of fixed area. If it then jumps a certain distance in a random direction, what shape should the lawn be to maximise the chance that the grasshopper stays on the lawn after jumping?

The grasshopper problem is a rather nice one, as it helps us try out techniques for the physics problems we really want to get to.Adrian KentAlvesgasparGrassopper of Acrididae family: Anacridium aegyptium

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UK should invest in global education to improve lives, says report citing Cambridge research

Tue, 21/11/2017 - 15:40

The House of Commons’ International Development Committee (IDC) has published the results of its inquiry into the Department for International Development (DFID)’s work on global education.

The report, published today, examines DFID’s efforts to ensure the UK is making a significant contribution towards meeting the fourth Sustainable Development Goal agreed by the UN in 2015 –to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”.

While recognising that DFID is a world leader in promoting education in international development settings, the report calls for increased spending on global education to ensure no child is left behind.

It cites evidence provided by the Faculty of Education’s Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre on the importance of investing in early childhood education and the early years of primary school for benefits in later life.

Drawing on research by the REAL Centre, the IDC’s report states that global spending on pre-primary education is low –DFID’s expenditure on pre-primary education accounts for under 0.6% of its bilateral education budget. Based on the evidence, the report recommends that DFID increases its spending on pre-primary education.

Responding to the evidence, the Minister of State for International Development, the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP told the inquiry: “It [early childhood education] has not been funded well enough in the past. It has been an area that has been neglected. It does bring the highest returns in the future, and the returns are greatest for the most marginalised children.”

It is widely recognised that getting into school is not enough to ensure children are learning. In many poor countries, children are often spending up to four years in school without being able to read or do basic mathematics.

Drawing further on the REAL Centre’s evidence, the report argues that “it is vital that teachers are equipped with skills to teach in diverse classrooms” to ensure marginalised children –such as children with disabilities—are not excluded from the education process.

The report has tackled the controversial issue of the role of private schooling, a growing phenomenon in low and lower middle income countries. Research by the REAL Centre shows that “low-fee private schools” are not accessible to the poorest families, leading the IDC report to recommend that DFID should continue to prioritise its spending towards government schools.

DFID is currently updating its education priorities through a “policy refresh”. It is hoped that the messages from the IDC report will help to focus resources on the most marginalised –including the poorest girls, and children with disabilities— and on early years of education, which is most likely to benefit children.

Read the full report here.

Evidence provided by the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre informs the findings of a cross-party report calling for “significant spending” on early-years education

Early childhood education has not been funded well enough in the past. It has been neglected. It brings the highest returns in the future, and the returns are greatest for the most marginalised children.Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for International Development

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Report highlights opportunities and risks associated with synthetic biology and bioengineering

Tue, 21/11/2017 - 11:50

Rapid developments in the field of synthetic biology and its associated tools and methods, including more widely available gene editing techniques, have substantially increased our capabilities for bioengineering – the application of principles and techniques from engineering to biological systems, often with the goal of addressing 'real-world' problems.

In a feature article published in the open access journal eLife, an international team of experts led by Dr Bonnie Wintle and Dr Christian R. Boehm from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, capture perspectives of industry, innovators, scholars, and the security community in the UK and US on what they view as the major emerging issues in the field.

Dr Wintle says: “The growth of the bio-based economy offers the promise of addressing global environmental and societal challenges, but as our paper shows, it can also present new kinds of challenges and risks. The sector needs to proceed with caution to ensure we can reap the benefits safely and securely.”

The report is intended as a summary and launching point for policy makers across a range of sectors to further explore those issues that may be relevant to them.

Among the issues highlighted by the report as being most relevant over the next five years are:

Artificial photosynthesis and carbon capture for producing biofuels

If technical hurdles can be overcome, such developments might contribute to the future adoption of carbon capture systems, and provide sustainable sources of commodity chemicals and fuel.  

Enhanced photosynthesis for agricultural productivity

Synthetic biology may hold the key to increasing yields on currently farmed land – and hence helping address food security – by enhancing photosynthesis and reducing pre-harvest losses, as well as reducing post-harvest and post-consumer waste.

Synthetic gene drives

Gene drives promote the inheritance of preferred genetic traits throughout a species, for example to prevent malaria-transmitting mosquitoes from breeding. However, this technology raises questions about whether it may alter ecosystems, potentially even creating niches where a new disease-carrying species or new disease organism may take hold.

Human genome editing

Genome engineering technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 offer the possibility to improve human lifespans and health. However, their implementation poses major ethical dilemmas. It is feasible that individuals or states with the financial and technological means may elect to provide strategic advantages to future generations.

Defence agency research in biological engineering

The areas of synthetic biology in which some defence agencies invest raise the risk of ‘dual-use’. For example, one programme intends to use insects to disseminate engineered plant viruses that confer traits to the target plants they feed on, with the aim of protecting crops from potential plant pathogens – but such technologies could plausibly also be used by others to harm targets.

In the next five to ten years, the authors identified areas of interest including:

Regenerative medicine: 3D printing body parts and tissue engineering

While this technology will undoubtedly ease suffering caused by traumatic injuries and a myriad of illnesses, reversing the decay associated with age is still fraught with ethical, social and economic concerns. Healthcare systems would rapidly become overburdened by the cost of replenishing body parts of citizens as they age and could lead new socioeconomic classes, as only those who can pay for such care themselves can extend their healthy years.

Microbiome-based therapies

The human microbiome is implicated in a large number of human disorders, from Parkinson’s to colon cancer, as well as metabolic conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Synthetic biology approaches could greatly accelerate the development of more effective microbiota-based therapeutics. However, there is a risk that DNA from genetically engineered microbes may spread to other microbiota in the human microbiome or into the wider environment.

Intersection of information security and bio-automation

Advancements in automation technology combined with faster and more reliable engineering techniques have resulted in the emergence of robotic 'cloud labs' where digital information is transformed into DNA then expressed in some target organisms. This opens the possibility of new kinds of information security threats, which could include tampering with digital DNA sequences leading to the production of harmful organisms, and sabotaging vaccine and drug production through attacks on critical DNA sequence databases or equipment.

Over the longer term, issues identified include:

New makers disrupt pharmaceutical markets

Community bio-labs and entrepreneurial startups are customizing and sharing methods and tools for biological experiments and engineering. Combined with open business models and open source technologies, this could herald opportunities for manufacturing therapies tailored to regional diseases that multinational pharmaceutical companies might not find profitable. But this raises concerns around the potential disruption of existing manufacturing markets and raw material supply chains as well as fears about inadequate regulation, less rigorous product quality control and misuse.

Platform technologies to address emerging disease pandemics

Emerging infectious diseases—such as recent Ebola and Zika virus disease outbreaks—and potential biological weapons attacks require scalable, flexible diagnosis and treatment. New technologies could enable the rapid identification and development of vaccine candidates, and plant-based antibody production systems.

Shifting ownership models in biotechnology

The rise of off-patent, generic tools and the lowering of technical barriers for engineering biology has the potential to help those in low-resource settings, benefit from developing a sustainable bioeconomy based on local needs and priorities, particularly where new advances are made open for others to build on.

Dr Jenny Molloy comments: “One theme that emerged repeatedly was that of inequality of access to the technology and its benefits. The rise of open source, off-patent tools could enable widespread sharing of knowledge within the biological engineering field and increase access to benefits for those in developing countries.”

Professor Johnathan Napier from Rothamsted Research adds: “The challenges embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals will require all manner of ideas and innovations to deliver significant outcomes. In agriculture, we are on the cusp of new paradigms for how and what we grow, and where. Demonstrating the fairness and usefulness of such approaches is crucial to ensure public acceptance and also to delivering impact in a meaningful way.”

Dr Christian R. Boehm concludes: “As these technologies emerge and develop, we must ensure public trust and acceptance. People may be willing to accept some of the benefits, such as the shift in ownership away from big business and towards more open science, and the ability to address problems that disproportionately affect the developing world, such as food security and disease. But proceeding without the appropriate safety precautions and societal consensus—whatever the public health benefits—could damage the field for many years to come.”

The research was made possible by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative (both at the University of Cambridge), and the Future of Humanity Institute (University of Oxford). It was based on a workshop co-funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. 

Wintle, BC, Boehm, CR et al. A transatlantic perspective on 20 emerging issues in biological engineering. eLife; 14 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.7554/eLife.30247

Human genome editing, 3D-printed replacement organs and artificial photosynthesis – the field of bioengineering offers great promise for tackling the major challenges that face our society. But as a new article out today highlights, these developments provide both opportunities and risks in the short and long term.

