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    Government tensions and widespread reluctance to wage war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, even as the conflict unfolded, are laid bare among the thousands of pages of Thatcher’s papers being opened to the public and made available online by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation at

    Among the 40,000 pages of documents being released is Thatcher’s own copy of the note confirming the Argentine invasion of the Islands, and an emotionally-charged draft letter to President Reagan, eventually toned down, where she resolutely refuses American overtures to concede ground to Argentina’s military dictatorship.

    A previously unseen 12-page record made by Ian Gow, Thatcher’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, following the appearance of Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington and Defence Secretary John Nott at the backbench 1922 committee, describes how the tenor of that tense exchange informed Carrington’s much-lamented decision to resign.

    Thatcher’s attempts to dissuade him came to nought and the archive contains a warm letter of explanation from Carrington to Thatcher, and a touching letter by return from the Prime Minister on May 4, 1982, relating how much she and the Cabinet missed his presence.

    But the papers released this year also contain evidence of less cordial relations and weak support at best from large sections of the Conservative Parliamentary Party in the build-up to war.

    Critics of Government policy could be found inside Downing Street as well as outside. Some of Thatcher’s closest advisors were sceptical that the islands were worth the fight with John Hoskyns, David Wolfson and Alan Waters, all staunch Thatcherites, persistently lobbying her to strike for a diplomatic deal with Argentina.

    Outside Number 10, junior ministers Tim Raison and Ken Clarke as well as Stephen Dorrell and Chris Patten were also expressing alarm; Dorrell for one saying he would only support the Task Force as a negotiating measure - and advocating a withdrawal if the military Junta in Argentina refused to negotiate.

    All this only accentuated an important effect of the war, driving the Prime Minister ever deeper into the heart of the government machine where only a handful of her most senior ministers and officials could follow.

    On Tuesday, April 6, four days after the Argentine invasion, Thatcher met with former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, seeking his advice on handling the looming conflict. While there was no official minute of the meeting, Thatcher’s own note survives. It references the now famous advice from Macmillan not to have Chancellor Geoffrey Howe in her War Cabinet so that money would not be an issue in making military decisions, and also details his counsel on handling war correspondents – essentially to restrict, if not censor them, as much as possible.

    However, as the situation in the South Atlantic worsened in the face of Argentine intransigence and fighting began, wider Conservative and opposition support eventually began to fall in place behind the Prime Minister.

    Critics remained, however, and the archive for 1982 contains sharp exchanges with Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Hume, who challenged the morality of the Government’s action, and even Astronomer Royal Martin Ryle, who described the occupation as a ‘relatively minor event’ – a view tersely rebutted by Thatcher.

    The personal sadness she felt at the loss of life during the Falklands War is reflected in the keeping of notes such as the slip of paper handed to her on June 12, relaying that HMS Glamorgan had been hit by an Exocet missile, with casualties at that point unknown. Elsewhere, the archive records instances of the Prime Minister anxiously awaiting news and reading long into the early hours of the morning as losses mounted and the British and Argentine forces traded heavy blows.

    News that the Argentinians had surrendered came in a call from Fleet Command at Northwood at 9pm on Monday, June 14. The Thatcher Archives has her notes on the call, as well as her annotated copy of John Nott’s celebrated earlier statement announcing the recapture of South Georgia, nearly two months earlier on April 25.

    The ‘Falklands Factor’ famously led to a huge post-war boost in the Prime Minister’s own popularity rating, as well as the Government’s. She connected the conflict to domestic issues, asking in a famous speech ‘why does it need a war to bring out our qualities and assert our pride?’.

    Despite looming large over much of 1982, the Falklands were not the only overseas challenge to the Prime Minister. Thatcher’s first big visit after the Falklands War was to Japan, China and Hong Kong. The Chinese leg of the trop was particularly significant as it kicked off the long negotiation on the return of Hong Kong to China.

    The archives reveal something of the vast preparation she personally undertook for the visit to the Far East, especially China. She felt obliged to examine every detail of the trip, wary of the symbolism of each visit and determined to make a powerful impression at every point.

    Among the papers at Churchill are a list of clothes she was planning to wear, meeting by meeting (all the outfits were given names such as Smoky, Fuchsia and Plum Stars), and the archive also contains details of her outright refusal to lay at wreath at the Monument to Revolutionary Martyrs in Tiananmen Square, despite being advised that many Western heads of government had recently done so. She simply scrawls ‘NO’ in capped letters next to the suggestion.

    She also spent an astonishing amount of time planning the British return banquet (held in the Great Hall of the People) where she oversaw cutlery arrangements and the silver table settings supplied by the Royal Navy. Ever keen to cut costs, whether in the British economy or domestically, Thatcher also waded in on a ridiculous argument about the cost of the banquet; the PM favouring the cheaper 50 Yuan option but eventually being persuaded to accept the 75 Yuan menu which contained shark’s fin and sea slugs.

    She also became embroiled in a heated dispute about the possibility of serving jam sandwiches for dessert (considered a treat for foreign visitors). Meriting official discussion with the Foreign Office, Thatcher opted for a fruit salad dessert instead.

    Despite the care and attention put into seemingly every aspect of the Far East trip, the archive confirms her meetings with the Chinese leadership did not run smoothly. Papers released this year relate for the first time that Communist Party Chairman Deng Xiaoping threatened to move into Hong Kong before the expiry of the lease in 1997 if there were ‘very large and serious disturbances in the next fifteen years’, even going so far as to mention HSBC by name as a potential agent of such disturbances.

    Away from the seriousness of war and international political wrangling, Thatcher also spent one evening in 1982 in the company of the man behind the world’s most famous drag queen – Dame Edna Everage. While not attending in full and glittering regalia, Barry Humphries did give Mrs Thatcher a Dame Edna cooking apron for ‘informal lunches at Chequers’.  The archive also contains record of an amazing literary dinner at the home of Hugh Thomas where she sat down with Larkin, Spender, Stoppard, Berlin and the like. However, records note that Iris Murdoch and John Le Carre, a grudging admirer, were unable to attend.

    For Christmas 1982, the archive also reveals she was sent tapes of Yes, Minister, by the Director-General of the BBC, Alisdair Milne.

    The Falklands War – the conflict that defined much of Margaret Thatcher’s political career and legacy – dominates the release of her personal papers for 1982 at the Churchill Archives Centre from Monday (March 25).

    Among the 40,000 pages of documents being released is Thatcher’s own copy of the note confirming the Argentine invasion of the Islands
    After landing at San Carlos, a heavily laden paratrooper of 2 Parachute Regiment heads south for Sussex Mountain on 21 May 1982. From there the Battalion attacked Goose Green.

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    Team-working and design skills were challenged in a competition to build the best crane. Ben Crawley, Ben Free, Connor Hart and Keegan Philips were clear winners, designing and building a crane that held almost nine times its own weight before collapsing. 

    The boys are all studying GCSE Engineering at Cromwell Community College and attributed their success to reading the brief before starting to build.  They are weighing up their options and deciding between aiming for university, college, or apprenticeships.

    “We thought this would be a good chance to get out of school and do something different for the day,” they explained. “It has been amazing.”

    Paul Beeson, Continuous Improvement Manager at Metalcraft, gave a talk about the opportunities available to skilled engineers and led the students on a tour of Metalcraft’s workshops and training centre.

    “If it’s in steel or aluminium, and fabricated and welded, we can make it,” he told them. Metalcraft supplies components to the nuclear power industry and makes precision medical equipment, working mainly in stainless steel and aluminium. “Very few fabricators have the skills to work at this level,” Paul explained. “We are competing on our history, our reputation, our quality control, and the skill of our craftsmen.”

    “The lack of skilled craftsmen is one of the biggest barrier’s to our growth as a business. If you’re interested in engineering but aren’t sure that A Levels are for you, an apprenticeship is a very good choice,” Paul added. “A good, skilled worker will rarely be out of a job.”

    “We look for potential apprentices with good GCSEs, who look sharp, have got practical ability and an interest in developing it,” Paul explained to the young engineers. “Within 6 months you would be doing real work under supervision, and in 2 years we’d have you out on the shop floor contributing to the success of the business.”

    Engineering teacher Miss Ward, who accompanied 7 students from Neale Wade Community College, said “Getting out and about to experience local industries like Metalcraft helps our students to focus on the reasons why they’re studying at school.”

    Matt Diston, HE Partnership Co-ordinator at the University of Cambridge, said that the day was about having fun and practicing team-working, but also about providing information about routes into employment.

    “You will have to stay on in education past 16,” he told the students in a final session summing up the day. “But this does not necessarily have to be at school. FE College, 6th Form College, and apprenticeships are all available to you. Some of these routes might take you straight into work; some might lead you to university later on.

    “We hope you’ll start to connect the dots,” Matt added. “Why you’re studying the subjects you are at school, and the opportunities this can lead to. And the importance of developing your skills, not only your academic ones but practical skills like having a positive attitude and a readiness to work.”

    • Metalcraft recruit around 5 apprenticeships each year. To express an interest or find out more, write to Carly Brown at Metalcraft, Chatteris Business Park, Honeysome Lane, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, PE16 6QY


    • HE Partnership is a collaborative project continuing the University of Cambridge’s work with local schools initiated under Aimhigher.  There is a particular focus within the programme on younger learners.

    Year 10 students from Cromwell Community College and Neale Wade Community College enjoyed a day developing their engineering skills at Metalcraft in Chatteris organised through the University of Cambridge’s HE Partnership project.

    Students tour the Metalcraft workshop in Chatteris

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    In the modern world, we take for granted the fact that our economies become richer and more sophisticated decade-on-decade – and that our grandchildren will live a better life than our own, just as we live a better life than our grandparents. However, for the greatest part of human history, the standard of living was low and subject to little improvement.

