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    Details of how a £350 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will be funding over 70 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) across 24 UK universities, including Cambridge, in engineering and the physical sciences will be announced today by David Willetts, Universities and Science Minister.

    University of Cambridge academics have won six of their bids for CDT funding, including the renewal of two that are currently running, and are partners in two further successful bids from UCL and Liverpool. The total value of the grant will be around £30 million, spread over 8 years, with the first cohorts to start in October 2014; the funding is targeted at areas considered to be crucial to the country’s economic growth.

    Willetts said: “Scientists and engineers are vital to our economy and society. It is their talent and imagination, as well as their knowledge and skills, that inspire innovation and drive growth across a range of sectors, from manufacturing to financial services.

    “I am particularly pleased to see strong partnerships between universities, industry and business among the new centres announced today. This type of collaboration is a key element of our industrial strategy and will continue to keep us at the forefront of the global science race.”

    The EPSRC is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences, and invests in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. These CDTs are funded for four years and include technical and transferrable skills, as well as a research element, bringing together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills.

    The existing Cambridge Nano CDT is one of the Centres whose funding has been renewed, enabling the over 500 Nano researchers to continue successfully working in a multitude of disciplines, including physics, chemistry, engineering and materials. This funding follows recent investments exceeding £200 million in support of Cambridge Nano research, and new buildings for the Cavendish Laboratory. The Centre will work with a raft of companies including Nokia and Unilever to help the UK develop a lead in exploiting NanoTechnologies. Director Professor Baumberg is delighted, commenting that “our high-calibre interdisciplinary student cohorts will be Nano’s future leaders”. 

    A Centre of Gas Turbine Aerodynamics is to be one of the newly-created CDTs, set to become an international centre of excellence aimed at training the next generation of leaders in research and industry. It will bring together the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Loughborough, along with the internationally successful companies Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Siemens and Dyson, and will be assisted by a team of experts from NASA and MIT. The centre is designed to support a sector which is currently responsible for the employment of 6.8% of UK manufacturing jobs, and which, over the next 20 years, is predicted to be worth in-excess of US$1,650 billion.

    Other Cambridge CDTs are set to be developed or renewed in graphene, ultraprecision, future infrastructure and computational materials, as well as a photovoltaics Centre in partnership with the University of Liverpool and a phototonics Centre in partnership with UCL.

    Paul Golby, EPSRC’s Chair, said: “Centres for Doctoral Training have already proved to be a great success and the model is popular with students, business and industry. These new centres will give the country the highly trained scientists and engineers it needs and they will be equipped with skills to move on in their careers.”

    Funding for six Cambridge-led Centres for Doctoral Training, along with a further two in which Cambridge are partners, across a range of physical sciences and engineering disciplines will be announced today.

    This type of collaboration is a key element of our industrial strategy and will continue to keep us at the forefront of the global science race
    David Willetts
    Doctoral candidates from the Nanomaterials and Spectroscopy Group at the Electrical engineering Division of the Department of Engineering

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    Stanley Spencer is recognised as one of the most important British painters of the 20th century.  Born in Cookham, Berkshire in 1891, at the age of 17 he went to study at the Slade School of Art in London.  The group of five works allocated to the Fitzwilliam were formerly in the collection of wood engraver Gwen Raverat, grand-daughter of Charles Darwin, who first met Stanley Spencer when they both enrolled at the Slade School in 1908.  They became life-long friends, Gwen dubbing Spencer ‘Cookham’ in recognition of the affection Spencer held for his home village.

    John Donne arriving in Heaven was painted by Spencer when he was still at the Slade aged 20.  It was one of the most important works of his early career and was shown at the second Post Impressionist Exhibition (1912) where it was hung in the same gallery as works by artists including Matisse and Picasso.  Spencer shows the poet crossing Widbrook Common; he passes four figures, each praying in a different direction to express the all-encompassing nature of Heaven.  Spencer regarded the picture highly saying it came ‘more directly from my imagination than any I have ever done.’  It is one of the first works where he sets a religious event in an English rural setting, a concept that would be a hallmark of many of his later great masterpieces.

    Scrubbing Clothes and Making a Red Cross were painted in 1919 when Spencer had returned from the war.  Originally he had been commissioned by the Ministry of Information to work up these war studies into paintings, but instead they inspired part of his decorations for the Sandham Memorial Chapel.   Scrubbing Clothes depicts men of Spencer’s Field Ambulance Unit washing their clothes on boulders in the River Struma.   Making a Red Cross shows the unit laying out a cross made of broken tiles and rocks as a recognition signal to aircraft.  Both studies show his natural sense of design.

    In 1932 Gwen Raverat proposed that Spencer paint decorative panels for two 10-foot semi-circular spaces over the doors of the Reading Room of the new University Library, then under construction in Cambridge.  Unfortunately Syndics of the Library could not afford the project; the sketch Builders of the Tower of Babel and the small oil painting Making Columns for the Tower of Babel were all that remain of this suggested commission.

    The five paintings join the Fitzwilliam’s fine collection of early 20th-century British paintings, which already includes eight paintings and four drawings by Spencer.  The collection features some of Spencer’s most famous canvases; Love among the Nations (1935-36), Self-Portrait with Patricia Preece (1937), Self-Portrait (1939) and Love on the Moor (1949-1954).  The institution is one of the most important places to study the artist outside London.  

    The works have been acquired for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by Arts Council England from the estate of Gwen Raverat and allocated to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Tax of £167,883 was settled by their acceptance.  As their total value exceeded the liability on the estate, the Fitzwilliam Museum made good the difference of £308,117 with the help of generous grants from the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum.  

    Tim Knox, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum commented: “The five works by Spencer that have been added to the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collection greatly enrich our holdings of this interesting and very English artist. Moreover, they also have a strong Cambridge connection. We are grateful to the AIL Scheme for allocating these works to the Museum, and to the generous donors who supplied the additional funds needed to secure them.”

    The new acquisitions are now on display with other 20th-century British works in the recently refurbished Gallery 1 at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

    Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England said: “That these five works have been offered in lieu of inheritance tax and can now be permanently accessed by members of the public, means that important parts of our own history, society and identity are not lost, hidden in houses, but are part of an institution’s collection, open to interpretation and educating and inspiring people.”

    Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “Stanley Spencer is one of the greatest British artists of the 20th century and it is with great pleasure that we support the Fitzwilliam Museum's acquisition of this group of exceptional works. It is another example of the benefits of the government's Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme to UK museums, galleries, and their visiting public.”

    The five paintings are - John Donne arriving in Heaven (1911), Scrubbing Clothes (1919), Making a Red Cross (1919), Builders of the Tower of Babel (1933), Making Columns for the Tower of Babel (1933)

    Five works by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) have been accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. They include one of his most significant early paintings and two preliminary sketches documenting his experiences of World War I. The works were acquired through HM Government’s acceptance in lieu scheme with additional support from the Art Fund, The V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Fitzwilliam.

    The five works by Spencer that have been added to the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collection greatly enrich our holdings of this interesting and very English artist
    Tim Knox
    Making Columns for the Tower of Babel (1933)

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    This publication, launched at the recent Museums Association Conference in Liverpool, celebrates the growing success of university museums as part of the UK higher education sector, showing the unique benefits these collections deliver to the Higher Education, and wider cultural, sector.

    The report recognises that large, high-profile museums such as the Fitzwilliam Museum are the “major cultural provider[s] in their areas”, while also highlighting the contributions of smaller and specialist museums such as the six ‘embedded’ University of Cambridge museums, attached to different Departments, including the Polar Museum, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and the Whipple Museum

    University museums make a unique contribution to the public profile of universities across the UK; they hold 30% of nationally-significant collections but constitute only 4% of England and Wales’ museums.  The University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) encompasses five of these nationally significant (‘designated’) collections, one of the largest clusters outside of London. 

    Last year, more than 100 UK university museums hosted four million public visits to 200 exhibitions and 3,500 public events.

    Liz Hide, University of Cambridge Museums Officer, said: “Here in Cambridge we are lucky in having many exceptional University museums, each of which contribute to the academic, social and community work of the University.  This report also celebrates the important leadership role they play in the wider museums sector.”

    The report, Impact and Engagement, recognises the important role that University Museums play in supporting and delivering research, as well as inspiring students and enhancing their learning.  For example, the Fitzwilliam Museum, working with the Faculty of Education, has enabled object-based learning to be embedded in Primary PCGE courses, and in English, Religious Studies and Modern Foreign Languages in secondary education. In 2013, museum staff ran sessions that were attended by more than 200 Cambridge PGCE students.

    University Museums also contribute substantially to widening participation, often being the first contact that children and young people have with Higher Education Institutions. The UCM’s own Children and Young People’s and Widening Participation Officer, jointly funded through the University’s Widening Participation fund, is quoted as an example of good practice in the report.