Susanne NilssonReaching for the Sky

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Opinion: Charles Manson: death of America's 1960s bogeyman

Tue, 21/11/2017 - 09:58

So, Charles Manson has died, aged 83, of “natural causes”. The con-man, musician and erstwhile cult leader, who came to embody mainstream American fears of the 1960s counterculture “gone wrong”, had an easier death at Kern County hospital in California than any of the seven people whose murders he orchestrated in August 1969.

Manson has been largely out of the public view since his conviction for the Tate-LaBianca killings in January 1971 alongside several members of his “family” – but there has been little diminution of his grisly fame. Earlier this year it was announced that Quentin Tarantino is making a film about the Manson murders. Big names such as Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt are among those said to be lining up for parts.

There remains something strange about the attention that Manson generated in life and now in death. It’s a level of interest which far exceeds matters of public record. As such, it’s difficult to know what to say by way of response to the news of his passing – or even what to say for the purposes of a tentative obituary. Difficult, because it’s hard to know precisely who (or what) the name Charles Manson is being used to describe.

Manson, born Charles Milles Maddox in 1934, spent most of his life behind bars. Before convening the cult-like group “The Family” in 1967, he had convictions for car theft and robbery. But it was towards the end of 1969 that he really came to public attention. He was arrested and put on trial for his role as the mastermind of a total of nine murders, including those of the actress Sharon Tate and four friends, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca over the course of the weekend of August 8-9 1969. In March 1971 he was given the death penalty which was later commuted to commuted to life imprisonment.

According to testimony at his trial and that of his followers, Manson was not actually directly responsible for wielding a murder weapon at either of the two crime scenes (although there’s plenty to suggest he was involved in other murders at around the same time). But the court found he had masterminded and ordered the Tate-LaBianca killings, made all the more horrific by the fact that actress Tate had been pregnant at the time of her murder.

Different kind of celebrity

Whether you like it or not, from his conviction to his death, Manson was a celebrity. He became a celebrity when he made the cover of Life magazine in December 1969 and Rolling Stone in June 1970 – and subsequent novels, films, recordings, interviews, t-shirts and comic books have sought alternately to shore up this status and to demythologise it.

This Manson culture industry (which shows no signs of slowing down) has kept his name in public circulation for nearly half a century. It’s this material which invariably forms the basis of the analysis whenever Manson’s life and “career” is considered. What becomes visible is something of a schizoid split in which the name Charles Manson gains two points of reference.

There’s “Charles Manson” which effectively describes the life of Charles Milles Maddox, criminal – and then there’s “Charles Manson”, the potent symbol of evil, the name which in the words of one of his recent biographers has become a “metaphor for unspeakable horror”.

An early example of the latter came from the writer Wayne McGuire in 1970. Writing in his column for Fusion magazine, “An Aquarian Journal”, he speculated that at “some point in the future”, Manson would “metamorphose into a major American folk hero”. The comment was later used as the epigraph for The Manson File, a collection of Manson-related writings first published by Amok Press in 1988. The prediction was fully realised in 1997 with the inclusion of Manson in James Parks’ collection, Cultural Icons. Here, nestling between Lata Mangeshkar, Mao Tse Tung and Robert Mapplethorpe, Manson was identified as an “American Murderer” who “channelled his peculiar cocktail of black magic, drugs, sex and rock n roll into homicidal mania”. It is this “peculiar cocktail” that underpins Manson’s symbolic status.

What gives his crimes – and his name – a notoriety in excess of that held by the likes of the Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo and the unknown “Zodiac Killer”, who terrorised Northern California in 1968 and 1969, is that they simultaneously interact with a matrix of other powerful symbols that carry a greater cultural resonance than the breaking of a law, however severe.

Hollywood meets the crazies

Tate’s murder brought into collision two heavily mediated zones: Hollywood and the counterculture. Manson’s interest in The Beatles and use of their song title “Helter Skelter” as a blood-drenched slogan further intensified this disturbing elision of murder and popular culture. As with The Rolling Stones’ concert at the Altamont Speedway in December 1969 – at which a member of the audience was murdered by a Hells Angel – the Manson murders, once filtered through media sensitive to their range of connections, become emblems for the “end” or even “death” of the 1960s.

Whether viewed as catalyst or symptom, they are events that stand in for explanations of economic shift, geopolitical crisis and social inequality which describe the decade’s apparent decline into death, violence and what Hunter S. Thompson called “bad craziness”.

If anything it was the Tate-LaBianca murders that carry the metaphorical currency, while the name “Manson” now probably signifies something else. It’s a name to conjure with. “Manson” brings to mind the shadow-side of the 1960s: the incipient violence that lay beneath the counterculture’s day-glo optimism and the lost potential of a decade’s calls for peace and pacifism. When viewed from the vantage point of seeing the long, strange and violent life laid out, it refers also to someone who understood and was able to exploit the potency of the popular culture around him.

There’s very little to celebrate here, but maybe there’s something to learn about what it means to be a celebrity.

James Riley, Fellow and College Lecturer in English, Girton College, Cambridge, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Charles Manson, one of America's most notorious criminals and cult leaders, has died. In an article written for The Conversation, James Riley from Cambridge's Faculty of English discusses Manson and the nature of celebrity. 

California Department of Corrections and RehabilitationCharles Manson 2014

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Ancient fish scales and vertebrate teeth share an embryonic origin

Mon, 20/11/2017 - 20:05

In biology, one long-running debate has teeth: whether ancient fish scales moved into the mouth with the origin of jaws, or if the tooth had its own evolutionary inception.

Recent studies on species such as zebrafish showed scales and teeth developing from distinctly different clusters of cells in fish embryos, pouring cold water on ‘teeth from scales’ theories.

However, while most fish in the sea have bones, one ancient lineage – sharks, skates and rays – possess skeletons made entirely of cartilage.

These cartilaginous fish retain some primitive characteristics that have been lost in their bony counterparts, including small spiky scales embedded in their skin called ‘dermal denticles’ that bear a striking resemblance to jagged teeth.  

Now, researchers at the University of Cambridge have used fluorescent markers to track cell development in the embryo of a cartilaginous fish – a little skate in this case – and found that these thorny scales are in fact created from the same type of cells as teeth: neural crest cells.

The findings, published in the journal PNAS, support the theory that, in the depths of early evolution, these ‘denticle’ scales were carried into the emerging mouths of jawed vertebrates to form teeth. Jawed vertebrates now make up 99% of all living vertebrates, from fish to mammals.

“The scales of most fish that live today are very different from the ancient scales of early vertebrates,” says study author Dr Andrew Gillis from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.

“Primitive scales were much more tooth-like in structure, but have been retained in only a few living lineages, including that of cartilaginous fishes such as skates and sharks.

“Stroke a shark and you’ll find it feels rougher than other fish, as shark skin is covered entirely in dermal denticles. There’s evidence that shark skin was actually used as sandpaper as early as the Bronze Age,” says Gillis.

“By labelling the different types of cells in the embryos of skate, we were able to trace their fates. We show that, unlike most fish, the denticle scales of sharks and skate develop from neural crest cells, just like teeth.

“Neural crest cells are central to the process of tooth development in mammals. Our findings suggest a deep evolutionary relationship between these primitive fish scales and the teeth of vertebrates.

“Early jawless vertebrates were filter feeders – sucking in small prey items from the water. It was the advent of both jaws and teeth that allowed vertebrates to begin processing larger and more complex prey.”

The very name of these scales, dermal denticles, alludes to the fact that they are formed of dentine: a hard calcified tissue that makes up the majority of a tooth, sitting underneath the enamel.  

The jagged dermal denticles on sharks and skate – and, quite possibly, vertebrate teeth – are remnants of the earliest mineralised skeleton of vertebrates: superficial armour plating. 

This armour would have perhaps peaked some 400 million years ago in now-extinct jawless vertebrate species, as protection against predation by ferocious sea scorpions, or even their early jawed kin. 

The Cambridge scientists hypothesise that these early armour plates were multi-layered: consisting of a foundation of bone and an outer layer of dentine – with the different layers deriving from different types of cells in unborn embryos.

These layers were then variously retained, reduced or lost in different vertebrate linages over the course of evolution. “This ancient dermal skeleton has undergone considerable reductions and modifications through time,” says Gillis.

“The sharks and skate have lost the bony under-layer, while most fish have lost the tooth-like dentine outer layer. A few species, such as the bichir, a popular fish in home aquariums, have retained aspects of both layers of this ancient external skeleton.”

Latest findings support the theory that teeth in the animal kingdom evolved from the jagged scales of ancient fish, the remnants of which can be seen today embedded in the skin of sharks and skate. 

This ancient dermal skeleton has undergone considerable reductions and modifications through timeAndrew GillisAndrew Gillis, Gillis Lab. Dermal denticles on the tail of the Little Skate, as used in the latest research.

