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    Ducks, geese and swans are waterfowl, an order known to scientists as Anseriformes. Hens, pheasants, partridges and turkeys are game-birds (Galliformes). Both orders are famous not just for their flesh but also for their striking and elaborate plumages which are sought after as decorative flourishes.  Some members of these orders show marked differences in appearance between the sexes: a phenomenon known as sexual dimorphism. Male and female mallards look so different that for many years they were thought to be different species. In other members of the same orders, there is little apparent difference in the plumage of males and females.

    Research by Cambridge PhD candidate Thanh-Lan Gluckman, published today in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, looks afresh at similarities and differences in plumage in almost 300 members of the Anseriformes and Galiformes orders – and focuses on patterning between male and female birds rather than colour. She said: “The colour of plumage has attracted much research interest, but the exquisite patterns of bird plumage, such as the spots of the guinea fowl and the barred patterns of ducks and turkeys, to just name a few, have received much less attention.”

    Since the 1980s, differences in the appearances of male and female birds have been seen through a prism of genetic correlation. In other words, it was thought that female birds may have evolved similar patterning to males due to common genes but that female patterns would be subsequently lost as it is not beneficial.

    “It was argued that male birds developed their spectacular colours and elaborate patterning as a result of their mating patterns – they used their plumage to compete for and attract females. On the other hand, female birds needed to blend into their surroundings in order to nest safely and protect their young – so they became drab and dull to protect themselves and their young from predators,” said Gluckman.

    “My research looked at the plumage patterns of male and female birds on a separate and equal basis – and then went on to identify similarities and differences between them. By tracing the evolutionary pathways in the dimorphism of 288 species of waterfowl and gamebirds, I reconstructed the evolutionary history of plumage pattern sexual dimorphism, which allowed me to demonstrate that plumage patterns in females are not a result of genetic correlation. Essentially, what I found was that plumage patterning is remarkably labile – both male and female birds have the capacity to change between different types of patterns.  What’s interesting is to consider what are the forces driving these changes in male and female plumage patterns – whether they have an environmental basis and/or whether they have a signalling function between birds of different sexes or within the same sex.”

    As early as 1780, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London published a paper by John Hunter proposing that plumage differences between the sexes were driven by sexual selection. Ever since, the prevailing view of sexual dimorphism has been one of showy males strutting their stuff to win over demure females. The predominant explanation put forward to explain how differences in dimorphism evolved hinges on mating habits; males of polygamous species (those with more than one mate) had developed spectacular plumage in order to attract a maximum number of females, while monogamous species (those with one mate) retained similar plumage.  

    Gluckman said: “Previous research has shown that the traditional argument that differences in plumage between the sexes stem from differences in breeding systems doesn’t always hold up. In many putatively monogamous species, the plumage of the males is significantly different to that of females and, likewise, males and females in many polygamous species have the same type of plumage. This suggests that plumage is not exclusively an outcome of breeding habits – but is a matter of function in a highly complex way.”

    In her study of patterning, Gluckman looked at the variations between the sexes of the same species and across species in order to build a picture of the pathways to similarity and differences between male and female bird plumage patterns. She used a classification of four broad types of patterning: mottled, scaled, barred and spotted. Birds exhibit a fabulous number of variations and combinations of these visual patterns in females as well as males.

    “By emphasising similarities as well as differences in plumage patterns between male and female birds, rather than whether one sex is the same as the other, I found that sexual dimorphism in the plumage pattern of birds is highly nuanced and that there can be multiple types of sexual dimorphism. In expanding the definition of sexual dimorphism, and reconstructing evolutionary history, I found that changes in sexual dimorphism could be due to changes in males and/or females. In addition, the plumage patterns of birds seem to transition easily between different types of dimorphism, which is congruent with adaptation to fluctuating social and environmental conditions,” said Gluckman.

    Thanh-Lan Gluckman is a PhD candidate in the Evolutionary genetics group at the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. She carried out this research during her MPhil in the Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Australia.

    Research published today looks at the evolutionary pathways to differences in bird plumage patterns between males and females – and concludes that birds are able to adapt their appearance with remarkable ease. 

    In expanding the definition of sexual dimorphism, and reconstructing evolutionary history, I found that changes in sexual dimorphism could be due to changes in males and/or females.
    Thanh-Lan Gluckman
    Waterfowl and gamebirds

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    The breakthrough, which has been detailed in a paper published today, 18 December, in IOP Publishing’s journal Biofabrication, could lead to the production of artificial tissue grafts made from the variety of cells found in the human retina and may aid in the search to cure blindness.

    At the moment the results are preliminary and provide proof-of-principle that an inkjet printer can be used to print two types of cells from the retina of adult rats―ganglion cells and glial cells. This is the first time the technology has been used successfully to print mature central nervous system cells and the results showed that printed cells remained healthy and retained their ability to survive and grow in culture.

    Co-authors of the study Professor Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber, from the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair, University of Cambridge, said: “The loss of nerve cells in the retina is a feature of many blinding eye diseases. The retina is an exquisitely organised structure where the precise arrangement of cells in relation to one another is critical for effective visual function”.

    “Our study has shown, for the first time, that cells derived from the mature central nervous system, the eye, can be printed using a piezoelectric inkjet printer. Although our results are preliminary and much more work is still required, the aim is to develop this technology for use in retinal repair in the future.”

    The ability to arrange cells into highly defined patterns and structures has recently elevated the use of 3D printing in the biomedical sciences to create cell-based structures for use in regenerative medicine.

    In their study, the researchers used a piezoelectric inkjet printer device that ejected the cells through a sub-millimetre diameter nozzle when a specific electrical pulse was applied. They also used high speed video technology to record the printing process with high resolution and optimised their procedures accordingly.

    “In order for a fluid to print well from an inkjet print head, its properties, such as viscosity and surface tension, need to conform to a fairly narrow range of values. Adding cells to the fluid complicates its properties significantly,” commented Dr Wen-Kai Hsiao, another member of the team based at the Inkjet Research Centre in Cambridge.

    Once printed, a number of tests were performed on each type of cell to see how many of the cells survived the process and how it affected their ability to survive and grow.

    The cells derived from the retina of the rats were retinal ganglion cells, which transmit information from the eye to certain parts of the brain, and glial cells, which provide support and protection for neurons.

    “We plan to extend this study to print other cells of the retina and to investigate if light-sensitive photoreceptors can be successfully printed using inkjet technology. In addition, we would like to further develop our printing process to be suitable for commercial, multi-nozzle print heads,” Professor Martin concluded.

    The research was undertaken by Dr. Barbara Lorber, also at the John van Geest Centre for Brain Repair, in collaboration with Dr. Wen-Kai Hsiao and Prof. Ian Hutchings from the Inkjet Research Centre, University of Cambridge. The work was funded by Fight for Sight, the van Geest Foundation and the EPSRC.

    The paper can be downloaded from

    Inset image: close-up of retinal cells in a jet

    A group of researchers from the UK have used inkjet printing technology to successfully print cells taken from the eye for the very first time.

    Our study has shown, for the first time, that cells derived from the mature central nervous system, the eye, can be printed using a piezoelectric inkjet printer
    Professor Keith Martin and Dr Barbara Lorber
    Father of the Eye - HDR

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    An independence referendum, which might now result in the break-up of the United Kingdom, was being advocated as early as 1888, newly-published papers reveal.

    The documents appear in the book Comparative Constitutionalism, a compilation of largely-unpublished lectures by the British jurist A. V. Dicey.

    It shows that, 125 years prior to the forthcoming Scottish referendum, the leading British constitutional lawyer was, similarly, advocating a referendum, not to break up the Union but specifically to prevent national separation.

    Dicey was calling for this in Ireland, but the book’s editor, Dr John Allison, from the University of Cambridge, suggested that his ideas could be realised in Scotland next year if the “no” vote wins out.