    The full report is available at

    University of Cambridge museums are among those highlighted as examples of best practice in a new report focusing on the outstanding contributions made by the University Museums Group UK.

    Here in Cambridge we are lucky in having many exceptional University museums, each of which contribute to the academic, social and community work of the University
    Liz Hide

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    Kettle’s Yard is proud to present a new exhibition based on the extensive collection of Victor Skipp, a historian and writer who died in 2010, leaving his estate to Kettle's Yard.

    Though Skipp specialised academically in writing about the West Midlands Industrial Revolution, his eclectic personal interests in art and philosophy saw him collect innumerable pieces from a range of countries and periods whilst retired at his Suffolk home.

    Entitled “A Lasting Legacy”, this unique exhibition at Kettle’s Yard presents visitors with an insight into Skipp’s fascinating life and collection, where minimalist art is placed side by side with tribal rugs, African sculpture and a range of objects reflecting his interest in pre-industrial African and Asian societies.

    Susie Biller, Head of Communications for Kettle’s Yard, said about the exhibition, ‘It offers a wonderful view into the extraordinary mind of Victor Skipp and you can really see how the house at Kettle's Yard inspired him. The recreations of displays of objects from his house gives a flavour of what Skipp’s house was like. We are delighted to be celebrating this extraordinarily generous legacy in this way.’

    Particularly in the later years of his life, Kettle’s Yard became increasingly influential on Skipp’s thinking about how art could be integrated into everyday life. His home was a living museum, a place where different strands of art and philosophy happily co-existed and his wide ranging interests were displayed. He also had an extensive book collection, with a library containing many works of 20th century poetry, literature and literary criticism.

    Skipp’s art collection encompasses everything from exquisite 17th and 18th century Indian miniature paintings, to works by leading modern and contemporary British artists including Ivon Hitchens, Ceri Richards, Francis Davidson, Terry Frost, and Linda Karshan. The exhibition displays a selection of these works, key books from his extensive library and recreates sections of the house that reflect Skipp’s original vision.

    A film by Candida Richardson is also on show, entitled ‘The Taj Mahal of Hopton’, it documents the original house and collection and captures the environment of this special and unique place.

    An exhibition based on the collection of Victor Skipp, a local historian whose art hoard contained everything from 18th century Mughal miniatures to minimal 20th century art, has recently opened at Kettle’s Yard.

    It offers a wonderful view into the extraordinary mind of Victor Skipp and you can really see how the house at Kettle's Yard inspired him
    Susie Biller

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    Toby Wallace rowed in the Goldie crew in the 1996 Boat Race and then the victorious Blue Boat in 1998 and 1999.

    Tragically Toby died after a collision with a lorry in Cornwall as he was beginning a cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

    At Noon tomorrow, a Memorial service for Toby will take place in Jesus College Chapel.

    Following the service at around 2.45pm, members of his three CUBC crews will perform a row past in his memory. The crew of 7 plus cox Vian Sharif (Blue 99) will contain 4 Olympic athletes; Marc Weber, Kieran West MBE, Graham Smith and Alex Story.

    The 5 seat will be left empty in Toby’s Memory (his seat in the 1998 Boat Race, the crew of which still hold the course record of 16 minutes, 19 seconds).

    Another crew member is Theo Brun (Jesus 96), Goldie 97 & 98, who two years ago cycled back to his parent’s home in Norfolk, from Hong Kong.

    The trip which was called ‘As Far as East is East’ and raised significant amounts of money for a few charities, including the Harry Mahon Cancer Trust which was set up in memory of the legendary Cambridge Coach.  Harry coached all the crew members in this memorial eight.

    Four Olympians will be in a specially formulated crew of Cambridge University Boat Club veterans which will row past Goldie Boathouse tomorrow (Saturday 23 November) in tribute to a former fellow crew member.

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    In his introduction to the 1967 Penguin edition of Laurence Sterne’s The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, the critic Christopher Ricks describes the novel as the greatest shaggy-story in the English language. He was right: it is an extraordinary book characterised by great loops of diversion that take the reader into the realms of theology, philosophy, theories of medicine and more. It has no beginning, middle and end – Tristram isn’t even born until Volume 3 - and Sterne employs a whole range of stylistic flourishes and typographical devices, including asterisks, squiggles and blank pages.

    Earlier this year Cambridge academic Mary Newbould published a book – Adaptations of Laurence Sterne’s Fiction - that discusses the many ways in which Laurence Sterne’s novels (A Sentimental Journey was even more popular than Tristram Shandy) have inspired imitations, parodies and adaptations. Newbould has now curated an online exhibition of Sterne-related material (so-called Sterneana) that will appear on the website of Cambridge University Library to mark the writer’s birthday 300 years ago.  

    The online exhibition features material preserved in the Oates Collection - an archive of Sterneana collected by JCT Oates, a former librarian at Cambridge University Library (UL). The Oates Collection comprises some 600 or so items – from dating from the early 1760s to 1800 - which were gathered by Oates, an enthusiastic proponent of Sterne’s work. The collection, which built on an earlier archive, was given to the UL in 1986 and represents a unique resource for those studying the work of Sterne and his contemporaries.

    “The Oates Collection – which ranges from pamphlets and handbills to musical scores and illustrations – demonstrates the breadth and diversity of the reception of Sterne’s fiction as measured through the imaginative responses that his work has sparked. He provoked strong reactions not just among his audience – who loved or loathed him – but also among other writers and artists who were inspired, perhaps liberated even, by Sterne’s defiance of the conventions of what a novel should be,” said Newbould.

    The publication of Tristram Shandy in 1760 unleashed a spate of satirical pamphlets that lampooned Sterne’s narrative oddities and provocative humour. Most famous is The Clockmakers Outcry: it takes its cue from Tristram’s account of how his father saw to all the ‘little family concernments’ of winding the family clock – and other more intimate matters besides – on the first Sunday of the month ‘get  them all out of the way at one time’.  Sterne’s imitators also had great fun mocking his use of asterisks to disguise (and draw attention to) rude words. Pamphlets liberally sprinkled with stars in this way include The Life and Amours of Hafen Slawkenbergius, Author of the Institute of Noses, the nose being a famously Sternian euphemism for a p***s.

    The characters in Sterne’s fiction were brought to life by some of the greatest artists and illustrators of his era. They include William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank. “Sterne’s gift for drawing his characters by using just a few, sparse details gave his readers plenty of scope for imagination and offered the artists who illustrated his novels licence to explore scenes and settings in all manner of ways – from the comic, to the touching, and even to the erotic,” said Newbould.

    JCT Oates was disingenuous when he wrote of his collection of Sterneana that it represents the ‘rubbish of literature’. In a lecture, given at Jesus College in 1968 to mark the bicentenary of Sterne’s death, he said: ‘I confront the visitor not with the important books that he wishes to see but with the trivial books of which he has never heard’.  It’s from this ‘trivia’ that we learn so much about the context within which Sterne pushed the boundaries of writing and created novels that have intrigued us for so long.

    For more information about this story contact Alexandra Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge 01223 761673 

    The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman turned a Yorkshire clergyman into a literary celebrity.  Three hundred years after his birth on 24 November 1713, Laurence Sterne’s quirky take on the novel continues to inspire. Dr Mary Newbould explores Sterne’s lasting impact.

    He provoked strong reactions, not just among his audience, but also among other writers and artists who were inspired by Sterne’s defiance of the conventions of what a novel should be.
    Dr Mary Newbould

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    By exploiting flaws in miniscule diamond fragments, researchers say they have achieved enough coherence of the magnetic moment inherent in these defects to harness their potential for precise quantum sensors in a material that is 'biocompatible'.

    Nanoscopic thermal and magnetic field detectors - which can be inserted into living cells - could enhance our understanding of everything from chemical reactions within single cells to signalling in neural networks and the origin of magnetism in novel materials.

    Atomic impurities in natural diamond structure give rise to the colour seen in rare and coveted pink, blue and yellow diamond. But these impurities are also a major research focus in emerging areas of quantum physics.

    One such defect, the Nitrogen-vacancy Centre (NVC), consists of a gap in the crystal lattice next to a nitrogen atom. This system tightly traps electrons whose spin states can be manipulated with extreme precision.

    Electron coherence - the extent to which the spins of these particles can sustain their quantum mechanical properties - has been achieved to high levels in the NVCs of large 'bulk' diamonds, with coherence times of an entire second in certain conditions - the longest yet seen in any solid material.

    However in nanodiamonds - nanometer sized crystals that can be produced by milling conventional diamond - any acceptable degree of coherence has, until now, proved elusive.

    Nanodiamonds offer the potential for both extraordinarily precise resolution, as they can be positioned at the nano-scale, and biocompatibility - as they have can be inserted into living cells. But without high levels of coherence in their NVCs to carry information, these unique nanodiamond benefits cannot be utilised.