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The beauty of engineering

Mon, 20/11/2017 - 00:41

The competition, sponsored by ZEISS (Scanning electron microscopy division), international leaders in the fields of optics and optoelectronics, has been held annually for the last 13 years. See more of this year's winners here

Crystal tigers, metal peacock feathers and a 'nano man' are just some of the striking images featured in the Department of Engineering's annual photo competition, the winners of which have been announced today.

D T G GalhenaThe Tiger Jigsaw

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BT and Huawei announce five year collaboration with Cambridge

Thu, 16/11/2017 - 15:57

This new team, intended to combine the brightest minds from two of the biggest global information, communication and telecommunications (“ICT”) companies with one of the foremost academic institutions in the world, will further strengthen the UK’s status as one of the world’s leading hubs for innovation. Backed by up to £25 million in funding and contributions over the next five years, the research group is expected to focus on projects relating to photonics, digital and access network infrastructure and media technologies, alongside work aimed at enhancing the societal impact of communications technologies.

The research project aims to bring together experts from the BT Labs, the Huawei R&D Team and academics from the University of Cambridge to explore new technologies which have the potential to unlock economic benefits for UK businesses and organisations, such as reducing the cost of network infrastructure and boosting operational performance. The projects are also expected to focus on the critical role that new technologies can play in delivering positive impacts for society, such as those aimed at reducing inequality, particularly for those groups excluded from digital transformation and using ICT technologies to improve resilience of communities to climate change.

Finally, the funding is also intended to be used to support longer-term, ‘blue skies’ research projects being progressed by postgraduate students at the University which are focused on generating benefits for industry and society at large. All these projects will be assessed by an Academic Advisory Board intended to be made up of senior representatives from each of the parties. The University maintains strong links with the hi-tech business cluster of more than 4,700 companies which has sprung up around the Cambridge area. The new research and collaboration team – expected to be based at the University’s Maxwell Centre – will further harness the combined strengths of industry and the very best in academia to strengthen the area’s position as one of the leading technology hubs in Europe.

From left to right: BT CEO, Gavin Patterson, University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope and Huawei CEO, Ken Hu

Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding today, the new group is expected to kick off research activity in the first half of 2018 with five to ten researchers from BT and Huawei working alongside their University collaborators.

Prof Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cambridge, said:  “The University of Cambridge is delighted to be, once again, demonstrating the importance of its research to business and industry. The world of telecommunications has advanced rapidly over the last two decades. However, there is still work to be done to improve the technologies we use on a daily basis and to ensure that they are long-lived. By working with BT and Huawei we will be able to demonstrate that the insights delivered through our research have a broad impact.”

Gavin Patterson, BT Group Chief Executive said: “BT’s fixed and mobile infrastructure is the engine of the UK economy, so it is essential that we continue to innovate in this space to enhance the UK’s competitiveness on the world stage towards and through Brexit.

“BT currently invests around £500m every year in R&D, and over the last ten years we’ve been the third biggest contributor to the UK’s R&D efforts.

“We believe the best way of ensuring this country remains at the forefront of innovation is by combining the expertise and commercial focus of industry with the fantastic intellectual capital found at our world-leading universities. Working together with Huawei and the University of Cambridge, we will discover the next generation of technologies which promise to deliver huge economic, social and cultural benefits for UK citizens.”

Ken Hu Deputy Chairman and Rotating CEO, Huawei, said: “Technology is changing the world faster than we have ever seen. It will bring many benefits to mankind, and affect nearly every aspect of our lives. Huawei will continue to invest and form partnerships to build out future infrastructure. We have over 80,000 people in research and development globally, working with customers, universities and industry bodies.

“No single organization has all the answers. Partnership is the only way forward in a complex digital age. We look forward to working with BT and the University of Cambridge. Together, we will explore future technologies and help ensure a positive social impact.”

Both BT and Huawei have a long history of working with Cambridge on research projects. Researchers at the BT Labs in Adastral Park recently collaborated with the University’s Cavendish Lab on a project to assess the potential theoretical speeds that can be delivered over the UK’s access network infrastructure. Huawei and the University of Cambridge have been working together for seven years on range of successful research projects including media, communications and other technologies.

BT and Huawei today announced a new five-year initiative which aims to see the two companies establish a joint research and collaboration group at the University of Cambridge. 

By working with BT and Huawei we will be able to demonstrate that the insights delivered through our research have broad impactProf Stephen Toope, Vice-ChancellorThe Maxwell Centre

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‘Mini liver tumours’ created in a dish for the first time

Thu, 16/11/2017 - 08:25

Primary liver cancer is the second most lethal cancer worldwide. To better understand the biology of the disease and develop potential treatments, researchers need models that can grow in the lab and accurately reflect how the tumours behave in patients. Previously, cultures of cells had been used but these are hard to maintain and fail to recreate the 3D structure and tissue architecture of human tumours. 

The researchers created the mini tumours (up to 0.5mm) – termed ‘tumouroids’ – to mimic the three most common forms of primary liver cancer. The tumour cells were surgically removed from eight patients and grown in a solution containing specific nutrients and substances which prevent healthy cells out-competing the tumour cells. 

The team, from the Wellcome/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, used the tumouroids to test the efficacy of 29 different drugs, including those currently used in treatment and drugs in development. One compound, a type of protein inhibitor, was found to inhibit the activation of a protein called ERK in two of the three types of tumouroids, a crucial step in the development of liver cancer.

The researchers then tested this compound in vivo, transplanting two types of tumouroids into mice and treating them with the drug. A marked reduction in tumour growth was seen in mice treated with the drug, identifying a potential novel treatment for some types of primary liver cancer.

The tumouroids were able to preserve tissue structure as well as the gene expression patterns of the original human tumours from which they were derived. The individual subtypes of three different types of liver cancer, as well as the different tumour tissues which they came from, were all still distinguishable even after they had been grown in a dish for a long time. As the tumouroids retain the biological features of their parent tumour, they could play an important role in developing personalised medicine for patients.

The creation of biologically accurate models of tumours will also reduce the number of animals needed in certain experiments. Animal studies will still be required to validate findings, but the tumouroids will allow scientists to explore key questions about the biology of liver cancer in cultures rather than mice. 

Lead researcher Dr Meritxell Huch, a Wellcome Sir Henry Dale Fellow from the Gurdon Institute, said: “We had previously created organoids from healthy liver tissue, but the creation of liver tumouroids is a big step forward for cancer research. They will allow us to understand much more about the biology of liver cancer and, with further work, could be used to test drugs for individual patients to create personalised treatment plans.”

Dr Andrew Chisholm, Head of Cellular and Developmental Sciences at Wellcome said: “This work shows the power of organoid cultures to model human cancers. It is impressive to see just how well the organoids are able to mimic the biology of different liver tumour types, giving researchers a new way of investigating this disease.  These models are vital for the next generation of cancer research, and should allow scientists to minimise the numbers of animals used in research.”

Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs which partially funded the work, said: “We are pleased to see that the funds from our annual 3Rs prize, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, have furthered Dr Huch's research. Each year the prize recognises exceptional science which furthers the 3Rs, and the work being conducted by Meri and her team is continuing to make progress in this area. This new breakthrough involving liver cancer organoids has the potential to reduce the number of animals required in the early stages of liver cancer research, and provide more biologically accurate models of human tumours.”

This work was funded by a National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) research prize, Wellcome and Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre.

Broutier, L et al. Human primary liver cancer–derived organoid cultures for disease modelling and drug screening. Nature Medicine; 13 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nm.4438

Press release from Wellcome.

Scientists have created mini biological models of human primary liver cancers, known as organoids, in the lab for the first time. In a paper published in Nature Medicine, the tiny laboratory models of tumours were used to identify a new drug that could potentially treat certain types of liver cancer.

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New Director of Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute announced

Thu, 16/11/2017 - 07:27

The Institute - one of the largest cancer research facilities in Europe - is based in the heart of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. This close collaboration between scientific research and hospital brings huge benefits for the 6,000 cancer patients that pass through the doors of the hospital every year, as well as patients around the UK and the world.

By focusing on the clinical application of high-quality basic research, the Institute forms a bridge between the laboratory and the clinic, and brings together leading scientists, doctors and nurses. The Institute’s landmark findings include the discovery that breast cancer can be divided up into 10 different diseases, paving way for new treatments, and its pioneering research into blood tests that could one day be used to understand the unique molecular profile of a person’s cancer.

Professor Greg Hannon joined the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute in 2014 as a Senior Group Leader. This was after spending more than 20 years at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and chaired the cancer genetics program as part of the Lab’s NCI-designated Cancer Center.