    “If the popular vote goes against Scottish independence, it may well have the result that Dicey himself was contemplating when he advocated the referendum,” Allison said. “The referendum could end up having been an effective obstacle to national separation if this is the result, maintaining the Union and deferring further initiatives on Scottish independence for the foreseeable future. In short, it will have served the main political purpose Dicey originally hoped it would.”

    Dicey (1835-1922), who popularised the phrase “the rule of law” and helped to enshrine parliamentary sovereignty as the constitution’s other main principle, is widely recognised as the founder of modern constitutional law.

    But he was also the referendum’s first English advocate – not because he was against the Union, but out of a respect for popular sovereignty and the will of the people. Dicey advocated the referendum to counteract the domination and machinations of the leading political parties in Parliament. His hope was that a popular vote in a referendum would, in practice, go against Home Rule, and therefore preserve the Union in which he believed.

    He advocated the referendum after the Government of Ireland Bill 1886 (the First Home Rule Bill) had been defeated in Parliament by a narrow margin. His fear was that Parliament would later successfully pass a bill that repealed the 1800 Act of Union and establish Irish independence. Believing that the people of the United Kingdom desired Union, and that the parliamentary initiatives on Home Rule reflected the manoeuvrings of the leading political parties, Dicey saw the referendum as a desirable obstacle to independence.

    He hoped that this device would enable any future parliamentary bills on the subject to be defeated as well. In his “Memorandum on English Party System of Government” (1888), believed to be the earliest English advocacy of a referendum, he specifically promoted the idea of a popular vote in a referendum as a “remedy […] for lessening […] the bad results of the party system”.

    Comparative Constitutionalism also features a previously unpublished lecture in which Dicey expressed comparable ideas about Scotland. In his lecture entitled “Scottish Constitution – The Union” (1906), he stressed the numerous advantages the country derived from its connection with Britain. Dicey firmly believed in both the power and economic advantages of a united nation. He characterised the Union as “a distinct bargain” for all involved, with advantages including “freedom of trade throughout the whole of Great Britain”.

    Dicey’s support for a popular vote in a referendum was not, however, simply a mechanism to achieve his own political ends. He seems truly to have believed not only in Parliament’s sovereignty, but also in a more fundamental popular sovereignty.

    According to another previously unpublished lecture, entitled “Representative Government” (1900), it was a representative parliament’s basic duty to represent the people, and when their parliamentary representatives did not do so, they would have to sustain a “heavy blow” struck against their moral authority. The newly-published lectures highlight the strength of his belief in the importance of popular sovereignty, expressed both in his advocacy of the referendum, and his account of representative government.

    For Dr. Allison, critics (and advocates) of Dicey’s work should pay careful attention to these lectures and be open to reconsidering their original positions under the further light they shed on his constitutional thought. “Though commentators have in the past criticised Dicey’s preoccupation with parliament and the common law courts, and relative inattention to executive government, it is crucial that they now examine the careful attention he later gave in his comparative constitutional lectures to representative government, party government, and parliamentarism,” he said.

    For further information, please contact Sian Jones, University of Cambridge Office of Communications, at or call 01223 332300.

    As the referendum on Scottish independence approaches in 2014, new research shows how a founding father of constitutional law in the United Kingdom was advocating a referendum at the height of the Victorian age.  His hope was that it would hold the Union together despite parliamentary initiatives to establish Home Rule in Ireland.

    If the popular vote goes against Scottish independence, it may well have the result that Dicey himself was contemplating when he advocated the referendum
    Dr John Allison
    Albert Venn Dicey in academic robes

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    Professor Neil Mercer, Chairman of the Presidential Search Committee, said: ‘We are delighted at Dr Freeling’s election, which is the conclusion of a long and thorough process to select a new President. A number of strong candidates were considered for the role and we have no doubt that Dr Freeling has all the requisite qualities to lead the College through the next phase of its history’.

    Anthony Freeling is a former Scholar of St John's College Cambridge, where he graduated with First Class Honours in the Mathematics Tripos in 1978. He subsequently qualified with an MPhil and a Cambridge PhD in Management Studies. He spent eighteen years working at McKinsey & Company in the UK, where he was a Senior Partner, leading its Marketing and Sales Practice across Europe. A recognised authority on marketing, Anthony Freeling published Agile Marketing in 2011. Since 2006 he has chaired the Development Committee for the UK's Open University, and serves as a member of its Council. He is a Director of Ashridge Strategic Management Centre, and Research Director of the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Councils for Europe and Asia. He is a trustee of UnLtd, the Foundation for social entrepreneurs and also a trustee of the PHG Foundation.

    He became a City Fellow of Hughes Hall in 2008. He said: ‘This is an exciting time for the College with the development of a major new student accommodation building currently in planning and a range of other initiatives being developed to advance the position of Hughes as a leading College of the University. Hughes Hall has a number of distinctive strengths on which it can build, particularly in research and teaching oriented towards the professional world, and we have a strong team in place at the College with whom I shall work closely to take the College forward.’

    Dr Freeling also acknowledged the achievement of the current President, Sarah Squire: ‘The College has flourished under Sarah’s leadership and grown very significantly from one of the smaller colleges to one of greater than medium size. Following her will be daunting, but I relish the challenge.’ The Hughes Hall student body is now 620 strong and includes just over one hundred undergraduates.

    Sarah Squire commented: ‘The College has chosen one of its own Fellows to lead it into the future and this is a sign of its confidence. I have grown to know Dr Freeling well over the past few years and have no doubt that he will make an excellent President of Hughes Hall. I shall make the most of my final year, assured that I shall be leaving the College in good hands.’

    Dr Freeling will become the fifteenth head of Hughes Hall, which was founded in 1885 and is Cambridge’s oldest graduate College. It is also one of the most international, with alumni in over eighty countries and two thirds of the 2013 intake from overseas.

    Hughes Hall has announced the election of Dr Anthony Freeling as its new President, following a meeting of the Governing Body on 4 December. He will succeed current President Sarah Squire upon the completion of her eight year term of office next September.

    I have grown to know Dr Freeling well over the past few years and have no doubt that he will make an excellent President of Hughes Hall
    Sarah Squire
    Dr Anthony Freeling

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    Gazing into the sky on a starry night, don’t be deceived by the apparent peace and tranquillity above you. The celestial ballet of stars that dance and flicker gently to the human eye  are raging and burning in the near vacuum of space, living and dying with a beauty, ferocity and magnificence that is almost impossible to comprehend.

    The Milky Way, home to planet Earth as it sweeps around the Sun at 67,000mph, is so vast it defies normal explanation. We know how many stars there are – more than 100 billion – because we can count them in the sky. But how do we know how far away they are, or how old, or how they differ in size and shape, and how do we know what other objects and matter make up the celestial puzzle?

    Earlier today, a rocket blasted into the sky from a launch site in French Guiana and travelled 1.5 million km to reach its destination in orbit around the Sun. The spacecraft is called Gaia. Its mission, funded by the European Space Agency and involving scientists from across Europe, is to make the largest, most precise, three-dimensional map of the Milky Way ever attempted.

    It will be a census of a billion stars spread across our galaxy. The results, says Professor Gerry Gilmore from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy (IoA) and the Principal Investigator for UK involvement in the mission, “will revolutionise our understanding of the cosmos as never before.”

    “Our understanding of what’s out there has been driven by looking at what we can see. We’ve never had a genuine opportunity to look at everything, to know what’s there, and to know where they are in relation to each other. We don’t even know how much we don’t know – there are sure to be objects out there that don’t even have names yet, since we don’t yet realise how strange they are.”

    During its five-year mission, Gaia’s billion-pixel camera will detect and very accurately measure the motion of stars in their orbit around the centre of the galaxy. It will observe each of the billion stars about a hundred times, helping us to understand the origin and evolution of the Milky Way.