    By observing the spin dynamics in nanodiamond NVCs, researchers at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, have now identified that it is the concentration of nitrogen impurities that impacts coherence rather than interactions with spins on the crystal surface.

    By controlling the dynamics of these nitrogen impurities separately, they have increased NVC coherence times to a record 0.07 milliseconds longer than any previous report, an order of significant magnitude - putting nanodiamonds back in play as an extremely promising material for quantum sensing.

    The results are published today in the journal Nature Materials.

    "Our results unleash the potential of the smallest magnetic field and temperature detector in the world. Nanodiamond NVCs can sense the change of such features within a few tens of nanometres - no other sensor has ever had this spatial resolution under ambient conditions," said Helena Knowles, a researcher on the study.

    "We now have both high spin coherence and spatial resolution, crucial for various quantum technologies."

    Dr Dhiren Kara, who also worked on the study, points out that the nanodiamond's biocompatibility can provide non-invasive optical access to magnetic changes within a living cell - essentially the ability to perform MRI and detect, for instance, a cell's reaction to a drug in real time.

    "We may also be able to answer some key questions in material science, such as magnetic ordering at the edges of graphene or the origin of magnetism in oxide materials," Kara said.

    Dr Mete Atature, director of the research, added: "The pursuit of simultaneous high NVC coherence and high spatial resolution, and the fact that nanodiamonds couldn't deliver on this promise until now, has required researchers to invest in alternative means including advanced nanofabrication techniques, which tends to be both expensive and low-yield."

    "The simplest solution - feasible and inexpensive - was in front of us the whole time."

    Breakthrough offers high-sensitivity nanoscale sensors, and could lead to magnetic imaging of neuron activity and thermometry on a single living cell.

    The simplest solution - feasible and inexpensive - was in front of us the whole time
    Mete Atature

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    Museum staff introduced the students to the important Torres Strait collections held in Cambridge, many of which originate from the landmark 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait lead by Alfred Haddon. They connected with their heritage through extensive study and research of the artefacts and photographs now at the Museum.

    Dr. Anita Herle, Senior Curator for Anthropology said, “This visit was part of an ongoing collaborative relationship between the Museum and the Torres Strait…. We’ve had numerous Torres Strait Islander visitors to the Museum over the years – but this was the first time that we’ve worked closely with a student group.”

    Remke van der Velden, Collections Assistant for Anthropology at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology added, “It was exciting to have the opportunity to meet and work with people from the Torres Strait Islands. We were delighted the group has chosen to come to the Museum to learn more about the collections we hold here that detail some of their cultural past. This visit further nurtured the ongoing relationship between the Museum and the Torres Strait Islanders. It was a valuable opportunity for both the students and museum to learn from each other about particular objects and I hope the group found it particularly beneficial for their studies and cultural learning.”

    During their visit the students were also given a tour of some of the University’s colleges, explored the Torres Strait plant collections at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, attended a seminar on bio-anthropology at The Leverhulme Centre, gave a presentation for the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group, and enjoyed a tour of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

    From 11 – 14 November 2013 the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, welcomed 5 students from the Torres Strait Islands. The secondary school pupils, from Waybeni Koey Ngurpay Mudh Tagai State College (Thursday Island Secondary campus) visited the museum as part of a cultural and educational exchange and to embark on their own historical research

    We are delighted the group has chosen to come to the Museum to learn more about the collections we hold here that detail some of their cultural past
    Remke van der Velden
    Delegation from Tagai State College in front of the Torres Strait display at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

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    Banning multi-buy promotions for alcohol, implemented in Scotland in October 2011 as part of the Alcohol Act 2010, failed to reduce the amount of alcohol purchased, according to a new study. The research, conducted by the Behaviour and Health Research Unit, a collaboration between the Universities of Cambridge and East Anglia, is published in the leading academic journal Addiction.

    Excessive alcohol consumption is a major cause of ill-health and mortality and is also associated with economic and social harm. The Scottish government was among the first in the world to introduce a ban of multi-buy promotion (for example, “2 for £8” and “buy-one-get-one-free”), a popular price promotion tactic used by retail outlets stores. Multi-buy promotions were seen to stimulate bulk purchase and hence greater consumption of alcohol. 

    Using detailed household purchasing data from the Kantar WorldPanel, the researchers evaluated the impact of the policy on the volume of alcohol purchased as well as on consumers’ alcohol shopping patterns. The researchers found that the data as of June 2012 showed no evidence that the ban of multi-buy reduced the purchasing of beer, cider, wine, spirits, and flavoured alcohol drinks. In addition, it did not reduce the total amount of units of alcohol purchased.

    They also found that the policy influenced shopping patterns of beer and cider, for which multi-buys had been used intensively: Scottish consumers started buying fewer products per shopping trip than they would have without the ban, but went out to buy beer and cider more frequently, leaving the overall amount purchased unchanged.

    Theresa Marteau, from the University of Cambridge, said: “This study provides timely evidence on the seeming ineffectiveness of an intervention designed to reduce alcohol consumption.”

    Ryota Nakamura, lead author of the study and a researcher with the University of East Anglia, said: “The industry appears to have responded to the ban by replacing multi-buy with simple price reduction, which made it possible for Scottish consumers to buy alcohol at a discounted price but with a smaller financial outlay. This might have mitigated the intended effects of the policy.”

    Marc Suhrcke, also from the University of East Anglia, added: “More encompassing policy will be needed to achieve the goal of reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms. Partially banning price promotions leaves the door open for industry to just switch to other forms of price promotions, or indeed to reduce the overall price of alcohol. Imposing greater excise duties on alcohol and introducing minimum unit pricing have been shown to reduce alcohol consumption and associated harms. The government has recently put on hold plans to introduce minimum unit pricing.”

    Read the full article here.

    Researchers advocate for stronger measures to reduce alcohol-related harm in the UK

    This study provides timely evidence on the seeming ineffectiveness of an intervention designed to reduce alcohol consumption
    Theresa Marteau

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    There’s something innately human about our desire to gather, sort and display things. Not just to trade in objects or put them to use in a practical sense - but also to use them to create stories about ourselves. Museum attendance is booming with blockbuster shows attracting record audiences. But the picture is uneven: some collections struggle for support and many institutions do not have the space or resources to display the many objects they have in store.  Maybe we need to think differently about sharing what we have. We asked four people for their views.

    Katy Barrett is Curator of Art pre-1800 at Royal Museums Greenwich and former convenor of the CRASSH seminar series, ‘Things’, at Cambridge University. Dr Lucilla Burn is the Keeper of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Mark Elliott is Senior Curator at the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Cambridge. The poet Daljit Nagra recently took part in Thresholds, a creative residency programme at Cambridge University museums.

    Q1 What can we learn from objects?

    Katy Barrett Objects give us a special kind of access to the past. They allow us to touch (within careful parameters usually) something that was used by people, and thus get a physical feel for their lives. We can learn about past societies' values from what they kept, and what materials they made things from - or about daily life from such simple things as cooking utensils and furniture. Objects bear the marks of how they've been used, giving us access to ideas that may have been too fundamental to a person's life ever to have been written down. The wear and tear on books can show us how people read them, with some even showing the rust marks of the knife used to cut the pages in an era when text was printed on large sheets of paper which were folded the size of the finished book.

    Lucilla Burn As Katy says, objects can provide a very tangible link between us and people of past societies. Besides the insights they can offer into contemporary art, craft and technology, trade or settlement patterns, they can also illuminate individual lives. In the Fitzwilliam collection, for example, a roughly-cut and not very grammatical inscription on a Roman funerary urn, explaining how an ex-slave had acquired it to hold her own ashes and those of her beloved husband, with whom she had lived for 23 years, provides not just important evidence for social mobility in the 1st century CE but also a direct glimpse of a bereaved individual whom we would know nothing about if she hadn’t bequeathed us this ‘object’.

    Mark Elliott For me, objects can be simultaneously more and less expressive than any number of words. There’s an immediacy in an encounter with a material thing that is right in front of us, whether it’s separated by a pane of glass or not. Some things are easier to interpret than others. One of my favourite objects in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is a brick from the city of Babylon that has the seal of King Nebuchadnezzar II stamped on it, but also a beautifully-formed footprint. You can instantly imagine how this happened, and it can lead you to think about how cities were built, how people worked, or the politics of sixth-century BC Babylon. Sometimes the clues are easier to read than others: I think the most valuable lesson objects can teach us is how to really look. Everything follows from there.

    Daljit Nagra From a poet’s perspective, museums are a sensual resource to the past. In the hands of great poets this resource becomes a valuable tool. I think of Seamus Heaney finding metaphors to help him negotiate the Troubles in Northern Ireland, in particular his great poems about the peat bog finds in Denmark. Heaney opens one poem: ‘Some day I will go to Aarhus…’ and this visit to a museum feels like a dream of accomplishment as he tries to appreciate the bog bodies as a way of understanding our past so we can move forwards positively. Perhaps museums can help us become ourselves at our best.