Professor Hannon is internationally recognised for his contributions to small RNA biology, cancer biology, and mammalian genomics. He has a long history in the discovery of cancer genes, and he has developed widely used tools and strategies for manipulation of gene expression in mammalian cells and animals, and exome capture approaches that are now being used to inform personalized medicine in the clinic.

Last year Professor Hannon was announced as one of the first ever winners of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge awards. He and his team will receive up to £20 million for an innovative project to build a 3D tumour that can be studied using virtual reality and which shows every single different type of cell in the tumour. The technology will allow multiple doctors and scientists to look at a tumour at the same time, working together to help diagnose and treat patients better. 

Professor Hannon said: “I’m incredibly honoured to be given this opportunity. I have Simon’s incredible legacy to build upon and the large responsibility to lead what is unquestionably a world-class institute into its next decade.

“I’m eternally grateful to Simon for bringing me to the Cancer Research UK Institute and for providing an atmosphere in which our science can thrive. It will soon be my responsibility to maximize that environment for others by drawing on the wisdom and intellect of my colleagues.”

Professor Hannon will take over from Professor Simon Tavaré on 1 February. Professor Tavaré has led the Institute since 2013 and was a Senior Group Leader since 2006.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “I’m delighted that Professor Hannon has been appointed as the next Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. The Institute performs world class research of profound importance across a range of cancer areas. I want to thank Simon for all his hard work over the last few years, taking the institute from strength to strength. I look forward to working with Greg and seeing his enthusiasm helping the Institute achieve even greater levels of success.”

Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge, says: “This is excellent news for the cancer community at Cambridge and indeed for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus as a whole. Greg has a strong track record of attracting significant funding and truly pushes the boundaries of cancer research, developing innovative new technologies to explore cancer from all angles – in the case of his new virtual reality work, quite literally.”

Press release from Cancer Research UK.

Professor Greg Hannon is today announced as the new director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. 

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Keyhole surgery more effective than open surgery for ruptured aneurysm

Wed, 15/11/2017 - 09:32

This is the first randomised trial comparing the use of keyhole (endovascular) aneurysm repair versus traditional open surgery to repair ruptured aneurysm, with full midterm follow-up.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm is a swelling of the aorta – the main blood vessel that leads away from the heart, down through the abdomen to the rest of the body. If the artery wall ruptures, the risk of death is high, and emergency surgery is needed.

Three recent European randomised trials showed that keyhole repair does not reduce the high death rate up to three months after surgery compared with open repair. However, mid-term outcomes (three months to three years) of keyhole repair are still uncertain.

An international research team set out to assess three year clinical outcomes and cost effectiveness of a strategy of keyhole repair (whenever the shape of the aorta allows this) versus open repair for patients with suspected ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm who were part of the IMPROVE trial.

Dr Michael Sweeting from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, who was involved in the trial, says: “More than 1000 people a year in the UK require emergency surgery to repair a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. Without repair, ruptured aneurysm is nearly always fatal. However, surgery is not without its own significant risks, so we are always looking at ways of reducing the risk to the patient. One option is keyhole surgery, but until now not enough was known about how its outcomes compare to regular, open surgery beyond one year after repair.”

The trial involved 613 patients from 30 vascular centres (29 in the UK – including at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge - and one in Canada) with a clinical diagnosis of ruptured aneurysm, of whom 316 were randomised to a strategy of keyhole repair and 297 to open repair.

Deaths were monitored for an average of 4.9 years and were similar in both groups three months after surgery. At three years, there were fewer deaths in the keyhole group than in the open repair group, leading to lower mortality (48% vs 56%). However, after seven years there was no clear difference between the groups.

The need for repeat surgery (‘reinterventions’) related to the aneurysm occurred at a similar rate in both groups, with about 28% of each group needing at least one reintervention after three years.

Average quality of life was higher in the keyhole group in the first year, but by three years was similar across the groups. This early higher average quality of life, coupled with the lower mortality at three years, led to a gain in average quality adjusted life years or QALYs (a measure of healthy years lived) at three years in the keyhole versus the open repair group.

The keyhole group also spent fewer days in hospital (14.4 versus 20.5 in the open repair group) and had lower overall costs (£16,900 versus £19,500 in the open repair group).

The researchers point to some study limitations, such as sample size and midterm data focusing on aneurysm-related events, which may have led to some bias. Nevertheless, they say compared with open repair, there are clear benefits associated with keyhole surgery.

“These findings show that, in the first three years after repair, keyhole surgery can improve outcomes and quality of life for patients compared to open surgery, and is more cost effective and requires less time in hospital – important factors to consider for our stretched health services,” adds Dr Sweeting.

Comparative clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of endovascular strategy v open repair for ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm: three year results of the IMPROVE randomised trial. BMJ; 15 Nov 2017; DOI:

Adapted from a press release from The BMJ.

The use of keyhole surgery to repair ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is both clinically and cost effective and should be adopted more widely, concludes a randomised trial published by The BMJ today.

More than 1000 people a year in the UK require emergency surgery to repair a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. Without repair, ruptured aneurysm is nearly always fatalMichael SweetingArindam ChaudhuriAbdominal aortic aneurysm

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YesLicense type: Attribution

Opinion: What can we learn about you from just one click?

Tue, 14/11/2017 - 12:03

Whether you like it or not, almost every step you take online is recorded: the websites you visit, the purchases you make, the songs you listen to, the messages you post or read on social sites, and the pages you follow on Facebook. These digital footprints provide a treasure trove of data that can reveal not only what you like and how you see the world, but also who you are as a person.

In our research entitled “Psychological targeting as an effective approach to digital mass persuasion” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, we show that these digital footprints can be used to influence effectively the behaviour of large groups of people. By targeting consumers with persuasive messages that are tailored to their core psychological profiles (e.g. the degree to which they are extroverted or introverted) it is possible to significantly increase the likelihood that people will take a specific action, such as clicking on an ad or purchasing the promoted product.

The basic principle behind this form of personalised persuasion is not new: marketing practitioners have long used behavioural and demographic data to target consumers with customised messages. What is new, however, is the ability to identify and target audiences based on psychological traits that reflect people’s preferences and needs at a much deeper and instinctual level. Prior targeting might have focused on demographic or behavioural attributes such as ‘women ages 18-45’ who searched for the term ‘Soccer World Cup on Google between 2-4pm’. Psychological targeting, however, can focus on a person’s fundamental character traits and psychological needs, which are known to explain and predict preferences in a broad variety of contexts.

Psychological targeting in action

Across three studies, we targeted more than 3.5 million users on Facebook. As of now, Facebook advertising does not allow marketers to directly target users based on their psychological traits. However, it does so indirectly by offering the possibility to target based on Facebook ‘Likes’. While previous research has shown that one can accurately predict people’s psychological traits after getting their permission to access to their Facebook profiles, we leveraged inherent features of the Facebook advertising platform to target our ads at consumer segments of different psychological profiles. For example, if liking ‘Socialising’ on Facebook correlates with the personality trait of extroversion, and liking ‘Stargate’ goes hand in hand with introversion, then targeting users associated with each of these Likes allows us to separately target extroverted and introverted audiences.

Then, we sent out persuasive appeals in the form of Facebook ads that either aligned with or ran counter to the users’ psychological profiles. Finally, we measured users’ reactions to the ads by counting which ad users clicked on (i.e. clicks) and whether users purchased the product promoted in the ad (i.e. conversions).

In one of the experiments, for instance, we chose an online beauty retailer and created customised ads that could be targeted toward either extroverts or introverts, as identified according to their Facebook Likes. We found that matching the content of persuasive messages to individuals’ psychological characteristics resulted in up to 40% more clicks and up to 50% more purchases than their mismatching or un-personalised messages. Extroverts responded more positively to advertising messages when the beauty retailer’s ad was focused on extroverted preferences and interests (e.g. showing a group of women in a social situation, dancing, and having fun, accompanied by ad copy saying: ‘Dance like no one’s watching (but they totally are)’). Meanwhile, introverts responded more positively to those ads that focused on introverted preferences (e.g. a single woman by herself in a quiet environment, enjoying her ‘me-time,’ accompanied by ad copy saying: ‘Beauty doesn't have to shout’).

Implications: the good and the bad

The ability to influence the behaviour of large groups of people by tailoring persuasive messages to their psychological needs could be used to help people make better decisions, and lead healthier and happier lives. Human nature regularly encourages us to act in ways that focus on short-term benefits and neglect negative long-term consequences: just ask anyone who has ever tried to diet how difficult it is to resist the temptation of a chocolate bar and instead eat an apple. The same can be said about saving money: putting money aside for a rainy day is certainly less enjoyable in the moment than spending it on the new pair of shoes that caught your eye in a store window. So, how can psychological targeting help people overcome their human limitations?