    Every celestial object preserves something of the era during which it was born. So, as well as mapping the sky as we see it today, the Gaia mission will allow us to look back billions of years into the past – making possible what some have called a ‘time-lapse video’ of the birth and life of our galaxy.

    Scientists involved in the project also hope that Gaia will be able to detect 10,000–50,000 planets beyond our own solar system, as well as some 10,000 exploding stars, or supernovas, many before they reach their maximum brightness, providing an early warning for scientists back on Earth who wish to study them.

    But it’s not just those stars ablaze with nuclear fusion at their burning heart that the scientists are interested in; Gaia is also looking for brown dwarves – failed stars that never truly ignited and are left to drift across space as interstellar itinerants. And, looking closer to home, the spacecraft will provide an inventory of our Solar System’s asteroids and comets, from the Near Earth Objects, to those located in the frozen furthest reaches of the Outer Solar System, the Kuiper Belt.

    The sensors on board the spacecraft will be able to detect objects so faint the human eye would have to be nearly 4,000 times more powerful to see them. “This accuracy is equivalent to measuring a shirt button on the moon as seen from the Earth,” said IoA scientist Dr Floor van Leeuwen, manager of the Gaia data processing in the UK. “It means we have to have the highest-capability computers to analyse the data.”

    Test data will soon start streaming back to a specially built computer at the IoA and powerful clusters at four other computing centres in Europe. Within a few months, the satellite will be fully operational. Over its entire lifetime, Gaia will download around 100 TeraBytes of data, equivalent to 32,000 hours’ worth of DVD movies.

    Gilmore estimates that the first 3D maps will be ready in two years: “3D mapping involves combining complicated algorithms: we are moving, the star is moving and the stars will also be wobbling if it has planets around them. You have to process these three motions. But for the same reason, we’ll be able to discover tens of thousands of planets around stars just by examining the wobble.”

    Perhaps as exciting as the other projected discoveries is the ability of Gaia’s scientific harvest to be used to test some of the fundamental premises of astronomy. “With Gaia, we can ‘calibrate the calibrators’ on which our cosmic knowledge is built,” explained van Leeuwen. “If you provide a major improvement in the accuracy of the foundations in astronomy, this works its way all the way through the field for decades to come.”

    For example, Gaia will provide the most precise test to date of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. Because Gaia can measure positions so accurately, it will be able to spot tiny systematic deviations in the positions of stars caused by the bending of light caused by massive objects, such as our own Sun and Jupiter.

    Gaia may also be able to help in the future hunt for Einstein’s prediction of ‘ripples’ in the space-time continuum. So far undiscovered, Einstein thought gravitational waves might be able to alter the apparent positions of a group of stars, by stretching space-time. The spacecraft will help astronomer’s theorise on the possible strength of such ripples, which might have been created during the Big Bang itself.

    “There are literally hundreds of questions like this – why is the universe the way it is? Where did the Milky Way come from? What’s it really made of? Exactly how much does it weigh? How did it get to be like it is?” added Gilmore. “We will go beyond what we can see to understand reality. We are going to discover completely new things, things we would think are impossible.”

    A space mission to create the largest, most-accurate, map of the Milky Way in three dimensions has been launched today. Astronomers say the data gathered by the satellite will “revolutionise” our understanding of the galaxy and the universe beyond.

    We will go beyond what we can see to understand reality. We are going to discover completely new things, things we would think are impossible
    Gerry Gilmore
    Gaia satellite

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    A possible new method for treating pancreatic cancer which enables the body’s immune system to attack and kill cancer cells has been developed by researchers.

    The method uses a drug which breaks down the protective barrier surrounding pancreatic cancer tumours, enabling cancer-attacking T cells to get through. The drug is used in combination with an antibody that blocks a second target, which improves the activity of these T cells.

    Initial tests of the combined treatment, carried out by researchers at the University’s Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, resulted in almost complete elimination of cancer cells in one week. The findings, reported in the journal PNAS, mark the first time this has been achieved in any pancreatic cancer model. In addition to pancreatic cancer, the approach could potentially be used in other types of solid tumour cancers.

    Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK and the eighth most common worldwide. It affects men and women equally, and is more common in people over the age of 60.

    As it has very few symptoms in its early stages, pancreatic cancer is usually only diagnosed once it is relatively advanced, and prognosis is poor: for all stages combined, the one and five-year survival rates are 25% and 26% respectively. Tumour removal is the most effective treatment, but it is suitable for just one in five patients.

    Immunotherapy – stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells – is a promising therapy for several types of solid tumours, but patients with pancreatic cancer have not responded to this approach, perhaps because the human form of the cancer, as in animal models, also creates a protective barrier around itself.

    The research, led by Professor Douglas Fearon, determined that this barrier is created by a chemokine protein, CXCL12, which is produced by a specialised kind of connective tissue cell, called a carcinoma-associated fibroblast, or CAF. The CXCL12 protein then coats the cancer cells where it acts as a biological shield that keeps T cells away. The effect of the shield was overcome by using a drug that specifically prevents the T cells from interacting with CXCL12.

    “We observed that T cells were absent from the part of the tumour containing the cancer cells that were coated with chemokine, and the principal source of the chemokine was the CAFs,” said Professor Fearon. “Interestingly, depleting the CAFs from the pancreatic cancer had a similar effect of allowing immune control of the tumour growth.”

    The drug used by the researchers was AMD3100, also known as Plerixafor, which blocks CXCR4, the receptor on the T cells for CXCL12, enabling T cells to reach and kill the cancer cells in pancreatic cancer models. When used in combination with anti-PD-L1, an immunotherapeutic antibody which enhances the activation of the T cells, the number of cancer cells and the volume of the tumour were greatly diminished. Following combined treatment for one week, the residual tumour was composed only of premalignant cells and inflammatory cells.

    “By enabling the body to use its own defences to attack cancer, this approach has the potential to greatly improve treatment of solid tumours,” said Professor Fearon.

    The research was supported by GlaxoSmithKline, the Medical Research Council, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, the Anthony Cerami and Anne Dunne Foundation for World Health, and Cancer Research UK.

    For more information, please contact Sarah Collins on

    Researchers have identified how the ‘wall’ around cancer tumours functions and how to break it down, enabling the body’s own defences to reach and kill the cancer cells within.

    By enabling the body to use its own defences to attack cancer, this approach has the potential to greatly improve treatment of solid tumours
    Doug Fearon
    Left: pancreatic cancer cells (in green) Right: after six days of combined tumour immunotherapy, the cancerous cells had been killed.

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    Researchers from RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge investigated the marketing campaigns of five alcohol companies – Fosters, Magners, Carling, Stella Artois and Tia Maria – to assess their use of social media websites for advertising. The researchers tried to determine whether children and young adults could be exposed to these campaigns.

    All five brands maintained Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts, connecting them to consumers. While all five of the brands did have age restrictions in place on Facebook, prohibiting individuals under the age of 18 from accessing the companies’ pages, no such age limitations exist on YouTube.

    Only two of the brands – Carling and Stella Artois – had age-related restrictions in place for their Twitter pages. Warning messages about age requirements were used by several of the brands on YouTube and Twitter accounts; however, these messages did not prevent access to the pages.

    Researchers point out that users could lie about their age when setting up an account on Facebook and YouTube, although the real-world peer relationships facilitated through the sites encourage use of genuine data; but, while Facebook uses age-related information to block access, YouTube doesn’t.

    “The main difference between Facebook and YouTube was that even if you were logged in as an underage person on YouTube, you could still access the alcohol pages, whereas you couldn’t on Facebook,” said Eleanor Winpenny, a co-author of the study from RAND Europe, who also pointed out that you don’t need to be logged in to YouTube to be exposed to the majority of such advertising.

    In the study, recently published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, the researchers conclude that the rise in online marketing of alcohol coupled with the high use of social media by young people suggest that this is an area requiring further regulation.

    “Whether deliberate or not, our results show that children are not protected from online marketing of alcohol,” said Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of Cambridge’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit, a study co-author.