    Q2 Why do we go (or not go) to museums?

    KB I'm glad that museums seem to be going from strength to strength in visitor numbers. Most of us will go to see the treasures housed in national museums when we go on holiday, or flock to the growing number of blockbuster exhibitions to see these treasures on tour. But we run the risk of forgetting our local museums and permanent collections through focusing on these 'once in a lifetime' experiences. Museums can also be the heart of communities, preserving important local and national stories, which reward you with new ideas every time you visit. The Bridewell Museum, for instance, highlights the vibrant industries in the history of the city of Norwich. They are great for visits with family and friends to inspire interests and discussions. We need to put to bed permanently the view of museums as elitist, hide-bound institutions. The Hepworth in Wakefield – the kind of contemporary art museum, which you might expect to be particularly elitist – is a hub for local residents on a Sunday.

    LB While I clearly have a vested interest in attracting as many people as possible to the Fitzwilliam, I think that realistically we need to face the fact that museums, like music festivals, opera, rock-climbing, bird-watching or football matches, are not to everyone’s taste, and also that people’s relationship with them is likely to ebb and flow at different periods of their lives. I agree it’s interesting that many people who expect to visit museums when on holiday don’t drop into their local museum at the weekend. One of our challenges, and something museums spend a lot of time on, is creating special events and exhibitions that will give local audiences the incentive to come in and enjoy something ‘new’. Many Cambridge students are ‘non-visitors’ to Cambridge museums – they would probably say they are too busy….but maybe (to take a positive and global perspective) the local student deficit is made up for by their holidaying counterparts from Spain or Italy?

    ME This is actually a really hard one. Many of us probably have an idea about why we go to museums ourselves, or indeed why other people might go. But the truth is none of us are really sure. Our experience of a museum, and our reasons for being there in the first place, can depend on so much: the people we are with, the mood we are in, or how much we want to spend on activities that day. But ‘why’ we go to museums doesn’t really matter as much as what we get out of our visit. We may go to see a famous artwork, and end up meeting someone special. We may go to get out of the rain and come face to face with an artefact that changes the way we think, or lifts us somehow; something that sets us on a wholly new journey of discovery. That’s why I go to museums: because they are where the unexpected happens.

    DN: I would feel better about museums if I felt they had a strong focus in winning over students from ‘ordinary’ backgrounds. I studied at a school where pupils took CSEs rather than O levels, I remember never visiting a museum, and when I visited the British Museum, as an adult, I felt intimidated by the aloof joyless manner of the entrance. I felt there was a code of self-presentation that I needed to rapidly adopt so that I looked as though I fitted in. On a positive note, at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, I heard students from a socially deprived comprehensive school, similar to the one I went to, gasp as they heard the Education Officer, Sarah-Jane Harknett, blowing their minds away with the significance of flint. Yes, flint of all things!  

    Q3 Can digital collections replace real objects?

    KB Online access increasingly rules how we approach information today and museums have to engage with this to stay relevant. Some museums have put a lot of work into making their collections accessible online with high quality images and a good depth of information. The British Museum in London and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are notable examples. They allow visitors to access information outside of the museum, and researchers to use collections more effectively. Admittedly this requires a commitment of substantial financial resources, but it also needs vision and staff investment in creating digital content. Seeing a picture, however, can't ever replace material engagement with an object. We can't anticipate the kinds of questions we'll want to ask of objects in the future, so a digital record should never take the place of an object or image. There's no replacement for the real thing, as any excited group of visitors around a museum handling table will show you.

    LB Obviously museums are keen to capitalise on the possibilities offered by the internet. It’s a great way of extending access, and apart from collections databases there are lots of other opportunities to exploit its possibilities - online exhibitions, for example, can remain on view indefinitely after the physical show has been dismantled but also give people the opportunity to examine works of art in greater detail than they can in the gallery: see for example the exhibition that accompanies the current Fitzwilliam exhibition of Japanese prints, ‘The night of longing’ - It’s helpful and potentially exciting for everyone, from interested members of the public to scholars working on the other side of the world, to be able to explore a museum’s collections remotely. But the short answer to this question is of course ‘no!’ Digital collections can enhance what museums have to offer but can never substitute for the physical presence of the real thing.

    ME No. But they can do a lot of the same things, and indeed they can do things that ‘real’ objects can’t. A reproduction of an artefact, whether it’s a photograph or a digital version of it, for example, can travel much further than the artefact itself. It can be in many places at once and so dramatically enrich the conversations that surround it. You lose something when you are engaging with a work of art or a specimen on a computer screen. You can’t walk around it, or touch it, or see how light plays upon its surface. It can be hard to appreciate the scale of something – whether it’s incredibly delicate or whether it dominates the room. In fact that room and the people in it is incredible important – Katy mentioned the excited crowds in her gallery, and it’s the communal effect of the crowd gathered around an exhibit that is so special.

    DN From the perspective of a writer, I wish more museums around the world offered an exciting online experience. My poems and my verse-novels are heavily research-based and as I have young children and a busy day-to-day schedule online accessibility would enrich my creative work. Digitalised museums are not a replacement for the real thing but should be an alternative reality.

    Q4 Who should have what?

    KB The long histories behind many European museums inevitably involve legacies of colonialism, war and expropriation. Collections include objects with complex pasts that were acquired in settings very different from today. This means that museums now care for objects with contested ownership which, at least UK national museums, are legally prevented from de-accessioning. The sector has developed guidelines for returning particularly sensitive objects, such as human remains or objects expropriated in the Nazi era. Likewise, countries have a process of export bars to stop objects of national significance passing out of the country through sale. Museums need to be sensitive to the pasts of their objects in these ways, as much as in how they interpret them, but what would be the point of museums if they all contained only locally produced objects? Surely one point of museums is to showcase the strange and the foreign as well as the local and familiar? Cultures and nations don’t develop in isolation, objects help us to tell stories of entangled histories, and to compare very different cultural developments.

    LB This is an enormous and quite unanswerable question which Katy has answered very well…. I would just like to add, rather tangentially, that while requests for repatriation can make headline news, the useful relationships and collaborative programmes of research and outreach frequently developed between colleagues in museums or countries that might popularly be supposed to be at cultural loggerheads are very often overlooked.

    ME None of us who work in museums would want to be apologists for the sometimes murky processes by which objects entered our collections in the past. Even when the transactions were honest and equal, the descendants of people who once owned an object in a museum can of course feel a sense of loss. But often, through the kinds of relationships that Lucilla mentioned (relationships that only exist because objects from ‘there’ are ‘here’), some really important conversations, and new understandings, can develop. In this way, as others have said, the artefact can be an ‘ambassador’ of sorts – forging and renewing relationships between people separated as well as united by a common history.

    DN I agree with Katy and Lucilla and would only add that perhaps items, if they were acquired dubiously, should be judged on individual merit as to whether they should stay here or be returned to their source. Some cultures do not have a tradition of visiting museums, some countries do not fund their museums well, and some countries are deeply unstable and prone to conflict, so in all these cases I am glad that the objects are safe in British museums.

    Q5 In a notional disaster scenario, which collection or museum would you rescue?

    KB For me it would have to be the Sir John Soane Museum in London, it's a glorious gem of a collection, a museum in miniature. I love house museums that give you a sense of the person behind their creation. At the Soane you feel that you've stepped straight into the eighteenth century, almost into the brain of Sir John Soane, thanks to his eclectic collection of architectural fragments and designs. What a way to learn about architectural history! Soane also had a spectacular painting collection, which includes the two famous series by William Hogarth, A Rake's Progress and An Election. They’re displayed in his original painting room, hung on layers of hinged walls that are specially opened daily. You can even visit by candlelight once a month to experience the house as his dinner guests might have.

    LB I think I’m forbidden by the terms of my contract from saying anything other than the Fitzwilliam - but if I can have two choices, please might I also rescue the Isles of Scilly Museum? A refuge for holiday-makers on rainy days, it’s a wonderful place to glimpse and marvel at the resourceful lives of generations of Scillonians – and the evidence for others who passed, or attempted to pass, through Scilly - from the brooches and coins left by Roman traders, to the poignantly personal possessions salvaged from the many wrecks that ring the islands. Harrowing first-hand accounts of maritime tragedies make for compelling reading, while equally absorbing are the sepia photographs of 19th-century tourists, embarking in wildly impractical clothing on the same pleasure trips that visitors take today. A pilot gig rigged with oars and sail, ancestor of those now rowed by the islanders for sport, forms an impressive centre-piece to the displays and drives home the Museum’s central message, that the life of the islands has always both depended on – and been threatened by - the sea.

