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    The University of Cambridge Training School (UCTS) will have an explicit focus on research-based exemplary teaching and learning practice.

    The school will be a three-form-entry primary school located as part of the North West Cambridge Development, a new sustainable urban extension to Cambridge.

    It will be a highly inclusive school in which pupil diversity is welcomed and where all children will be encouraged and enabled to excel.

    Its admissions policy will be developed in consultation with existing Cambridge primary schools, as an expression of the University’s commitment to the principle of partnership.

    The first priority of the school will be to provide a high-quality primary education to all its pupils.

    In addition, as a University Training School, the school will be closely linked to the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education and will join the well-established network of partner schools which work together to provide a PGCE programme that is rated by Ofsted as outstanding.

    The UCTS will fulfil its University Training School function by the inclusion of a centre for research, the focus of which will be student learning, teacher learning, and the relationships between them. Partnership schools and local families will have the opportunity to shape the research programme, which will be agreed between the Faculty of Education and the UCTS Headteacher and teaching staff.

    By bridging school-led teacher training, and school-focused academic research, the University will create an integrated and holistic learning community for children and adults that is unique in the UK.

    Professor Peter Gronn, Head of the Faculty of Education, said: “We are delighted with this announcement and that the UCTS will proceed. In partnership with schools and Teaching School alliances, the UCTS will build on the outstanding training already provided by the Faculty, thereby enabling it to play a lead national role in the enhancement of teacher quality, student learning and strategies for school improvement”.

    The Department for Education has supported the application by the University of Cambridge to establish a University Training School as part of its North West Cambridge Development.

    In partnership with schools and Teaching School alliances, the UCTS will build on the outstanding training already provided by the Faculty, thereby enabling it to play a lead national role in the enhancement of teacher quality, student learning and strategies for school improvement.
    Professor Peter Gronn, Head of the Faculty of Education

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    Scenes from two of the great epic poems of the classical world – the Iliad of Homer and Virgil’s Aeneid– will be brought to life in an innovative two-part dramatization in Cambridge next month.

    Aeneas and the Once and Future Troy, which will be staged at St John’s College, uses material from both poems and will be performed in Ancient Greek and Latin (with English subtitles), giving audiences the chance to experience the full intensity of the poetry in the original languages.

    The two performances, on Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 February, will be given in the College’s new theatre, housed in the former Divinity School. Entrance will be free and open to all, but booking is highly recommended. Places can be reserved by visiting this page.

    Unusually, the play brings together two epics which were composed hundreds of years apart (the Iliad is thought to date back to the eighth century BC, whereas the Aeneid was written under the Emperor Augustus in the first century BC). The common thread is Aeneas himself – a warrior and defender of Troy in Homer’s part of the story who becomes the founding father of a “new Troy” (Rome) in Virgil’s completion of the tale.

    The scenes use speeches from both poems, and have been arranged and abridged by Professor Patrick Boyde, who has been directing semi-staged productions of plays in Ancient Greek for 10 years. He said: “It’s a profoundly dramatic story, dealing with anger, hate, devotion and love, death and survival, which will come to life in the theatre as we listen to the words of the protagonists themselves. They include humans, among them Priam, Hector and Achilles, and gods such as Jupiter, Juno and Venus.”

    The performers and the production team are a group of “the young and not-so-young” from across the University of Cambridge, not all of whom necessarily study Latin or Greek. The starring role of Aeneas himself, for example, will be played by Thomas Michaels – a Swiss mathematician based at St John’s.

    Boyde himself is the University’s Emeritus Professor of Italian, who always promised himself that he would read Homer in the original Ancient Greek. He received the final spur one evening early in his retirement, when he found himself chatting to two Classicists over dinner in College.

    “Throughout my career I have always been driven by a love of poetry and also the conviction that ‘poetry is what gets left out of translation’,” he explained. “It may sound absurd, but I have studied Italian, French, German and Latin in order to read poetry which was written in those languages, and latterly I have studied Greek to read Homer and Sophocles.”