    “Existing evidence, based on more traditional marketing, would suggest that online marketing of alcohol will be contributing to under-age drinking.”

    Ninety percent of 15- to 24-year-olds and 43.5% of 6- to 14-year-olds who use the internet are currently using these social networking sites. While the researchers could not determine what proportion of viewership and followers of these brands’ accounts were underage, the high use of these sites by children and teenagers suggests that a significant proportion could be from this population.

    According to the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code), any media which has 25% or more of its users below 18 years of age, should not be used to promote alcohol. With such a high percentage of children accessing these social media sites, the results from this study suggest that either the CAP Code is not being followed, or these guidelines are not strict enough.

    Alcohol advertisements on the social networking sites included promotional videos, recipes, games and competitions. The study showed that fans of the products engaged with the sites via ‘Likes’, this in turn linked the users’ profiles with the brands’. Fans were also able to subscribe or follow the accounts, and actively engage with the brands’ pages via comments and mentions.

    Professor Marteau said that it is the interactive nature of these adverts which may make them more effective than standard advertising: “interacting with material increases its impact over passive processing of more traditional marketing.”

    Researchers investigating whether children and young adults are exposed to advertising from major alcohol brands on the three most popular social networks - Facebook, YouTube and Twitter - find that some channels and brands don’t have, or use, age restrictions.

    Whether deliberate or not, our results show that children are not protected from online marketing of alcohol
    Theresa Marteau
    Evan Williams

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    Resurrection of several extinct species, the increasingly accelerated loss of wild rhinoceroses and a disastrous financial response to unburnable carbon are just some future global conservation issues flagged up in this year’s Horizon Scan, recently published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

    Professor William Sutherland and Dr Mark Spalding are amongst the 18 scientists who took part in this year’s Horizon Scan, seeking to identify potential future conservation issues in order to reduce the “probability of sudden confrontation with major social or environmental changes”.

    One such plausible issue is the resurrection or re-construction of extinct species, such as the woolly mammoth, passenger pigeon or the thylacine (a carnivorous marsupial). However, though there may be many benefits to the restoration of these animals, such a high-profile project could lead to attention and resources being diverted from attempts to thwart current threats to non-extinct species’ survival.

    Professor Sutherland said ‘There has been discussion of this idea for some time but it is now looking more practical and the idea is being taken seriously. A key issues is whether this is really a conservation priority’.

    Though the last woolly mammoth died around 4000 years ago, methods such as back-breeding, cloning and genetic engineering may lead to their resurrection. Not only could these extinct animals, and others such as the thylacine and the passenger pigeon, be re-constructed and returned to their native environments, they could potentially be used to “provide tools for outreach and education”.

    However, though this would be a conservational triumph, it could also hamper efforts to protect animals that are currently facing extinction, as both attention and resources would be diverted from preserving existing species and their habitats. Furthermore, there has not been any investigation into the “viability, ethics and safety of releasing resurrected species”, nor the effect their presence may have on indigenous flora and fauna.

    Another potential conservational issue identified by the Horizon Scan further highlights the problems facing species today. The loss of wild rhinoceroses and elephants is set to reaccelerate within the next few years, partially stimulated by a growing desire for ivory and horn.

    In 2013, it is estimated that over 600 rhinoceroses were poached for their horn in South Africa alone, out of a total global population of less than 26,000. Though an increased human population and proximity to growing infrastructure is partially responsible, organised crime syndicates and intensive hunting carry the weight of the blame. In the Asian countries that use it, rhinoceros horn is more expensive than gold. Demand for the precious horn is ever increasing, resulting in elevated levels of poaching. If attention and resources are diverted from the protection of these majestic animals, we may have yet more candidates for resurrection in the future.

    Altogether, this group of scientists identified the top 15 potential conservation issues (out of an initial group of 81 issues). In addition to the above topics, extensive land loss in southeast Asia from subsidence of peatlands, carbon solar cells as an alternative source of renewable energy, and an emerging fungal disease amongst snakes, have also been voted as plausible threats that need to be stopped before they can be realised.

    ‘A Horizon Scan of Global Conservation Issues for 2014’ can be read at

    Scientists from across the world have “scanned the horizon” in order to identify potentially significant medium and long-term threats to conservation efforts.

    There has been discussion of this idea for some time but it is now looking more practical and the idea is being taken seriously
    Professor William Sutherland
    Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger

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    The global average salt intake in 2010 was around 10 grams per person per day, corresponding to 4 grams per day of sodium, according to a study published today in the BMJ Open. The study also reveals major regional variations around this global average.

    In 181 of 187 countries (corresponding to 99.2% of the world adult population) studied by researchers led by the University of Cambridge and Harvard School of Public Health, national intakes exceeded the World Health Organization recommended intake of 2 grams per day of sodium (about 5 grams per day of salt). In 119 countries (88.3% of the world’s adult population), the national intake exceeded this recommended amount by more than 1 gram per day of sodium.

    “Nearly all populations across the world are consuming far more sodium than is healthy,” said Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, from the Harvard School of Public Health. ‘Clearly, strong government policies are needed, together with industry cooperation and collaboration, to substantially reduce sodium.’

    The study also reveals major regional variations around this global average, as Dr John Powles, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care explained: “Highest intakes are found in regions lying along the old Silk Road – from East Asia, through Central Asia to Eastern Europe and the Middle East.”

    Because most of these populations have high rates of cardiovascular disease they will gain most from programmes to reduce salt consumption – and have the most scope for doing so.

    The study by Powles, together with colleague Saman Fahimi and researchers from the University of Harvard, Imperial College, London, and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington provide the first estimates of global salt intake for every country across the globe. The researchers used the largest set of primary data sources yet compiled to derive estimates for all countries for 1990 and 2010.

    Their estimates show that virtually all populations would benefit from sodium reduction, supported by enhanced surveillance.

    This newly published research makes it possible to estimate corresponding preventable disease burdens in specific countries and by specific age and sex subgroups. On average, intakes were about 10% higher in men than in women, but were very similar by age.

    Sodium reduction has become high priority for global policy-makers looking to reduce non-communicable disease, but the design of policies has been hampered by the lack of information on salt intakes in most countries, and whether such intakes vary by age or sex.

    Researchers discover that global sodium consumption is far higher than is healthy

    Highest intakes are found in regions lying along the old Silk Road – from East Asia, through Central Asia to Eastern Europe and the Middle East
    Dr John Powles
    Grains of salt

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    The Duke of Cambridge is to undertake a ten-week bespoke programme in agricultural management, organised by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge.

    The executive education programme of seminars, lectures and meetings will draw on the strengths of academics across the university. It will start in early January and run until mid-March.

    The course has been designed to help provide the Duke with an understanding of contemporary issues affecting agricultural business and rural communities in the United Kingdom.

    HRH The Duke of Cambridge to follow an executive education programme at Cambridge

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    Professor Ash Amin, Professor Juliet Compston, Professor David Neal and Baroness Onora O’Neill are amongst those who have been given honours in this year’s New Year Honours list.

    Economic geographer Professor Ash Amin has been awarded a CBE for his services to Social Science. Amin is known for his work on, amongst other things, the economy as a cultural entity, the geographies of modern living and globalisation as an everyday process. Recently he has focused on cultures of calamity, the contemporary urban condition, and the rights of the poor, looking into urban cohesion and racial integration.

    Emeritus Professor of Bone Medicine Juliet Compston has been awarded an OBE for her services to the treatment of Osteoporosis. For over 3 decades Compston has focused on the pathophysiology and treatment of osteoporosis, and has helped develop treatment guidelines. “It was a lovely surprise to get the award, but as always other people are involved and nobody does all the work on their own” she said, speaking about the award. “I’d like to thank all my colleagues that have helped me developing the guidelines and all the patients that have been part of the research.”