    ME This is a cheat of an answer, but I would save a collection that I haven’t seen, and don’t know about: the small collections of objects, experiences and histories that are made in households, villages and communities throughout the world – in shoe boxes, in living rooms or in community spaces. Keep collecting, people! But also keep coming to museums and sharing your stories.

    DN I love the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology! This beautifully small museum is packed full of amazing objects from the four imagined corners of the globe such as textiles, stones, paintings, sculptures, masks, weapons and skins. I suspect we would be able to construct the whole history of mankind and mankind’s relationship to the planet with a few of the MAA’s objects spanning hundreds of thousands of years.

    Inset images from top: Ammonite (©Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge); Silver Penny from the Reign of William I, 1066-1087 (©The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge); Green jade disc, Chinese, 300-100 B.C (©The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge); Wheel from Cambridge Folk Museum (©Leo Reynolds); Faience bowl, from Sedment, Egypt, New Kingdom, 1479-1425 B.C (©The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

    Our lives are bound up with objects. Museums are evidence of our deep preoccupation with the things that surround us, whether natural or the product of human endeavour. Why do we keep stuff, what do we learn from it – and what does our fascination for objects from our past tell us about being human today?

    Objects bear the marks of how they've been used, giving us access to ideas that may have been too fundamental to a person's life ever to have been written down
    Katy Barrett
    Drawer of ammonoids from the Woodwardian collection, the founding collection of the Sedgwick Museum, dating to the late 17th and early 18th century

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    A new study has concluded that taking the drug modafinil, typically used to treat sleep disorders, in combination with antidepressants reduces the severity of depression more effectively than taking antidepressants alone. The study, a collaboration between the Universities of Cambridge and East London and  King’s College London, was published online in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

    Approximately a third of depressed patients receive little or no benefit from taking antidepressants even when used in combination with psychological counseling. Furthermore, of those who respond to treatment, residual symptoms such as fatigue and trouble sleeping pose risk factors for relapse. The authors of the study believe that these individuals in particular would benefit the most from supplementing their antidepressants with modafinil.

    Professor Barbara Sahakian from the University of Cambridge said, “Modafinil has actions on a number of neurotransmitter systems. This may explain why adding it to traditional anti-depressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, has beneficial effects on the symptoms experienced by depressed patients.”

    “This is good news for individuals struggling to fight depression,” said Professor Cynthia Fu from University of East London, who undertook the research whilst at King's College London. “Depression affects all aspects of life, leading to occupational and social disability at varying levels. It is particularly important that people receive effective treatment as the residual symptoms - e.g. fatigue, lack of concentration etc. - can persist and have a negative impact in people’s lives.”

    For the research, the scientists reviewed various studies which had examined the use of modafinil as an add-on treatment for depression. The meta-analysis involved a total of 568 patients with unipolar depression and a total of 342 patients with bipolar depression. The analysis revealed that modafinil improved the severity of depression as well as remission rates. Modafinil also showed beneficial effects on fatigue and sleepiness, with the added benefit of the comparable side effects to placebo.

    The research also revealed that the symptomatic benefits of modafinil might also have implications for improving the difficulty of functioning at work sometimes caused by depression. This is significant because depression is a major cause of absenteeism (absence due to sick leave) and presenteeism (present at work but not functioning as before).

    Dr Muzaffer Kaser from the University of Cambridge added: “The next step is for longer trials to evaluate potential benefits of supplementing antidepressants with modafinil more comprehensively.”

    Depression is a major global health problem. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. Recent studies revealed that depression represents more than a third of global burden of disease attributable to mental health problems. The annual cost of mood disorders to the UK economy is estimated to be around £16 billion. Disability caused by depression is mainly due to the negative impact on work and social functioning and its relapsing nature. 

    Researchers believe findings could help the many individuals for whom anti-depressants offer little or no relief

    Modafinil has actions on a number of neurotransmitter systems. This may explain why adding it to traditional anti-depressants has beneficial effects on the symptoms experienced by depressed patients
    Professor Barbara Sahakian
    Chemical structure of Modafinil

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    Big Data, Cardiovascular Disease, Public Policy and Synthetic Biology join a portfolio of Strategic Research Initiatives that are building on existing research expertise to address multi-disciplinary research challenges. By bringing together academics from different disciplines working towards the same goals, these initiatives are harnessing researchers’ skills and expertise, resulting in ground-breaking developments and enhancing real-world impact.

    “Like our other strategic initiatives, these latest initiatives are underpinned by a proven track record of research success,” said Professor Lynn Gladden, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research. “Supporting them through the Strategic Research Initiative program will help to increase our national and international impact, and make our research more visible to funding agencies, charities, industry and donors.”

    The Big Data initiative addresses the need to make sense of the mass of information gathered since the dawn of the digital age. With essential applications in a host of areas including government, business, science and health, developing platforms to analyse and extract meaningful information from huge collections of data is essential. Whether it’s utilising data from our mobile devices or making sense of the staggering mass of numbers coming out of the Large Hadron Collider, finding efficient and effective ways of interpreting this information will have wide-ranging impact. The Big Data Strategic Research Initiative will help to address both the practical and more intangible implications of this potential wealth of information, as well as the ethical, legal and political implications of harnessing these data.

    Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the UK, and an area of intense research spanning 30 different departments and research institutes across the University, from developmental biology to engineering to public health. Cardiovascular research is also a major source of grant funding, with more than £200 million currently awarded to the University for research. With Cambridge already an international leader in the field, the Cardiovascular Disease initiative will combine expertise from across disciplines to tackle this public health crisis and improve the management, treatment and prevention of this deadly illness.

    At the local, national and international level, linking research developments with government policy makers is essential, ensuring that the important work done at the University has a real-world impact. Many researchers work in areas across the humanities and sciences that have direct relevance to public policy, including evidence collation and horizon scanning, and many senior academics already serve as consultants for government. The Strategic Research Initiative in Public Policy will link these activities, with a particular focus on studying the policy process and the impact that new technologies have on policy decision making, as well as to ensure support for future evidence-based policy decisions.

    Synthetic biology has been named a major research initiative for the UK and is one of the fastest-growing scientific and technological arenas, combining cutting-edge research from engineering with the physical and biological sciences. An early leader in the field, Cambridge has played a key role in advances in bioengineering, computational modelling and the development of technical standards and protocols, as well as in policy discussions. The Strategic Research Initiative in Synthetic Biology will take Cambridge activities to a new level through transformational research, interdisciplinary exchange and open technologies for innovation.

    For further information about the Strategic Research Initiatives, please visit here. In addition to the 12 Strategic Initiatives, the University has also identified other areas of work where cross-disciplinary connections are important. These are the seven Strategic Research Networks.

    Four new targets have been added to the University of Cambridge’s Strategic Research Initiative program, which fosters multi-disciplinary collaboration to advance innovative research.

    These latest initiatives are underpinned by a proven track record of research success
    Professor Lynn Gladden, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research
    New synthetic biology techniques allow visualisation and computer modelling of the fractal-like patterns that emerge from cell interactions within a biofilm
    The four new initiatives and their academic leaders

    Big Data
    Professor Paul Alexander (Department of Physics)

    Cardiovascular Disease
    Professor Martin Bennett and Professor Nicholas Morrell (Department of Medicine)

    Public Policy
    Professor Simon Deakin (Faculty of Law/Centre for Business Research) and Dr David Howarth (Department of Land Economy/Department of Politics and International Studies

    Synthetic Biology
    Dr Jim Haseloff, Department of Plant Sciences

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    The students, from families with an income of less than £25,000, have each been awarded the £6,000 as a fee waiver. This is in addition to their Cambridge Bursary of £3,500. 

    The NSP is run jointly by the Government scheme and the universities.  The University of Cambridge has chosen to give priority for NSP awards to care leavers, to students who were in receipt of free school meals, and to lone parents.

    Geography student Katie was one of 136 students awarded support from the NSP in 2012.

    "I'm the first in my family to go to university,” Katie explained. “I know that I don't have to pay fees back until I graduate but it was still a worry for my parents.

    “Thanks to the NSP fee waiver I am borrowing less and they are more relaxed about me studying for a degree,” Katie added.

    “By taking part in the NSP, we hope to provide additional reassurance to students from low-income families that taking up a place at Cambridge is affordable,” said Dr Patricia Fara, Senior Tutor of Clare College, and the Chair of the NSP panel that considered applications. 

    “We are particularly pleased to have been able to make an award to every student accepted this year who has been on free school meals, and to every care leaver,” Dr Fara added.

    “In order to encourage students from all backgrounds to apply, the University provides a generous and flexible financial support package, including the NSP,” commented Director of Undergraduate Recruitment, Jon Beard.

    The University of Cambridge has made 295 National Scholarship Programme awards to support students from low-income families starting at the university this year. Over 50 of these grants were made to students who had previously claimed Free School Meals.