    “When poetry is translated, one of the inevitable casualties is the verbal melody and harmony. This is why I am obsessed by the need to read poetry aloud. A sensitive performance is at once the best kind of literary criticism and the moment when the full potential of the text is realised.”

    The new production also deals with powerful and enduring themes. For Boyde, Aeneas is a “more mature kind of hero than Hector or Achilles, or the other great fictional characters we meet in the tale of the siege of Troy. Aeneas is complex and enigmatic, struggling at times with self-doubt, unwilling to accept the mission laid on him by the gods.”

    In fact, the two parts of the play track the evolution of his character as one of the first reluctant heroes in any form of literature. At the beginning of the story, he seems a fairly conventional warrior, as he defends Troy against the Greeks. Yet when the Trojans are defeated and the city is razed to the ground, Aeneas is forced to accept new responsibilities and to grow in stature. He rescues his family, instead of seeking death and glory, and soon emerges as the Chosen One portrayed by Virgil: an agent of destiny, and a hero who must seek and win a Promised Land.

    A DVD release of the production will be made available at a later date. Audiences can also get a taste of the forthcoming drama by watching the trailer on YouTube.

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

    With powerful themes of anger, hate, devotion, love, death and survival, a new play tells the story of one of the great heroes of the Classical world in the original Ancient Greek and Latin (with English subtitles)

    It’s a profoundly dramatic story, dealing with anger, hate, devotion and love, death and survival, which will come to life in the theatre as we listen to the words of the protagonists themselves
    Patrick Boyde
    Federico Barocci’s portrayal of Aeneas fleeing the burning Troy, from 1598

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    The human brain – despite being encased snugly within its protective skull – is terrifyingly vulnerable to traumatic injury. A severe blow to the head can set in train a series of events that continue to play out for months, years and even decades ahead. First, there is bleeding, clotting and bruising at the site of impact. If the blow is forceful enough, the brain is thrust against the far side of the skull, where bony ridges cause blood vessels to lacerate. Sliding of grey matter over white matter can irreparably shear nerve fibres, causing damage that has physical, cognitive and behavioural consequences. As response mechanisms activate, the brain then swells, increasing intracranial pressure, and closing down parts of the microcirculatory network, reducing the passage of oxygen from blood vessels into the tissues, and causing further tissue injury.

    It is the global nature of the damage – involving many parts of the brain – that defines these types of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), which might result from transport accidents, assaults, falls or sporting injuries. Unfortunately, both the pattern of damage and the eventual outcome are extremely variable from patient to patient.

    “This variability has meant that TBI is often considered as the most complex disease in our most complex organ,” said Professor David Menon, Co-Chair of the Acute Brain Injury Programme at the University of Cambridge. “Despite advances in care, the sad truth is that we are no closer to knowing how to navigate past this variability to the point where we can link the particular characteristics of a TBI to the best treatment and outcome.”

    This matching of therapy to the patient is known as personalised medicine. “There are many treatments that show promise. But what we’ve learned from clinical trials is that it’s unlikely any particular intervention is going to be effective in all patients. We need instead to be thinking about customised healthcare based on knowledge of which treatment works best for whom and under what circumstances,” he added.

    Now, a project led by Menon in the Department of Medicine, together with Professor Andrew Maas of the University Hospital Antwerp, Belgium, aims to provide the evidence on which to base best practice treatment. With funding of £25 million from the European Union, more than 60 hospitals and 38 scientific institutes are participating in the Collaborative European NeuroTrauma Effectiveness Research in TBI (CENTER-TBI) project. In total, data will be collected for 20,000–30,000 patients, including extremely detailed data for over 5,000 patients.

    “We need collaboration on this sort of scale to characterise TBI as a disease and to identify the most effective clinical interventions,” explained Menon. “The burden incurred by TBI provides a strong medical, social and economic imperative to motivate this concerted effort. Similar projects in Asia, Australia and the USA are also now beginning, so we will eventually be able to collapse all the databases together and undertake incredibly statistically powerful analyses.”

