skip to content

Research Information

 
Subscribe to Research at Cambridge  feed
Updated: 5 hours 17 min ago

Algorithm learns to correct 3D printing errors for different parts, materials and systems

Tue, 16/08/2022 - 16:11

The engineers, from the University of Cambridge, developed a machine learning algorithm that can detect and correct a wide variety of different errors in real time, and can be easily added to new or existing machines to enhance their capabilities. 3D printers using the algorithm could also learn how to print new materials by themselves. Details of their low-cost approach are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the production of complex and customised parts, such as aircraft components, personalised medical implants, or even intricate sweets, and could also transform manufacturing supply chains. However, it is also vulnerable to production errors, from small-scale inaccuracies and mechanical weaknesses through to total build failures.

Currently, the way to prevent or correct these errors is for a skilled worker to observe the process. The worker must recognise an error (a challenge even for the trained eye), stop the print, remove the part, and adjust settings for a new part. If a new material or printer is used, the process takes more time as the worker learns the new setup. Even then, errors may be missed as workers cannot continuously observe multiple printers at the same time, especially for long prints.

“3D printing is challenging because there's a lot that can go wrong, and so quite often 3D prints will fail,” said Dr Sebastian Pattinson from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the paper’s senior author. “When that happens, all of the material and time and energy that you used is lost.”

Engineers have been developing automated 3D printing monitoring, but existing systems can only detect a limited range of errors in one part, one material and one printing system.

“What’s really needed is a ‘driverless car’ system for 3D printing,” said first author Douglas Brion, also from the Department of Engineering. “A driverless car would be useless if it only worked on one road or in one town – it needs to learn to generalise across different environments, cities, and even countries. Similarly, a ‘driverless’ printer must work for multiple parts, materials, and printing conditions.”

Brion and Pattinson say the algorithm they’ve developed could be the ‘driverless car’ engineers have been looking for.

“What this means is that you could have an algorithm that can look at all of the different printers that you're operating, constantly monitoring and making changes as needed – basically doing what a human can't do,” said Pattinson.

The researchers trained a deep learning computer vision model by showing it around 950,000 images captured automatically during the production of 192 printed objects. Each of the images was labelled with the printer’s settings, such as the speed and temperature of the printing nozzle and flow rate of the printing material. The model also received information about how far those settings were from good values, allowing the algorithm to learn how errors arise.

“Once trained, the algorithm can figure out just by looking at an image which setting is correct and which is wrong – is a particular setting too high or too low, for example, and then apply the appropriate correction,” said Pattinson. “And the cool thing is that printers that use this approach could be continuously gathering data, so the algorithm could be continually improving as well.”

Using this approach, Brion and Pattinson were able to make an algorithm that is generalisable – in other words, it can be applied to identify and correct errors in unfamiliar objects or materials, or even in new printing systems.

“When you’re printing with a nozzle, then no matter the material you’re using – polymers, concrete, ketchup, or whatever – you can get similar errors,” said Brion. “For example, if the nozzle is moving too fast, you often end up with blobs of material, or if you’re pushing out too much material, then the printed lines will overlap forming creases.

“Errors that arise from similar settings will have similar features, no matter what part is being printed or what material is being used. Because our algorithm learned general features shared across different materials, it could say ‘Oh, the printed lines are forming creases, therefore we are likely pushing out too much material’.”

As a result, the algorithm that was trained using only one kind of material and printing system was able to detect and correct errors in different materials, from engineering polymers to even ketchup and mayonnaise, on a different kind of printing system.

In future, the trained algorithm could be more efficient and reliable than a human operator at spotting errors. This could be important for quality control in applications where component failure could have serious consequences.

With the support of Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm, Brion has formed Matta, a spin-out company that will develop the technology for commercial applications.

“We’re turning our attention to how this might work in high-value industries such as the aerospace, energy, and automotive sectors, where 3D printing technologies are used to manufacture high-performance and expensive parts,” said Brion. “It might take days or weeks to complete a single component at a cost of thousands of pounds. An error that occurs at the start might not be detected until the part is completed and inspected. Our approach would spot the error in real time, significantly improving manufacturing productivity.”

The research was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Royal Society, Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Isaac Newton Trust.

The full dataset used to train the AI is freely available online. 

Reference:
Douglas A. J. Brion & Sebastian W. Pattinson. ‘Generalisable 3D printing error detection and correction via multi-head neural networks.’ Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-31985-y

Engineers have created intelligent 3D printers that can quickly detect and correct errors, even in previously unseen designs, or unfamiliar materials like ketchup and mayonnaise, by learning from the experiences of other machines.

Once trained, the algorithm can figure out just by looking at an image which setting is correct and which is wrongSebastian PattinsonDouglas BrionExample image of the 3D printer nozzle used by the machine learning algorithm to detect and correct errors in real time.


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Just over half of six-year-olds in Britain meet recommended guidelines for physical activity

Thu, 11/08/2022 - 17:00

Physical activity is beneficial for our physical and mental health, but activity levels tend to decrease across childhood and adolescence. Current UK physical activity guidelines recommend that children and young people from ages 5 to 18 years do an average of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (such as playing in the park or physical education) per day across the week. For all children, it is also recommended that they keep to a minimum extended periods of sedentary behaviour (such as sitting watching TV).

To investigate how much activity children do in their early primary school years, researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge and the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre at the University of Southampton provided 712 six-year-olds with Actiheart accelerometers, which measured their heart rate and movement. The children, who had been recruited as part of the ongoing Southampton Women’s Survey, wore these continually for an average of six days.

The results of the study are published today in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

At age six, children were sedentary for a daily average of more than five hours (316 minutes) and engaged in over 7.5 hours (457 minutes) of low-level physical activity and just over an hour (65 minutes) of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Just over half of the children (53%) met the current UK recommended guidelines, with boys being more likely to reach the target than girls (63% of boys vs 42% of girls).

Dr Esther van Sluijs from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge said: “Using accelerometers, we were able to get a much better idea of how active children were and we found that just over a half of six-year-olds were getting the recommended amount of physical activity. But this means that almost half of British children in this age group are not regularly active, which we know is important for their wellbeing and their performance at school.”

When the researchers analysed activity levels by time of day, they found that girls engaged in less moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during the school day at age six. Possible explanations are that girls wear skirts, which may make physical activity more challenging, or that they choose less active options during break times.  

The researchers were able to look at longitudinal data from some children – that is, data recorded over a period of time rather than just a snapshot – and found that compared to at age four, at age six children became more sedentary (on average, around 30 minutes per day more compared to when they were four), but also engaged in an additional seven minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Dr Kathryn Hesketh from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge added: “This is something of a double-edged sword: children appear to do more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity when they start formal schooling, which is really positive, but they also spend more time sedentary. This may in part be because of the structure of the school day, so we may want to look at ways to reduce sedentary time when children are younger, to prevent that behaviour becoming habitual.”

Professor Keith Godfrey from the University of Southampton commented: “These analyses indicate that new initiatives to promote physical activity must consider the lower activity levels in girls and at weekends. The time when children transition into formal schooling is an important opportunity to ensure a much higher proportion achieve recommended levels of activity.”

While based on detailed data collected up to 2012, evidence from national questionnaire based surveys is that children's patterns of activity levels changed little in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, with widely recognised even lower rates of meeting the Chief Medical Officer guidelines during the pandemic.

The work was largely supported by Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Hesketh, KR et al. Activity behaviours in British 6-year-olds: cross-sectional associations and longitudinal change during the school transition. Journal of Physical Activity & Health; 11 Aug 2022; DOI: 10.1123/jpah.2021-0718

All averages quoted are mean.

Fifty-three percent of six-year-olds met the recommended daily guidelines for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in a study carried out pre-pandemic by researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Southampton.

This is something of a double-edged sword: children appear to do more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity when they start formal schooling, which is really positive, but they also spend more time sedentaryKathryn HeskethJW LTD (Getty Images)Group of children playing tug of war


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Large number of stem cell lines carry significant DNA damage, say researchers

Thu, 11/08/2022 - 16:00

Stem cells are a special type of cell that can be programmed to become almost any type of cell within the body. They are currently used for studies on the development of organs and even the early stages of the embryo.

Increasingly, researchers are turning to stem cells as ways of developing new treatments, known as cell-based therapies. Other potential applications include programming stem cells to grow into nerve cells to replace those lost to neurodegeneration in diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Originally, stem cells were derived from embryos, but it is now possible to derive stem cells from adult skin cells. These so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have now been generated from a range of tissues, including blood, which is increasing in popularity due to its ease of derivation.

However, researchers at the University of Cambridge and Wellcome Sanger Institute have discovered a problem with stem cell lines derived from both skin cells and blood. When they examined the genomes of the stem cell lines in detail, they found that nearly three quarters carried substantial damage to their DNA that could compromise their use both in research and, crucially, in cell-based therapies. Their findings represent the largest genetic study to date of iPSCs and are published today in Nature Genetics.

DNA is made up of three billion pairs of nucleotides, molecules represented by the letters A, C, G and T. Over time, damage to our DNA, for example from ultraviolet radiation, can lead to mutations – a letter C might change to a letter T, for example. ‘Fingerprints’ left on our DNA can reveal what is responsible for this damage. As these mutations accumulate, they can have a profound effect on the function of cells and in some cases lead to tumours.