    By taking part in the NSP, we hope to provide additional reassurance to students from low-income families that taking up a place at Cambridge is affordable
    Dr Patricia Fara

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    A powerful laser imaging technique has been used by researchers to show how minute quantities of a protein associated with Alzheimer’s Disease trigger a process which may be crucial to its onset and spread.

    The study also potentially links neuronal damage – for example, through brain injury, or head injuries sustained in contact sports – to the onset of Alzheimer’s.

    The researchers involved, however, are urging caution about the results, stressing that the study used a model cell culture and that the processes, which enable the disease to take root and develop in the brain could be far more complicated.

    “These are molecular-level glimpses of what may be going on,” Clemens Kaminski, Professor of Chemical Physics at the University of Cambridge, who led the research, said. “We are just beginning to see the molecular steps that may provide an explanation for what we see in the brains of patients who have died of Alzheimer’s.”

    The study, reported in The Journal Of Biological Chemistry, focused on tau, a protein normally found inside healthy brain cells. In the brains of people who have died of Alzheimer’s, however, clusters of malfunctioning tau are also found, and these appear to play a critical role in preventing their brain cells from working properly.

    In the new study, researchers investigating how this happens added tiny quantities of normal tau to the outside of brain cells. To their surprise, the cells immediately started to ingest the protein. The ensuing uptake process, called endocytosis, kick-started aggregation of the protein into clumps. These clumps were then observed to cause “healthy tau” inside cells to misbehave and also aggregate.

    Although seen in model cell cultures, the observations may show how the events that cause Alzheimer’s begin. If so, there are practical implications: tau can be released into fluid around the brain, and therefore become a candidate for ingestion by other cells, through repeated head injuries, such as those suffered in contact sports. This, however, is only one process by which the protein is released.

    The aggregation process which forms clusters of tau is also linked to other diseases, including certain forms of brain cancer and Parkinson’s. By drawing attention to a potential root cause of Alzheimer’s, the research could eventually enable the development of therapies targeting the underlying problems in the brain, which stimulate its spread.

    “The study underlines how significant the uptake of small quantities of tau might be as an initiator for the conditions that then prevail in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers,” Kaminski added. “It is one piece in the puzzle that could provide us with an explanation as to why head injuries may be connected to the disease. It’s not necessarily correct – but it is plausible.”

    Tau – an abbreviation of Tubulin Associated Protein Unit – has long been linked with Alzheimer’s, and researchers trying to find a cure have focused on attempting to understand how dysfunctional tau emerges and how it spreads.

    To do this, however, they need to be able to observe events at a molecular level. The Cambridge Laser Analytics Group, to which Kaminski and his colleagues belong, is a team of physicists, biologists, chemists and engineers who, over many years, have developed laser-based imaging techniques to watch these basic chemical processes and study the molecular mechanisms that lie behind diseases like Alzheimer’s.

    During the new study, normal, monomeric tau protein was placed into a model system of neuronal cell lines and then watched through super-high resolution microscopes as the team tracked the effects. For the first time, this enabled them to watch monomeric tau form dysfunctional clumps which infected healthy tau and caused it to malfunction.

    The ingestion process appeared to be caused by fat droplets, used by the cell to take on nutrients. As foreign tau enters the cell, a nucleation event takes place, during which the first clumps are formed. The tau already inside the cell then aggregates with these, causing the protein to misbehave. The newly-formed polymer then emerges from the cell and can potentially infect others.

    “What is striking is that small concentrations of healthy tau form clumps when ingested into cells. We would never have thought that this could lead to the formation of potentially harmful aggregates,” Dr Claire Michel, who performed the experiments, said. “The processes during ingestion could be crucial in the context of the disease.”

    The team’s future research will focus on identifying how and where a molecule of tau entering a neuronal cell meets the tau already inside it, and also on how the aggregated clusters of tau emerge. This could pinpoint targets for future treatments.

    While a lot of research into therapies has focused on how to remove clusters of tau from the brain, this latest investigation suggests that preventing individual monomers from entering cells might be just as essential.

    “Our priority now is to connect what we have observed to the pathology of the disease,” Dr Gabriele Kaminski-Schierle, who led biological aspects of the research, said. “We still do not know if we can stop cells from ingesting tau, or whether we can somehow wash tau out of the brain fluid. Answering these questions is key to developing future therapies to treat what remains, at the moment, a terrible and incurable disease.”

    Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The state-of-the-art technology used by this research team allows a unique insight into the molecular events that occur in Alzheimer’s. Investigating how the tau protein spreads between nerve cells can help researchers better understand what causes the disease and offer new approaches for treatments. It is unclear from this study whether head injury could trigger this molecular process, but it is a risk factor for dementia that needs to be investigated further.”

    The research was supported with funding from the Wellcome Trust, MRC, and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The full study can be found in The Journal Of Biological Chemistry.

    Researchers have shown that a single monomer of the protein tau can be enough to kick-start an aggregation process which may explain the onset of Alzheimer’s in the brain.

    It is one piece in the puzzle that could provide us with an explanation as to why head injuries may be connected to Alzheimer's. It’s not necessarily correct – but it is plausible.
    Clemens Kaminski
    Left: Neuronal cells have ingested Tau protein, which appears in green (scale bar: 10 μm). Right: Optical super-resolution microscopy reveals that ingested protein (red) causes internal protein (green) to form fibrillar aggregates (scale bar: 500 nm).

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    A four-part manifesto for fighting global poverty, which aims to build on the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015, has been published by the Humanitarian Centre in Cambridge.

    The document, called Working Out Our Future Together, is part-report and part-handbook, and is designed to show how anyone can, and must, get involved in the drive to end global poverty - whether they are volunteers, policy-makers, business-people or even shoppers.

    Written by a combination of Cambridge-linked academics and field practitioners, the document is being published on the website of the Humanitarian Centre which is an affiliate of the University of Cambridge.

    It is aimed at individuals and organisations in the Cambridge area with an interest in development issues, and others who, like many businesses, may have previously been seen as peripheral to the anti-poverty agenda.

    At the heart of the report are four guiding principles which, according to its editors, will need to define future international development strategies after the current Millennium Development Goals end in two years’ time. These are:

    • Poor and marginalised groups should shape development strategies;
    • Solutions cannot be one-size-fits all, and must be devised with complexity in mind;
    • Efforts should be made to ensure that development strategies are adding value for the people they seek to help;
    • Everyone needs to be mobilised to take action on poverty, and related global challenges.

    The report will be launched at a special event in Cambridge on Thursday, November 28.

    Anne Radl, Programmes Manager at the Humanitarian Centre and co-editor of the report, said: “What we are hoping is that anyone who picks up, downloads, or receives it will be able to think about how their professional and personal life is intertwined with global development and how they can play a role in ending global poverty and creating a more just and sustainable world.”

    “Our message is that we are all stakeholders in the development agenda, because we all have something at stake. Whether we are rich or poor, we are all vulnerable to the effects of increasing social inequality and environmental degradation, and we need to think about how we can each make a contribution to achieving future global development goals.”

    The Millennium Development Goals were set at the turn of the 21st century and were an international commitment, signed by all the members of the United Nations, to reduce global poverty and injustice by 2015. Many of them have already been met – for example, extreme poverty has been halved since 1990, as has the number of people without safe drinking water.

    But as the deadline for completing this achievement draws closer, thoughts are turning to what the future Sustainable Development Goals, set to be introduced in 2015, should be. Part of the solution involves accepting that while the original goals were a huge achievement, some key issues were missed. For example, they did not differentiate between groups within the societies they aimed to help, and they did not always provide a model for how to gather evidence about positive change.

    This is where the Humanitarian Centre’s new document comes in. Divided into four chapters based on the four principles which it claims should guide future development, the publication also features essays and case studies explaining these ideas further, and offering examples of existing projects through which volunteers, policy-makers and companies are already making a difference to the lives of the poor.

    One of its key messages is that the voices of the marginalised people in society, such as those living with disabilities and the young, are, ironically, often excluded from discussions about how to end social inequality. The report highlights numerous cases in which radio broadcasting, SMS technology, research and social media have been used to get these groups to share information and ideas about how to create change in their communities.

    The case-studies include a film project which has helped develop understanding between communities in war-stricken Sudan; an agricultural initiative in Africa to help farmers, scientists and politicians talk to one another about realistically improving food security; and a Cambridge-based firm, Azuri Technologies, whose solar technology is being used to create jobs, as well as energy, in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Each chapter also ends with a summary showing readers how, no matter who or where they are, they can also take action. These range from tips on apps that allow people to listen to international radio to get new perspectives on development issues, to information on massive open online courses with a global development theme, and advice on ethical shopping on the high street.

    Dr Aled Jones, Director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, and a contributor to the report, said: “Global development efforts have seen great strides forward over the past few decades with different stakeholders working together to understand the complexities and very local issues that communities face.”