Let’s take the example of saving money. Similar to the way psychological targeting can convince people to buy a product, it can also be used to convince people to save more. When targeting people identified as extroverts, ads could encourage them to imagine spending their savings on an exciting summer holiday with their friends in a vibrant and exhilarating city that allows them to pursue outgoing and social activities. Conversely, when targeting introverts, ads could highlight the ability to invest one’s savings in making their home a more comfortable refuge to escape the hectic outside world. In both cases, psychological targeting could help people to see the benefits of saving, and eventually save more.

On the other hand, psychological targeting could be used to exploit weaknesses in people’s character and persuade them to take action against their best interest. For example, online casinos could target ads at individuals who have psychological traits associated with pathological gambling. In fact, psychological targeting has been covered extensively in the context of its ability to influence the outcome of elections. While the veracity of these claims remains uncertain, our findings illustrate how psychological mass persuasion could be used to manipulate people to behave in ways that are neither in their best interest nor in the best interest of society.

Next steps: fuelling a critical debate

Our findings show that psychological targeting works. The technology is not science fiction; it exists today. To us, the most important discussion we need to have now is not what may or may not have happened in the past, but what we as individuals and as a society can and should do moving forward. Key questions that need to be answered in a critical public discourse are:

How do we as consumers and society-at-large want to use this new technology? In what settings do we want to facilitate its application, and when do we want to restrict it? For which purposes should we use it, for which should we not? Under which agreements should we be allowed to implement it, and with which required a degree of transparency?

The reason we started this research was to provide empirical evidence for the effectiveness of psychological targeting. Our hope is that these findings can support the public debate on this topic by showing both the general public and key decision makers – such as elected officials and business leaders – just how important and timely this topic is. Our belief is that by having an open and transparent discussion, solutions and checks and balances can be developed in the form of policies, regulations and technological counter-measures, which will ensure that psychological targeting serves as a driver for good rather than evil.

Adapted from a story published on Columbia University’s website. 

How effective is psychological targeting in advertising? Dr Sandra Matz, a former PhD student at Cambridge now based at Columbia University, and her co-authors, including Dr David Stillwell from the Cambridge Psychometrics Centre, have published a new study which demonstrates that companies only need one Facebook ‘like’ to effectively target potential customers. 

Official White House Photo by Lawrence JacksonMembers of the audience take pictures as President Barack Obama participates in a town hall meeting moderated by CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. April 20, 2011

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Opinion: What makes the Cambridge cluster special?

Mon, 13/11/2017 - 09:59

More than 60,000 people are employed in the so-called ‘Cambridge cluster’ of companies, and in excess of £12 billion in turnover is generated annually by the 4,700 knowledge-intensive firms in and around the city. The innovation that underpins the cluster is impressive – the city publishes 341 patents per 100,000 residents (that's more than the next four cities in the UK combined).

In my role, I am in the privileged position of having a general overview of how Cambridge’s entrepreneurial ecosystem works. When I took up this new post, I had heard that the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cambridge is complex, fragmented and difficult to navigate. But now, I would argue that there is a logic and coherence to the Cambridge ecosystem, and what makes it work is that the structure exists, yet it is constantly evolving.

As one of the world’s leading universities, we are a big part of the cluster and we have a long tradition of innovation and entrepreneurship: there are more than 40 different programmes, groups and activities run by students, researchers, departments and Colleges, to support enterprise at Cambridge. These fall into five broad categories: research & people, finance & IP, space, skills and capability development, and networks.

Research & People
The foundation of everything we do is great people doing great research. Through their work, people at all levels in the University, from students to postdocs to faculty, are pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Finance and IP
When research leads to new ideas and insights, Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s technology transfer arm, helps staff and students find the best way to turn their ideas into reality for the benefit of the global community. Cambridge Enterprise provides IP protection when appropriate, helps individuals undertake consultancy for external organisations, protects and licences technologies, and invests seed funds in new companies.

As a company grows, it will need additional financing, and Cambridge-based funders such as Cambridge Innovation Capital, Cambridge Angels, Amadeus Capital Partners, Cambridge Capital Group, IQ Capital or the IP Group, can all provide support.

Physical space
Organisations don't just need money: they also need space to grow. When entrepreneurs are first thinking of a business model, they can take a desk in ideaSpace. We have three ideaSpaces across the University - each provides space for a community of entrepreneurs who can assist each other as they develop their ideas. If the organisation is successful and starts to grow, there are follow-on spaces around the city, such as St John's innovation Centre or the Bradfield Centre. The Babraham Research Campus provides space for bio-medical firms - currently, there are 60 firms on the Babraham site, with a waiting list. Eventually, a growing organisation might move to the Cambridge Science Park.

Of course, there are other types of space that matter. Makespace provides a community workshop where people can create prototypes. The local consultants, especially the technology consultants, provide prototyping and design support. Cambridge Consultants and The Technology Partnership both play a crucial role in the Cambridge ecosystem.

Skills and capability development
Departments and groups across the University run programmes and initiatives to help entrepreneurs develop their organisations and their personal capabilities. Lectures and networking are provided by Enterprise Tuesday, a scheme run by the Cambridge Judge Business School. Cambridge Judge also runs Accelerate, a start-up accelerator programme, and Ignite, an intensive one-week training programme for aspiring entrepreneurs and corporate innovators to trial and prepare business ideas for the commercial environment.

The Maxwell Centre runs Impulse, a programme designed to help entrepreneurs translate their ideas into reality. Increasingly, groups are seeking to run scale-up programmes, supporting businesses as they grow. Cambridge Judge runs a scale-up programme in collaboration with Barclays, while Cambridge Network runs a school for scale-ups.

Connected Cambridge
The final element is the multiple networks in Cambridge that bring people together. For example, Cambridge Wireless connects people interested in the Internet of Things; Cambridge Network connects local businesses, and Cambridge Ahead supports the long-term growth of Cambridge.  

Of course, our students are a vital source of ideas, and student societies and associations - including CUE - Cambridge University Entrepreneurs, CUTEC - Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club and EPOC - Entrepreneurial Post-Docs of Cambridge – bring our entrepreneurial students and postdocs together.

These and other networks and initiatives all help bring the community together and support people as they seek to make the right connections. In Cambridge it is relatively easy to reach others - entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and academics - because of the interconnected nature of the city and the institutions it houses.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem works in Cambridge because it contains all five of these elements. But this isn’t the whole story. Cambridge is also successful because the people within the ecosystem are constantly innovating to improve it. Whenever somebody spots a gap - or a perceived gap - they try to fill it. We have a Makespace in Cambridge - a community workshop where people can make and repair things. Entrepreneurs use this to create prototypes for new products. Recently we launched a Biomakespace - in recognition of the need for a bio-prototyping facility. Cambridge Judge, in collaboration with Cambridge Enterprise, runs a Social Venture Incubator to help people grow social ventures.

Each of these new initiatives was launched to fill a perceived gap in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and by filling this gap the ecosystem becomes stronger. This innovation in the ecosystem means that we are always trying to make the ecosystem in Cambridge better. We are constantly experimenting with the ways in which we work.

The cluster is now so well-established that the level of entrepreneurial activity in Cambridge has become self-propagating. The fact that so many people are involved in enterprise, entrepreneurship and innovation encourages others to participate. This makes Cambridge “a safe place to fail” - a phrase coined by one of our local entrepreneurs, Andy Richards. The level of activity means that even if your first venture fails, there will always be something else for you to go and try, so in essence, the entrepreneurial ecosystem provides a safety net for those who choose to get involved in it. This is what makes Cambridge such an interesting and welcoming place for enterprise.

Andy Neely is Cambridge’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations, a role which oversees the University’s activities in innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurship. After six months in the role, he sees an entrepreneurial ecosystem that may appear complex at first – but a deeper examination reveals a combination of knowledge, expertise, support and infrastructure that makes Cambridge one of the most enterprising and entrepreneurial cities in the world. 

Sir CamHauser Forum

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Children with disabilities are being denied equal opportunities for a quality education across the world, including in the UK

Mon, 13/11/2017 - 09:52

Countries, with both developed and developing economies, need to do more to ensure that children with disabilities not only access education, but also benefit from quality education.

In England, while children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) access school, multiple concerns have been raised in relation to their learning and quality of life in school. The educational attainments of these children are significantly lower than for those without SEND at every level of the national curriculum.

In 2017 the Department for Education reported that, at Key Stage 2 level, only 14% of children with SEND reached the expected level for reading, writing and maths (in contrast to 62% of children without SEND).