Dr Foad Rouhani, who carried out the work while at the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “We noticed that some of the iPS cells that we were generating looked really different from each other, even when they were derived from the same patient and derived in the same experiment. The most striking thing was that pairs of iPS cells would have a vastly different genetic landscape – one line would have minimal damage and the other would have a level of mutations more commonly seen in tumours. One possible reason for this could be that a cell on the surface of the skin is likely to have greater exposure to sunlight than a cell below the surface and therefore eventually may lead to iPS cells with greater levels of genomic damage.”

The researchers used a common technique known as whole genome sequencing to inspect the entire DNA of stem cell lines in different cohorts, including the HipSci cohort at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and discovered that as many as 72% of the lines showed signs of major UV damage.

Professor Serena Nik-Zainal from the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Cambridge said: “Almost three-quarters of the cell lines had UV damage. Some samples had an enormous amount of mutations – sometimes more than we find in tumours.  We were all hugely surprised to learn this, given that most of these lines were derived from skin biopsies of healthy people.”

They decided to turn their attention to cell lines not derived from skin and focused on blood derived iPSCs as these are becoming increasingly popular due to the ease of obtaining blood samples. They found that while these blood-derived iPSCs, too, carried mutations, they had lower levels of mutations than skin-derived iPS cells and no UV damage. However, around a quarter carried mutations in a gene called BCOR, an important gene in blood cancers.

To investigate whether these BCOR mutations had any functional impact, they differentiated the iPSCs and turned them into neurons, tracking their progress along the way.

Dr Rouhani said: “What we saw was that there were problems in generating neurons from iPSCs that have BCOR mutations – they had a tendency to favour other cell types instead. This is a significant finding, particularly if one is intending to use those lines for neurological research.”

When they examined the blood samples, they discovered that the BCOR mutations were not present within the patient: instead, the process of culturing cells appears to increase the frequency of these mutations, which may have implications for other researchers working with cells in culture.

Scientists typically screen their cell lines for problems at the chromosomal level – for example by checking to see that the requisite 23 pairs of chromosomes are present. However, this would not be sufficiently detailed to pick up the potentially major problems that this new study has identified. Importantly, without looking in detail at the genomes of these stem cells, researchers and clinicians would be unaware of the underlying damage that is present with the cell lines they are working with.

“The DNA damage that we saw was at a nucleotide level,” says Professor Nik-Zainal. “If you think of the human genome as like a book, most researchers would check the number of chapters and be satisfied that there were none missing. But what we saw was that even with the correct number of chapters in place, lots of the words were garbled.”

Fortunately, says Professor Nik-Zainal, there is a way round the problem: using whole genome sequencing to look in detail for the errors at the outset.

“The cost of whole genome sequencing has dropped dramatically in recent years to around £500 per sample, though it's the analysis and interpretation that's the hardest bit. If a research question involves cell lines and cellular models, and particularly if we're going to introduce these lines back into patients, we may have to consider sequencing the genomes of these lines to understand what we are dealing with and get a sense of whether they are suitable for use.”

Dr Rouhani adds: “In recent years we have been finding out more and more about how even our healthy cells carry many mutations and therefore it is not a realistic aim to produce stem cell lines with zero mutations. The goal should be to know as much as possible about the nature and extent of the DNA damage to make informed choices about the ultimate use of these stem cell lines.

“If a line is to be used for cell based therapies in patients for example, then we need to understand more about the implications of these mutations so that both clinicians and patients are better informed of the risks involved in the treatment.”

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and Wellcome, and supported by NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform.

Reference
Rouhani, FJ, Zou, X, Danecek, P, et al. Substantial somatic genomic variation and selection for BCOR mutations in human induced pluripotent stem cells; Nat Gen; 11 Aug 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41588-022-01147-3

DNA damage caused by factors such as ultraviolet radiation affect nearly three-quarters of all stem cell lines derived from human skin cells, say Cambridge researchers, who argue that whole genome sequencing is essential for confirming if cell lines are usable.

Almost three-quarters of the cell lines had UV damage. Some samples had an enormous amount of mutations – sometimes more than we find in tumoursSerena Nik-ZainalAlexas_FotosSun


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicence type: Public Domain

Racial discrimination linked to increased risk of premature babies

Fri, 05/08/2022 - 09:16

The findings add to growing evidence that racial discrimination is a risk factor for poor health outcomes, say the researchers.

For several decades, race has been recognised as a social determinant of health and a risk factor for numerous diseases. The evidence increasingly suggests that social, environmental, economic and political factors are fundamental drivers of health inequities, and that it is often racial discrimination or racism, rather than race, that is the root cause of racial disparities in health outcomes.

For example, maternal death rates among Black and Indigenous women in the USA are two to three times higher than those of white women. Similarly, in the UK, maternal death rates are two to four times higher among Black and Asian women compared to death rates among white women.

To explore the existing patterns of racial discrimination and adverse pregnancy outcomes, the researchers carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis, pooling and analysing data from the available evidence. This approach allowed them to bring together existing and sometimes contradictory or under-powered studies to provide more robust conclusions. Their results are published in the open access journal BMJ Global Health.

The team searched eight electronic databases, looking for relevant studies on self-reported racial discrimination and premature birth (that is, before 37 weeks), low and very low birthweight, small-for-gestational age, and high blood pressure associated with pregnancy.

In all, the results of 24 studies were included in the final analysis. The majority of studies (20) were carried out in the USA. Study participants were of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Black or African American, Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, Mãori, Pacific, Asian, Aboriginal Australian, Romani, indigenous German and Turkish.

The pooled analysis showed that the experience of racial discrimination was significantly associated with increased risk of premature birth. Women who experienced racial discrimination were 40% more likely to give birth prematurely. When low quality studies were excluded, the odds of a premature birth were reduced, but still 31% higher in those experiencing racial discrimination.

While not statistically significant, the results also suggest that the experience of racial discrimination may increase the chance of giving birth to a small-for-gestational age baby by 23%.

Co-first-author Jeenan Kaiser, who did her MPhil in Public Health at the University of Cambridge and is currently a medical student at the University of Alberta, said: “Racial discrimination impacts the health of racialised communities not only in direct and intentional ways, but also in how it shapes an individual’s experiences, opportunities, and quality of life. These are fundamentally driven by structural and social determinants of health.

“While our study focused on its impact on pregnancy outcomes, it is becoming increasingly evident that it negatively impacts a myriad of health outcomes. Efforts to counter racial discrimination and promote health must focus on systemic policy changes to create sustainable change.”

Co-first author Kim van Daalen, a Gates Cambridge and PhD candidate at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, said: “Dismantling structures and policies that enable institutional and interpersonal racial discrimination, underlying racial and ethnic disparities in health and intersecting social inequalities, is essential to improve overall health in societies. Partnerships of health care professionals with community-based reproductive justice and women’s health organisations who work in this area can improve health for racialised women in a community-centred way.”

The researchers point out that racial discrimination impacts what health services and resources are available, such as referral to specialist care, access to health insurance and access to public health services.

Co-author Dr Samuel Kebede, who did his MPhil in Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar and is currently at Montefiore Health System/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City said: “Historically there have been countless examples of where medicine and public health have been furthered by the subjugation and experimentation of Black and indigenous people. But the influence of structural racism is still present within the healthcare system today. From segregated healthcare for uninsured and under-insured people of colour in the United States, to the global disparity in COVID-19 vaccinations, structures continue to perpetuate inequities. Health professionals can play a vital role in dismantling these systems.”

Many of the studies were of limited quality and included few marginalised racial or ethnic groups other than African Americans; as such, their applicability to other ethnic groups and cultural settings may be limited. However, the researchers argue that when pooled, the data clearly demonstrate the negative impact of racial discrimination on pregnancy outcomes.

Reference
van Daalen, KR, & Kaiser, J et al. Racial discrimination and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Global Health; 3 Aug 2022; DOI: 10.1136/bmjgh-2022-009227

Women who experience racial discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, race or nationality are at increased risk of giving birth prematurely, according to a team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

Racial discrimination impacts the health of racialised communities not only in direct and intentional ways, but also in how it shapes an individual’s experiences, opportunities, and quality of lifeJeenan KaiserAriel Skelley (Getty Images)Black woman holding newborn baby in hospital bed


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Prostate cancer cases risk being detected too late due to misleading focus on urinary problems, say Cambridge experts

Thu, 04/08/2022 - 01:00

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men. According to Cancer Research UK, over 52,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year and there are more than 12,000 deaths.

Over three-quarters (78%) of men diagnosed with the disease survive for over ten years, but this proportion has barely changed over the past decade in the UK, largely because the disease is detected at a relatively late stage. In England, for example, nearly half of all prostate cancers are picked up at stage three of four (stage four being the latest stage).

Despite no evidence of a link between urinary symptoms and prostate cancer, national guidelines, health advice and public health campaigns continue to promote this link. In a review published today in BMC Medicine, Cambridge researchers argue that not only is this unhelpful, but it may even deter men from coming forward for early testing and detection of a potentially treatable cancer.

“When most people think of the symptoms of prostate cancer, they think of problems with peeing or needing to pee more frequently, particularly during the night,” said Vincent Gnanapragasam, Professor of Urology at the University of Cambridge and an Honorary Consultant Urologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. “This misperception has lasted for decades, despite very little evidence, and it’s potentially preventing us picking up cases at an early stage.”

Prostate enlargement can cause the urinary problems often included in public health messaging, but evidence suggests that this is rarely due to malignant prostate tumours. Rather, research suggests that the prostate is smaller in cases of prostate cancer.  A recent study – the UK PROTECT trial – even went as far as to say that a lack of urinary symptoms may in fact be an indicator of a higher likelihood of cancer.

Screening programmes are one way that cancers are often detected at an early stage, but in the case of prostate cancer, some argue that such programmes risk overwhelming health services and leading to men being treated for relatively benign disease.