    One of the most important questions that economists seek to answer is how we made the shift from stagnation to continued growth, a shift commonly thought to have occurred with the Industrial Revolution in late 18th-century Britain. The stakes are clearly high: being able to answer this significant question would give us the potential to unlock millions of people from poverty across the world today.

    The most popular answer to the question of who or what created lasting growth can be found on the reverse side of the British £20 note, which bears the face of Adam Smith, champion of the free market. Following Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, liberalisation and free trade have become familiar to us all, and the state and the market are commonly seen in opposition, with the release of the market requiring reining in the state through privatisation and deregulation.

    In the tradition of Smith, modern day economists argue that the reason why economies were poor in the past was that absolutist monarchs undermined property rights (reneging on debt and forcibly extracting wealth from minority groups), and that the state too heavily regulated the economy, including granting monopoly privileges to guilds and international trading companies, all of which limited the incentives and ability of people to buy and sell goods freely. The result was that people lacked the incentive to produce, invest and invent – economic growth was thereby hampered.

    Only with the onset of the Glorious Revolution in Britain in 1688, which transferred power from the monarch to an elected parliament, were markets supposedly set free, culminating in the Industrial Revolution a century later. In the century which followed, the collapse of the Communist regime in Russia and the success of market liberalisation in China, seemed to add credence to this free-market led view of growth. By 2003, following decades of market liberalisation across the globe, the President of the American Economic Association stood up and publicly announced that the future was bright for the global economy. Instead, what happened was the very opposite: we now stand in the middle of the greatest global economic crisis since the Great Depression.

    So, with the economic crisis in mind, what evidence is there to support the claim that markets really do deliver in the long term? As my recent book Markets and Growth in Early Modern Europe has uncovered, very little historical evidence exists to support this claim, despite its power and influence on policy-making over the last two centuries.

    Looking at evidence from as far back as ancient Babylonia and through to medieval, early-modern and modern Europe, my research has built a picture of the evolution of markets across the long span of human history using one particularly abundant historical data source – the prices of goods. The prices originate from sources as wide as the clay tablets of ancient Babylonia to the account books of Oxbridge Colleges, and include those for a number of commonly consumed goods (such as candles, soap and linen), with the most abundant being for cereals (which provided around 80 per cent of calorie intake in pre-modern Europe).

    Where markets became more developed, one should find that in response to trade flows, prices became less volatile and, for the same good, converged across different locations. By applying statistical techniques to measure price behaviour, I have been able to measure market development in a consistent and comparable way across different parts of Europe and across many hundreds of years. 

    If the free-market view were correct, the picture revealed should have been very simple: poorly-developed markets throughout history until the 17th and 18th centuries, at which point new previously unseen levels of market development were achieved (particularly in Britain), culminating in the Industrial Revolution and the birth of modern economic growth. Instead, the picture I found was very different indeed: markets were certainly not a ‘modern invention’.

    Indeed, the presence of markets in Europe as far back as Roman times would not surprise any visitor to museums, many of which have on display a great abundance of coins indicative of market-exchange, together with artifacts such as vases which had been traded across hundreds of miles to the point at which they were unearthed in an archaeological dig. Such markets were supported by the vast state infrastructure for which the Romans are famous – a stable coinage system, a taxation system that funded transport and utilities, and a common legal system to uphold contracts.

    Once the Roman state began to crumble, so did the markets it supported, leaving Europe in what was once called the ‘Dark Ages’, falling behind Byzantium and the Orient. Indeed, it was only with the development of institutions in medieval Europe which substituted for the state (such as the Church, guilds and city-states) that markets began to recover – a process which took many centuries.

    My research shows that, by the end of the medieval period, markets were around two or three times as developed as in the early ancient period and were highly active throughout Europe. At this time, Venice was the leading long-distance trader on the continent, sourcing exotic silks and spices that had travelled along the ‘silk road’ from the Orient and Middle East all the way to Constantinople. In an effort to sell their goods to European customers, the Italians carved out and linked themselves into trade routes across Europe, exchanging the exotic goods from the East together with the produce of the Mediterranean (oil, soap and wine) for the woolen cloth of north-western Europe (where 45 per cent of the residents of Bruges worked manufacturing cloth in the early 14th century), and the grain, metals, amber and furs of central and eastern Europe.

    The customs records of Southampton reveal a constant battle between the English authorities and the Italians, with one official refusing in 1423 to disembark an Italian ship on which customs duties were owed, only for the captain stubbornly to set sail, with the official eventually having to give in and disembark on the Isle of Wight.

    Not only were markets for goods advancing in the medieval period, but so were those for finance, as along with the medieval trading boom came a demand for credit. It was in medieval Italy that Europe’s financial markets first began to develop, benefiting from the mathematical techniques which flowed from the East alongside the spices and silks. For this reason, many modern day banking terms have their origins in the Italian language, including the old symbols for the British currency (L, s and d), and, more generally, why the ‘intellectual fizz’ that was the Renaissance originated in the part of Europe most closely tied with the East.

    Looking in envy at the wealth created by the Italian cities through trade with the East, other parts of Europe soon started to take advantage of developments in trading technology (such as sturdier ships, navigation and maps) to search for their own route to the Middle East and Orient. In the late 15th century, Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic to find a ‘back door’, stumbling on the Americas along the way (some say that he took some convincing that he was not on Chinese soil). The result was the birth of the Atlantic economy, and the first major globalisation of the world economy: as calculated by O’Rourke and Williamson, world trade in the first half of the 16th century grew at a rate of 2.4 per cent a year, a figure not far off that in the twentieth century.

    The level of market development achieved by the end of the medieval period was already so advanced that, as my book argues, it was barely surpassed by the time of the Industrial Revolution three centuries later, only after which did markets witness a second phase of significant improvement. This is evident in the reduction in the disparity of wheat prices across Europe in the course of the 19th  century, when the average price-gap fell from 45 per cent to only 4 per cent, indicating significantly more connected markets. This second major phase of improvement was an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution itself, based on the application of the steam engine to ships and rail, which drastically cut transport costs, making the world ‘smaller and flatter’.

    With these greater flows of goods came significant flows of people – around 30 million people emigrated from Europe to the USA in the century after 1820. This was a process of globalisation that worked on all levels: goods, people and money, and it was not surpassed until towards the end of the 20th century. As with that most recent round of globalisation, it was economic growth itself (or the technologies it brings) that enables markets to reach a new level of development.

    In sum, what my research has shown is that the two most significant phases of market development occurred either side of the period traditionally emphasised  - and that they took place well before the Industrial Revolution, and then subsequent to it, as opposed to during the 17th and 18th centuries. The idea that markets are at the root of the modern age of sustained economic growth is therefore seriously in doubt when we look at the historical evidence. Instead, it makes much more sense to argue that markets, while necessary, are both insufficient for growth and are as much a consequence as a cause.

    If we want to understand why the Industrial Revolution occurred and so how Europe and the West grew rich, we need to continue to pursue this long-span historical approach; looking back at economies throughout the past to work out in which ways they were similar and, more importantly, in which ways they truly were different to those of the modern age.

    For economists immersing themselves in theory and models, economic history provides a wealth of evidence that is yet to be fully exploited – and which has the potential for revolutionising economic policy and, with it, the lives of many people in the present and future. Until the lessons of history are learned and we realise that more than markets were required to light the fire of continued growth, we may find it difficult to escape the current economic crisis and return to the sustained growth we had begun to take for granted.

    Dr Victoria Bateman is Fellow and College Lecturer in Economics at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. She is author of Markets and Growth in Early Modern Europe (Pickering and Chatto, 2012) and contributor to RJ Van der Spek, Jan Luiten van Zanden and ES van Leeuwen (eds), A History of Market Performance: From Ancient Babylonia to the Modern World (Routledge, forthcoming).


    The Industrial Revolution is seen as the spark that lit Europe’s economic prosperity.  In her analysis of markets over many hundreds of years, economist Dr Victoria Bateman presents a compelling argument for a broader global perspective. 

    My research has built a picture of the evolution of markets across the long span of history using one particularly abundant data source – the prices of goods.
    Dr Victoria Bateman
    Bernardo Bellotto (Canaletto) A View at the Entrance of the Grand Canal, Venice, c.1741 Oil on canvas, 59.3 cm x 94.9 cm (detail)

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    The University today launched the PublicHealth@Cambridge Research Network in order to draw together expertise in all aspects of population health across the arts, humanities, social and physical sciences, technology and biomedicine.

    Researchers from across the University’s six schools and associated key partners will be connected across traditional barriers to catalyse new interactions and ways of thinking and enable a truly multidisciplinary approach to the challenges affecting population health.

    Public health issues comprise some of the biggest global challenges of our time. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the main challenges facing public health in the twenty-first century include, economic crisis; widening inequalities; ageing population; increasing levels of chronic disease; migration and urbanization; and environmental damage and climate change.

    And a recent study has found that Britain has fallen behind many Western countries on progress in managing preventable diseases. Five killer diseases - heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung and liver disease - account for more than 150,000 deaths a year among under-75s in England and the Department of Health estimates 30,000 of these are entirely avoidable.

    The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, said: “Each of us is aware that average life expectancy has increased dramatically through the 20th century.  We are all beneficiaries of a greater understanding of public health.  Faced with the health challenges of tomorrow – diabetes, cardiovascular disease – it is vital that we put public health, and all the disciplines that support it, at the heart of Cambridge’s contribution.  This is one of the most important ways that ideas developed in Cambridge can change the world for us all.”

    Maximising the population health benefits of Cambridge research is key, and the PublicHealth@Cambridge Network can provide an important conduit to strengthen knowledge-transfer and translational outreach, working with colleagues in the new Public Health England agency and local, national and international public health policy makers and practitioners.