    TBI affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide every year. In India alone, one person dies every 10 minutes as a result of TBI. Survivors can face a lifetime of disability, ranging from dizziness and reduced coordination to cognitive and behavioural problems that are severe enough to require full-time care. In the USA, the annual burden of TBI has been estimated at over $60 billion, with disability-related costs outweighing medical costs by a factor of four. Even mild cases of TBI – many of which go undetected because they are not treated in hospital – can result in problems with concentration and behaviour.

    Moreover, epidemiological data suggest that, having suffered a TBI, the chance of developing dementia later in life increases by 2- to 4-fold, or 10-fold if the patient also has a genetic predisposition. In 2013, the US National Football League (NFL) settled a concussions lawsuit for $765 million after dozens of former NFL players developed degenerative brain diseases, believed to be caused only by repeated head trauma.

    For the past 15 years, Menon and colleagues such as Professor John Pickard have been investigating the mechanisms involved in TBI. “We discovered that patients whose injuries may have been classified as being similar had very different underlying brain pathologies,” said Menon. “We also found evidence of delayed effects, where structural abnormalities only appeared days or weeks later. This attempt to identify different patterns of TBI that may have differing prognoses and therapy requirements chimes well with the evolving notion of precision medicine, which seeks to provide greater clinical differentiation of different disease trajectories,” he added.

    Menon was the first Director of the Neurosciences Critical Care Unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. There, patients with TBIs are finely monitored to make sure that their blood pressure, O2 and CO2 levels are kept constant – even tiny fluctuations can spell further damage and even death. “However, this is an example of where we don’t fully know the extent to which a procedure like this helps. Peter Hutchinson, NIHR Research Professor, is currently leading a trial from Cambridge to look at this question, and these data will be fed into the CENTER-TBI project.”

    Other recent research has been looking in fine-grained detail at changes that happen in the brain following TBI. Work with Dr Alasdair Coles in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences has shown that some patients ‘autoimmunise’ after TBI, developing antibodies against their own brain cells. “We don’t know why or what consequences this might have – it could be protective or it could add to the inflammation and swelling,” said Menon. “If we know that autoimmunity is associated with the patient having a good or bad recovery then we can intervene to initiate or prevent the process. If it turns out to be protective, there might even be a case for vaccinating after a TBI to kick-start autoimmunity.”

    Similarly, working with Dr William Stewart in Glasgow, and colleagues in Pittsburgh and Paris, Menon’s team has been looking at the build-up of a brain peptide called beta-amyloid, commonly associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Following TBI in some patients, amyloid deposits in the brain can appear within 48 hours of injury and, although these deposits are cleared over weeks to months, their role in worsening brain injury remains uncertain. “We want to know whether this build-up is associated with white matter loss, and whether early intervention might reduce the chance of developing dementia,” said Menon. Intriguingly, the collaborating group in Glasgow has shown that patients who survive a previous TBI can show a recurrence of amyloid deposition in later life.

    Menon highlights behavioural changes as one of the most invidious aspects of TBI. “There are parts of the brain that make us who we are, that retain memories of our life and allow us to go forward. Injuries here change the person you are, which can have a massive impact on families.” Professor Barbara Sahakian in the Department of Psychiatry has been looking at the neuroanatomical basis of impulsivity – one of the behavioural changes frequently seen following TBI. If the researchers can identify which parts of the brain are involved, there may be treatments to prevent some of these longer-term effects.

    These research studies, together with the wider activities of the CENTER-TBI collaborating centres, will provide an unparalleled opportunity to refine both the clinical characterisation of an injury and provide individually targeted care. “You could say that the basic concept of the new project is to exploit the variability inherent in TBI,” said Menon.

    “There may be over 100 interventions we could do at the moment but none is uniformly protective, so we don’t know how hard to try with them and it may even turn out that some do harm. If we can refine characterisation of the injury and determine which clinical interventions are effective to treat those characteristics, this study could benefit millions of people.”