Testing for prostate cancer involves a blood test that looks for a protein known as a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) that is made only by the prostate gland; however, it is not always accurate. PSA density is significantly more accurate than PSA alone in predicting a positive biopsy and is used in everyday clinical practice.

The researchers point to evidence that there is a misconception that prostate cancer is always symptomatic: a previous study found that 86% of the public associated prostate cancer with symptoms, but only 1% were aware that it could be asymptomatic.

“We urgently need to recognise that the information currently given to the public risks giving men a false sense of security if they don’t have any urinary symptoms,” said Professor Gnanapragasam.

“We need to emphasise that prostate cancer can be a silent or asymptomatic disease, particularly in its curable stages. Waiting out for urinary symptoms may mean missing opportunities to catch the disease when it’s treatable.

“Men shouldn’t be afraid to speak to their GP about getting tested, and about the value of a PSA test, especially if they have a history of prostate cancer in their family or have other risk factors such as being of Black or mixed Black ethnicity.”

The researchers say they are not advocating for an immediate screening programme, and acknowledge that changes in messaging could mean more men approaching their GPs for a PSA test, potentially resulting in unnecessary investigations and treatment. However, they argue that there are ways to reduce the risk of this happening. These include the use of algorithms to assess an individual’s risk and whether they need to be referred to a specialist, and for those who are referred, MRI scans could help rule out ‘indolent’ (mild) disease or negative findings, reducing the risks of an unnecessary biopsy.

“We’re calling on organisations such as the NHS, as well as patient charities and the media, to review the current public messaging,” said Professor Gnanapragasam.

“If men were aware that just because they have no symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean they are cancer free, then more might take up offers for tests. This could mean more tumours identified at an earlier stage and reduce the numbers of men experiencing late presentation with incurable disease.”

Reference
Gnanapragasam, VJ, et al. Urinary symptoms and prostate cancer—the misconception that may be preventing earlier presentation and better survival outcomes. BMC Medicine; 4 Aug 2022; DOI: 10.1186/s12916-022-02453-7

Men with early, curable stages of prostate cancer are missing opportunities to have their cancer detected because national guidelines and media health campaigns focus on urinary symptoms despite a lack of scientific evidence, say experts at the University of Cambridge.

When most people think of the symptoms of prostate cancer, they think of problems with peeing... This misperception has lasted for decades, despite very little evidenceVincent GnanapragasamRick Gomez (Getty Images)Black man looking out window


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Children with rare genetic disorders more likely to be diagnosed with developmental, behavioural and mental health problems

Wed, 03/08/2022 - 23:30

With the advent of rapid whole genome sequencing, children presenting with an intellectual disability or developmental delay are recommended to have their DNA sequenced to identify the underlying genetic cause.

To capitalise on this recent NHS development, researchers at the University of Cambridge, University College London and Cardiff University established IMAGINE ID, a national UK cohort study that aims to discover how genetic changes affect children and young people’s behaviour, in order to inform better care of families and children now and in the future.

Writing in The Lancet Psychiatry today, the researchers have published the results of an analysis of data from almost 2,800 young people with rare genomic variants – changes to their DNA – that are associated with intellectual disability.

Professor Lucy Raymond from the University of Cambridge, the study’s senior author, said: “Thanks to all the families that have taken part in our research, we’ve been able to conduct the largest study to date of the impact of rare genetic variants associated with intellectual disability. What we’ve found from parents is that these children are extremely likely to develop other neurodevelopmental or mental health conditions, which can present additional challenges both to the children and their families.”

All the participants were aged between four and 19 years. Just under three-quarters (74%) had an intellectual disability caused by a duplication or deletion of sections of DNA – a so-called copy number variant (CNV). The remaining young people had a disability caused by a single ‘spelling error’ in their DNA – a change in the A, C, G or T nucleotides – referred to as a single nucleotide variant (SNV).

Compared to the English national population, children in the study were almost 30 times as likely to have been diagnosed as autistic. In the general population, 1.2% of people are diagnosed with the condition compared to 36% of the study participants. Similarly, 22% of the study population were diagnosed with ADHD, compared to 1.6% of the general population, meaning that they were more than 13 times more likely to have the condition.

Around one in eight children (12%) had been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, in which children are uncooperative, defiant, and hostile toward others – a rate 4.4 times higher than in the general population.

One in ten (11%) had an anxiety disorder, a 1.5 times increased risk. Rates of childhood depression were significantly lower, at just 0.4% compared with 2.1% of the general population, but this may increase over the next few years as some mental health disorders do not start until later adolescence or early adult life. Almost all of the children (94%) were reported to have at least one significant physical health problem, including disturbed sleep (65%), motor or movement disorders (64%) or seizures (30%).

Dr Jeanne Wolstencroft from Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, University College London, said: “Routine genomic testing now allows parents to understand the genetic cause of intellectual disabilities in an increasing number of children but, because so many of these conditions are rare, we still lack information on the impact this has on their children’s future mental health.

“We already know that intellectual disabilities tend to be associated with an increased likelihood of neurodevelopmental conditions, as well as emotional and behavioural difficulties, but we found that where there is an identifiable genetic cause, the likelihood is amplified considerably. This suggests that these children should be provided with early assessment and help where appropriate.”

The team has also shown for the first time that children with intellectual disability caused by a genetic variant inherited from a family member, are more likely to come from a more deprived socioeconomic background. This suggests that some parents or family members with the same variant may also have unrecognised difficulties that placed them at a social and educational disadvantage. These children were more likely to be diagnosed with a neuropsychiatric condition and were also more likely to exhibit behavioural difficulties.

Professor David Skuse from Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, University College London, said: “We hope this work helps improve the targeting of assessments and interventions to support families at the earliest opportunity. We’d like to see better training for health care providers about the wider use and utility of genetic testing. We have identified its potential value in terms of prioritising children with mental health needs for child mental health services, who are currently hugely limited in the UK.”

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council (part of UK Research & Innovation) and the Medical Research Foundation. Additional support was provided by the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Resource Centre and the NIHR GOSH BRC.

Reference
Wolstencroft, J et al. Neuropsychiatric risk in children with intellectual disability of genetic origin: IMAGINE - The UK National Cohort Study. Lancet Psychiatry; 4 Aug 2022; DOI: 10.1016/PIIS2215-0366(22)00207-3

 

A major study of children with intellectual disabilities has highlighted the additional challenges that they often face, including a much-increased likelihood of being diagnosed as autistic, as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other mental health difficulties.

Thanks to all the families that have taken part in our research, we’ve been able to conduct the largest study to date of the impact of rare genetic variants associated with intellectual disabilityLucy RaymondPhotoAlto/Laurence Mouton (Getty Images)Toddler's hands touching tree bark


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Smart lighting system based on quantum dots more accurately reproduces daylight

Wed, 03/08/2022 - 10:00

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, designed the next-generation smart lighting system using a combination of nanotechnology, colour science, advanced computational methods, electronics and a unique fabrication process.

The team found that by using more than the three primary lighting colours used in typical LEDs, they were able to reproduce daylight more accurately. Early tests of the new design showed excellent colour rendering, a wider operating range than current smart lighting technology, and wider spectrum of white light customisation. The results are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

As the availability and characteristics of ambient light are connected with wellbeing, the widespread availability of smart lighting systems can have a positive effect on human health since these systems can respond to individual mood. Smart lighting can also respond to circadian rhythms, which regulate the daily sleep-wake cycle, so that light is reddish-white in the morning and evening, and bluish-white during the day.

When a room has sufficient natural or artificial light, good glare control, and views of the outdoors, it is said to have good levels of visual comfort. In indoor environments under artificial light, visual comfort depends on how accurately colours are rendered. Since the colour of objects is determined by illumination, smart white lighting needs to be able to accurately express the colour of surrounding objects. Current technology achieves this by using three different colours of light simultaneously.

Quantum dots have been studied and developed as light sources since the 1990s, due to their high colour tunability and colour purity. Due their unique optoelectronic properties, they show excellent colour performance in both wide colour controllability and high colour rendering capability.

The Cambridge researchers developed an architecture for quantum-dot light-emitting diodes (QD-LED) based next-generation smart white lighting. They combined system-level colour optimisation, device-level optoelectronic simulation, and material-level parameter extraction.

The researchers produced a computational design framework from a colour optimisation algorithm used for neural networks in machine learning, together with a new method for charge transport and light emission modelling.

The QD-LED system uses multiple primary colours – beyond the commonly used red, green and blue – to more accurately mimic white light. By choosing quantum dots of a specific size – between three and 30 nanometres in diameter – the researchers were able to overcome some of the practical limitations of LEDs and achieve the emission wavelengths they needed to test their predictions.

The team then validated their design by creating a new device architecture of QD-LED based white lighting. The test showed excellent colour rendering, a wider operating range than current technology, and a wide spectrum of white light shade customisation.

The Cambridge-developed QD-LED system showed a correlated colour temperature (CCT) range from 2243K (reddish) to 9207K (bright midday sun), compared with current LED-based smart lights which have a CCT between 2200K and 6500K. The colour rendering index (CRI) – a measure of colours illuminated by the light in comparison to daylight (CRI=100) – of the QD-LED system was 97, compared to current smart bulb ranges, which are between 80 and 91.

The design could pave the way to more efficient, more accurate smart lighting. In an LED smart bulb, the three LEDs must be controlled individually to achieve a given colour. In the QD-LED system, all the quantum dots are driven by a single common control voltage to achieve the full colour temperature range.