    Professor Carol Brayne, Chair of the PublicHealth @ Cambridge Strategic Network and Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health (CIPH), said: “Our vision is for PublicHealth@Cambridge to develop synergy across Cambridge in areas of public health importance such as international health, social and behavioural science and methodological advances.  We aim to achieve this by co-ordinating research and activities, as well as initiating new approaches and new programmes – from molecule to policy making, regional to global, campus to community.”

    The Network will initially focus on the following themes: big data, ageing, equality, from animals to man and sustainability.

    For additional information about the Network, please contact Dr Paula Frampton, Strategic Network Coordinator at


    Network will bring together expertise across six schools.

    Faced with the health challenges of tomorrow – diabetes, cardiovascular disease – it is vital that we put public health, and all the disciplines that support it, at the heart of Cambridge’s contribution
    Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz

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    Cambridge scientists have linked two human cases of infection with the antibiotic- resistant superbug MRSA to farms in Denmark. The results of the study, published today in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, suggest the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria was transmitted from the livestock to the farmers.

    The type of MRSA which was found in both of the human cases was only discovered two years ago by Dr Mark Holmes and his colleagues from the University of Cambridge. The new strain’s genetic makeup differs greatly from previous strains, which means that the ‘gold standard’ molecular tests currently used to identify MRSA - a polymerase chain reaction technique (PCR) and slide agglutination testing - do not detect it.

    For this study, the scientists used whole genome sequencing to investigate two cases of the new MRSA where the patients lived on farms to see if the same strain could be found in the animals on the farm.

    Dr Holmes, from Cambridge’s Department of Veterinary Medicine and the senior author on the paper, said: “Having found this new MRSA in both people and animals on the same farm it was likely that it is being transmitted between animals and people.

    “By looking at the single differences in nucleotides, or SNPs, in the DNA sequences of each isolate, it became obvious that in both farms we looked at the human and animal MRSA were almost identical. In one case, the results also clearly showed that the most likely direction of transmission was from animal to human.”

    The study raises questions about whether cows could be a reservoir for new strains of MRSA. It was previously not clear whether MRSA was transmitted to cows from humans or to humans from cows, but the new research indicates that the livestock is the likely source of these new strains.

    “Our findings demonstrate that the MRSA strains we studied are capable of transmission between animals and humans, which highlights the role of livestock as a potential reservoir of antibiotic resistant bacteria,” remarked Dr Ewan Harrison, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the paper.

    For more information about this story, please contact: Genevieve Maul, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge. Email:; Tel: 01223 765542.

    Using whole genome sequencing, scientists have found two independent human cases of infection have been linked to livestock.

    Having found this new MRSA in both people and animals on the same farm it was likely that it is being transmitted between animals and people.
    Mark Holmes
    A cow

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    Findlay Stark is the Yates Glazebrook Fellow in Law at Jesus College, Cambridge. His interests lie in the Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and Evidence, and Legal Theory. For more information about Dr Stark, please refer to his staff profile:

    Law in Focus is a collection of short videos featuring academics from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law, addressing legal issues in current affairs and the news. These issues are examples of the many which challenge researchers and students studying undergraduate and postgraduate law at the Faculty.

    Dr Findlay Stark examines the defence of marital coercion, which recently hit the headlines with the trials of Vicky Pryce and former Secretary of State for Energy Chris Huhne. Both were charged with perverting the course of justice over an attempt to transfer penalty points for a speeding offence.

    Dr Findlay Stark

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    The two-year, part-time course, run by the Institute of Continuing Education and developed in conjunction with the Faculty of English, begins in October 2013 with applications for entry closing at the end of this month (March).

    But rather than focusing purely on fiction and creative non-fiction, the MSt in Creative Writing will also take in political speechwriting, radio essays, stand-up comedy and polyphonic scripts for stage, screen and radio.

    Students will also learn the art of the short story, flash fiction, writing for children, as well as poetry, literary non-fiction, criticism, reviews, and travel writing in the first year of study.

    Guest speakers are likely to include Wendy Cope, Michael Holroyd and comedian Stewart Lee.

    Dr Burton said: “The MSt has been carefully designed to fit around people’s busy lives with intensive residential study pods strategically placed across the two years to enable the fullest participation. The first year will cover a wide range of genres and styles to encourage our writers to develop versatility through experimentation with new forms – while there is the chance to focus on a specialist strength, under expert supervision, in their second year.

    “Writing for children is often neglected and this course is unique in offering a relationship with a local school where ideas can be developed and workshopped with a live audience.”

    Successful applicants to the course will become members of one of three Cambridge colleges (Wolfson, St Edmund’s and Lucy Cavendish) and will join the wider graduate community with full access to the facilities of the University.

    Dr David Frost, Tutor for Part-Time Students at Wolfson College, said: “I am very excited at the prospect of Creative Writing students becoming members of our college. We are already a vibrant postgraduate community which includes professionals such as journalists, lawyers, teachers, doctors and architects as well as researchers in the arts and the sciences. We would really love to add writers to this mix.”

    Another unusual feature of the course is that in the first year critical writing is formally assessed, but creative writing is not.

    Added Dr Burton: “Extensive feedback will be given on creative writing, but we are removing the pressures of formal marking, freeing students to allow themselves to develop and extend their skills by having permission to experiment, rather than fall back on what they already do well. This encourages ambitious and original, rather than conservative and ‘safe’, writing.”

    The course tutors and guest speakers are all established literary professionals. Year one consists of four modules, which take place in October, December, February and June: Finding Voices, Writing for Readers, Writing for Performance and Non-fiction. A four-day residency of intensive workshops, seminars and lectures forms the core of each module.

    The second year of study, in which students work more independently on their chosen genre, features two more short residential sessions at Madingley Hall and students will write a thesis in the form of a portfolio of creative and critical writing.

    “The question of whether you can teach anyone to write is a valid one, and of course you can’t make anyone a writer,” Dr Burton added. “However, you can nurture raw talent, help nascent writers find their own voices and offer the sort of advice and counsel that writers have historically offered each other informally (Charles Lamb’s advice to Coleridge to ‘cultivate simplicity’ is a great example) in a structured and methodical way. There are more efficient routes to improving your writing than trying to work out, all on your own, how to create certain effects. But it’s by no means a science. There is always an element of writing that is almost inexplicable – that’s the magical element that can’t be taught – that’s what the student brings.”

    Further details on course fees, entry and visa requirements are available at the ICE website.

    The University of Cambridge’s first Master of Studies (MSt) in Creative Writing will explore the art of writing in all its many forms and guises, not just novel writing, according to Course Director Dr Sarah Burton.

    There is always an element of writing that is almost inexplicable – that’s the magical element that can’t be taught – that’s what the student brings.
    Sarah Burton

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    The research, led by scientists at the University of Cambridge and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, funded by Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust, could lead to new treatments, targeted screening and a greater understanding of how these diseases develop.

    The scientists were looking for genetic variations – called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) – linked to an increased risk of developing cancer.

    By studying the DNA make-up of over 100,000 people with cancer and 100,000 people from the general population, they found alterations that were more common in people with prostate, breast or ovarian cancers.

    Each alteration raises the risk of cancer by a small amount, but the one per cent of people who have lots of these alterations could see their risk of developing prostate cancer increase to nearly 50 per cent and breast cancer to around 30 per cent.

    Study author Professor Doug Easton, from the Centre for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care and the Department of Oncology at the University of Cambridge, said: “We’re on the verge of being able to use our knowledge of these genetic variations to develop tests that could complement breast cancer screening and take us a step closer to having an effective prostate cancer screening programme.

    “By looking for people who carry most of these variations we will be able to identify those who are at the greatest risk of getting these cancers and then targeting screening tests to these individuals.”

    Many of the SNPs found in the studies were near to areas of the genome that control how certain genes behave. Alterations to these control areas can lead to the ‘brakes’ that stop cells growing out of control being lifted; help cancers spread throughout the body; or help cells grow rapidly out of control. Understanding how these genes are involved in cancer could provide new understanding of how cancers develop and how to treat them.

    Professor Paul Pharoah from the Centre for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, the Cambridge Institute of Public Health (CIPH) and the Department of Oncology at the University of Cambridge, said: "The identification of genetic variants that are associated with cancer risks will give us important insights into the basic biology of cancer that may lead to the development of new therapies or better ways to target existing therapies."

    In prostate cancer, 23 of these genetic variations were found, taking the total to 78. Importantly 16 are associated with the more aggressive and life-threatening forms of the disease.

    For breast cancer the researchers found 49 SNPs, more than doubling the number previously identified. Some of these were found in regions that have been linked to other cancers, suggesting they are disrupting the same underlying mechanisms that can cause the disease.

    And, in ovarian cancer, 11 new regions were found.

    As well as looking for the variations that raise the risk of these cancers, the researchers also looked for the SNPs that may influence how different breast cancers behave and regions that influence the cancer risk of people with faults in the BRCA genes.

    Carriers of BRCA gene faults are known to be at a greater risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, but it’s not clear which women will go onto develop cancer. The researchers found that the five per cent of women who have a BRCA1 fault and carry most of the genetic variants linked to BRCA1 have over an 80 per cent chance of developing breast cancer by the age of 80. Women with few of these variants and a BRCA1 fault have a 50 per cent risk of developing the disease.

    For women with faults in their BRCA genes this research will mean that soon genetic counsellors may be able to more accurately predict how likely it is that they will develop breast or ovarian cancer.

    Dr Kerstin Meyer, Senior Research Associate at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and affiliated with the Department of Oncology at the University of Cambridge, said: "Current research is identifying many variants in the genome that are associated with breast cancer. My work at the CRUK Cambridge Institute studies the mechanisms underlying these associations. We examine how variants function to regulate specific target genes and what these target genes are. Although some well-known cancer genes have been identified as targets, for example the cell cycle regulator CCND1, we have found that its dysregulation leading to breast cancer risk confounds expectations. Through a better understanding of the biology of cancer risk we hope to find interventions and therapies."