    “However, the next few decades will determine whether development really delivers poverty alleviation, or if we face a multitude of challenges including food and water scarcity or rising energy prices and climate change that set our development achievements back. Only by breaking down silos of expertise and working together can the aspirations of a global population be met.” 

    The full document, Working Out Our Future Together: four steps towards ending global poverty can be found at: 

    For more information about this story, please contact Tom Kirk, Tel: +44 (0)1223 332300,

    A new report released by Cambridge's Humanitarian Centre aims to set the agenda for a new round of international development goals in 2015. 

    We are all vulnerable to the effects of increasing social inequality, and we need to think about how we can each make a contribution to achieving future global development goals
    Anne Radl
    Cultural Healing: Sudan – a creative peace-building project that trained journalism students, civil society representatives and young people to make short films expressing their cultures and traditions.

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    The study, published inGeophysical Research Letters, discovered two subglacial lakes 800 metres below the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The two lakes are each roughly 8-10 km2, and at one point may have been up to three times larger than their current size.

    Subglacial lakes are likely to influence the flow of the ice sheet which, in turn, impacts global sea-level change. The discovery of the lakes in Greenland will also help researchers to understand how the ice will respond to changing environmental conditions.

    The study, conducted at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) at the University of Cambridge, used airborne radar measurements to reveal the lakes underneath the ice sheet.

    “Our results show that subglacial lakes exist in Greenland, and that they form an important part of the ice sheet’s plumbing system,” said lead author Dr Steven Palmer, formerly of SPRI and now at the University of Exeter.

    “Because the way in which water moves beneath ice sheets strongly affects ice flow speeds, improved understanding of these lakes will allow us to predict more accurately how the ice sheet will respond to anticipated future warming.”

    The lakes are unusual compared with those detected beneath the Antarctic ice sheets, suggesting that they formed in a different manner. The researchers propose that, unlike in Antarctica where surface temperatures remain below freezing all year round, the newly discovered lakes are most likely fed by melting surface water draining through cracks in the ice. A surface lake situated nearby may also replenish the subglacial lakes during warm summers.

    This means that the lakes are part of an open hydrological system and are connected to the surface, which is different from Antarctic lakes that are more often isolated ecosystems.

    While nearly 400 lakes have been detected beneath the Antarctic ice sheets, these are the first to be identified in Greenland. The apparent absence of lakes in Greenland had previously been explained by the fact that steeper ice surface in Greenland leads to any water below the ice being ‘squeezed out’ to the margin.

    The ice in Greenland is also thinner than that in Antarctica, resulting in colder temperatures at the base of the ice sheet. This means that any lakes that may have previously existed would have frozen relatively quickly. The thicker Antarctic ice can act like an insulating blanket, preventing the freezing of water trapped underneath the surface.

    As many surface melt-water lakes form each summer around the Greenland Ice Sheet, the possibility exists that similar subglacial lakes may be found elsewhere in Greenland. The way in which water flows beneath the ice sheet strongly influences the speed of ice flow, so the existence of other lakes will have implications for the future of the ice sheet.

    “Lakes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet were discovered over 40 years ago by scientists at the Scott Polar Research Institute using airborne radar systems, and the Institute has now been involved in the identification of the first subglacial lakes in Greenland,” said Professor Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute, and an author on the paper.

    “This is an important finding, and I strongly suspect that there are more lakes awaiting discovery as our radar investigations of the ice-sheet base continue.”

    The project, with Prof. Dowdeswell as Principal Investigator, was funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and was collaborative with scientists at the University of Texas, who supplied and operated the airborne radar equipment, and at Bristol University.

    The subglacial lakes are the first to be identified in Greenland.

    I strongly suspect that there are more lakes awaiting discovery as our radar investigations of the ice-sheet base continue
    Julian Dowdeswell
    Isfjord, Ilulissat, Diskobay, West Greenland

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    At its meeting in Paris today, the European Space Agency (ESA) selected the "The Hot and Energetic Universe" as the science theme for L2– the second Large-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision science programme – expected to be launched in 2028, with the power to address some of the most fundamental questions in modern astrophysics.

    This mission will address two key questions. How and why does ordinary matter assemble into the galaxies and galactic clusters that we see today, and how do black holes grow and influence their surroundings?

    The theme was proposed by an international team, with major input from Professor Andy Fabian from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. The same team is now well placed to lead the delivery of a major space observatory, with observing capabilities ideally matched to the L2 theme.

    Hot gas in the Universe is the dominant form of ordinary matter, the same material that everything we see around us is made from. The hot gas forms the largest structures in the visible Universe, aggregated around clusters of galaxies. With temperatures of more than a million degrees, the gas emits copiously at X-ray wavelengths.

    With the new mission, astronomers will measure the properties of galaxy clusters in the distant Universe, and map the physical characteristics of the largest structures known - information dramatically advancing our understanding of how these structures first assembled when the Universe was just two billion years old.

    With the powerful new X-ray Observatory, astronomers will be able to look still further back, to observe the first supermassive black holes, and to a time when the first galaxies were forming, less than one billion years after the Big Bang. Because of the extremely high temperatures and the huge energies deposited by matter as it falls into a black hole, X-ray emission is the most reliable and complete way of revealing such accreting monsters.

    Andy Fabian noted that “processes originating close to the black hole are able to influence galaxies and galaxy clusters on scales up to a billion times larger– this `cosmic feedback’ is therefore an essential ingredient of galaxy evolution models.”

    The next step will be a call for an X-ray Observatory concept able to achieve the science goals. Once a mission concept has been selected there is expected to be a period of 3-4 years to consolidate the technology development. It will take another 10 years or so to build the Observatory.

    In 2028, this mission should begin to reveal the “Hot and Energetic Universe” in unprecedented detail, and provide an answer to that most basic question - why does the Universe look like it does today?

    Adapted from an ESA press release

    European Space Agency announces broad plan for major space science missions over the next two decades, with Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy involved at the highest levels.

    This `cosmic feedback’ is therefore an essential ingredient of galaxy evolution models
    Andy Fabian
    Hot gas sloshing in a galactic cauldron

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  • 11/29/13--09:02: A world of private mystery
  • John Craxton is appreciated by connoisseurs as one of the great British artists of the 20th century; however, his work is not widely known to the public.

    This is the first exhibition to explore his whole life; arranged in the Fitzwilliam’s Mellon gallery it features a carefully chosen selection of over sixty of Craxton's finest pictures illustrating the constant evolution of his painting.

    The free exhibition (which runs from December 3-April 20, 2014) will also feature personal photos reflecting Craxton’s many travels and friendships, and will be opened by one of his closest friends Sir David Attenborough.

    Born into a rather Bohemian, musical family in London, Craxton did not have much formal education. His enlightened parents encouraged his youthful enthusiasms for archaeology and art: he drew, read avidly and listened to adult conversation, developing a natural interest in artistic culture. When he was 14 he visited Paris and saw the international exhibition of 1937 at which Picasso's Guernica was exhibited – an artist who would later become one of his greatest inspirations.

    At 19 he met Lucian Freud and for much of the War they were inseparable, working and travelling together. In 1943 they were living and drawing near Cambridge, and Craxton wrote presciently: 'the willow trees are nice and amazing, but I would prefer an olive tree growing out of a Greek ruin'.

    Craxton’s early work was dark and brooding: producing desolate images of metamorphic trees, estuaries and meditative figures (dreamers, poets and shepherds).

    He was linked against his will by critics to the Neo-Romantic movement, although Craxton preferred to think of himself as 'Pastoral'. Throughout his life he refused to be pigeon-holed to a particular artistic movement and his style constantly evolved.

    His influences included Samuel Palmer, whose work had recently been rediscovered, William Blake, whom he revered and whose monotype of Satan exulting over Eve he discovered in a junk shop, and Paul Nash, Miro and Picasso. He was also encouraged by Graham Sutherland, whose work he greatly admired.

    Together with Freud he was one of the young hopes of British art, and Craxton won instant acclaim with his first exhibition at the Leicester Galleries early in 1944. Despite this glittering nascent career, Craxton was never fully happy in Britain and dreamed of going to Greece. All his life he was helped by people who liked his art and adored him for his natural wit, charm and intelligent conversation.

    His opportunity to go to Greece was provided by the wife of the British Ambassador to Athens, who, when Craxton was in Zurich for an exhibition in 1946, took him there in a borrowed bomber. She also helped to arrange an exhibition of his work in Athens through the British Council.

    His early journeys to Greece were to the island of Poros and then to Hydra and in 1947 he visited Crete for the first time. He continued drawing and painting, with regular exhibitions at the Leicester Galleries in London, but it was as a designer that he drew greatest acclaim. He was best known for his illustrations for books and their covers and, above all, as the designer for Frederick Ashton's ballet
    'Daphnis and Chloe' (1951).