“This is a world-first: a fully optimised, high-performance quantum-dot-based smart white lighting system,” said Professor Jong Min Kim from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who co-led the research. “This is the first milestone toward the full exploitation of quantum-dot-based smart white lighting for daily applications.”

“The ability to better reproduce daylight through its varying colour spectrum dynamically in a single light is what we aimed for,” said Professor Gehan Amaratunga, who co-led the research. “We achieved it in a new way through using quantum dots. This research opens the way for a wide variety of new human responsive lighting environments.”

The structure of the QD-LED white lighting developed by the Cambridge team is scalable to large area lighting surfaces, as it is made with a printing process and its control and drive is similar to that in a display. With standard point source LEDs requiring individual control this is a more complex task.

The research was supported in part by the European Union and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

 

Reference:
Chatura Samarakoon et al. ‘Optoelectronic System and Device Integration for Quantum-Dot Light-Emitting Diode White Lighting with Computational Design Framework.’ Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-31853-9

Researchers have designed smart, colour-controllable white light devices from quantum dots – tiny semiconductors just a few billionths of a metre in size – which are more efficient and have better colour saturation than standard LEDs, and can dynamically reproduce daylight conditions in a single light.

This research opens the way for a wide variety of new human-responsive lighting environmentsGehan AmaratungaYaorusheng via Getty ImagesLong exposure light painting


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

AI tackles the challenge of materials structure prediction

Wed, 27/07/2022 - 18:46

The researchers, from Cambridge and Linkoping Universities, have designed a way to predict the structure of materials given its constitutive elements. The results are reported in the journal Science Advances.

The arrangement of atoms in a material determines its properties. The ability to predict this arrangement computationally for different combinations of elements, without having to make the material in the lab, would enable researchers to quickly design and improve materials. This paves the way for advances such as better batteries and photovoltaics.

However, there are many ways that atoms can ‘pack’ into a material: some packings are stable, others are not. Determining the stability of a packing is computationally intensive, and calculating every possible arrangement of atoms to find the best one is not practical. This is a significant bottleneck in materials science.

“This materials structure prediction challenge is similar to the protein folding problem in biology,” said Dr Alpha Lee from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who co-led the research. “There are many possible structures that a material can ‘fold’ into. Except the materials science problem is perhaps even more challenging than biology because it considers a much broader set of elements.”

Lee and his colleagues developed a method based on machine learning that successfully tackles this challenge. They developed a new way to describe materials, using the mathematics of symmetry to reduce the infinite ways that atoms can pack into materials into a finite set of possibilities. They then used machine learning to predict the ideal packing of atoms, given the elements and their relative composition in the material.

Their method accurately predicts the structure of materials that hold promise for piezoelectric and energy harvesting applications, with over five times the efficiency of current methods. Their method can also find thousands of new and stable materials that have never been made before, in a way that is computationally efficient.  

“The number of materials that are possible is four to five orders of magnitude larger than the total number of materials that we have made since antiquity,” said co-first author Dr Rhys Goodall, also from the Cavendish Laboratory. “Our approach provides an efficient computational approach that can ‘mine’ new stable materials that have never been made before. These hypothetical materials can then be computationally screened for their functional properties.”

The researchers are now using their machine learning platform to find new functional materials such as dielectric materials. They are also integrating other aspects of experimental constraints into their materials discovery approach.

The research was supported in part by the Royal Society and the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability.

Reference:
Rhys A. Goodall et al. ‘Rapid discovery of stable materials by coordinate-free coarse graining.’ Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abn4117

Researchers have designed a machine learning method that can predict the structure of new materials with five times the efficiency of the current standard, removing a key roadblock in developing advanced materials for applications such as energy storage and photovoltaics.

Our approach provides an efficient computational approach that can ‘mine’ new stable materials that have never been made before. Rhys GoodallMR.Cole_Photographer via Getty ImagesGeometric abstract background with connected line and dots


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Natural clean-up: bacteria can remove plastic pollution from lakes

Tue, 26/07/2022 - 16:18

The bacteria break down the carbon compounds in plastic to use as food for their growth.

The scientists say that enriching waters with particular species of bacteria could be a natural way to remove plastic pollution from the environment.

The effect is pronounced: the rate of bacterial growth more than doubled when plastic pollution raised the overall carbon level in lake water by just 4%.

The results suggest that the plastic pollution in lakes is ‘priming’ the bacteria for rapid growth –  the bacteria are not only breaking down the plastic but are then more able to break down other natural carbon compounds in the lake.

Lake bacteria were found to favour plastic-derived carbon compounds over natural ones. The researchers think this is because the carbon compounds from plastics are easier for the bacteria to break down and use as food.

The scientists caution that this does not condone ongoing plastic pollution. Some of the compounds within plastics can have toxic effects on the environment, particularly at high concentrations.

The findings are published today in the journal Nature Communications.

“It’s almost like the plastic pollution is getting the bacteria’s appetite going. The bacteria use the plastic as food first, because it’s easy to break down, and then they’re more able to break down some of the more difficult food – the natural organic matter in the lake,” said Dr Andrew Tanentzap in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, senior author of the paper.

He added: “This suggests that plastic pollution is stimulating the whole food web in lakes, because more bacteria means more food for the bigger organisms like ducks and fish.”

The effect varied depending on the diversity of bacterial species present in the lake water – lakes with more different species were better at breaking down plastic pollution.

A study published by the authors last year found that European lakes are potential hotspots of microplastic pollution.

When plastics break down they release simple carbon compounds. The researchers found that these are chemically distinct to the carbon compounds released as organic matter like leaves and twigs break down.

The carbon compounds from plastics were shown to be derived from additives unique to plastic products, including adhesives and softeners.

The new study also found that bacteria removed more plastic pollution in lakes that had fewer unique natural carbon compounds. This is because the bacteria in the lake water had fewer other food sources.

The results will help to prioritise lakes where pollution control is most urgent. If a lake has a lot of plastic pollution, but low bacterial diversity and a lot of different natural organic compounds, then its ecosystem will be more vulnerable to damage.

“Unfortunately, plastics will pollute our environment for decades. On the positive side, our study helps to identify microbes that could be harnessed to help break down plastic waste and better manage environmental pollution," said Professor David Aldridge in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, who was involved in the study.

The study involved sampling 29 lakes across Scandinavia between August and September 2019. To assess a range of conditions, these lakes differed in latitude, depth, area, average surface temperature and diversity of dissolved carbon-based molecules.

The scientists cut up plastic bags from four major UK shopping chains, and shook these in water until their carbon compounds were released.

At each lake, glass bottles were filled with lake water. A small amount of the ‘plastic water’ was added to half of these, to represent the amount of carbon leached from plastics into the environment, and the same amount of distilled water was added to the others. After 72 hours in the dark, bacterial activity was measured in each of the bottles.

The study measured bacterial growth - by increase in mass, and the efficiency of bacterial growth - by the amount of carbon-dioxide released in the process of growing.

In the water with plastic-derived carbon compounds, the bacteria had doubled in mass very efficiently. Around 50% of this carbon was incorporated into the bacteria in 72 hours.

"Our study shows that when carrier bags enter lakes and rivers they can have dramatic and unexpected impacts on the entire ecosystem. Hopefully our results will encourage people to be even more careful about how they dispose of plastic waste," said Eleanor Sheridan in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, first author of the study who undertook the work as part of a final-year undergraduate project.

The research was funded by the European Research Council.

Reference

Sheridan, E.A. et al: ‘Plastic pollution fosters more microbial growth in lakes than natural organic matter.’ Nature Communications, 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-31691-9

A study of 29 European lakes has found that some naturally-occurring lake bacteria grow faster and more efficiently on the remains of plastic bags than on natural matter like leaves and twigs.

It’s almost like the plastic pollution is getting the bacteria’s appetite going. The bacteria use the plastic as food first, because it’s easy to break down.Andrew TanentzapS.G.WoodmanStudy lake in Norway


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicence type: Attribution

Madingley aviaries saved from closure

Fri, 22/07/2022 - 12:00

We are very grateful to everyone who has contributed to helping the University of Cambridge secure the future of this important research facility, especially Alex Gerko, Founder and CEO of XTX Markets. We welcome any further donations to help us keep the facility open beyond this period.

The aviaries have been the location of exceptional research led by Professor Nicky Clayton FRS that has transformed our understanding of the behaviour and intelligence of these bird species.

We are delighted to announce that due to a number of generous donations from both members of the public and the scientific community, together with support from the University of Cambridge, we are able to keep the corvid aviaries at Madingley open for a further five years.

Nick Saffell (University of Cambridge)Jays at Madingley


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicence type: Attribution

Five Cambridge academics elected to the British Academy in 2022

Fri, 22/07/2022 - 09:55

The academics have been elected to the fellowship this year in recognition of their work in the fields of literature, visual culture, memory, history and heritage, and are among 85 distinguished scholars to be elected to the British Academy in 2022. 


Professor Virginia Cox (Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics; Trinity College)
Virginia Cox’s research focuses on Renaissance and Counter-Reformation Italian literature, on the history of the reception of classical rhetorical theory in Italy between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, and on the history of Italian early modern writing by women.

Professor Richard Henson (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit)
Richard (Rik) Henson’s primary research focus is how the brain "remembers" things. His work uses focuses on trying to understand how our brains support different types of memory, which is vital for understanding the memory problems associated with brain damage and disease. He is current president of the British Neuroscience Association.