    Antonis Antoniou, Cancer Research UK Senior Cancer Research Fellow from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, said: “Women with BRCA 1 or 2 faults are more likely to get breast or ovarian cancer but have to live with the uncertainty of whether they will actually develop the disease.

    “Our research puts us on the verge of being able to give women a much more accurate picture of how likely they are to develop breast or ovarian cancer and would help to guide them about the most appropriate type and timing of prevention or monitoring options for them. We need to now see how it could work in the clinic.”

    In a series of accompanying papers the researchers looked for the changes that affect how different types of breast cancer behave. They found a series of SNPs that are only associated with a more aggressive form of breast cancer – called oestrogen receptor negative – suggesting it develops in a unique way, which could open the door to new treatments.

    Dr Alison Dunning from the Department of Oncology at the University of Cambridge said: “Once the SNPs were discovered, we next needed to begin working out their mode of action, how some of these genetic changes cause cancer.

    “When we examined the numerous genetic changes in the TERT gene, for example, we discovered very little evidence that they cause cancer by altering the length of chromosome end-caps, telomeres – countering previously held beliefs about using telomere length to predict cancer risk.

    “These type of genetic discoveries that we made during this study gives us a new, exciting understandings of cancer biology and will hopefully lead to new drug targets.”

    Over 80 regions of the genome that can increase an individual’s risk of breast, prostate and ovarian cancers have been found in the largest ever study of its kind.

    We’re on the verge of being able to use our knowledge of these genetic variations to develop tests that could complement breast cancer screening and take us a step closer to having an effective prostate cancer screening programme.
    Doug Easton
    iCOGS is a custom Illumina iSelect® genotyping array developed for the study

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    Professor David MacKay has been appointed Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge.

    An eminent researcher in machine learning and information theory, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, Professor MacKay is perhaps better known to the public for his ground-breaking work on sustainable energy and, in particular, as the author of the critically acclaimed book, Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. Since 2009, he has also been Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.

    Regius Professorships are Royal academic titles, created by the monarch. The Engineering role is a new Regius Professorship, announced in 2011 to celebrate the Duke of Edinburgh’s 34 years as Chancellor of the University.

    The new post is designed to give an outstanding academic the opportunity to build on the Department of Engineering’s world-leading research in fields that address major, global challenges. These include: creating lasting energy solutions, building cities in the future, managing risks and driving innovation.

    Professor MacKay’s work with the Engineering Department will focus, in part, on the study of how we can model and communicate the full economic and societal impact of a shift to sustainable energy sources – a continuation of his recent work with the Government. He will also collaborate with academics, both within Engineering and elsewhere at Cambridge, to explore new opportunities in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy storage.

    “I am hugely excited about this opportunity,” Professor MacKay said. “Everything I have done over the past two decades has had an engineering element to it, and since developing an interest in sustainable energy that has only increased.”

    “The wonderful thing about this role is that I will have the chance to work alongside some truly fantastic engineers. My hope is that I will be able to bring new ideas about energy research to a Department which is already full of talent that can develop prototypes and bring those concepts to life.”

    Professor MacKay’s recent reputation has been as a leading scientist and thinker on sustainability and responses to climate change. Before that, however, his career was focused on other areas, and included developing communication systems for the disabled.

    He first came to Cambridge as an undergraduate in 1985, studying Natural Sciences at Trinity College. He then studied for his PhD in Computation and Neural Systems at the California Institute of Technology, where he also developed an interest in green politics and environmental science. In 1992, he returned to Cambridge as a postdoctoral researcher and Fellow of Darwin College, then became a lecturer in the Department of Physics. He was promoted to Professor in 2003.

    As a specialist in machine learning and information theory, he has developed more efficient types of error-correcting code that are now used in satellite communications, digital broadcasting, and disk drives. He also used Bayesian methods to improve the performance of artificial neural networks, which are now widely used in applications such as the design of new types of steel for power stations.

    His work on communications systems included the invention of “Dasher”, an open-source software interface that enables people with disabilities to write efficiently in any language with any muscle.

    More recently, Professor MacKay has devoted much of his time to the topic of sustainable energy. His widely-acclaimed book on the subject – Sustainable Energy – without the hot air – was conceived as a straight-talking assessment of the challenge of curbing human dependence on fossil fuels, and shifting to more sustainable forms of energy consumption and production. MacKay self-funded the publication, and the initial print run of 5,000 copies sold out in a matter of days. The subject of widespread critical praise, the book was described by Bill Gates as “one of the best books on energy that has been written”, and it has been translated into several other languages. A digital edition remains free to download at

    In 2009, MacKay was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In the same year, he was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. His duties include ensuring that policy and planning within the Government department is based on the best scientific evidence; providing advice on climate science; ensuring accurate reporting of national greenhouse gas emissions; and recruiting new engineering and science specialists.

    As Regius Professor of Engineering, MacKay will continue work he has already begun with the Government on “whole energy system modeling” – examining the full implications of a shift away from fossil fuels towards secure, low-carbon energy supplies. His current work, notable with the open-source “2050 Calculator”, describes how behavioural or technological changes in fields such as transport, lighting, heating, energy storage, and land and livestock management will impact on the scale of energy demand, energy supply, and greenhouse gas emissions.

    “Modeling tools like this have a huge impact on the public understanding of energy options, as well as policy-making itself,” he said. “The more explicit and transparent we can be about the trade-offs involved in a shift away from fossil fuels, the better our final decisions will be. It helps to engage the public with the options, and replaces a culture of negativity by allowing people to understand what a low-carbon future will entail in a more complete and positive way.”

    MacKay’s work at Engineering will also allow him to explore other, “blue skies” ideas on similar themes. In particular, he is interested in developing a cross-Cambridge collaboration, involving several departments around the University, which will look at developing biosystems that can efficiently turn sunlight into electricity and useful chemicals. Other possible projects may examine “osmotic power” (the extraction of energy from river mouths, where fresh water meets sea water), “kite power” (a possible solution to providing wind power without turbines), and new energy storage solutions.

    Professor MacKay will take up his role as Regius Professor on March 29. He will continue in his role as Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, which is due to run until the autumn of 2014.

    Welcoming the appointment, Professor Dame Ann Dowling, Head of the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, said: “David has a track record of excellent achievements in machine learning and information, while his work on energy has laid out a quantitative framework for identifying technologies that can make a real difference to the world’s growing energy needs in sustainable ways. The Department has highlighted energy, transport and urban infrastructure as a major strategic research theme and I look forward to David playing a significant role in that.”

    Acclaimed author of “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air” will be first holder of Royally-appointed engineering post at Cambridge.

    The more explicit and transparent we can be about the trade-offs involved in a shift away from fossil fuels, the better our final decisions will be
    David MacKay
    David MacKay in the University of Cambridge film, “How Many Lightbulbs”, which looks at his research on sustainable energy.

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    Exeter College Information Day

    Downing College, Cambridge and Exeter College, Oxford have been working with the further education college in Exeter to organise this event every year since 2003.  The Information Day offers up-to-date information, advice and encouragement to local students about aiming high in their HE choices.

    John Laramy, Deputy Principal of Exeter College, Exeter, said: “We are delighted to host the valuable Information Day for the tenth year at Exeter College.

    “The day is an important part of the comprehensive progression programme that we offer all of our students in order for them to make informed and appropriate choices for their future – whether that be higher education or employment,"  John added.

    Devon student Tom Chudley attended the Information Day when he was in Year 12. Tom now volunteers as Access Officer at Downing College and volunteered to take part in the day to show that they really make a difference.

    “The Information Day was the first opportunity I had to see that applying to Cambridge was a viable option for someone like me," Tom commented. “It really helped to strip away misconceptions about what the University is like - misconceptions that would have otherwise stopped me from attending open days at Oxford and Cambridge."

    "For this reason, it's essential that Oxford and Cambridge come to Devon rather than the other way around."

    Dr Marcus Tomalin, Admissions Tutor (Arts) for Downing College, said: “Downing College has been closely involved in Widening Participation activity in the South West for more than a decade now.

    “Events such as this one at Exeter College enable us to reach out to a large number of potential applicants from many different schools in the region."

    Dr Guy Williams, Admissions Tutor (Science) at Downing College Cambridge, who led several sessions at the event, added: “These events are crucial as they enable us to explain our applications procedures and demonstrate that Oxford and Cambridge area open to the academically able, wherever they come from.”

    The Exeter College Oxford and Cambridge Information Day is one of a series of similar events organised by Cambridge and Oxford colleges across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. Each Information Day is hosted by a state school or college and open to Year 12 and Year 11 students.

    During the days, Admissions Tutors, School Liaison Officers and current undergraduates hold talks, discussions and workshops covering admissions, student life, personal statements, interviews, and finances. The goal is to inform students about the opportunities available to them at both universities, and to encourage those who may not have previously considered Oxford and Cambridge to think about applying.

    Pictured: (clockwise from bottom left):

    • Rhannon Main, Chemistry Undergraduate, St Edmund Hall, Oxford University
    • Ashley Walters, Schools Liaison Officer, Exeter College, Oxford University
    • Tomas Williams, College Adviser, Exeter College, Exeter
    • Sam Turner, School and College Liaison Officer, Downing College, Cambridge University
    • Dr Martin Gilbert, Reach Academy Co-ordinator, Exeter College, Exeter
    • Dr Guy Williams, Admissions Tutor, Downing College, Cambridge University
    • Tom Chudley, Geography Undergraduate, Downing College, Cambridge University
    • Dr Daniela Omlor, Queen Sofia Junior Research Fellow, Oxford University

    Exeter College, Exeter, this week celebrated 10 years of hosting its annual Oxford and Cambridge Information Day, bringing admissions tutors and undergraduates from both universities to Devon so that local students can hear direct from the experts.