Socially, there has been an increase in incidents of bullying and hate crime in relation to children with SEND and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children highlights that they are significantly more likely to face abuse. Official statistics note that children with social, emotional, mental health needs are nine times more likely to face permanent exclusion from school.

The World Health Organisation in collaboration with the World Bank recently emphasised that 15% of the world’s population, approximately one billion, live with some form of disability. Estimates for the number of children under the age of 14 living with disabilities range between 93m and 150m.

Across the world, people with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower educational achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is partly because people with disabilities experience significant barriers in accessing basic services, including health, education and employment.

Amongst these, education is paramount as it has significant economic, social and individual returns. Education has the potential to lift people out of chronic poverty. Accessing quality education can improve learning outcomes which leads to positive economic growth. The Global Monitoring Report calculates that if all students living in low income countries were to leave school with basic reading skills there would be a 12% reduction in world poverty.

Additionally, education has the potential to create more equitable and healthy societies. For example, evidence shows educating mothers reduces early births, lowers infant mortality rates and improves child nutrition.

Furthermore, inclusive education is integral to creating societies that are interconnected, based on values of social justice, equity of opportunities and freedom. The Sustainable Development Goals have given a considerable boost to this vision of “inclusive and equitable quality education” with significant international proclamations and national legislations being drawn up. Nevertheless, children with disabilities continue to remain the most difficult to reach.

Including children with disabilities in education systems, and ensuring quality education, is a moral and ethical commitment with considerable benefits both at the individual and national level. The International Labour Organisation estimates that the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the work force costs nations up to 7% of the national GDP. Other estimates from China suggest that every additional year of schooling in rural areas means a 5-8% wage increase for the person with disabilities.

While there is a long way to go, there is little question that educational access is on an upward trajectory in many low and middle income countries. According to official data from India over the last five years there has been approximately 16% increase in the numbers of children with disabilities enrolled in mainstream primary schools.

Nonetheless, children who are most like to be excluded, even in states with high enrolment rates are those with disabilities. They are also most likely to drop out before completing five years of primary schooling and are least likely to transition to secondary school or higher education.

Across the globe, learning for children with disabilities remains a significant challenge. In order to address this, we need to invest in inclusive teaching and learning processes and not just changes to school infrastructure. Teachers need better training and support underpinned by principles of inclusion. Significantly, children with disabilities must be respected as important partners in creating better schools for all. 

The report has been produced for the World Innovation Summit for Education and will be presented this week at the summit in Doha.

Researchers from the Faculty of Education have produced a new report on the current state of education for children with disabilities in both England and India. Here, Dr Nidhi Singal, one of the report’s authors, outlines some of the key statistics, and argues that teachers need better training and more support “underpinned by principles of inclusion”.    

We need to invest in inclusive teaching and learning processes and not just changes to school infrastructureNidhi Singal

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Archaeologists uncover rare 2,000-year-old sundial during Roman theatre excavation

Wed, 08/11/2017 - 11:56

Not only has the sundial survived largely undamaged for more than two millennia, but the presence of two Latin texts means researchers from the University of Cambridge have been able to glean precise information about the man who commissioned it.

The sundial was found lying face down by students of the Faculty of Classics as they were excavating the front of one of the theatre’s entrances along a secondary street. It was probably left behind at a time when the theatre and town was being scavenged for building materials during the Medieval to post-Medieval period. In all likelihood it did not belong to the theatre, but was removed from a prominent spot, possibly on top of a pillar in the nearby forum.

“Less than a hundred examples of this specific type of sundial have survived and of those, only a handful bear any kind of inscription at all – so this really is a special find,” said Dr Alessandro Launaro, a lecturer at the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville & Caius College.

“Not only have we been able to identify the individual who commissioned the sundial, we have also been able to determine the specific public office he held in relation to the likely date of the inscription.”

The base prominently features the name of M(arcus) NOVIUS M(arci) F(ilius) TUBULA [Marcus Novius Tubula, son of Marcus], whilst the engraving on the curved rim of the dial surface records that he held the office of TR(ibunus) PL(ebis) [Plebeian Tribune] and paid for the sundial D(e) S(ua) PEC(unia) (with his own money).

The nomen Novius was quite common in Central Italy. On the other hand, the cognomen Tubula (literally ‘small trumpet’) is only attested at Interamna Lirenas.

But even more striking is the specific public office Tubula held in relation to the likely date of the inscription. Various considerations about the name of the individual and the lettering style comfortably place the sundial’s inscription at a time (mid 1st c. BC onwards) by which the inhabitants of Interamna had already been granted full Roman citizenship.

“That being the case, Marcus Novius Tubula, hailing from Interamna Lirenas, would be a hitherto unknown Plebeian Tribune of Rome,” added Launaro. “The sundial would have represented his way of celebrating his election in his own hometown.”

Carved out from a limestone block (54 x 35 x 25 cm), the sundial features a concave face, engraved with 11 hour lines (demarcating the twelve horae of daylight) intersecting three day curves (giving an indication of the season with respect to the time of the winter solstice, equinox and summer solstice). Although the iron gnomon (the needle casting the shadow) is essentially lost, part of it is still preserved under the surviving lead fixing. This type of ‘spherical’ sundial was relatively common in the Roman period and was known as hemicyclium.

“Even though the recent archaeological fieldwork has profoundly affected our understanding of Interamna Lirenas, dispelling long-held views about its precocious decline and considerable marginality, this was not a town of remarkable prestige or notable influence,” added Launaro. “It remained an average, middle-sized settlement, and this is exactly what makes it a potentially very informative case-study about conditions in the majority of Roman cities in Italy at the time”.

“In this sense, the discovery of the inscribed sundial not only casts new light on the place Interamna Lirenas occupied within a broader network of political relationships across Roman Italy, but it is also a more general indicator of the level of involvement in Rome’s own affairs that individuals hailing from this and other relatively secondary communities could aspire to.”

The ongoing archaeological project at Interamna Lirenas continues to add new evidence about important aspects of the Roman civilization, stressing the high levels of connectivity and integration (political, social, economic and cultural) which it featured.

The 2017 excavation, directed by Dr Launaro (Gonville & Caius College) and Professor Martin Millett (Fitzwilliam College), both from the Faculty of Classics, in partnership with Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini of the Italian Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Frosinone, Latina e Rieti, is part of a long-standing collaboration with the British School at Rome and the Comune of Pignataro Interamna and has benefitted from the generous support of the Isaac Newton Trust and Mr Antonio Silvestro Evangelista.

Inset image: The find spot near the former roofed theatre in Interamna Lirenas

A 2,000-year-old intact and inscribed sundial – one of only a handful known to have survived – has been recovered during the excavation of a roofed theatre in the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas, near Monte Cassino, in Italy.

“Not only have we been able to identify the individual who commissioned the sundial, we have also been able to determine the specific public office he held in relation to the likely date of the inscription”Alessandro LaunaroAlessandro LaunaroThe sundial pictured after excavation

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Sheep are able to recognise human faces from photographs

Wed, 08/11/2017 - 01:16

Sheep can be trained to recognise human faces from photographic portraits – and can even identify the picture of their handler without prior training – according to new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge.

The study, published today in the journal Royal Society: Open Science, is part a series of tests given to the sheep to monitor their cognitive abilities. Because of the relatively large size of their brains and their longevity, sheep are a good animal model for studying neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s disease.

The ability to recognise faces is one of the most important human social skills. We recognise familiar faces easily, and can identify unfamiliar faces from repeatedly presented images. As with some other animals such as dogs and monkeys, sheep are social animals that can recognise other sheep as well as familiar humans. Little is known, however, about their overall ability to process faces.

Researchers from Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience trained eight sheep to recognise the faces of four celebrities (Fiona Bruce, Jake Gyllenhaal, Barak Obama and Emma Watson) from photographic portraits displayed on computer screens.

Training involved the sheep making decisions as they moved around a specially-designed pen. At one end of the pen, they would see two photographs displayed on two computer screens and would receive a reward of food for choosing the photograph of the celebrity (by breaking an infrared beam near the screen); if they chose the wrong photograph, a buzzer would sound and they would receive no reward. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity’s photograph.

After training, the sheep were shown two photograph – the celebrity’s face and another face. In this test, sheep correctly chose the learned celebrity face eight times out of ten.

In these initial tests, the sheep were shown the faces from the front, but to test how well they recognised the faces, the researchers next showed them the faces at an angle. As expected, the sheep’s performance dropped, but only by about 15% - a figure comparable to that seen when humans perform the task.

Finally, the researchers looked at whether sheep were able to recognise a handler from a photograph without pre-training. The handlers typically spend two hours a day with the sheep and so the sheep are very familiar with them. When a portrait photograph of the handler was interspersed randomly in place of the celebrity, the sheep chose the handler’s photograph over the unfamiliar face seven out of ten times.