Professor Heonik Kwon (Department of Social Anthropology; Trinity College)
Heonik Kwon is the author of prize-winning books on the historical memories of the Vietnam War, Asia’s Cold War, and the Korean War. He is currently working on the history of cultural internationalism in the twentieth century and beyond as part of a five-year research project called Beyond The Korean War.

Professor Marie Louise Sorensen (Department of Archaeology; Jesus College)
Marie Louise Sorensen specialises in European prehistory, gender and theory, as well as contemporary heritage politics: in particular around conflict, including destruction and reconstruction. Sorensen has recently worked on early colonial expansion into the Cape Verde islands, and investigated domestic life in Bronze Age Hungary.

Professor Emma Wilson (Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics; Corpus Christi College)
Emma Wilson researches contemporary visual culture, modern French literature and gender. She has written on contemporary women filmmakers in France, along with the uses of cinema to respond to loss and pain in her book Love, Mortality and the Moving Image. Wilson’s book on filmmaker Céline Sciamma was published last year. 


Founded in 1902, the British Academy is the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. The Fellowship claims over 1600 of the leading minds in these subjects from the UK and overseas, with other Cambridge fellows including the classicist Professor Dame Mary Beard and the historian Professor David Reynolds. The Academy is also a funding body for research, nationally and internationally, and a forum for debate and engagement.  

"I am delighted to welcome these distinguished and pioneering scholars to our Fellowship,” said new President of the British Academy, Professor Julia Black. “I am equally delighted that we have so many new female Fellows. While I hope this means that the tide is finally turning for women in academia, there is still much to do to make the research world diverse and open to all.” 

“With our new Fellows’ expertise and insights, the Academy is better placed than ever to open new seams of knowledge and understanding and to enhance the wellbeing and prosperity of societies around the world,” said Black.

 

Five academics from the University of Cambridge have been made Fellows of the prestigious British Academy for the humanities and social sciences.

British Academy British Academy


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Astronomers develop novel way to ‘see’ the first stars through the fog of the early Universe

Thu, 21/07/2022 - 16:00

The researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, have developed a methodology that will allow them to observe and study the first stars through the clouds of hydrogen that filled the Universe about 378,000 years after the Big Bang.

Observing the birth of the first stars and galaxies has been a goal of astronomers for decades, as it will help explain how the Universe evolved from the emptiness after the Big Bang to the complex realm of celestial objects we observe today, 13.8 billion years later.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - a next-generation telescope due to be completed by the end of the decade - will likely be able to make images of the earliest light in the Universe, but for current telescopes the challenge is to detect the cosmological signal of the stars through the thick hydrogen clouds.

The signal that astronomers aim to detect is expected to be approximately one hundred thousand times weaker than other radio signals coming also from the sky – for example, radio signals originating in our own galaxy.

Using a radio telescope itself introduces distortions to the signal received, which can completely obscure the cosmological signal of interest. This is considered an extreme observational challenge in modern radio cosmology. Such instrument-related distortions are commonly blamed as the major bottleneck in this type of observation.

Now the Cambridge-led team has developed a methodology to see through the primordial clouds and other sky noise signals, avoiding the detrimental effect of the distortions introduced by the radio telescope. Their methodology, part of the REACH (Radio Experiment for the Analysis of Cosmic Hydrogen) experiment, will allow astronomers to observe the earliest stars through their interaction with the hydrogen clouds, in the same way we would infer a landscape by looking at shadows in the fog.

Their method will improve the quality and reliability of observations from radio telescopes looking at this unexplored key time in the development of the Universe. The first observations from REACH are expected later this year.

The results are reported today in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“At the time when the first stars formed, the Universe was mostly empty and composed mostly of hydrogen and helium,” said Dr Eloy de Lera Acedo from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, the paper’s lead author.

He added: “Because of gravity, the elements eventually came together and the conditions were right for nuclear fusion, which is what formed the first stars. But they were surrounded by clouds of so-called neutral hydrogen, which absorb light really well, so it’s hard to detect or observe the light behind the clouds directly.”

In 2018, another research group (running the ‘Experiment to Detect the Global Epoch of Reioniozation Signature’ – or EDGES) published a result that hinted at a possible detection of this earliest light, but astronomers have been unable to repeat the result - leading them to believe that the original result may have been due to interference from the telescope being used.

“The original result would require new physics to explain it, due to the temperature of the hydrogen gas, which should be much cooler than our current understanding of the Universe would allow. Alternatively, an unexplained higher temperature of the background radiation - typically assumed to be the well-known Cosmic Microwave Background - could be the cause” said de Lera Acedo.

He added: “If we can confirm that the signal found in that earlier experiment really was from the first stars, the implications would be huge.”

In order to study this period in the Universe’s development, often referred to as the Cosmic Dawn, astronomers study the 21-centimetre line – an electromagnetic radiation signature from hydrogen in the early Universe. They look for a radio signal that measures the contrast between the radiation from the hydrogen and the radiation behind the hydrogen fog.

The methodology developed by de Lera Acedo and his colleagues uses Bayesian statistics to detect a cosmological signal in the presence of interference from the telescope and general noise from the sky, so that the signals can be separated.

To do this, state-of-the-art techniques and technologies from different fields have been required.

The researchers used simulations to mimic a real observation using multiple antennas, which improves the reliability of the data – earlier observations have relied on a single antenna.

“Our method jointly analyses data from multiple antennas and across a wider frequency band than equivalent current instruments. This approach will give us the necessary information for our Bayesian data analysis,” said de Lera Acedo.

He added: “In essence, we forgot about traditional design strategies and instead focused on designing a telescope suited to the way we plan to analyse the data – something like an inverse design. This could help us measure things from the Cosmic Dawn and into the epoch of reionisation, when hydrogen in the Universe was reionised.”

The telescope’s construction is currently being finalised at the Karoo radio reserve in South Africa, a location chosen for its excellent conditions for radio observations of the sky. It is far away from human-made radio frequency interference, for example television and FM radio signals.

The REACH team of over 30 researchers is multidisciplinary and distributed worldwide, with experts in fields such as theoretical and observational cosmology, antenna design, radio frequency instrumentation, numerical modelling, digital processing, big data and Bayesian statistics. REACH is co-led by the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.

Professor de Villiers, co-lead of the project at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa said: "Although the antenna technology used for this instrument is rather simple, the harsh and remote deployment environment, and the strict tolerances required in the manufacturing, make this a very challenging project to work on.”

He added: “We are extremely excited to see how well the system will perform, and have full confidence we'll make that elusive detection."

The Big Bang and very early times of the Universe are well understood epochs, thanks to studies of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. Even better understood is the late and widespread evolution of stars and other celestial objects. But the time of formation of the first light in the Cosmos is a fundamental missing piece in the puzzle of the history of the Universe.

The research was supported by the Kavli Institute for Cosmology in Cambridge (UK), the National Research Foundation (South Africa), the Cambridge-Africa ALBORADA trust (UK) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Reference

E. de Lera Acedo et al.: 'The REACH radiometer for detecting the 21-cm hydrogen signal from redshift z ≈ 7.5–28.’ Nature Astronomy (July 2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01709-9..

A team of astronomers has developed a method that will allow them to ‘see’ through the fog of the early Universe and detect light from the first stars and galaxies.

The first stars were surrounded by clouds of hydrogen, which absorb light really well, so it's hard to detect or observe the light behind the clouds directly.Eloy de Lera Acedo NASA/JPL-CaltechArtist's impression of stars springing up out of the darkness


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicence type: Attribution

Why do so many company mergers fail, new book asks

Thu, 21/07/2022 - 14:51

Mergers of firms have boomed over the past four decades, with a 40-fold increase in deals done each year. These mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are sealed by talented, highly skilled executives, lawyers, bankers and advisers, and spending on mergers totalled $5 trillion in 2021. Yet most mergers fail, and don’t achieve the boost in operating profits they were touted to achieve.

Why? And why hasn’t this been fixed?

Those questions lie at the heart of a new book – The Merger Mystery: Why Spend Ever More on Mergers When So Many Fail? – authored by Geoff Meeks, Emeritus Professor of Financial Accounting at Cambridge Judge Business School, and J. Gay Meeks, Senior Research Associate in the Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge. Digital versions are available for free from Open Books Publishers.

M&A takes increasing share of executives’ time and energy

“As evidence of disappointing outcomes mounted, Western businesses were devoting to M&A a large and rapidly increasing share of their key strategic resources: investment funds and senior executives’ time and energy,” the book says.

The authors outline key factors that have led to the huge gap between the theory and hope surrounding mergers and their actual outcomes: These include:

  • The people taking part in the mergers are often able to enjoy subsidies and privileges at others' expense. This has made some deals attractive to participants despite bringing no operating gains, while taxpayers, creditors, pensioners, customers and suppliers have lost out.
  • Incentive structures for key players and advisers can induce perverse, inefficient results with rewards for CEOs and other top executives involved in acquiring businesses, in part tied to a correlation between CEO salary and firm size and in part open to “gaming” by participants.
  • The glamour of life on the acquisition trail, including being in the media spotlight, boasting rights and the thrill of the chase.
Deal incentive structures enrich bosses, not other stakeholders

Examples cited in the book of deal incentive structures that have enriched bosses at the expense of other stakeholders include the $27 billion acquisition of Refinitiv by London Stock Exchange (LSE) in 2021 that tripled the acquirer’s revenue and resulted in a 25% boost in the CEO’s base salary, yet LSE shares fell by a quarter in the same month. In another case, simply closing Vodafone’s $181 billion acquisition of Mannesmann in 2000 triggered a $10 million bonus for Vodafone’s CEO.