    10th Anniversary Oxford and Cambridge Information Day

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    A new facility for growing Gallium Nitride – the key material needed to make energy-saving light-emitting diodes (LEDs) – has opened in Cambridge, enabling researchers to expand and accelerate their pioneering work in the field.

    Gallium Nitride LEDs are already used in traffic lights, bicycle lights, televisions, computer screens, car headlamps and other devices, but they are too expensive to be used widely in homes and offices. The main reason for this is that they are normally grown on expensive substrates, which pushes up the price of LED lightbulbs. The new Gallium Nitride growth reactor at Cambridge will allow researchers to further improve a method of growing low-cost LEDs on silicon substrates, reducing their cost by more than 50% and opening them up for more general use.

    LED technology is already so energy-efficient that it is estimated that the overall demand for electricity would fall by at least 10% if every home and business in the UK switched to LED lighting. This would save the UK over £2 Billion per year in electricity costs. Further developments planned in the new reactor would result in an additional £1 Billion per year electricity savings.

    In addition, researchers are developing colour-tunable LED lighting, which would have the quality of natural sunlight, bringing considerable health benefits to users.

    University scientists are also starting to investigate the potential of Gallium Nitride in electronics, which it is thought could have similarly significant energy-saving consequences – perhaps cutting nationwide electricity consumption by a further 9%.

    The reactor, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), was opened today (March 28) by David Willetts MP, the Minister for Universities and Science. It marks the latest chapter in a decade-long research project to make LEDs the go-to technology for lighting, led by Professor Sir Colin Humphreys in the University’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy.

    In 2003, Humphreys and his team began experimenting with the possibility of growing Gallium Nitride (GaN) on silicon instead of costly sapphire and silicon carbide. After years of painstaking research, they finally developed a successful process, and in 2012 this was picked up by the British manufacturer, Plessey, which has already started to manufacture LEDs at its factory in Plymouth, based on the Cambridge technology. Plessey also hired three of Humphreys’ post-doctoral scientists to help transfer the process. It is the first time that LEDs have been manufactured in the UK.

    LEDs are a more efficient technology for lighting because they waste less energy as heat. As a result, they need less electricity overall, and this has a knock-on effect for carbon emissions, because nearly all the electricity in the UK is produced by burning fossil fuels.

    A traditional tungsten filament lightbulb, for example, is extremely wasteful – converting just 5% of its electricity supply into light. Fluorescent tubes, by contrast, are 25% energy efficient and compact fluorescent lamps (used as low-energy lightbulbs) are 20% efficient. Gallium Nitride LEDs, however, are already 30% energy efficient and 60% efficiency has been achieved in laboratory research.

    “At the moment, a 48-watt LED lightbulb, made from GaN on sapphire LEDs, costs about £15,” Humphreys said. “That’s a cost that you make back several times, because the bulbs last for so long, but it is too much to convince most customers to buy them. The research we have already performed on GaN on silicon LEDs, plus that which we will carry out in this new reactor, will mean that soon people will be able to buy an LED bulb for just £3 instead.”

    Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "LEDs are highly energy efficient but expensive to produce, meaning their domestic use is limited. This excellent new facility will enable researchers to look at more cost-efficient ways to produce LEDs, saving money and benefitting the environment. It will also help keep the UK research base at the very forefront of advanced materials, which is one of the eight great technologies."

    Making Gallium Nitride LEDs more cost-effective could unlock benefits far beyond energy saving alone. Humphreys is investigating the possibility of “smart lighting” - a system in which LED lights coupled to a sensor would be able to switch themselves on and off, or alter their brightness, relative to a user’s presence or levels of natural daylight in a room.

    As their use increases, the beams from LEDs could be used to transmit information, for example from traffic lights to cars. “It’s conceivable that the two could be developed to talk to one another,” Humphreys said. “Traffic reports, such as information about a road accident, could be sent to traffic light systems. They could then relay the details to drivers by transmitting it through the headlamps.”

    Researchers also believe that LEDs could be used to purify water supplies in the developing world. Deep ultraviolet (UV) radiation kills bacteria and viruses. By putting a ring of ultraviolet LEDs around a water pipe at the point where it enters a home, it might be possible to kill off bacteria in the water as well as other undesirable organisms, such as mosquito larvae.

    Further energy-saving with LEDs may also be possible. Humphreys and his team are currently investigating the so-called “green gap” problem which could improve the way in which they make white light. The LEDs currently used to make white light are in fact blue - the colour is changed using a phosphor coating. This phosphor is, however, not completely energy efficient, and a better way of making white light could be by mixing blue, red and green LEDs together instead.

    This, however, depends on resolving lower efficiency in green light compared with the other two colours. If this can be addressed, and LEDs made the standard for lighting nationwide, then it is estimated that there would be an additional electricity saving of 5% - on top of the 10% likely to be engendered by switching to LED technology in the first place.

    As well as being used to make affordable, efficient LED lighting, researchers believe that Gallium Nitride could also improve the efficiency of “power electronics” - shorthand for a wide range of devices, circuits, and systems that manage electrical energy. Although power electronics are rarely seen, they affect the daily lives of most people. For example, such devices manage the battery lives of mobile phones, maximise the efficiency of transmission lines, regulate the power in washing machines, and are found in computers, cars and aircraft engines, to name but a few.

    At the moment, such electronics are made from silicon, but Humphreys argues that they could be made from Gallium Nitride. As with lighting, the use of GaN would improve their energy efficiency. He and colleagues from several other British Universities have just been awarded a grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop and prototype highly efficient, GaN power electronic devices that could underpin new applications in sectors such as the automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics, lighting, healthcare and energy industries.

    “If we can replicate these devices with Gallium Nitride electronics, we believe that we could make them 40% more efficient,” he said. “That in itself would translate into a 9% electricity saving in the UK, if applied across the board.”

    Gallium nitride has been described as “the most important semiconductor since silicon” and is used in energy-saving LED lighting. A new £1million growth facility will allow Cambridge researchers to further reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of LEDs, with potentially huge cost-saving implications.

    It is estimated that the overall demand for electricity would fall by at least 10% if every home and business in the UK switched to LED lighting
    Gallium Nitride (GaN), grown on a silicon substrate, to manufacture light-emitting diodes. The material is critical to making LED lighting, which researchers and the Government agree could cut UK electricity consumption by 10-15%.

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    Written by Scott from his final Antarctic camp at the very end of his life in March 1912, the letter to Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman speaks poignantly of Scott’s anxiety for his family and his hope that he and companions have set a good example. The acquisition of this letter is of considerable importance for the United Kingdom’s polar heritage. 

    It is being revealed to the public 101 years to the day since Captain Scott’s final diary entry (March 29, 1912).

    Though previously quoted in part, its full contents have remained unknown to the wider public until today, having passed into private hands following delivery to Bridgeman

    It will now take its place at SPRI alongside the other ‘last letters’ written to his widow Kathleen Scott, Mrs Oriana Wilson, Mrs Emily Bowers, Sir Reginald Smith and George Egerton. The only other last letter in private hands, written to Edgar Speyer, was sold last year at auction for £165,000.

    Scott is known to have written to his friend, the author JM Barrie, but the whereabouts of this letter are completely unknown.

    SPRI Archivist, Naomi Boneham said: “It seems very fitting that we should be able to announce this major acquisition exactly one hundred and one years after Scott’s final diary entry. We intend to put the letter on public display in the Polar Museum as soon as it has been conserved.”

    Admiral Sir Francis Charles Bridgeman Bridgeman GCB, GCVO (7 December 1848 – 17 February 1929) was a Royal Navy officer. As a Captain he commanded a battleship and then an armoured cruiser and then, after  serving as second-in-command of three different fleets, he twice undertook tours as Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet with a stint as Second Sea Lord in between those tours. He became First Sea Lord in November 1911. He had been Scott's Commanding Officer.

    Thanks to donations from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the John R Murray Trust, the Friends of the National Libraries and Dr Richard Dehmel, the University of Cambridge has been able to make the purchase for the sum of £78,816. The letter was sold by Lord and Lady Graham, descendants of Sir Francis Bridgeman.

    The Institute was delighted to be offered the opportunity to acquire Scott’s letter to Bridgeman, along with associated correspondence, as the majority of the surviving letters are already held in the collections of the Scott Polar Research Institute and are publicly accessible via its Polar Museum. They are among the museum’s greatest treasures.

    SPRI’s Librarian & Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane, said: “Without the generous support of these organisations and individuals we would not have been able to secure this important manuscript.  It is extraordinary to think that the letter will now be reunited with the others written by Scott in the Antarctic over 100 years ago.”

    The final letters written in March 1912 from the Antarctic to family and friends by Captain Scott and his companions, Dr Edward Wilson, Captain Lawrence Oates and Lt. Henry Robertson Bowers, are of major significance to the national heritage. No letters are known to survive from P.O. Edgar Evans, the fifth member of the Polar Party. In the case of Scott, this letter clearly expresses his feelings as he lay dying and is a testament to the qualities of endurance which propelled Scott to the status of a national hero.

    We know much about the expedition from Scott’s personal journal, which was bequeathed to the nation and is held by the British Library, which kindly lent the final volume for a temporary exhibition at the Polar Museum in 2012 to mark the centenary of Scott’s achievement of the South Pole. As the extract below illustrates, the Bridgeman letter is an important addition to the story as it conveys Scott’s feelings at the very end of his life. It has never been reproduced in full in any of the editions of Scott’s writings.