During this final task the researchers observed an interesting behaviour. Upon seeing a photographic image of the handler for the first time – in other words, the sheep had never seen an image of this person before – the sheep did a 'double take'. The sheep checked first the (unfamiliar) face, then the handler’s image, and then unfamiliar face again before making a decision to choose the familiar face, of the handler.

“Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognise their handlers,” says Professor Jenny Morton, who led the study. “We’ve shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys.

“Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys. That means they can be useful models to help us understand disorders of the brain, such as Huntington’s disease, that develop over a long time and affect cognitive abilities. Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change, particularly in sheep who carry the gene mutation that causes Huntington’s disease.”

Professor Morton’s team recently began studying sheep that have been genetically modified to carry the mutation that causes Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s disease affects more than 6,700 people in the UK. It is an incurable neurodegenerative disease that typically begins in adulthood. Initially, the disease affects motor coordination, mood, personality and memory, as well as other complex symptoms including impairments in recognising facial emotion. Eventually, patients have difficulty in speech and swallowing, loss of motor function and die at a relatively early age. There is no known cure for the disease, only ways to manage the symptoms.

The research was supported by the CHDI Foundation, Inc., a US-based charitable trust that supports biomedical research related to Huntington’s disease.

Knolle, F et al. Sheep recognize familiar and unfamiliar human faces from two-dimensional images. Royal Society Open Science; 8 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.171228

Sheep can be trained to recognise human faces from photographic portraits – and can even identify the picture of their handler without prior training – according to new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge.

We’ve shown that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeysJenny Morton Jenny MortonSheep correctly identifying face

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Height and weight evolved at different speeds in the bodies of our ancestors

Wed, 08/11/2017 - 00:33

A wide-ranging new study of fossils spanning over four million years suggests that stature and body mass advanced at different speeds during the evolution of hominins – the ancestral lineage of which Homo sapiens alone still exist.

Published today in the journal Royal Society: Open Science, the research also shows that, rather than steadily increasing in size, hominin bodies evolved in “pulse and stasis” fluctuations, with some lineages even shrinking.

The findings are from the largest study of hominin body sizes, involving 311 specimens dating from earliest upright species of 4.4m years ago right through to the modern humans that followed the last ice age.

While researchers describe the physical evolution of assorted hominin species as a “long and winding road with many branches and dead ends”, they say that broad patterns in the data suggest bursts of growth at key stages, followed by plateaus where little changed for many millennia.

The scientists were surprised to find a “decoupling” of bulk and stature around one and a half million years ago, when hominins grew roughly 10cm taller but would not consistently gain any heft for a further million years, with an average increase of 10-15kgs occurring around 500,000 years ago.

Before this event, height and weight in hominin species appeared to evolve roughly “in concert”, say the authors of this first study to jointly analyse both aspects of body size over millions of years. 

“An increase solely in stature would have created a leaner physique, with long legs and narrow hips and shoulders. This may have been an adaptation to new environments and endurance hunting, as early Homo species left the forests and moved on to more arid African savannahs,” says lead author Dr Manuel Will from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, and a Research Fellow at Gonville & Caius College.     

“The higher surface-to-volume ratio of a tall, slender body would be an advantage when stalking animals for hours in the dry heat, as a larger skin area increases the capacity for the evaporation of sweat.

“The later addition of body mass coincides with ever-increasing migrations into higher latitudes, where a bulkier body would be better suited for thermoregulation in colder Eurasian climates,” he says.

However, Dr Will points out that, while these are valid theories, vast gaps in the fossil record continue to mask absolute truths. In fact, Will and colleagues often had to estimate body sizes from highly fragmented remains – in some cases from just a single toe bone.

The study found body size to be highly variable during earlier hominin history, with a range of differently shaped species: from broad, gorilla-like Paranthropus to the more wiry or ‘gracile’ Australopithecus afarensis. Hominins from four million years ago weighed a rough average of 25kg and stood at 125-130cm.  

As physicality morphs over deep time, increasingly converging on larger body sizes, the scientists observe three key “pulses” of significant change.

The first occurs with the dawn of our own defined species bracket, Homo, around 2.2-1.9m years ago. This period sees a joint surge in both height (around 20 cm) and weight (between 15-20kg).

Stature then separated from heft with a height increase alone of 10cm between 1.4-1.6m years ago, shortly after the emergence of Homo erectus. “From a modern perspective this is where we see a familiar stature reached and maintained. Body mass, however, is still some way off,” explains Will.        

It’s not until a million years later (0.5-0.4m years ago) that consistently heavier hominins appear in the fossil record, with an estimated 10-15kg greater body mass signalling adaptation to environments north of the Mediterranean.

“From then onwards, average body height and weight stays more or less the same in the hominin lineage, leading ultimately to ourselves,” says Will.

There are, however, a couple of exceptions to this grand narrative: Homo naledi and Homo floresiensis. Recently discovered remains suggest these species swam against the tide of increasing body size through time.

“They may have derived from much older small-bodied ancestors, or adapted to evolutionary pressures occurring in small and isolated populations,” says Will. Floresiensis was discovered on an Indonesian island.

“Our study shows that, other than these two species, hominins that appear after 1.4m years ago are all larger than 140cm and 40kg. This doesn’t change until human bodies diversify again in just the last few thousand years.”

“These findings suggest extremely strong selective pressures against small body sizes which shifted the evolutionary spectrum towards the larger bodies we have today.”

Will and colleagues say evolutionary pressures that may have contributed include ‘cladogenesis’: the splitting of a lineage, with one line – the smaller-bodied one, in this case – becoming extinct, perhaps as a result of inter-species competition.

They also suggest that sexual dimorphism – the physical distinction between genders, with females typically smaller in mammals – was more prevalent in early hominin species but then steadily ironed out by evolution.

Study co-author Dr Jay Stock, also from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, suggests this growth trajectory may continue.

“Many human groups have continued to get taller over just the past century. With improved nutrition and healthcare, average statures will likely continue to rise in the near future. However, there is certainly a ceiling set by our genes, which define our maximum potential for growth," Stock says.

“Body size is one of the most important determinants of the biology of every organism on the planet,” adds Will. “Reconstructing the evolutionary history of body size has the potential to provide us with insights into the development of locomotion, brain complexity, feeding strategies, even social life.”

The largest study to date of body sizes over millions of years finds a “pulse and stasis” pattern to hominin evolution, with surges of growth in stature and bulk occurring at different times. At one stage, our ancestors got taller around a million years before body mass caught up.

Body size is one of the most important determinants of the biology of every organism on the planetManuel WillUniversity of CambridgeFemoral head bones of different hominin species. From top to bottom: Australopithecus afarensis (4-3 million years; ~40 kg, 130 cm); Homo ergaster (1.9-1.4 million years; 55-60 kg; ~165 cm); Neanderthal (200.000-30.000 years; ~70 kg; ~163 cm).

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Fully integrated circuits printed directly onto fabric

Wed, 08/11/2017 - 00:01

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, working with colleagues in Italy and China, have demonstrated how graphene – a two-dimensional form of carbon – can be directly printed onto fabric to produce integrated electronic circuits which are comfortable to wear and can survive up to 20 cycles in a typical washing machine.

The new textile electronic devices are based on low-cost, sustainable and scalable inkjet printing of inks based on graphene and other two-dimensional materials, and are produced by standard processing techniques. The results are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Based on earlier work on the formulation of graphene inks for printed electronics, the team designed low-boiling point inks, which were directly printed onto polyester fabric. Additionally, they found that modifying the roughness of the fabric improved the performance of the printed devices. The versatility of this process allowed the researchers to design not only single transistors but all-printed integrated electronic circuits combining active and passive components.

Most wearable electronic devices that are currently available rely on rigid electronic components mounted on plastic, rubber or textiles. These offer limited compatibility with the skin in many circumstances, are damaged when washed and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable.

“Other inks for printed electronics normally require toxic solvents and are not suitable to be worn, whereas our inks are both cheap, safe and environmentally-friendly, and can be combined to create electronic circuits by simply printing different two-dimensional materials on the fabric,” said Dr Felice Torrisi of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, the paper’s senior author.

“Digital textile printing has been around for decades to print simple colourants on textiles, but our result demonstrates for the first time that such technology can also be used to print the entire electronic integrated circuits on textiles,” said co-author Professor Roman Sordan of Politecnico di Milano. “Although we demonstrated very simple integrated circuits, our process is scalable and there are no fundamental obstacles to the technological development of wearable electronic devices both in terms of their complexity and performance.“

“The printed components are flexible, washable and require low power, essential requirements for applications in wearable electronics,” said PhD student Tian Carey, the paper’s first author.