“Over time you would expect managers and their advisers to learn from their mistakes, filter out unpromising mergers, and ensure that a large majority of deals result in operating gains,” the book says. “However, this has not happened.”

The book is based on a synthesis of the ideas of economists from Adam Smith to recent Nobel Laureates, with more than 100 statistical studies and evidence from 100 businesses involved in mergers, mostly in the particularly active US and UK markets, but with data from other countries too.

What are the solutions?

The book suggests reforms by government, regulators, non-executives and others that could significantly reduce the number of failed mergers. These include changes in participants’ contracts that would mitigate conflicts of interest; removing tax, legal, and other distortions which encourage mergers that offer no operating gains; and improving both the appraisal of merger proposals and the monitoring of outcomes.

Adapted from an article which first appeared on Cambridge Judge Business School website

Mergers are constructed by talented executives, lawyers, bankers and advisers, yet most deals fail. A new book, The Merger Mystery, co-authored by Geoff Meeks of Cambridge Judge Business School, outlines the reasons why.

Samson on UnsplashBusiness buildings


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Cambridge spin-out Nyobolt raises £50m to lead the future of sustainable energy storage

Fri, 15/07/2022 - 08:39

Nyobolt, which spun out of the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry in 2016 and was co-founded by Professor Dame Clare Grey DBE FRS and CEO Dr Sai Shivareddy, is commercialising high-performance battery and charging technologies to create a world where lengthy charge times no longer exist.

The £50 million funding is led by H.C. Starck Tungsten Powders (HCS), a subsidiary of Masan High-Tech Materials, one of the world’s largest tungsten suppliers – a key component of Nyobolt’s technology. The investment is set to drive Nyobolt’s market entry by establishing its presence and launching the manufacturing of millions of units next year. H.C. Starck funding will enable Nyobolt’s first materials manufacturing plant in the UK, as well as expansion of the US cell engineering facility and the teams’ growth across the globe.  

The investment and future collaboration between Nyobolt and H.C. Starck in the supply of materials, scale up of manufacture and recycling aims to provide a sustainable solution supporting the transition to net zero in multiple sectors. 

The ultra-fast charging battery solution developed by world renowned experts at Nyobolt drastically decreases charge time from hours to minutes, maximising uptime and productivity. Nyobolt’s technology will lead the world towards transport decarbonisation, by erasing the greatest barrier preventing drivers from going electric – charge anxiety. The technology is applicable for devices ranging from home appliances to electric vehicles and industrial robotics, improving performance and revolutionising energy storage markets. 

As well as ensuring security of supply of key materials, this strategic partnership will enable Nyobolt to benefit from the established recycling capabilities of H.C. Starck, allowing the efficient use of resources to minimise the environmental impact of Nyobolt’s ultra-fast charging batteries. The collaboration will lead to a sustainable supply chain for Nyobolt’s technology, making the technically demanding process of battery recycling easier and more efficient. 

Nyobolt’s technology builds on a decade of battery research led by University of Cambridge battery scientist Professor Clare Grey, who has been recently appointed as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Honours list for her services to science, marking her extensive contributions to the battery industry and its pivotal role for a more sustainable world.

Professor Dame Clare Grey, Chief Scientist and Co-founder of Nyobolt said: “We are excited to move our technologies from development to deployment in the market. We founded Nyobolt following the discovery of new anode technologies containing tungsten with remarkable fast charging capability to bring these properties to the market in applications touching all aspects of daily life. The funding from H.C. Starck will help Nyobolt to scale up our operations in the UK and United States and bring a more sustainable solution into the energy storage industry. Nyobolt technology will not only enable net zero both in the electrification of transport, but also the storing of clean and renewable energy on and off the grid. With the investment from H.C. Starck, Nyobolt’s ultra-fast charging, high power batteries will help lead the way towards achieving the clean energy goals set by governments around the world.”

Dr Sai Shivareddy, CEO and Co-founder of Nyobolt said: “Fast charging remains a critical unmet need as the world electrifies with more sustainable forms of energy – a need our technology addresses. We are excited about the partnership with H.C. Starck and see it as a stepping stone to increase scale and speed to market revealing the true potential of Nyobolt technologies. The Series B funding will put Nyobolt in the driving seat of a fast-moving battery industry and allow us to showcase the uniqueness of our battery technology, developed by our team of experts, which is set to transform the energy storage industry. With H.C. Starck investment and technologies, Nyobolt will expand its manufacturing capabilities while minimising its carbon footprint with an effective recycle and reuse program.”

Dr Hady Seyeda, CEO of H.C. Starck Tungsten said: “This investment marks a milestone in our strategy to move further downstream, and get closer to consumers by developing new, innovative applications including our recently trademarked “starck2charge” battery materials product range. Nyobolt’s technology is a real breakthrough that we can help commercialise based on our vast experience in transferring innovative solutions into large-scale manufacturing. This partnership is also going to accelerate the development towards a circular economy for batteries via enhanced recycling and new models of use.”

Mr Craig Bradshaw, CEO of Masan High-Tech Materials commented: “I am really proud that just over two years after acquiring and integrating the H.C. Starck Tungsten Powders business into MHT we have been able to expand our breadth of business capabilities through the acquisition of a significant equity stake in Nyobolt. We look forward to working together with the Nyobolt team to advance their product offering and opportunities to partner in the manufacturing and commercialisation of their products as well as offering a full life cycle for the advanced strategic materials required in the Nyobolt batteries.”

Adapted from an announcement by Cambridge Enterprise

Nyobolt, the pioneer of end-to-end fast-charging battery systems, announces £50 million funding which will enable the company to enter a stage of manufacturing at scale.  

Nyobolt technology will not only enable net zero both in the electrification of transport, but also the storing of clean and renewable energy on and off the grid.Professor Clare Grey, Chief Scientist and Co-founder of NyoboltUniversity of CambridgeDr Sai Shivareddy and Professor Dame Clare Grey


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicence type: Attribution

School-based mindfulness training programme fails to improve young people’s mental health

Wed, 13/07/2022 - 08:51

The MY Resilience In ADolescence (MYRIAD) study programme span spans eight years of research and explore whether schools-based mindfulness training could improve the mental health of young people. It involved more than 28,000 children aged 11-14, 100 schools and 650 teachers. The main studies from this programme are published in a series of papers in a special issue of Evidence-based Mental Health.

Professor Willem Kuyken from the University of Oxford, one of the lead authors, said: “MYRIAD is the largest of its kind to explore, in detail, whether mindfulness training in schools can improve young people’s mental health. With early adolescence being an important window of opportunity in terms of preventing mental health problems and promoting well-being, and young people spending much of their waking lives at school, a schools-based programme could be a good way to support young people’s mental health.”

Reports suggest that one in five teenagers experience mental health problems, and three quarters of all mental illnesses that anyone will ever develop before the age of 24. For example, the peak age of onset of depression is between 13 and 15 years of age. The MYRIAD studies showed that certain groups of young people were more likely to report mental health problems: girls, older teenagers, those living in urban areas, and those living in areas of greatest poverty and deprivation.

The young people participating in the studies reported mixed views of the mindfulness-training curriculum (some rating it highly and others negatively), while 80% did not do the required mindfulness practice homework.

Professor Mark Williams from the University of Oxford, added: “The findings from MYRIAD confirm the huge burden of mental health challenges that young people face, and the urgent need to find a way to help. They also show that the idea of mindfulness doesn’t help – it’s the practice that matters. If today’s young people are to be enthused enough to practice mindfulness, then updating training to suit different needs and giving them a say in the approach they prefer are the vital next steps.”

In addition, to teach mindfulness well, committed staff, resources and teacher training and support are needed, and the co-design of programmes and resources with young people would likely be more effective, say the researchers. A multitude of factors affect young people’s health, for example, their environment at school and at home, their school’s culture, and their individual differences.

Co-investigator Professor Tamsin Ford from the University of Cambridge said: “Our work adds to the evidence that translating mental health treatments into classroom curricula is difficult and that teachers may not be best placed to deliver them without considerable training and support – another approach would be for mindfulness practitioners to work with students at risk of poor mental health or who express a particular interest in attending mindfulness training.”

Other findings included:

  • Mindfulness training improved overall school climate (atmosphere and culture), especially views of the school leadership, connectedness, and respect – although most effects washed out after one year.
  • Teachers who did the mindfulness training reported lower levels of burnout, particularly feelings of reduced exhaustion and depersonalization – although most effects washed out after one year.

Professor Mark Greenberg, one of the study co-investigators at Pennsylvania State University, said: “The MYRIAD project carefully tested the effects of a brief mindfulness intervention for early teens and found it to have no impact on preventing mental health problems or promoting well-being. In order to improve wellbeing for young people, it is likely we need to make broader systemic changes in schools that both teach them new coping skills and support staff to create environments where youth feel valued and respected.”

Miranda Wolpert, Director of Mental Health at Wellcome, which funded the research, said: “In science, it is just as important to find out what doesn’t work as what does. It can take real bravery to share such findings.  This rigorous, large-scale study found that when mindfulness training was delivered at scale in schools it did not have an impact on preventing risk of depression or promoting well-being in students aged 11 to 14 years.”

Adapted from a press release by the University of Oxford

A standardised schools-based mindfulness training programme did not help young people’s mental health and well-being overall, but did improve school culture and reduce teachers’ burn out, a new study has found.