    Its purchase enables this letter to be reunited with the others written from the tent on the Great Ice Barrier, already in the Institute’s care, and with the photographs, sledging journals and personal diaries of Scott and his team, which form the most comprehensive record of the expedition held anywhere.

    SPRI is the oldest international centre for polar research and is world-renowned for research and reference in a variety of fields relating to the environment, history, science and social science of the polar regions. The Institute was founded in Cambridge, as a memorial Scott and his four companions, who died returning from the South Pole in 1912. As well as research programmes, the Institute provides access to its library, archives and museum for the general public and has a strong educational outreach programme on the Arctic and Antarctic, ice and environmental change. It houses the largest public collection of historic archives, photographs and artefacts from polar expeditions in the United Kingdom.

    Text of the letter:

    To Sir Francis Bridgeman

    My Dear Sir Francis
    I fear we have shipped up – a close shave. I am writing a few letters which I hope will be delivered some day. I want to thank you for the friendship you gave me of late years, and to tell you how extraordinarily pleasant I found it to serve under you. I want to tell you that I was not too old for this job.  It was the younger men that went under first. Finally I want you to secure a competence for my widow and boy. I leave them very ill provided for, but feel that the country ought not to neglect them. After all we are setting a good example to our countrymen, if not by getting into a tight place, by facing it like men when we were there. We could have come through had we neglected the sick.

    Good-bye and good-bye to dear Lady Bridgeman

    Yours ever

    R. Scott

    Excuse writing – it is -40, and has been for nigh a month

    A letter written by the dying Captain Scott - one of only two remaining in private hands - can be revealed in full for the first time after being acquired by the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

    I want to tell you that I was not too old for this job. It was the younger men that went under first.
    Captain Scott
    Captain Scott writing in his Antarctic hut, before the expedition that cost him his life

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  • 04/02/13--00:00: Facing up to cancer
  • I’ve just walked back to the lab where I work in the Division of Molecular Histopathology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital after giving my first practical class demonstrations at the Department of Pathology to around 150 undergraduate student medics, vets and natural scientists.  As an experience that I’d been nervously preparing for over the last few days, I found it was as educational for me as it was to the students.

    The class was focused on understanding the multi-stage development of abnormal cell growths or neoplasms through samples and microscope slides, and recognising whether these growths were benign or invasive and malignant.  This session had a particularly personal resonance because I was diagnosed with a malignant cancer, a B-cell lymphoma, in 2004 when I was 15 years old.  After an initial misdiagnosis my disease progressed rapidly, becoming metastatic and spreading to lymph nodes within my neck.  In the class today, we observed a slide that showed cancerous cells invading into the underlying tissue towards a distinctly vulnerable lymphoid follicle.  I know only too well that, after metastatic invasion, the patient’s prognosis will have become significantly less favourable.

    It’s not always possible for me to remain emotionally detached from my work, but I don’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing.  There was a young child with leukaemia, just six years old, who was receiving chemotherapy treatment at the same time as me.  Before I completed treatment, he died due to complications arising from the treatment he had received.  It is for patients like him that I want to help improve our understanding of cancer so that more effective and tolerable treatments can be developed – this is the major motivational force that drives my work.

    Following remission when I was 16 years old, despite disease that was resistant to conventional chemotherapy, I was encouraged to return to school and study hard, gaining a place to study for a BSc (Hons) in Cell Biology at Durham University. During this time, I spent a summer at the University of Birmingham with Dr Karl Nightingale conducting research into Mixed Lineage Leukaemia (MLL, a predominantly childhood blood cancer).  It was during those months that I got bitten by the research bug, and this led me to apply for a PhD project in the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge, where I am working today.

    Our research is led by Dr Suzanne Turner and focuses on understanding the mechanisms that underlie the initiation and progression of a childhood T-cell lymphoma known as T-cell Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL).  Although we are a relatively small laboratory, our research themes are quite diverse, ranging from the identification and characterisation of a small population of cancer cells that may propagate this disease and even convey resistance to standard chemotherapeutics with the ultimate consequence of possible disease relapse following treatment, to exploring the initial events that lead from ‘the first hit’ to becoming malignant in a mouse model that recapitulates many critical features of the human disease seen in clinic.

    The area of research that I’m involved in explores the mechanisms responsible for becoming malignant within ALCL cells at the molecular level.  More specifically, my work looks at characterising how the mutant gene that is associated with this cancer hijacks the molecular machinery which would normally enable the cell to interpret the genetic information that it contains, subtly disrupting its function so that the cell loses control of its proliferation and self-regulation, setting it on a course to become cancerous.  This is known as oncogene-induced epigenetic dysregulation and represents a promising target for the development of novel drugs that can interfere with these pathways and prevent an enforced programme of cancerous cell growth.

    My personal experience of facing up to cancer as a patient has led me down a career path where I can confront cancer as a research scientist, and I count myself very fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to fight back against this disease.  One of the charities that has made this possible and supports our research financially, along with the pioneering blood cancer research of many laboratories in the UK, is Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.

    On 21 April I will be running the Virgin London Marathon 2013 to raise funds for the great cause of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, an ambition I’ve had since hospital physiotherapists helped me to get on my feet again after my disease had made me too weak to walk more than a few steps.  The slogan for the charity’s running team this year is ‘Together we’re unstoppable’.  Quite honestly, after 26.2 miles around London I can’t imagine stopping will be my biggest obstacle!

    For more information on Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research go to 
    To sponsor Gavin Garland go to

    Gavin Garland’s experiences of confronting cancer as a teenager influenced his choice of career as a molecular biologist working on the mechanisms of lymphoma.  Now he’s running the Virgin London Marathon 2013 to raise funds for the charity that support the work of his lab. 

    I count myself very fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to fight back against this disease.
    Gavin Garland
    Gavin (far right) in training

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    CCI is a new and pioneering partnership formed between leading conservation organisations and the University of Cambridge.

    It seeks to transform the global understanding and conservation of biodiversity, to secure a sustainable future for all life on earth.

    Its aim is to create an international centre of interdisciplinary collaboration and outreach that will transform conservation research, policy and practice for the benefit of biodiversity and humanity.

    The Conservation Campus will be located in central Cambridge, bringing together more than 500 professional conservationists from eight conservation organisations, with plans being considered by the City Council for a £59 million refurbishment of the Arup Building on the University’s New Museums Site.

    The Campus will provide a series of shared spaces, facilities and meeting areas for the global conservation community, designed to encourage effective collaboration.

    Speaking of the Conservation Campus, David Attenborough said: “The world’s biodiversity urgently needs research-driven, innovative and practical solutions for its conservation. By coming together on the Conservation Campus, CCI partners will be better able to integrate their distinct and complementary strengths to tackle the complex challenges facing the natural world in exciting new ways.”

    In his lecture he looked back over the development of the conservation movement, from Charles Waterton who created the world’s first nature reserve in Yorkshire in 1826 onwards. He warned that the world was facing a real crisis with the human population now nearing 7 billion, and said that the creation of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative was “crucially important.”

    CCI Executive Director Dr Mike Rands (pictured right) said: “The Campus will drive a massive step change in our collaborations and in our worldwide impacts. It will enhance our convening power and ability to engage new audiences worldwide.”

    Guest of honour at today's lecture by the renowned naturalist was the former Chancellor of the University, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was International President of WWF until 1996.

    Members of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative are:

    BirdLife International
    British Trust for Ornithology
    Cambridge Conservation Forum
    Fauna & Flora International
    International Union for Conservation of Nature
    Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
    Tropical Biology Association
    UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre
    • The University of Cambridge Departments of Zoology, Geography, Plant Sciences and Land Economy together with Cambridge Judge Business School and Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.

    An insightful lecture by Sir David Attenborough in the University of Cambridge Senate House has marked the launch of the Cambridge Conservation Campus. The campus will become the hub for the world’s largest conservation cluster, the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI).

    Sir David Attenborough and Dr Mike Rands at the launch

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    Dr Ulrich Keyser of the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, along with PhD student Nick Bell and other colleagues, has developed a system which combines a solid-state nanopore with a technique known as DNA origami, for use in DNA sequencing, protein sensing and other applications. The technology has been licensed for development and commercialisation to UK-based company Oxford Nanopore, which is developing portable, low-cost DNA analysis sequencing devices.

    Nanopore technology has the potential to revolutionise DNA sequencing and the analysis of a range of other biological molecules, providing dramatic improvements in power, cost and speed over current methods.

    A nanopore is an extremely small hole - between one and 100 nanometres in diameter – typically contained in a membrane between two chambers containing a salt solution and the molecule of interest. When the molecules pass through the nanopores, they disrupt an ionic current through the nanopore and this difference in electrical signals allows researchers to determine certain properties of those molecules.

    Over the past decade, researchers have been investigating various methods of constructing nanopores in order to improve accuracy and reliability. A key part of this is the ability to finely control the shape and surface chemistry of the nanopores, which would maximise sensitivity and facilitate the identification of a wider range of molecules.

    Currently, there are two main types of nanopores in use: solid state nanopores constructed by fabricating tiny holes in silicon or graphene with electron beam equipment; and biological nanopores made by inserting pore-forming proteins into a biological membrane such as a lipid bilayer.

    Biological nanopores are cheap and easy to manufacture in large quantities of identical pores.  It is possible through genetic engineering to define their structure at the atomic level, varying the pores for the analysis of different target molecules. However, they are only suitable for a limited range of applications, and may be replaced over time by solid-state nanopores. At present, solid-state nanopores are difficult to manufacture and are not as sensitive as biological nanopores, as it is difficult to position specific chemical groups on the surface.

    In collaboration with researchers at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Dr Keyser and his team have developed a hybrid nanopore which combines a solid-state material, such as silicon or graphene, and DNA origami - small, well-controlled shapes made of DNA.