    Professor of Surgical Oncology David Neal has been awarded a CBE for his services to Surgery. He has particular expertise in the field of prostate cancer and complex testicular cancer, and is part of a team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital conducting robotic prostatectomies. “Honoured and delighted” to have won the award, Neal said that “working with people with cancer is extremely inspiring because of their courage in dealing with this difficult disease and because they are determined to help us with our research to improve things for those who come after.”

    Baroness Onara O’Neill of Bengarve, Professor Emeritus and former principal of Newnham College, has been made a Companion of Honour (CH) for her services to Philosophy and Public Policy. Widely recognised as one of Britain’s leading moral and political philosophers, her research has focussed particularly on questions of international justice, the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and bioethics.

    Members of the University have been recognised for their outstanding contributions to society

    I’d like to thank all my colleagues that have helped me developing the guidelines and all the patients that have been part of the research
    Professor Juliet Compston
    Professor Ash Amin, Professor Juliet Compston, Professor David Neal, Baroness Onora O’Neill

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    The renowned ADC theatre, known for alumni such as John Cleese, Sir Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson, will continue to build its reputation with a formidable term of amateur-run shows.

    From one-man stand up, to Broadway classics, to a dark reimagining of classic children’s tales, the ADC offers a wide range of shows in its upcoming programme of events.

    In mid-January, audiences can watch as the cunning and unscrupulous anti-hero Richard III rises to power before losing the throne less than three years later. Other Machiavellian leaders can be seen in George Orwell’s 1984, a depiction of a dystopian future where opposition is futile, dissent is a crime, and defiance means death.

    For a lighter evening’s entertainment, stand-up comes in the form of Pierre Novellie’s Mighty Peter, Ben Pope’s Cheese (And Other Things That There Are), and the self-titled act Phil Wang and Jonny Lennard. There is also this term’s comedic highlight, the Footlights Spring Revue, this year called The History of Everything. Running at the beginning of March, it promises viewers a chronological odyssey through the history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the invention of the iPhone and everything in-between.

    Musicals are well represented this term, with regular events such as the 24-hour musical and the Musical Theatre Bar Night being held alongside the Broadway favourites Guys and Dolls and Anything Goes. Another musical, of a different nature, is Into the Woods, a darkly enchanting journey woven out of the tales of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.

    Other top shows include Pornography, described as ‘a portrait of our own England seen through a kaleidoscope’, The Other Line, an ‘undomestic drama’ examining female choice, and Blue Stockings, Jessica Swale's debut play following the 1896 female attendees of  Girton college, fighting for their right to education and graduation. Ted Hughes’ 21st century translation of Eurides’ Alcestis will also be performed, reflecting on timeless questions about morality, selfishness and politics.

    Visit for more information, and to book tickets.

    From Richard III to Guys and Dolls, the ADC theatre will play host to an eclectic mix of shows in the coming months

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    Britain’s Black Power movement - and its battle against institutional racism - is in danger of being “written out of history”, according to a new book about its principal  figurehead, Darcus Howe.

    The claim is one of the opening contentions in Darcus Howe: A political biography, in which the authors argue that the major flashpoints of black political activism - such as the trial of the Mangrove Nine, and the Black People’s March of 1981 - are being overlooked in favour of a more palatable version of British history.

    Writing in their introduction, Robin Bunce and Paul Field argue that “there has been a resurgence of outright denial, linked to a romantic, dumbed-down ‘whiggish’ view of history that suggests that racism was always someone else’s problem.”

    They add that Britain is consistently portrayed by politicians as being “on the side of the angels” in race relations, and point to the 2007 celebrations of the abolition of the slave trade as an example of how Britain prefers to propagate a myth of itself as “the utopia of civilized fair play”.

    Their book, which is published by Bloomsbury, claims to correct and balance some of that denial by using Darcus Howe’s biography as the framework for the first, detailed history of Black Power in Britain. It traces the story from Howe’s Trinidadian origins, through his political activism in the 1970s and 80s, his subsequent broadcasting career, and up to his controversial refusal to condemn the London Riots of 2011.

    Dr Bunce, Director of Studies for Politics at Homerton College, Cambridge, was moved to research the book a few years ago when Howe was diagnosed with prostate cancer, from which he fortunately recovered. Over the course of two years he met with Howe, who is now 70, once a fortnight, sorting through documents and conducting interviews.

    “It occurred to me that Darcus Howe was striving for many of the same things as the Black Power Movement in America, which is obviously much better known,” Bunce said. “What nobody has documented is the British struggle. We are now reaching a stage where the people who can tell us about it are not going to be around for much longer.”

    “One reason that the story is not well-known is that we prefer to tell a story which presents Britain as a place of civilisation and fairness. The effect is that people like Howe, and what they did, are being written out of British history. Sadly, the truth was never as good as we like to think; the history of black people in this country from Windrush until at least the 1970s is one of being treated as second-class citizens.”

    British Black Power was far less prominent than the American black rights movement, which had a clear political focus in segregation, and produced iconic, internationally-recognisable figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther-King. Despite its lower profile, however, it played an critical role in the fight against the less visible problem of institutional racism in the police, the justice system, and the jobs market.

    The story of the movement is inextricably tangled up with that of Darcus Howe himself. Born in Trinidad, he originally moved to the UK in 1961 to study law, although he subsequently entered journalism. In 1968, on the advice of his uncle, the Caribbean intellectual, CLR James, he attended the 1968 Montreal Congress of Black Writers, where he met members of the Black Panthers and various West Indian political movements. Stimulated by their views, he then became involved in the 1970 Trinidadian black power revolution.

    After returning to London, Howe became a leader of black political activism in the UK. Famously, in 1970, he masterminded a campaign to stop the Metropolitan Police from closing down the Mangrove Restaurant in Notting Hill, a centre of black and celebrity culture in London which was raided 12 times in six months by the force. This climaxed in a pitched battle between police and 250 protesters, following which Howe and eight others - the so-called “Mangrove Nine” were charged with riot, affray and assault.

    Conducting his own defence over 55 days at the trial, Howe not only secured some measure of acquittal for all the defendants, but forced the judge to acknowledge a level of racial hatred within the Met. “He basically turned it into a trial of the Police,” Bunce concludes. “His defence appealed to the Magna Carta, and the media loved it because it was rooted in English traditions of fair play, but was also enormously radical and subversively funny.”

    Ten years later, Howe was again at the centre of a landmark moment in racial politics in Britain when, after the New Cross Fire, in which 13 young black people died, he organised The Black People’s Day of Action,  a march across London, protesting against police mishandling of the case. During the 1970s and 80s, he also became a prominent journalist and broadcaster, writing for publications including The Guardian and editing the magazine Race Today, while presenting a series of programmes which covered ethnic minority issues for a general TV audience on Channel 4.

    As late as 2011 he remained a controversial public figure, by refusing to condemn the London Riots and instead demanding action on the disproportionate number of young black men who were being targeted by police stop-and-search strategies - a policy which had resulted in the shooting of Mark Duggan and precipitated the unrest.

    But even though the urban black poor in Britain remain a marginalised group in society today, Bunce argues that the history of British Black Power should be also be seen as having created real social change, not least in the form of a cultural shift which enabled the equality bills of the 2000s, and the more effective representation of ethnic diversity in the media.

    “The vast majority of people in Britain today want a fair and decent society,” he added. “The debate now is about how we achieve that. The idea that, for example, there is racism within the police force would have been entirely unacceptable in the 1970s. What Howe and the Black Power Movement achieved is recognition that grass-roots activism and community action can contribute to real change.”

    A new biography of Darcus Howe, which offers the first detailed history of Britain’s little-known Black Power movement, claims that the racism it fought is being overlooked in modern narratives about the nation’s past.

    The truth was never as good as we like to think; the history of black people in this country from Windrush until at least the 1970s is one of being treated as second-class citizens.
    Robin Bunce
    Darcus Howe, far right, leading the demonstration on the Black People’s Day of Action, March 2, 1981. He is accompanied on the truck by two of his sons, Darcus Jr. and Rap.