Our work adds to the evidence that translating mental health treatments into classroom curricula is difficult and that teachers may not be best placed to deliver them without considerable training and supportTamsin FordDrazen Zigic (Getty Images)Rear view of sports teacher practicing Yoga with her students at school gym


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

AstraZeneca to fund a further 55 PhD studentships with University of Cambridge

Tue, 12/07/2022 - 16:48

This new agreement aims to equip research students with the capabilities to work across disciplines and sectors. In addition, students will hone important translational skills that are needed to turn their research into new medicines and better outcomes for patients.

“Cambridge University and AstraZeneca see the future of medicine happening at the intersection of different disciplines, where biological understanding of disease processes and the chemistry of how drugs work, meets engineering and artificial intelligence,” said Kathryn Chapman, Deputy Director of the Milner Therapeutics Institute and the University’s Relationship Manager for AstraZeneca.

Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations, University of Cambridge underscores an important piece of working across subject areas: collaboration. He said: “Training the next generation of brilliant scientists who are able to collaborate with colleagues in different disciplines and with industry partners will be critical to getting new treatments to patients.”

“This new agreement demonstrates AstraZeneca’s commitment to developing early career scientists and offers a fantastic opportunity for AstraZeneca and Cambridge University to collaborate by sharing knowledge and expertise across academia and industry,” said Jacqui Hall, Head of Early Careers and R&D Learning, AstraZeneca.

Learning how to collaborate and translate advances in research into breakthroughs that improve patient outcomes will be central to the programme. To facilitate this, each student will have both an academic and industry supervisor. They will also benefit from access to AstraZeneca’s state-of-the-art labs at its Discovery Centre, home to over 2,200 scientists based on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

By participating in the programme, students will gain insights into all stages of the drug discovery pipeline and receive guidance as to how they can collaborate with industry and help turn their research into new life-changing medicines for patients.

The University of Cambridge has formed a new agreement with AstraZeneca for the global biopharmaceuticals company to fund 55 additional PhD studentships over the next five years, starting in October 2022. Over the last 20 years, AstraZeneca has funded more than 100 PhD students from the University as part of a longstanding partnership between the two institutions.

Training the next generation of brilliant scientists who are able to collaborate with colleagues in different disciplines and with industry partners will be critical to getting new treatments to patients.Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Enterprise and Business RelationsBenjamin Lehman, unsplashResearcher looking at flask in lab


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Cambridge research centre puts people at the heart of AI

Tue, 12/07/2022 - 08:00

The Centre for Human-Inspired Artificial Intelligence (CHIA) brings together researchers from engineering and mathematics, philosophy and social sciences; a broad range of disciplines to investigate how human and machine intelligence can be combined in technologies that best contribute to social and global progress.

Anna Korhonen, Director of CHIA and Professor of Natural Language Processing, said: “We know from history that new technologies can drive changes with both positive and negative consequences, and this will likely be the case for AI. The goal of our new Centre is to put humans at the centre of every stage of AI development – basic research, application, commercialisation and policymaking – to help ensure AI benefits everyone."

Artificial intelligence is a rapidly developing technology predicted to transform much of our society. While AI has the potential to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems in healthcare, education, climate science and economic sustainability it will need to embrace its human origins to become responsible, transparent and inclusive.

Per-Ola Kristensson, Co-director of CHIA and Professor of Interactive Systems Engineering, said: “For true progress and real-life impact it’s critical to nurture a close engagement with industry, policy makers, non-governmental organisations and civil society. Few universities in the world can rival the breadth and depth of Cambridge making us ideally positioned to make these connections and engage with the communities who face the greatest impact from AI.”

Designed to deliver both academic and real-world impact, CHIA seeks partners in academic, industrial, third-sector and other organizations that share an interest in promoting human-inspired AI.

John Suckling, Co-director of CHIA and Director of Research in Psychiatric Neuroimaging, said: “Our students will be educated in an interdisciplinary environment with access to experts in the technical, ethical, human and industrial aspects of AI. Early-career researchers will be part of all our activities. We are committed to inclusivity and diversity as a way of delivering robust and practical outcomes.”

CHIA will educate the next generation of AI creators and leaders, with dedicated graduate training in human-inspired AI.

Professor Mark Girolami, Chief Scientist, The Alan Turing Institute, said: “As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly pervasive, it’s critical to align its development with societal interests. This new University-wide Centre will explore a human-centric approach to the development of AI to ensure beneficial outcomes for society. Cambridge's depth of expertise in AI and a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration make it an ideal home for CHIA.”

Apart from research and education, the CHIA will also host seminars, public events and international conferences to raise awareness of human-inspired AI. Forums will be convened around topics of ethical or societal concern with representation from all stakeholders.

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, said: “If we’re to ensure that AI works for everyone and does not widen inequalities, then we need to place people at its heart and consider the societal and ethical implications alongside its development. Cambridge, with its ability to draw on researchers across multiple disciplines, is uniquely positioned to be able to lead in this area.”

Neil Lawrence, DeepMind Professor of Machine Learning, added: “Artificial intelligence is provoking new questions in our societies. It’s vital that we deliver the answers in a people-centric manner. The Centre in Human-Inspired AI will provide a new interdisciplinary hub that delivers the solutions for these challenges.”

The University of Cambridge today launches a new research centre dedicated to exploring the possibilities of a world shared by both humans and machines with artificial intelligence (AI).

Introducing The Centre for Human-Inspired Artificial Intelligence Olemedia (Getty Images)Illustration representing artificial intelligence


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

New Cambridge Latin course reflects diversity of the Roman world

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 11:41

Breaking news from 79 CE: Caecilius has a daughter. Barbillus is a Greco-Syrian man of colour. Enslaved people aren’t always happy. Metella is reading in the atrium.

These statements may read like indecipherable babble to some, but for students of Latin, they are among the most notable changes in the new edition of the Cambridge Latin Course: the leading textbook in the ancient language.

The course, a mainstay of Latin learning in British schools since the 1970s, has something nearing cult status with its fans. Its vivid stories, beginning in Book One with the adventures of a Pompeiian family featuring Caecilius, his wife, Metella, son, Quintus, and cook, Grumio, have inspired fan fiction, artistic tributes and even a cameo on Doctor Who.

The newly-published fifth edition represents one of the most significant new editions in its 50-year history. It draws on a wider range of sources and on new scholarship to give a more accurate, evidence-based picture of the classical world. In doing so, it better prepares students to engage with classical works and to think critically about the past, while addressing concerns raised by teachers, academics and students about the representation of women, enslaved people, and minorities in the Roman world.

While the original cast are as central as ever, new characters have been introduced, stories rewritten and features updated. Women have greater prominence (Caecilius has a new daughter called Lucia, for example), readers learn more about the lives of enslaved people, and the multicultural reality of Rome’s vast, intercontinental empire is represented in greater detail.

The course, written by the Cambridge Schools Classics Project at the University of Cambridge, has been informed by a fact-finding exercise in 2018 which involved school visits, surveys and interviews with hundreds of teachers and pupils, confirmed other long-held doubts about representation in the course books, prompting a more thorough reassessment.

Caroline Bristow, director of the Cambridge School Classics Project, said: “The aim has always been to introduce students to the complexity of the Roman world and get them to think critically about it while learning Latin. That prepares them to engage more thoroughly with authentic classical sources. The feedback we got told us we weren’t doing enough in that regard.”

Girls were especially keen to see more of the female characters – many had already started inventing their own backstories for them.

The stories in the new edition are, as ever, rooted in historical research, but expand women’s roles and devote more attention to their lived experiences. Lucia, for example, is being pushed into an arranged marriage in Book One. Caecilius also hires a female painter, Clara, to introduce students to the fact that poorer Roman women had to work as well as men.

Bristow said: “We wanted to provide students with a more rounded picture of people and events, while ensure the stories remain historically grounded. We’ve done that by drawing from that wider range of sources and events.”

This also helps to address the challenges that inclusion, access and minority representation can present for Classics educators. In particular, research highlights the imposter syndrome that people of colour feel when encountering the inaccurate, but standard, depiction of Rome as predominantly white. Other studies have shown that without being prompted to see diversity, even students of colour automatically make this assumption about the Roman world – a finding backed up by teachers’ experiences in the classroom.

Responding to this, greater attention was given to cultural diversity in the new edition. For example, Barbillus, a wealthy Greco-Syrian merchant character, features more prominently and is clearly presented as a person of colour. His early presence in the stories is partly intended to challenge another general misconception, that such people were always enslaved.

Jasmine Elmer, a Classics educator and media personality whose work focuses on trying to broaden access to, and understanding of, the ancient past, was one of several experts who reviewed the new edition. “We’ve tended to take an all-white view of an empire that clearly wasn’t,” she said. “If you’re a person of colour, it’s natural to wonder whether people like you were even there. The new course seems to be braver about those issues. It doesn’t run away from complicated subject matter; it turns it into teaching points.”

Enslaved characters were, in earlier editions, sometimes depicted in simplistic terms: as “happy”, “hard-working” or “lazy”. In the new edition, slavery is now depicted through the eyes of its victims, focusing on their anxieties and gruelling lives.

Other changes reflect developments in historical scholarship since the series was last updated. Ingo Gildenhard, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge, advised the production team on a section on gladiators in Book One. Traditionally, gladiatorial combat has been presented as a strange, bloodthirsty aspect of Roman culture. Without ignoring its horrors, modern research nonetheless shows the reality was more complex: arena combat also stirred Roman audiences because it reinforced key contemporary values, such as martial prowess.

Teaching materials in the new edition draw attention to that more nuanced perspective. “It’s essential that instead of brushing aspects of Roman culture under the carpet, we look at it in the round,” Gildenhard said. “Part of this is about empowering teachers with new scholarship they might not have encountered. It’s also about inviting students to think critically about the past and its relationship to the present. That’s a valuable skill whether or not you end up doing Latin long term.”