    Traumatic brain injury affects 10 million people a year worldwide and is the leading cause of death and disability in children and young adults. A new study will identify how to match treatments to patients, to achieve the best possible outcome for recovery.

    There are parts of the brain that make us who we are, that retain memories of our life and allow us to go forward. Injuries here change the person you are
    Professor David Menon
    Compared with a normal brain (left), the number of white matter fibres in the brain following a traumatic brain injury (right) can be severely reduced

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  • 01/29/14--02:53: Fevered imaginations
  • The thyroid hormone thyroxine, which controls our day-to-day activity and was previously believed to remain at a constant level in the blood, actually fluctuates as a result of a protein which modifies the release of the hormone depending on body temperature, new research reveals. The research was published today, 29 January, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

    The hormone thyroxine regulates metabolism in all mammals, including humans. If there is too much, it leads to hyperactivity, and if there is too little, it leads to dormancy. This essential hormone is carried and stored in the blood by the protein thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG).

    It was previously thought that the levels of the hormone remained constant. However, the new research, led by Robin Carrell, Emeritus Professor of Haematology at the University of Cambridge, found that when the body’s temperature rises, TBG’s affinity for thyroxine decreases, resulting in an increase of the available hormone and a subsequent increase in metabolism. If the body temperature drops, such as when an animal goes into hibernation, TBG’s affinity for thyroxine increases, resulting in a decrease in the availability of the hormone and a decrease in metabolism.

    The findings provide insight into the changes that occur during fevers, when the body accelerates its metabolism to counter infection and inflammation. The research shows that TBG has an inbuilt booster which gives a surge in thyroxine release as the body temperature rises above 37ºC. The study found that a body temperature of 39ºC will result in a 23 per cent increase in concentration of thyroxine levels in the blood – temporarily moving into the range seen in patients with hyperthyroidism.

    Professor Carrell said: “The effect of temperature on thyroxine levels has been largely overlooked because most measurements of the hormone are carried out when the blood is at room temperature. As a result, blood samples taken from hypothermia or heatstroke patients, or from an infant with fever, would not show the change of free thyroxine in the blood. We are excited by our findings as they are directly relevant to better understanding fevers, which, although beneficial, can pose problems, especially to young children.”

    Evidence of the significance of this surge in thyroxine during fevers is demonstrated in a unique way – an environmental adaptation in the aboriginal Australian. The researchers discovered that a genetic modification in aboriginal Australians recalibrates the TBG protein’s effect during fevers and so will cancel the fever-induced boost in metabolism.

    The researchers believe that whilst being advantageous as a defence mechanism in temperate climates, such an increase will be a potential disadvantage in the arid climate of central Australia. There the historic survival risk has been not so much the infection itself, but rather the dehydration and heat exhaustion that accompany dysentery and other common illnesses in childhood. The two genetic mutations have become incorporated in the DNA of some 40% of West Australian aboriginals, to give a halving of the surge in metabolic activity that would otherwise take place in fevers.

    The research also sheds light on infant febrile seizures - convulsive episodes that often accompany the spiking fevers during early childhood. Although not typically life threatening, these seizures, which can occur in young babies, can be a terrifying experience for parents. The researchers believe that part of the reason these seizures may occur is because the brain is especially sensitive to thyroxine - rises in thyroxine result in increased brain activity, hyper-excitability and, in the extreme, convulsive seizures. The occurrence of the last in response to increased thyroxine can now be seen to have direct implications for the previously inexplicable febrile seizures which cease as soon as the infant’s body is cooled.

    Additionally, the scientists believe their discovery helps explain the euphoric feeling some people experience after spending time in a sauna or hot-tub.  

    Professor Carrell added: “In everyday life, the accelerated release of thyroxine that will take place as the body core temperature rises to 39ºC in a sauna or hot-tub will contribute to an enhancement of the activity of body and mind: to the euphoria and to the occasional Eureka! Old figures of speech - ‘hot headedness’ and ‘fevered imagination’ – can now be seen to have a basis in science.” 