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    Willows grow fast, produce high yields, need little fertilizer and easily re-grow after being coppiced, or cut back - qualities which make willow hugely important for commercial use as renewable and sustainable biomass for bioenergy.

    ‘Coppicing response’ - the rate and type of new growth following cut back - is critical to these energy crops as it enables willows to be grown in three year harvesting cycles, affects vigour and yield, along with the ratio of bark to wood in the stem.

    Despite its importance, the genetic regulation of coppicing response is little understood. Now, a team of plant scientists from the Sainsbury Laboratory, in collaboration with Rothamsted Research, have used knowledge and methodologies from the model plant species Arabidopsis to identify SxMAX4 as the first coppicing response gene known to date.

    The study was funded by the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative, and is published today in the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

    Although cultivated since the Roman times, and still used for baskets and cricket bats, willows have been subject to only minimal domestication. Luckily, the genus shows huge genetic diversity, from massive trees to small bushes, and scientists believe there is great potential for crop improvement through breeding.

    But improving willows is challenging. Many target traits - including coppicing response - are complex, and a good understanding of the genetic basis of developmental processes is needed to improve willow varieties. However, due to their large size, perennial growth cycle and the effort required to assess characteristics in the field, studying development in willows is extremely difficult.

    Gene function procedures routinely used in model organisms are not yet established in willows, but scientists are focusing on transferring knowledge from Arabidopsis - undoubtedly the best characterized and widely-studied model plant today - to species of commercial importance that are much harder to study, such as willow.

    The latest findings demonstrate that great results can be achieved from exploitation of the vast body of knowledge in this model, and by combining plant molecular biology with genetic mapping approaches, say the researchers.

    “This has been a very exciting collaboration for me,” said Professor Ottoline Leyser of the Sainsbury Laboratory. “I expected that our Arabidopsis work would be useful for understanding trees such as willow, but I did not anticipate quite how similar bud activation in these two species would be.

    “The approach we have used to test willow genes in Arabidopsis could be widely useful for assessing functional genetic diversity in slow-growing species.”

    Dr Angela Karp, from Rothamsted Research, added: “It was really exciting to find that one of the MAX genes, SxMAX4, which affected branching in the Arabidopsis assay, was associated with differences in shoot re-sprouting in willow, and is located in exactly the area in the willow genome that is responsible for regulating this trait.

    “This is the first time a gene has been shown to influence coppicing response and should enable the breeding of plants with desired stem numbers not only in willow but other coppiced trees.”

    Scientists have, for the first time, discovered a gene that contributes to the ‘coppicing response’ of willows - the ability to make new growth when cut back to their base or stump.

    I did not anticipate quite how similar bud activation in these two species would be
    Ottoline Leyser
    Willow trees in bud

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    The Darwin series started in 1986 and consists of eight public lectures which aim to present complex ideas in an easy to understand manner. This year the multidisciplinary series will examine plagues, set in the broad context of a disease or calamity that causes high morbidity or mortality with lasting impact on populations. The speakers will delve into plagues of the past and present, and will consider future threats to all populations that inhabit the earth.

    The series will begin with a lecture by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, entitled “Plagues and Medicine”. This lecture will examine how ancient plagues influenced the concepts, discipline and practice of medicine as we know it today. Sir Leszek will also reflect on the current and future demands on the medical profession, and examine how it must evolve to combat new and emerging infectious disease threats.      

    Later in the series, Professor Angela McLean, University of Oxford, will discuss the nature of plagues. The spread of an infection is an ecological event, with the infected hosts acting like prey and the infectious agents like predators. Using examples from infectious diseases that pose problems right now, MacLean sets out to illustrate how taking an ecological view of plagues helps us to understand them and, sometimes, control them.

    Professor Mary Fowler, Master of Darwin College, said of this year’s programme of lectures, “We are very fortunate to have been able to attract eight such distinguished speakers to discuss the past, present and future impact of plagues in ways that will be popularly accessible. It will be a very exciting series.”

    Other lectures include an examination of the impact plagues have on economies, an exploration of the growing online plague of malicious software and hackers, and a discussion of the way that human intelligence and inventiveness continues to drive the very problems that we struggle against.

    The lectures will be held every Friday in Lent term (17 January to 7 March) at Lady Mitchell Hall, Sidgwick Site.  Entrance is from 16.30, with lectures to start at 17.30. You are advised to arrive early to be sure of a place as the lectures are very popular. Visit for more details.

    This year’s Darwin lecture series will see a wide range of distinguished speakers present lectures on plagues, with topics ranging from silicon plagues, to plagues and economic collapse.

    We are very fortunate to have been able to attract eight such distinguished speakers to discuss the past, present and future impact of plagues in ways that will be popularly accessible
    Professor Mary Fowler
    Dance of Death

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  • 01/09/14--09:00: Rewiring stem cells
  • A fast and comprehensive method for determining the function of genes could greatly improve our understanding of a wide range of diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, liver disease and cancer.

    The method uses stem cells with a single set of chromosomes, instead of the two sets found in most cells, to reveal what causes the “circuitry” of stem cells to be rewired as they begin the process of conversion into other cell types. The same method could also be used to understand a range of biological processes.

    Embryonic stem cells rely on a particular gene circuitry to retain their original, undifferentiated state, making them self-renewing. The dismantling of this circuitry is what allows stem cells to start converting into other types of cells - a process known as cell differentiation - but how this happens is poorly understood.

    Researchers from the University of Cambridge Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Stem Cell Institute have developed a technique which can pinpoint the factors which drive cell differentiation, including many that were previously unidentified. The method, outlined in the Thursday (9 January) edition of the journal Cell Stem Cell, uses stem cells with a single set of chromosomes to uncover how cell differentiation works.

    Cells in mammals contain two sets of chromosomes – one set inherited from the mother and one from the father. This can present a challenge when studying the function of genes, however: as each cell contains two copies of each gene, determining the link between a genetic change and its physical effect, or phenotype, is immensely complex.

    “The conventional approach is to work gene by gene, and in the past people would have spent most of their careers looking at one mutation or one gene,” said Dr Martin Leeb, who led the research, in collaboration with Professor Austin Smith. “Today, the process is a bit faster, but it’s still a methodical gene by gene approach because when you have an organism with two sets of chromosomes that’s really the only way you can go.”

    Dr Leeb used unfertilised mouse eggs to generate embryonic stem cells with a single set of chromosomes, known as haploid stem cells. These haploid cells show all of the same characteristics as stem cells with two sets of chromosomes, and retain the same full developmental potential, making them a powerful tool for determining how the genetic circuitry of mammalian development functions.

    The researchers used transposons – “jumping genes”– to make mutations in nearly all genes. The effect of a mutation can be seen immediately in haploid cells because there is no second gene copy. Additionally, since embryonic stem cells can convert into almost any cell type, the haploid stem cells can be used to investigate any number of conditions in any number of cell types. Mutations with important biological effects can then rapidly be traced to individual genes by next generation DNA sequencing.

    “This is a powerful and revolutionary new tool for discovering how gene circuits operate,” said Dr Leeb. “The cells and the methodology we’ve developed could be applied to a huge range of biological questions.”

    For more information on this story, contact Sarah Collins on

    A new technique for determining what causes stem cells to convert into other cell types could revolutionise our understanding of how genes function.

    The cells and the methodology we’ve developed could be applied to a huge range of biological questions.
    Martin Leeb
    Chromosomes in haploid mouse embryonic stem cells

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    Discoveries: Art, Science and Exploration, held in the beautiful surroundings of Two Temple Place, marks the first time Cambridge’s unique, world-class collections have been drawn together under one roof. Together, they are more diverse in range and scope than perhaps even the Tate and British Museum combined, covering the span of human endeavour and exploration, from the miniscule to the majestic.