    He travelled widely across the Mediterranean before settling in Crete in 1960. When the Colonels came to power he was exiled from Greece and then visited Kenya in 1970, Tunisia in 1971, Morocco in 1972, and Lanzarote from 1973, until he was able to return for part of each year to a democratic Greece from 1977.
    His later work reflected his love of the light and colour of the natural world in the Mediterranean. His paintings took inspiration from ancient Greek history and mythology, and from Byzantine mosaics; above all he evolved a singular, painterly, language of line and colour.

    David Scrase, curator of the exhibition, said: “When I visited Greece and Crete for the first time in 1964, I realised how perfectly Craxton had caught the light and mood of that most lyrical of landscapes. This retrospective of his life’s work shows, above all, Craxton’s mastery of line, but it also celebrates him as a man who loved life.”

    The exhibition is the biggest survey of Craxton since a Whitechapel Gallery retrospective in 1967, and will also include a short film, made by Matthew Thomas for BBC 2's The Culture Show, in which Sir David Attenborough traces his love of Craxton's work and friendship with the artist.

    Sir David Attenborough said: “In Crete, John learned what he described as a very salutary lesson for a painter – that life is more important than art. And he certainly relished life to the full. He enjoyed riding across Europe between Crete and London on his Triumph Tiger motorcycle. He loved parties, enjoying them in both embassies and village bars with equal gusto. He loved food – particularly eccentric, unusual food. One of my great pleasures in life was to be taken by John to his favourite harbour-side restaurant in Chania and be given a dish of boiled sea-creatures which even I, who am supposed to have some knowledge of the animal kingdom, found hard to identify.”

    This winter the Fitzwilliam Museum will present a fresh retrospective on John Craxton – from his beginnings as a young hope of post-war British art, creating dark, meditative images of the natural world, to works of incredible vibrancy, light and colour from his later life in Crete.

    I realised how perfectly Craxton had caught the light and mood of that most lyrical of landscapes.
    David Scrase
    Portrait of Sonia (detail), 1948-57, Oil on canvas, 76 x 76 cm, Private Collection

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    A new study on violent crime and flexible alcohol licensing in Manchester - focusing on the two years before and two years after the introduction of the Licensing Act in late 2005 - has found no evidence that changes to licensing legislation had any effect on levels of violence.

    The study authors write that the Licensing Act was a policy intervention built on “weak evidence that contradicted more credible and empirically supported theories about alcohol availability and harm” and call for better communication between policymakers and researchers in the development of future preventive policies.

    The study was carried out at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, and is published today in the journal Social Science and Medicine

    The 2003 Licensing Act - introduced in November 2005 - allowed pubs, clubs and off-licences to apply for later licensing hours beyond the traditional 11pm cut-off in an effort to curb levels of alcohol-related street violence, in the belief that, by staggering the point at which people were forced to stop drinking, revellers would not empty into the streets at the same time of night, so confrontations would be less likely.

    Many opposed the Act, with media headlines and some MPs warning that it would have the opposite effect - serving to increase alcohol-related violence as it would allow more people to continue drinking beyond the point of controlling their aggression.

    The study used data from Greater Manchester Police and the Local Authority to compare recorded rates of violence rates with licensed trading hours in wards across the city from February 2004 to December 2007 - roughly two years either side of legislative change.

    While some premises kept the previous closing time, others started to sell alcohol later into the night. Researchers investigated the extent to which licensed closing times had become staggered in neighbourhoods across Manchester after the Licensing Act was implemented.

    They found that, on average, there was between 27-32% reduction in the concentration of closing times on weekdays and between 48-53% on weekends.

    The researchers found no evidence that the increased staggering of closing times were associated with lower rates of violence, as suggested by some politicians before the Act.  

    Researchers also investigated the claims of the Act’s critics: that increases in licensed alcohol availability would lead to increased violence and disorder. Following the implementation of the Act average trading times increased between 30 to 45 minutes per premise on weekdays and by 1 hour and 20 minutes at weekends – far lower than was anticipated.

    When cross-referencing police records of street violence with changes to licensing hours across the city, the researchers found no evidence that increases in alcohol availability had any association with increases in levels of violence.

    “Over the past decade, England and Wales have witnessed a series of political prevention initiatives for alcohol-related harm that have been implemented largely without evaluation or systematic appraisal,” said Dr David Humphreys, who conducted the research while at Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. 

    “This has resulted in missed opportunities to generate evidence, and a missed opportunity to learn, both of and from, any mistakes.”

    Humphreys points to the recent announcement of a ‘late night levy’ in Newcastle - where premises serving beyond midnight will have to pay additional fees - as the latest in a long list of initiatives to tackle alcohol-related crime that lacks “any plans to rigorously investigate effectiveness”.

    In the study, the authors write that opportunities to generate better evidence about the effects of the flexible licensing policy may have been missed due to the lack of government attention to monitoring and evaluation.

    “While the emphasis on change and improvement should be encouraged, the enthusiasm to act needs to be balanced with careful and systematic attempts to understand the implications and effectiveness of these interventions,” Humphreys said.

    The study found some evidence to suggest that areas in which the density of alcohol outlets increased might be associated with increases in violence, regardless of individual licensing - although researchers describe this evidence as “weak”.

    Study finds no correlation between violent crime and flexible alcohol licensing following the 2003 Licensing Act, with researchers describing the policy intervention as “built on weak evidence”.

    The enthusiasm to act needs to be balanced with careful and systematic attempts to understand the implications and effectiveness of these interventions
    David Humphreys

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  • 12/02/13--03:17: Successful Autumn for HE+
  • HE+ is a UK-wide initiative, designed to encourage and prepare bright and enthusiastic students to compete for places at top universities, including the University of Cambridge.

    A new HE+ consortium was launched in Wigan on 13 November. 150 Wigan and Warrington students attended the launch at Winstanley College, the consortium’s lead institution. Atherton Free School, Deanery High School and Priestley Sixth Form College are the other consortium members. Over the next two years students from these schools and colleges will take part in extension classes, masterclasses and workshops hosted by Winstanley College and by Sidney Sussex College Cambridge.

    Elaine Mulroy, HE+ Consortium Co-ordinator of Winstanley College said: “HE+ is a fantastic opportunity for local schools and colleges to make a difference for our brightest students by working together and sharing our best ideas.”

    Elaine added: “The practical help and inspiration we receive from Cambridge gives our students the skills and confidence they need to make the best application. It’s very motivating for our students to feel that Cambridge is reaching out to work with and welcome them.”

    Winstanley student Saffron Lowsley, who is thinking of studying History at university, said: “I’m looking forward to the extension classes as a taster of what it might be like to study at university level. I’m also keen to find out more about what studying at university is really like so the chance to visit Sidney Sussex College is a big plus.”

    Manchester’s HE+ Consortium, led by Loreto College, welcomed two new partners this year - Parrs Wood High School and Stretford Grammar School.  Around 100 students from Bolton Sixth Form College; Loreto Grammar School for Girls; Parrs Wood High School; St John Rigby Sixth Form College; Stretford Grammar School and William Hulme's Grammar School attended this year’s launch event, held at Loreto College on 20 November. The Manchester consortium is supported by Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.

    Other well-established consortia who have already welcomed a new cohort of students this autumn included Swansea, Stourbridge and Rotherham.

    Paul Murphy MP, the Welsh Government's Oxbridge Ambassador, attended the Swansea HE+ launch event, held at Gower College in September.  In his speech at the beginning of the evening, Mr Murphy encouraged the students to aim high, to consider applying to top universities and to fulfil their potential. 

    Gower College, Swansea's Oxbridge Coordinator, Felicity Padley, acts as the coordinator for the HE+ consortium in Swansea.  She said: "Staff in the consortium are looking forward to working with this year's intake of Year 12 students, and were really pleased by the enthusiasm shown by all concerned at our launch event. We're particularly grateful that Paul Murphy, Oxbridge Ambassador for Wales, and Jess Bond, HE+ Coordinator at Cambridge, gave their time to join us, and thank the University of Cambridge for allowing us to continue the HE+ project."

    The Rotherham consortium’s 2013 launch took place at Thomas Rotherham College. Around 80 students attended from Aston Comprehensive School, Maltby Academy, and Wickersley School & Sports College. They heard Steve Watts, Admissions Tutor for Homerton College, Cambridge, and Charlotte Isaacs from the University of Oxford speak about aiming high and ways to prepare for applying to top universities. 

    Jess Bond, HE+ Coordinator for the University of Cambridge, said “We know that HE+ is helping academically-talented students gain the confidence and the top grades needed to become competitive applicants to selective universities.

    “I am really pleased that HE+ is moving into new parts of the UK so that more students can have the chance to benefit from the project.”

    More students in more areas of the UK will be able to join an HE+ project this autumn as the University of Cambridge’s scheme continues to develop.

    HE+ is a fantastic opportunity for local schools and colleges to make a difference for our brightest students by working together and sharing our best ideas
    Elaine Mulroy

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