    “The DNA origami structures can be formed into any shape, allowing highly accurate control of the size and shape of the pore, so that only molecules of a certain shape can pass through,” says Dr Keyser. “This level of control allows for far more detailed analysis of the molecule, which is particularly important for applications such as phenotyping or gene sequencing.”

    Since complementary sequences of DNA can bind to one another, the origami structures can be customised so that functional groups, fluorescent compounds and other molecular adapters can be added to the DNA strands with sub-nanometre precision, improving sensitivity and reliability. Additionally, hundreds of billions of self-assembling origami structures can be produced at the same time, with yields of up to 90 per cent.

    Recent research by the team, published in the journal Lab on a Chip, has shown that up to 16 measurements can be taken simultaneously, allowing for much higher data throughput and screening of different DNA origami structures.

    A sensing system developed at Cambridge is being commercialised in the UK for use in rapid, low-cost DNA sequencing, which would make the prediction and diagnosis of disease more efficient, and individualised treatment more affordable.

    This level of control allows for far more detailed analysis of the molecule, which is particularly important for applications such as phenotyping or gene sequencing
    Ulrich Keyser
    Aligning sequences

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    MAA holds a world-class collection of art, artefacts and archaeological discoveries from around the world. For too long a hidden gem, it now makes its outstanding collections accessible to the broadest possible audiences, in original and imaginative ways.

    As well as the £100,000 for Museum of the Year, MAA is also in the running for the Clore Award for Learning, an additional award of £10,000 which recognises achievements in learning programmes in UK museums. Both winners will be drawn from the ten finalists.

    The ten finalists (in alphabetical order) are:

    BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
    The Beaney, Canterbury
    Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
    The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield
    Horniman Museum & Gardens, London
    Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow
    Museum of Archeology & Anthropology, Cambridge
    Narberth Museum, Wales
    Preston Park Museum, Stockton-on-Tees
    William Morris Gallery, London

    MAA Director Nicholas Thomas said: “MAA is delighted to be shortlisted for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2013. It gives us an invaluable and timely opportunity to tell the public about the transformation the Museum has undergone in the last year. We have changed from being a Victorian museum focused on supporting research, into a welcoming, beautifully-designed museum where young and old alike can experience our myriad treasures and astonishing stories.

    “MAA tells the story of two million years of human history through one million objects – but the number of stories we have to tell are countless. These range from the mundane (a piece of whalebone used by Vikings as an ironing board) to the political (contemporary paintings about HIV in South Africa), from the amusing (a collection of what transpired to be ordinary garden stones) to the historically important (artefacts collected by Captain Cook on his first contact with the people of the Pacific).”

    MAA will be holding a series of special events between now and the announcement. This includes a reception for local retailers and traders where will be shown objects in the museum relating to their trade: the local laundry will view the Viking ironing board made of whalebone, the staff from John Lewis will view old Robert Sayle shop fittings found in the Grand Arcade dig, and local tattoo parlours will view the first tattooing equipment collected by Captain Cook’s sailors in the 18th century.

    The finalists were chosen by an independent panel of judges chaired by Art Fund director, Stephen Deuchar and including the Daily Telegraph’s arts editor Sarah Crompton, writer and broadcaster Bettany Hughes, historian Tristram Hunt MP and the artist Bob and Roberta Smith.

    Stephen Deuchar said: “The quality and diversity of the UK’s museums and galleries is truly exceptional and the job of this prize is to draw attention to that. As the national charity for art, we hope that by shining a light on the ten finalists we'll encourage people to visit and celebrate these bright beacons of culture across the UK.”

    The winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from the award ceremony at the V&A museum in London on 4 June 2013.

    All information about Museum of the Year 2013 and the Clore Award for Learning can be found at


    The Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (MAA) has been announced as one of the ten finalists for the prestigious Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2013. Celebrating the very best UK museums and galleries, it is the largest arts prize in the UK. The prize aims to reward and highlight innovation and creativity in bringing objects and collections to life.

    MAA tells the story of two million years of human history through one million objects – but the number of stories we have to tell are countless
    Nick Thomas
    Cambridge galleries, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

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    The International Visual Communications Association is the professional body for the corporate visual communications industry. Its annual awards, judged by a panel of industry experts, aim to recognise and reward excellence.

    Cambridge in Numbers introduces the University through some of its key statistics, presented by four current undergraduates whose words and actions seamlessly co-ordinate with the award-winning graphics of Will Hammond, Editor at Contrapositive.

    Lewis MacDonald is one of the four students in the film. He is from Nottingham and studies law at Queens' College. Cambridge in Numbers was his first experience of film-making.

    “It was really fun,” Lewis said, “though it was a challenge to get the hand movements right so they would fit the graphics.

    “There’s only so far that statistics will take you, but it’s so important for key facts, like the fact that 60% of UK students came from state schools, to be better known. 

    “I hope that people watching the film will also see that there’s no such thing as a typical student. We’re from all ages and backgrounds.”

    Sarah Middle, New Media Project Officer in the Cambridge Admissions Office, who co-ordinated the film’s creation, said: “We were really happy with the finished film.  We hope it will reassure students about the application process and career prospects, as well as the academic and extracurricular aspects of Cambridge life.”

    Jon Beard, Director of Undergraduate Recruitment, received the award for the University.  He said “Video and film play an increasingly important role in our communications with prospective students, helping us to introduce new perspectives and counter misconceptions about Cambridge.

    “Contrapositive’s graphics are integral to the finished film. We were excited to read their creative response to our brief and we are delighted that their innovative approach has been recognised by the IVCA.” 

    Will Hammond said: "It’s a fantastic honour to win an IVCA and a great reward for all the hard work everyone at Contrapositive put into the making of this film.

    “We always strive to produce films that exceed client expectations and in Cambridge in Numbers we have produced a film that not only successfully informs prospective students but does so in a way that's distinct, imaginative and makes it stand out from the crowd."

    • Watch Cambridge in Numbers on YouTube.

    Cambridge in Numbers, one of a series of films demystifying Cambridge admissions, teaching and student life, has won an IVCA Gold Award for Best Post Production.

    Lewis presents part of Cambridge in Numbers

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    Hereford’s HE+ Consortium was launched in February this year. It is one of the newest consortia in the HE+ scheme, a pilot project being developed by the University of Cambridge to encourage and support bright students through extension classes, masterclasses and workshops.

    The visit included college and town tours led by current Cambridge students, and subject-focused masterclasses led by Cambridge academics.

    Masterclasses were available in History, Medicine, Sciences, Theology, English, Law, Mathematics, and Classics.

    Students also had the chance to meet and chat with current Cambridge undergraduates, including former Hereford Sixth Form College student Joseph Hooton.

    Joseph is now one of the University’s CAMbassador team and works to encourage others from his home area, and elsewhere, to consider Cambridge. “I’ve had great experiences at Cambridge, made fantastic friends and also discovered many new hobbies, challenges and potential paths that I might not have done otherwise,” Joseph said. “I think it’s something that everyone should consider and I want to help show people like me that the opportunities are there for them.”

    The Hereford consortium is led by Hereford Sixth Form College and includes John Masefield High School, Lady Hawkins’ School, The Hereford Academy,The Chase Technology College and Dyson Perrins Church of England Academy.

    Lottie Mapp, 16, who studies at John Masefield High School, chose the History and Classics masterclasses.  “This is my first time in Cambridge,” she said. “I thought it might be a bit intimidating but I’ve settled in quickly. It’s been good to experience the style of teaching, and the breadth and choice available.”

    Jennie Lewis, 17, is studying at Hereford Sixth Form College. She is taking masterclasses in medicine as she hopes to study psychology at university.

    “HE+ has opened up a whole new subject to me. It’s a different way of learning – we’re interacting, and thinking about things in a much more sophisticated way.

    “I’m enjoying this visit because it’s giving me an opportunity to see the university environment and an insight into what it would be like to study here.”

    Paula Stirling, Director of Admissions for Christ’s College, said “We are very excited to be working with such talented and enthusiastic young people. Christ’s College was delighted to host the inaugural Hereford HE+ visit to Cambridge and we look forward to many more.”

    Christ’s College welcomed almost seventy Herefordshire sixth-formers for Hereford HE+ Consortium’s first visit to Cambridge.

    HE+ has opened up a whole new subject to me. It’s a different way of learning.
    Jennie Lewis
    Students from the English Masterclass

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    A study of the outcomes of child sex abuse cases in the US state of Utah suggests that the introduction of improved techniques for interviewing young victims leads to fewer cases being dropped early in the investigative process and results in a greater percentage of prosecutions.  The findings support the argument for better training of police interviewers who have the highly sensitive task of gathering information about traumatic incidents.

    A paper summarising the study (‘Do Case Outcomes Change When Investigative Interviewing Practices Change?’) will appear next month (May 2013) in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. The research was carried out by an international team including Michael Lamb, Professor of Psychology at Cambridge University, who is an expert on children and forensic interviewing.

    The study is the first to focus on the investigative interview as a predictor of outcomes – such as the filing of criminal charges, prosecution, and guilty pleas or convictions.

    The research drew on data from Salt Lake County Children’s Justice Centre which in mid-1997 introduced training for all its police interviewers in techniques developed under the auspices of the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and known as NICHD Protocol. The study centred on a before-and-after comparison of outcomes of child sex abuse cases across two periods: a pre-Protocol period of 1994-1997 and Protocol period of 1997-2000.

    The NICHD approach to interviewing was developed by Professor Lamb and his colleagues in response to widespread evidence that free recall memory prompts, such as open-ended questions, are most likely to elicit accurate information from children. Previous studies led by Professor Lamb, using data gathered in Israel, the USA and the UK, showed that open-ended questions were effective in interviewing children as young as four years’ old about incidents that may have involved abuse.