    The exhibition features, among many other objects: ancient fossils, contemporary art, modern Inuit sculpture, Darwin’s only surviving egg from the Beagle voyage, a rare dodo skeleton and a state-of-the art digital instrument that searches for sub-atomic particles in the frozen depths of Antarctica.  Several exhibits will be leaving Cambridge or going on public display for the first time.

    For centuries, the university has been a powerhouse of learning; discovering, collecting and studying objects that have changed our understanding of the world, challenged long-held beliefs and fundamentally altered our view of the planet and the universe.

    But it is the role of Cambridge as one of the world’s leading research universities, with six of its museums embedded within academic departments, that lends this exhibition its uniqueness. Five of the university museums are also nationally-recognised Designated Outstanding Collections, awarded by Arts Council England.

    Professor Nicholas Thomas, co-curator of Discoveries and Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, said: “The exhibits on display lead double, if not multiple lives. They are not just museum pieces spanning millennia; but living objects used for teaching and research that have changed our understanding of the world – and will continue to do so in ways we cannot yet imagine. Our collections are explored daily, offering new insight and revelations about the world around us.

    “This exhibition challenges us to think about the notion and meaning of ‘discovery’; not just epoch-making scientific or artistic discoveries, but everyday discoveries – and discoveries that are passed from generation to generation and renewed afresh each time.

    “An exhibition of this scope and nature could only come from Cambridge. Our collections are exceptionally rich, but also unusual and even quirky. For over two hundred years our museums have accumulated every imaginable kind of artefact, art work, device and specimen. Discoveries takes us from Darwin to DNA; from Captain Scott to the exploration of space.”

    The exhibition, which runs from 31 January to 27 April, 2014, also features discoveries gone awry in the form of 19th century ‘Muggletonian’ prints. The Muggletonians were a religious sect who rejected the Newtonian system of the universe; instead arguing that biblical statements took precedence over claims of scientific fact, intending to prove that the sun and moon revolved around the earth.

    And the ‘Tinamou Egg’, collected by Darwin himself on the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836), proves that not even the world’s greatest scientists always get things right. The egg, thought to have been lost until its rediscovery in 2009 by a museum volunteer, was cracked by Darwin as he attempted to store it in a box too small for its purpose. One of just 16 eggs collected by Darwin on the five-year voyage, it is the only one known to survive.

    Elsewhere, Cambridge’s position at the forefront of scientific discovery, is highlighted in the Museum of Zoology’s exhibits at Discoveries including the actual butterflies used by Reginald Punnett in one of the colour plates of his book Mimicry in Butterflies. His work helped pave the way in modern genetics and his specimens are joined at Two Temple Place by Hugh Edwin Strickland’s Chart of Bird Classification, dating some 16 years before the publication of The Origin of Species. The chart had been stored rolled up for many years before its recent conservation and mounting and has never before been on public display.

    The exhibition does not just focus on science, however, but also the intersection where science and art can meet. A Henry Moore piece, a Gaudia-Brzeska self-portrait and a modern Inuit sculpture and a spectacular print by Australian artist Brook Andrew will join watercolours by Edward Wilson, the Cambridge-educated scientist and artist who accompanied Captain Scott on his Discovery Antarctic Expedition (1901-04), to look at the nature of discovery in the art world.

    Professor Thomas added: “This exhibition is not just about our ‘treasures’; we have deliberately selected works of art, artefacts, specimens, documents and images that allow us to reflect on diverse acts of discovery. They vary from sculptures or drawings representing artistic breakthroughs to paintings recording hazardous conditions at the Poles. We have telescopes that enabled the skies to be studied and new stars seen. What might be a scholarly resource to one person may for another be aesthetically arresting. It may be, simply, magical.”

    Dr Liba Taub, Director of the Whipple Museum of Earth Sciences, said: “Human imagination itself may be the most powerful instrument of discovery, allowing us to question the ideas of others, no matter how illustrious and famous they may be. The understanding of a known principle, or the seeing of a phenomenon with one’s own eyes, offer a special sense of discovery as well.”

    Discoveries at Two Temple Place runs from 31 January - 27 April, 2014. Press tours are available on 29/30 January. Exhibition opening times are Monday, Thursday, Saturday – 10am-4.30pm. Wednesday – 10am-9pm and Sunday 11am-4pm. Closed on Tuesdays.

    The eight university museums sending exhibits to Two Temple Place are: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettle’s Yard, Museum of Zoology, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Museum of Classical Archaeology, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and The Polar Museum

    An exhibition exploring human discovery in all its forms – selected from more than five million objects at eight University of Cambridge museums – will open in London on 31 January 2014.

    An exhibition of this scope and nature could only come from Cambridge. Our collections are exceptionally rich, but also unusual and even quirky.
    Professor Nicholas Thomas
    Strickland Chart of Bird Classification

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    Shot by Malcolm Shaw of St John’s College in the early 1940s, the film gives a glimpse into what it was like to study and socialise while RAF training aircraft circled overhead and College lawns were given over to vegetables as part of the ‘dig for victory’ campaign.

    The amateur film depicts typical scenes of Cambridge student life, with groups of undergraduates punting, walking to lectures and playing rugby. However, reminders of wartime can be seen in the background or looming overhead. Sandbags are deployed at St John’s, evacuation drills are underway, cars are rare due to petrol rationing and RAF training planes soar in the skies above. Malcolm Shaw, providing narration in 1989 to overlay the originally silent film, declared that ‘the planes were ever-present at this time of the war.’

    The scenes recorded in this film reveal a Cambridge which seems largely unaffected by the war, though many of Shaw’s peers would soon take part in the conflict. Tracy Wilkinson, St John’s College Archivist, said ‘What we see in Shaw's film is the lighter side of College life. Despite his time at St John's coinciding with the outbreak of war, the sense of there still being time for leisure is evident.’

    The film was given to the College following the death of Malcolm Shaw in 2003, where it will be preserved for future generations of researchers. It has now been made available online as part of a wider digitisation project in the Archives following a grant from the East of England Research Council.

    Educated at a grammar school in West Yorkshire, Malcolm Shaw came up to St John’s to read Natural Sciences as an undergraduate in 1939, just as war was breaking out in Europe. Throughout his time in Cambridge, Shaw recorded short snapshots of student life and Cambridge scenery. Many of the sequences which flicker on the screen in both colour and black and white images dwell on the beauty and splendour of Cambridge, even as the shadows of war are lengthening over Britain.

    These images range from sunny trips to Grantchester and Babraham, sporting events such as the 1941 Cuppers Final and tennis tournaments at Girton to students climbing New Court Tower and ice skating in front of it. Most interesting, and poignant, is the footage of RAF training in preparation for the war as well as the images of many of the lawns being dug up for the ‘dig for victory’ initiative. The insight we get from the footage not only reveals what Cambridge looked like during wartime, but how its students spent their days.

    Part of the film’s timeless appeal lies in its ordinariness, showing students getting on with academic and social life and having fun despite the planes and signs of wartime. Despite the archaic fashions and rigid formality of the 1940s, with students wearing suits for punting on the river and being addressed by initials and surnames, the film reveals how little life has changed for many Cambridge students today.

    Two of Shaw’s sequences show students including Shaw himself climbing iconic Cambridge buildings: not under cover of darkness as the infamous ‘Night Climbers of Cambridge’ did a decade earlier, but in broad daylight. Such activities were permitted during wartime as part of fire drills and evacuation training.

    In 1989 Malcolm Shaw, who went on to work in the chemicals industry, edited the disparate snapshots into a 20-minute film and added a narrative commentary of his recollections. Shaw’s closing remarks reveal his nostalgic fondness for his student years: ‘What happy days those were’, he said, ‘and relatively carefree despite the background of a country at war’.

    For more information about this story, please contact Ryan Cronin,, 01223 338711.

    Previously unseen archive footage has been made available online which shows student life in Cambridge at the start of the Second World War.