The work opens up a number of commercial opportunities for two-dimensional material inks, ranging from personal health and well-being technology, to wearable energy harvesting and storage, military garments, wearable computing and fashion.

“Turning textile fibres into functional electronic components can open to an entirely new set of applications from healthcare and wellbeing to the Internet of Things,” said Torrisi. “Thanks to nanotechnology, in the future our clothes could incorporate these textile-based electronics, such as displays or sensors and become interactive.”

The use of graphene and other related 2D material (GRM) inks to create electronic components and devices integrated into fabrics and innovative textiles is at the centre of new technical advances in the smart textiles industry. The teams at the Cambridge Graphene Centre and Politecnico di Milano are also involved in the Graphene Flagship, an EC-funded, pan-European project dedicated to bringing graphene and GRM technologies to commercial applications.

The research was supported by grants from the Graphene Flagship, the European Research Council’s Synergy Grant, The Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, The Newton Trust, the International Research Fellowship of the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Ministry of Science and Technology of China. The technology is being commercialised by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm.

Tian Carey et al. ‘Fully inkjet-printed two-dimensional material field-effect heterojunctions for wearable and textile electronics.’ Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01210-2

Researchers have successfully incorporated washable, stretchable and breathable electronic circuits into fabric, opening up new possibilities for smart textiles and wearable electronics. The circuits were made with cheap, safe and environmentally friendly inks, and printed using conventional inkjet printing techniques. 

Turning textile fibres into functional electronic components can open to an entirely new set of applications from healthcare and wellbeing to the Internet of Things.Felice TorrisiFelice TorrisiSample circuit printed on fabric

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Opinion: Universities must continue to change if they want to be safe places for everyone

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 17:11

In the past few days, I have lost count of the times I’ve heard politicians and others say that sexual comments, coercion or even acts of force were acceptable 15, 20 or 25 years ago, but the “goalposts have moved” and that times have changed

Sexual abuse has never been acceptable. But with many victims silenced, it has certainly been kept a private shame rather than the public concern it should always have been.

It has infected the entertainment industry and even parliament. The stories emerging now have rightly shocked Britain – and led women and male victims to call out harassment and inappropriate behaviour under the #metoo banner.

This is an issue facing all of society, not just the people who have been in the headlines. Cambridge University recently launched a campaign calling for an end to this silence. Why now?

Some years ago I was asked to meet some students for an urgent meeting. Two of them told me that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow students at a university event. They said that they did not want to go to the police, but wanted the university to do something about it. But what could the university do? I told them that we could do nothing.

All universities in the UK at the time subscribed to guidance derived from the Zellick report, published in October 1994, which said that allegations of rape and sexual assault were matters for the police and not for universities – even if the student victim wanted the university to do something.

As Zellick said: “If the victim will not report the matter to the police … the university should not use its internal procedures.” The guidance told us universities were not equipped to deal with such cases. But this left victims with only two choices – go to the police or keep quiet.

Without a mandate to investigate or respond, many universities did not develop proper case handling. It was many years until it became a sector standard to have disciplinary code of conduct for harassment or sexual assault.

But that was then. Things are, thankfully, different now.

Ringing the changes

A year ago, on November 8 2016, Universities UK published Changing the Culture. This report considered violence against women, harassment and hate crime against university students. It also reconsidered the Zellick report and concluded that it was outdated and its guidance inappropriate. I was part of the particular task force that reconsidered the report and then rejected it. This was a vital step in universities accepting responsibility for their students who have been the victims of sexual misconduct.

One year on, at Cambridge we have made significant strides in responding to sexual misconduct. In October we launched Breaking the Silence, a campaign banner under which there are various initiatives to respond to sexual misconduct and abuse including a complaints procedure, anonymous reporting, consent workshops and sports codes of conduct.

Culture of respect

Like many universities, we are told we should both do more and that we are are doing too much, with the risk of undermining criminal processes. Universities are therefore walking a tightrope, where we have to ensure that all students who study (and staff who teach and do research) feel safe and confident that any abuse will be taken seriously. At the same time we need to ensure that our processes are fair. We will take all allegations seriously, but we must ensure that they are investigated carefully and objectively and that our responses are appropriate to all.

Over the past three years the university sector has done a lot, but there is more to be done. We need to work ever harder to ensure that there is a change in culture and that we are a beacon for the rest of society as to what is acceptable conduct, based on respect.

Three years ago I told those two students that there was nothing the university could do. Today I can tell them that if they come forward with complaints of sexual misconduct they will be guided and supported to determine what is right for them. For some that will be to go to the police, for others it will be to rely on the university to identify an appropriate response. But whatever route they wish to adopt, all students, no matter where they are studying, need to be empowered and to have confidence and trust so that they can break their silence.

The headlines we’ve read are shocking, but if we can turn righteous indignation into change, we will have gained something from these appalling stories – a society where no one has to say #metoo again.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

One year on from government guidance that finally gave universities the mandate to investigate sexual harassment claims, Professor Graham Virgo looks back on progress made, and what we need to do next 

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Cambridge expert jointly leads international push to reduce global burden of traumatic brain injury

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 00:53

The Commission has been co-led by Professor David Menon from the Division of Anaesthesia at the University of Cambridge together with Professor Andrew Maas from Antwerp University Hospital and University of Antwerp, Belgium.

The Commission is being launched today at the European Parliament and targets policy makers, funders, and patient organisations, as well as health-care professionals. It combines the expertise of over 300 international clinicians and researchers, many of whom are part of the International Initiative for Traumatic Brain Injury Research (InTBIR). The authors set out clinical and research priorities with 12 key messages and recommendations to reduce the global burden of TBI.

The enormous and rising health and socioeconomic burden posed by TBI demands urgent action from health-care professionals and policy makers. About half the world’s population will suffer a TBI over their lifetime. TBI is estimated to affect 50 million people every year. It is the leading cause of mortality in young adults and a major cause of disability across all ages. It also substantially increases the risk of late-life dementia.

The care and consequences of TBI cost the global economy US$400 billion annually. Given an estimated gross world product of about $74 trillion, this means that about $1 in every $200 of annual global output is spent on the costs or consequences of TBI.

“Traumatic brain injury affects huge numbers of people worldwide, with potentially serious consequences for their health and wellbeing and a major economic burden on already stretched health services,” says Professor Menon. “We are not doing enough to prevent and manage such injuries, which is why we calling on policymakers, funders and healthcare professionals to take action.”

Increasing industrialisation and motor vehicle use are causing increases in TBI due to traffic incidents in low-income and middle-income countries, which disproportionately affect the young. In high-income countries, incidence of TBI is highest and increasing in the elderly due to falls. Expectations of unfavourable outcomes in the elderly can lead to treatments being withheld or prematurely withdrawn, with resulting poorer outcomes reinforcing therapeutic nihilism in the management of these patients. However, with appropriate care good results can be obtained.

More recently, substantial interest has focused on the health impact of sports-related concussion and its long-term effects. It is now recognised that repetitive injuries carry increased risks and that TBI should not be seen as an event, but as a process, often with lifelong consequences.

The Commission reports that understanding of TBI and care of patients is hampered by inconsistent epidemiological data, poor integration of systems of care, and substantial disparities in access to care. Furthermore, current medical management is inappropriately based on a one-size-fits-all approach. Inadequate attention to the condition’s heterogeneity at presentation and outcome might also be a substantial contributor to the failure of clinical trials of promising new therapies. Crucially, even when additional evidence is generated to improve management, the integration of such evidence into clinical guidelines and routine clinical care is slow. Most importantly, many cases of TBI are preventable, but well recognised measures to prevent the disease are not universally mandated in law or they are poorly implemented in practice.

The authors set out priorities and recommendations to address the varied challenges in understanding, prevention, and care of TBI, and seek to identify strategies to better characterise TBI, increase prognostic accuracy, and match treatments to patients—a precision-medicine approach.

The Commission also promotes use of new tools for clinical evidence generation and implementation, so that research outputs are more generalisable and can be more rapidly integrated into clinical care. Moreover, it highlights the importance of international collaboration of funding agencies and researchers to provide a global response to reduce the individual and societal burden of TBI.

Substantial reductions in the global burden of traumatic brain injury (TBI) could be achieved with improved policies for prevention, new directions for clinical care, and novel approaches to research, according to The Lancet Neurology Commission on TBI.

Traumatic brain injury affects huge numbers of people worldwide, with potentially serious consequences for their health and wellbeing and a major economic burden on already stretched health servicesDavid MenonRoss GoodmanCar crash rescue 3

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