    The NICHD Protocol – or similar approaches – is now favoured by a growing number of countries with training being given to those who carry out the highly sensitive process of gathering evidence from children who have suffered trauma. The open-ended questioning style replaces or contrasts with a more directive, option-posing or suggestive line of enquiry which research has shown to be associated with erroneous responses.

    The results from the study of child abuse cases investigated by police in Utah have clear implications for the UK where the NICHD Protocol has been explicitly recommended to forensic investigators since 2011 in the Home Office’s manual, Achieving Best Evidence

    Professor Lamb and his colleagues believe that similar results would be likely in the other countries where the Protocol has been adopted because such interviews provide investigators with a much better understanding of what actually happened to the child, tend to be very compelling when the interviews are shown to jurors, and also provide interviewers with other investigative leads they can follow up in pursuit of additional evidence. Currently, English, French, Japanese, Hebrew, Finnish, Korean and Portuguese (Iberian and Brazilian) versions of the Protocol are in use around the world.

    The researchers initially looked at an overall total of 760 cases of suspected abuse of children aged from three- to 13-years-old.  Some of these cases were dropped and some were transferred to other jurisdictions, reducing the total to 696. Of these, 364 cases resulted in charges being filed.  The comparison of outcomes across the two periods before and after introduction of the Protocol revealed a number of significant differences at two crucial points in the progress of cases through the investigative process: the filing of charges by prosecutors and the final judicial disposition, through either plea negotiation or trial.

    Charges were more likely to be filed following the introduction of the Protocol with 42 per cent of cases being filed pre-Protocol and more than 52 per cent being filed once the Protocol was in use. Once charges were filed, both pre-Protocol and Protocol interviews were highly (and similarly) likely to lead to guilty pleas. This filtering-out factor means that although half the cases were prosecuted, Protocol interviews were associated with a significantly higher rate of conviction. When cases were tried, Protocol cases were almost always associated with guilty verdicts.

    These findings support the view that improving the quality of pre-trial phases of investigations is extremely important. “The quality of forensic interviewing practices is of utmost importance if the rights of both child victims and innocent suspects are to be protected. When child abuse is suspected, children’s verbal allegations often constitute the only available evidence. Thus our research into best-practice approach to interviewing has important implications for policy and practice,” said Professor Lamb.

    Cases involving the youngest children in the study (those aged two to four) were the least likely to yield criminal charges regardless of interviewer training. Previous research has suggested that younger children may be more reluctant than older children to disclose and talk about abuse. It has also been shown that children who were suspected victims of parental abuse provided fewer informative responses than those who were suspected victims of non-parental abusers.

    “When young children are interviewed they may provide less complete accounts than older counterparts might have done, meaning that their evidence is not sufficient to convince prosecutors that a conviction could be obtained at trial.  These findings point to the need for development of interviewing techniques sensitive to the needs of young children who’ve been abused.  Children need protection under the law and abusers should face conviction, regardless of their victims’ ages,” said Professor Lamb.

    The paper ‘Do Case Outcomes Change When Investigative Interviewing Practices Change?’ by Margaret-Ellen Pope, Yael Orbach, Michael E Lamb, Craig B Abbott and Heather Stewart will appear in the print version of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law in May.

    For more information on this story contact: Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge 01223 761673.

    Gathering evidence from children about alleged sex abuse is problematic. Research shows that when interviewers are trained in a protocol that favours open-ended questions more cases lead to charges and more charges lead to prosecution. 

    The quality of forensic interviewing practices is of utmost importance if the right of both child victims and innocent suspects are to be protected.
    Professor Michael Lamb
    in the shadows

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  • 04/05/13--04:20: A museum for the future
  • 1 million insects, 30,000 bird skins, 10,000 sets of eggs and over 3,500 fossil vertebrates: the Museum of Zoology is a treasure-trove of information about the natural world from 400 million years ago to the present day. “We have extraordinarily rich holdings,” said Museum Director Professor Paul Brakefield, “from the biggest collection of dodo bones outside Mauritius, to finches collected in the Galapagos by Charles Darwin during his Beagle Voyage.”

    The Museum is on the brink of a redevelopment programme that will provide state-of-the-art facilities to benefit all users, from researchers to students to the general public. Early curators of the Museum – originally established as a showcase for collections such as those by Darwin – exhibited great foresight in creating a resource that is informing research in all areas of biology, and may have still-to-be-discovered uses in the future as new technologies
    are developed.

    “We need to preserve and expand the collections so they continue to be used effectively across a wide range of research into the future, from understanding how life evolved, to finding ways to conserve biodiversity in a changing world,” said Brakefield.

    Informing ecological research

    “The only way we can hope to keep track of the animal world is to identify things, and part of this is describing new species,” said Dr William Foster, Curator of Insects at the Museum. “When they’ve been described, they have to be deposited in a designated museum such as Cambridge as a Type specimen.” Cambridge’s large collection of ‘Type’ specimens is of the highest scientific importance, providing the universal references for classifying and naming species.

    Experts at the Museum such as Dr Henry Disney, who has amassed the largest collection of scuttleflies in the world, collaborate with scientists to help determine whether new finds are indeed new species. “I took Henry a specimen we collected in the rainforest in Southeast Asia and he knew straight away it was a new species, which he subsequently named Danumphora fosteri,” said Foster.

    Foster studies insect diversity in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. “We’ve mainly studied the beetles and ants of the canopy, and the Museum provides a solid reference collection to inform our work,” he explained. “Our aims are to understand why there are so many species in the tropics compared with temperate regions, what controls this, and whether such diversity is important. To do this we have to identify everything.”

    Foster’s research is investigating what happens to insect diversity when forests in Southeast Asia are cut down and replaced by oil palm, a high-value crop for which demand is expected to double by 2030. “Of course there’s a huge reduction in diversity overall,” he said, “but it’s been found that some species, like bees and wasps, actually increase in diversity, while other forest specialists are replaced by ‘tramp’ species.” “If we can add to our collections from the last few centuries,” added Brakefield, “these can help to build up an accurate picture of how their distributions have changed over time, and how this may have been affected by external factors such as climate change and deforestation.”

    Foster aims to find a way to preserve insect diversity within the oil palm plantations themselves, without reducing yield: “If we can get more things growing on the trees, or more understorey vegetation, we could potentially increase biodiversity and enhance useful processes like pest control and leaf decomposition. Our collections are enabling this rigorous ecological research to take place. We not only need to know the number of species, but what they are, and the only way to do that is by using reference collections.”

    Evolution of terrestriality

    Elsewhere in the Museum, Professor Jenny Clack, a Curator and palaeontologist, studies the evolution of early tetrapods, the four-limbed animals that evolved from fish and moved to a terrestrial environment at the end of the Devonian era around 360 million years ago. Her work relies on the Museum’s fossil collection, and its ability to acquire new fossils for study following their discovery.

    “We’ve been working on material from a crucial period in history, called Romer’s Gap, from the end of the Devonian to about 340 million years ago,” Clack explained. “At the start of this period something happened to cause a mass extinction, so there’s a dearth of fossils from many major groups of organisms. When we pick them up again in the fossil record, the picture has changed completely. Life on land has become fully established and diverse, laying the foundation for the future evolution of the planet, including the appearance of humans. We see fully terrestrial tetrapods, whereas the ones in the Devonian were all semi-aquatic.”

    What happened to cause the change is unknown. “We really have very few clues as to how, and under what circumstances, tetrapods became terrestrial, walking animals.” Diverse tetrapod fossils have recently been found at several sites in Scotland. With funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, Clack and colleagues are now commencing a suite of investigations at these sites and on the fossils themselves to help understand exactly what happened at the end of the Devonian, and how life re-established itself.

    State-of-the-art analysis

    Modern technology is increasingly being used to advance understanding of the natural world. In a paper published in June 2012 in Nature, Clack describes how she and colleagues made CT scans of dozens of fossil tetrapods still embedded in rock, and then used sophisticated software to digitally separate the bones from the rock, generate an image of the whole skeleton, and manipulate this to determine the range of movement of each joint. “We found that early tetrapods couldn’t do a walking step, which indicates that limbs evolved before the ability to walk,” said Clack. “There’s a lot of material in the Museum stores still in the original rock it was found in – there are almost certainly things waiting to be discovered here that could tell us something new about evolution.”

    Brakefield is keen to use cutting-edge genome sequencing techniques on ancient DNA extracted from the bones, feathers or soft tissue of some of the Museum’s exceptionally preserved specimens of animals that are now extinct. “By combining our resources with expertise at the Sanger Institute, our aim is to produce whole genome sequences from specimens including fossil dodo bones, the giant auk and Steller’s sea cow. These can provide us with a far more complete reconstruction of how extinct organisms fit into the tree of life, and give new insights into the genetic changes underlying evolution.”

    To fully realise the potential of its priceless collection, the University is raising funds to completely refurbish the Museum, in conjunction with plans to create a new Conservation Campus for the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. The recent award of a Heritage Lottery Fund development grant for the Museum marks a major step towards providing an exciting modern environment for lifelong learning, teaching, research and the preservation of the collections. New conservation-standard stores and a rare-book archive will be created, with space for new acquisitions across the entire collection.

    “We want to conserve and preserve what we have, and also gain the potential to add to our collections, to keep them relevant for future research,” said Brakefield. “The refurbished Museum will have a fantastic new research space where people can use the collections even more effectively.”

    For more information, please contact Jacqueline Garget at the University of Cambridge Office of External Affairs and Communications.

    The University Museum of Zoology contains far more than a record of the past. Ambitious redevelopment plans will enable enhanced use of its unique collections for research into global issues from climate change to conservation.

    We’ve been working on material from a crucial period in history, called Romer’s Gap
    Jenny Clack
    Specimens in the Museum of Zoology

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