    Reminders of wartime can be seen in the background or looming overhead. Sandbags are deployed, evacuation drills are underway, cars are rare due to petrol rationing and RAF training planes soar in the skies above.
    An RAF training plane in the skies over Cambridge during the early days of World War II. The image is taken from Malcolm Shaw's film.

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    The problem of the chain fountain was revealed by BBC Science presenter Steve Mould. 2.8 million people have watched his video demonstration of a chain appearing to defy gravity by first leaping out of a pot before falling to the ground. 

    Professor Mark Warner and Dr John Biggins have published the first formal explanation of the physics behind this puzzle in Proceedings of the Royal Society A

    Alongside this paper, the Rutherford Schools Physics Partnership has published a collection of problems which take sixth-form scientists from their AS knowledge to an explanation of the research problem. The collection is available on the RSPP on-line learning platform.

    “This is a unique opportunity,” explained Professor Warner. “Because physics is such a linear subject, it normally takes years to build up to tackling a research problem like this one.”

    “The key insight into the chain fountain is that, if you pick a chain up from a table, as well as you pulling the chain into motion the table must also push.  Only then can you get a fountain at all.  The whole question of the rise relates to fundamentals of momentum conservation along with energy balance.  It relates to a wide class of such problems in nature and in technology.”

    “For the problem of the chain fountain, the Rutherford School Physics Partnership has been able to publish a collection of problems which, when worked through, will take young people from the simple statics of chains to the model which predicts how high the fountain should rise.”

    “We hope that by showing how the problems studied at school relate to real academic challenges, young people will develop confidence in their ability to solve physics problems and be inspired to continue studying physics to a higher level.”

    The Rutherford School Physics Partnership is a project designed to offer support and extension activities in physics problem solving to teachers and students transitioning from GCSE (Y11), through to Sixth Form (Y12 & 13), through to university, by combining an on-line study tool with face-to-face events at partner schools and institutions across the UK.

    “We will be looking to exploit the surprises that Steve Mould revealed in a much wider range of problems that we are working on,” added Dr Biggins.

    “We hope that the young people taking part in the Rutherford Schools Physics Partnership will be working on them alongside us.”

    Teachers are invited to join Professor Warner and Rutherford Physics Project colleagues for a free annual residential event which in 2014 will run from the 28th – 30th June 2014.  To assist with supply cover costs, teachers from state schools may apply for a grant to cover the final Monday of the residential.  For further information see

    For Y12 students there will also be a residential event in Cambridge as part of the Project from the 29th June – 3rd July 2014 and information can be found at

    • A podcast in which Professor Warner and Dr Biggins explain the physics of the chain fountain is available here.

    The Rutherford School Physics Partnership is giving A-level physicists a unique opportunity to tackle a real research problem.

    We hope that by showing how the problems studied at school relate to real academic challenges, young people will develop confidence in their ability to solve physics problems and be inspired to continue studying physics to a higher level.
    Professor Mark Warner

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    The research, reported in Nature Communications, provides the first evidence that superconductors could be used as an energy-efficient source for so-called “spin-based” devices, which are already starting to appear in microelectronic circuits.

    Beyond these early developments, spin-based electronics (or “spintronics”) promises the potential to create a new generation of super-fast computers, capable of processing vast amounts of data in an energy-efficient way.

    Unlike conventional electronic devices, which transmit information via the charge carried by an electron, spintronics exploits another fundamental property of that electron, called “spin”. In simple terms, spin refers to the intrinsic angular momentum of the electron, and makes it behave like a tiny magnet. Spintronics involves manipulating this to perform logic operations in devices.

    There is, however, a catch: Any such device requires a large spin current to operate, which in itself requires the input of a large electrical charge. Since the spin currents are dissipative, a large fraction of the input energy is wasted as heat.

    Superconductors – materials which, when cooled below a certain temperature, can carry a current without losing energy – provide one potential solution to this. If these materials could be harnessed in spin-based devices, an energy-efficient source for the charge required to create spin currents could be provided.

    Until relatively recently, scientists believed that superconductors and spintronics were incompatible. The new study breaks new ground by showing, for the first time, that the natural spin of electrons can be manipulated, and more importantly detected, within the current flowing from a superconductor. The results could pave the way for the use of superconductors in spintronics, making these devices more energy-efficient.

    The research was led by Dr Jason Robinson, a University Royal Society Research Fellow in the Materials Science Department, University of Cambridge, and Fellow of St John’s College. His work on superconductivity and spintronics is a close collaboration with Mark Blamire, the Head of the Materials Science Department in Cambridge.

    “At the moment, high-performance computers such as those used in large-scale data handling facilities such as e-data centres waste huge amounts of energy,” Robinson said. “In Europe, about three per cent of the energy that we generate is consumed by them.”

    “If we could combine spintronics with superconductivity, we would be able to take advantage of the benefits that both areas offer to reduce this. We could create circuits that are highly complex and extremely powerful on the one hand, but very low in terms of their energy demands on the other.”

    The spin of electrons can point either “up” or “down”. In spintronic devices, researchers manipulate this to make the direction essentially correspond to the 0s and 1s used in standard binary code. Potentially, this technique could then be used to transmit or store data on an unprecedented scale.

    Supplying the charge current from a superconductor offers the tantalising prospect of zero electrical resistance (and therefore 100% energy efficiency). It is also deeply problematic, however, because of the way in which electron spins behave in superconducting materials.

    The problem arises from the fact that researchers use magnetic materials, such as iron or cobalt, which have an inherent spin bias, towards “up” or “down”. In general, spintronic devices contain multiple magnetic and non-magnetic layers. If a charge current passes through them, the spin carried by the electrons is polarised by the magnets, thus creating a bias towards either up- or down-spins.

    Unfortunately, the zero-resistance in superconductors is normally possible since the electrons are paired up into what are called “Cooper Pairs”. In these pairs, one electron must have its spin up and the other must be down. The net spin of a Cooper is thus zero.

    Because this pairing must be retained in order for electrical currents to superconduct, the energy-efficiency of superconductors has traditionally been seen as incompatible with spintronics: Pass a Cooper pair through a magnet, and one electron will “flip”, leading to energy loss.

    In the new study, the research team resolve that stalemate, making both superconductivity and spin possible simultaneously. This was achieved by adding an intervening magnetic layer – the rare earth element holmium. Within this layer the magnetism rotates and forms a non-collinear interface with the magnetic layers (of permalloy) which were being used to manipulate the spin.

    As the Cooper pairs passed through this rotating magnetic layer, the pairing was preserved despite the fact that one electron had effectively “flipped” to create parallel aligned spins. The researchers’ experiment successfully detected these parallel spin Cooper pairs, thus confirming their existence. In short, a spin bias was created, but superconductivity was retained.

    Team member Dr Niladri Banerjee from the Materials Science Department and a Fellow of Wolfson College, said: “What’s never been directly demonstrated until now is that Cooper pairs can serve as transmitters of spin. That’s an important step forward since now it is clear that superconductivity can play a key role in spintronics.”

    The next stage of the team’s research will be to create a prototype memory element based on superconducting spin currents, and look for new material combinations which would increase the effectiveness of their method.

    “We’ve essentially created a marriage that opens up an emerging field called superconducting spintronics,” Robinson added. “Much fundamental research is now required in order to understand the science of this new field, but the results offer a glimpse into a future in which super-computing could be far more energy-efficient.”

    For more information about this story, please contact Tom Kirk,, 01223 768377.

    A breakthrough for the field of Spintronics, a new type of technology which it is widely believed could be the basis of a future revolution in computing, has been announced by scientists in Cambridge.

    The results offer a glimpse into a future in which super-computing could be far more energy-efficient
    Jason Robinson
    Data storage at CERN, Geneva. Superconducting spintronics could enable such facilities to process unprecedented amounts of data with a high level of energy-efficiency.

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