Pupils and teachers have tested the new edition and responded positively. One young reviewer told the team: “I like that Lucia is educated, but I would like to know whether she actually wants to marry or not.” Of Clara, another commented: “It’s good that Caecilius is hiring women”.

Bristow said: “We sometimes get told that children just want to learn the language, study the amazing things Romans did and dress up as gladiators,” she said. “There’s lots that was inspiring, but this was a complex world. We’re teaching children to be Classicists. We’re not teaching them to be Romans.”

 

This story was first published by Cambridge's Faculty of Education.
 

The latest edition of the leading Latin course has been designed to more accurately depict the roles of women, minorities and enslaved people in the Roman world.

It’s essential that instead of brushing aspects of Roman culture under the carpet, we look at it in the roundIngo GildenhardCharacters from the Cambridge Latin Course, Book OneCharacters from the Cambridge Latin Course, Book One


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes

Experts predict top emerging impacts on ocean biodiversity over next decade

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 16:08

An international team of experts has produced a list of 15 issues they believe are likely to have a significant impact on marine and coastal biodiversity over the next five to ten years.

Their ‘horizon scanning’ technique focuses on identifying issues that are not currently receiving widespread attention, but are likely to become important over the next decade. The aim is to raise awareness and encourage investment into full assessment of these issues now, and potentially drive policy change, before the issues have a major impact on biodiversity.

The issues include the impacts of wildfires on coastal ecosystems, the effects of new biodegradable materials on the marine environment, and an ‘empty’ zone at the equator as species move away from this warming region of the ocean.

“Marine and coastal ecosystems face a wide range of emerging issues that are poorly recognised or understood, each having the potential to impact biodiversity,” said Dr James Herbert-Read in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, joint first author of the paper.

He added: “By highlighting future issues, we’re pointing to where changes must be made today - both in monitoring and policy – to protect our marine and coastal environments.”

The horizon scan involved 30 experts in marine and coastal systems from 11 countries in the global north and south, from a variety of backgrounds including scientists and policy-makers. The results are published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Several of the issues identified are linked to exploitation of ocean resources. For example, deep sea ‘brine pools’ are unique marine environments home to a diversity of life - and have high concentrations of salts containing lithium. The authors warn that rising demand for lithium for electric vehicle batteries may put these environments at risk. They call for rules to ensure biodiversity is assessed before deep sea brine pools are exploited.

While overfishing is an immediate problem, the horizon scan looked beyond this to what might happen next. The authors think there may soon be a move to fishing in the deeper waters of the mesopelagic zone (a depth of 200m – 1,000m), where fish are not fit for human consumption but can be sold as food to fish farms.

“There are areas where we believe immediate changes could prevent huge problems arising over the next decade, such as overfishing in the ocean’s mesopelagic zone,” said Dr Ann Thornton in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, joint first author on the paper.

She added: “Curbing this would not only stop overexploitation of these fish stocks, but reduce the disruption of carbon cycling in the ocean - because these species are an ocean pump that removes carbon from our atmosphere.”

The report also highlights the potential impact of new biodegradable materials on the ocean. Some of these materials are more toxic to marine species than traditional plastics.

Herbert-Read said: “Governments are making a push for the use of biodegradable materials - but we don’t know what impacts these materials may have on ocean life.”

The authors also warn that the nutritional content of fish is declining as a consequence of climate change. Essential fatty acids tend to be produced by cold-water fish species, so as climate change raises ocean temperatures, the production of these nutritious molecules is reduced. Such changes may have impacts on both marine life and human health.

Not all of the predicted impacts are negative. The authors think the development of new technologies, such as soft robotics and better underwater tracking systems, will enable scientists to learn more about marine species and their distribution. This, in turn, will guide the development of more effective marine protected areas. But they also warn that the impacts of these technologies on biodiversity must be assessed before they are deployed at scale.

“Our early identification of these issues, and their potential impacts on marine and coastal biodiversity, will support scientists, conservationists, resource managers, policy-makers and the wider community in addressing the challenges facing marine ecosystems,” said Herbert-Read.

While there are many well-known issues facing ocean biodiversity including climate change, ocean acidification and pollution, this study focused on lesser-known emerging issues that could soon have significant impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems.

This horizon scanning process has previously been used by researchers from the Department of Zoology to identify issues that have later come to prominence, for example, a scan in 2009 gave an early warning that microplastics could become a major problem in marine environments.

The United Nations has designated 2021-2030 as the ‘UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.’ In addition, the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity will conclude negotiations on a global biodiversity framework in late 2022. The aim is to slow and reverse the loss of biodiversity, and establish goals for positive outcomes by 2050.

This research was funded by Oceankind.

Reference

Herbert-Read, J.E. et al. ‘A global horizon scan of issues impacting marine and coastal biodiversity conservation.’ Nature Ecology and Evolution, July 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-022-01812-0

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The full list of issues identified by the report includes:

Ecosystem impacts

  • Wildfire impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems
  • Coastal darkening
  • Increased toxicity of metal pollution due to ocean acidification
  • Equatorial marine communities becoming depauperate (lacking variety) due to climate migration
  • Altered nutritional content of fish due to climate change

Resource exploitation

  • Untapped potential of marine collagens and their impacts on marine ecosystems
  • Impacts of expanding trade for fish swim bladders on target and non-target species
  • Impacts of fishing for mesopelagic (middle-depth) species on the biological ocean pump
  • Extraction of lithium from deep-sea brine pools

Novel technologies

  • Co-location of marine activities
  • Floating marine cities
  • Trace element contamination compounded by the global transition to green technologies
  • New underwater tracking systems to study non-surfacing marine animals
  • Soft robotics for marine research
  • Effects of new biodegradable materials in the marine environment

Lithium extraction from the deep sea, overfishing of deeper-water species, and the unexpected ocean impacts of wildfires on land are among fifteen issues experts warn we ought to be addressing now

By highlighting future issues, we’re pointing to where changes must be made today - both in monitoring and policy – to protect our marine and coastal environmentsJames Herbert-Read Emma JohnstonMarine ecosystem


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicense type: Attribution

Toads surprise scientists by climbing trees in UK woodlands

Wed, 06/07/2022 - 19:00

Until now, common toads were thought to be terrestrial. The highest toad in this study was found three metres up a tree – and scientists say there is a chance the toads might be venturing even higher.

This is the first time that the tree climbing potential of amphibians has been investigated at a national scale.

The surprising discovery was made during a survey to search for hazel dormice and bats as part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme and the Bat Tree Habitat Key project. 

The research was led by the University of Cambridge and Froglife, and supported by wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). It is published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

Dr Silviu Petrovan, Senior Researcher at the University of Cambridge and Trustee at Froglife, and first author of the study, said: “This is a really exciting finding, and significant for our understanding of the ecology and conservation of common toads - one of the most widespread and abundant European amphibians.”

He added: “We know common toads favour woodlands as foraging and wintering habitat, but it appears their association with trees is much more complex than we had previously thought.”

Common toads are regarded as typical terrestrial amphibians, which spend their time both on land and in water during breeding. To date there have only been a handful of documented sightings of common toads in trees in the UK. 

Consequently, common toads and UK amphibians in general have never been surveyed for in trees, unlike bat and dormouse surveys - which specifically target this habitat. The study highlights the importance of sharing data between conservation organisations representing different species, and shows that there is a lot to learn about wildlife in the UK – even about species believed to be well-known.  

Nida Al-Fulaij, Conservation Research Manager at PTES said: “We couldn’t believe what we found. We’re used to discovering woodland birds and other small mammals in nest boxes but we hadn’t considered finding amphibians in them.”

Over 50 common toads were found during surveys of hazel dormouse nest boxes (located 1.5m above ground) and tree cavities usually used by bats.

Many of the cavities were small or not visible from the ground, so it is unclear how toads are finding them and how difficult it is for toads to climb particular trees.

Toads were not found in boxes or tree holes with other species, however they were found using old nests made by dormice and even birds.

While 50 records is not a huge number, it is comparable to records of other animals known to use trees regularly - such as blue tits. This suggests that toads spend more time in trees than was previously thought. If this is true, it means that common toads could be found in up to one in every hundred trees in the UK in particularly favourable areas, such as near large ponds or lakes.

The discovery suggests that tree cavities might represent an even more important ecological feature than conservationists previously thought. It highlights the importance of protecting our remaining natural woodland habitats, especially ancient trees with veteran features (such as hollows, cracks and other natural cavities) for all wildlife.

Froglife research in 2016 showed that common toads have declined by 68% on average over the last 30 years across the UK.

It is not currently known why toads are climbing trees and using nest boxes. Factors could include searching for food, avoiding predators or evading parasites such as toad fly.

“Future targeted research will enable scientists to better understand the reasons for this tree-climbing behaviour in toads, and how woodland management should take it into account,” said Petrovan.

Froglife is calling on members of the public to record any sightings they have of amphibians in trees on their Dragon Finder App, or to contact them directly

Reference

Petrovan, S.O. et al: ‘Why link diverse citizen science surveys? Widespread arboreal habits of a terrestrial amphibian revealed by mammalian tree surveys in Britain.’ PLOS ONE, July 2022. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0265156

Adapted from a press release by Froglife

Volunteers surveying dormice and bats in trees have made the unexpected discovery of over fifty common toads in nest boxes and tree cavities at least 1.5 metres high

This is significant for our understanding of the ecology and conservation of common toads Silviu PetrovanFroglifeToad in a tree


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicense type: Attribution