    New study finds links between thyroid hormones and body temperature, shedding new light on changes that occur during fevers, and euphoric feelings arising from a hot bath or sauna

    In everyday life, the accelerated release of thyroxine that will take place as the body core temperature rises to 39ºC in a sauna or hot-tub will contribute to an enhancement of the activity of body and mind: to the euphoria and to the occasional Eureka!
    Professor Robin Carrell

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    During his visit, His Royal Highness met forty inner-city school children who were taking part in a workshop about applying to Cambridge, organised by Jesus College Access and Schools Liaison Officer Brendan Shepherd through the University’s Area Links Scheme.

    HRH The Earl of Wessex spoke with the young students about his own time at Cambridge, and about how he chose his college and his course. He encouraged them to make the most of their time at school, and wished them good luck with their studies.

    His Royal Highness also met Professor Ian White, Master of Jesus College; Dr Geoff Parks, Senior Tutor; Dr Noel Rutter, Admission Tutor for Sciences; and Mrs Jenny Jenyon, Admission Coordinator to discuss the College’s commitment to widening participation and fair admissions.

    Professor Ian White said “We are delighted to have been able to welcome The Earl of Wessex back to Jesus College and to show him some of the work we are doing to enable young people to learn more about the benefits of higher education and the range of opportunities available at top universities.

    “A key message we try to emphasise is the importance of choosing to study a subject you really enjoy. If you enjoy your studies, you are much more likely to do well, and the better you do the better your career prospects.”

    At the conclusion of his visit, the College was delighted to present The Earl with a gift to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his matriculation.


    The Earl of Wessex visited Jesus College, Cambridge, marking 30 years since he joined the College as a History undergraduate by seeing how the College encourages able school pupils from all backgrounds to consider Cambridge.

    We are delighted to have been able to welcome The Earl of Wessex back to Jesus College and to show him some of the work we are doing to enable young people to learn more about the benefits of higher education and the range of opportunities available at top universities.
    Professor Ian White, Master, Jesus College.

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    Plant scientists at Cambridge and Norwich have been awarded £12 million funding for a new UK synthetic biology centre – OpenPlant.

    OpenPlant is a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the John Innes Centre on Norwich Research Park. The funding will be shared equally between the two institutions. It is one of three new UK centres for synthetic biology announced today by science minister David Willetts. Over the next five years the three centres will receive more than £40 million in funding from the BBSRC and EPSRC.

    Sitting at the boundary between sciences, synthetic biology uses engineering principles – including standardisation and modularisation – to make new biological parts and systems. Using knowledge about the biological properties of plants and microbes, synthetic biology can improve their use as factories, food and fuel. As well as helping improve crops across the world, synthetic biology could be used to develop new medicines, chemicals and green energy sources.

    Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, said: "Synthetic biology is one of the most promising areas of modern science, which is why we have identified it as one of the eight great British technologies of the future. Synthetic biology has the potential to drive economic growth but still remains relatively untapped and these new centres will ensure that the UK is at the forefront when it comes to commercialising these new technologies."

    While US researchers are at the cutting edge of synthetic biology in microbes, the UK has the edge in plants. To fulfil its potential, however, researchers and small companies need greater freedom to operate, freedom that in key areas of computing has driven innovation, and created new jobs, software and products.

    According to Dr Jim Haseloff of the Department of Plant Sciences: “The field needs a new two-tier system for intellectual property so that new tools including DNA components are freely shared, while investment in applications can be protected. This will enable greater participation in innovation for sustainable agriculture.”

    Dr Nicola Patron, Head of Synthetic Biology at The Sainsbury Laboratory, another key partner organisation in Norwich, said: “Current intellectual property practices threaten to stifle innovation in plant technology. By creating DNA resources and tools that are free to use, OpenPlant will foster the kind of innovation seen at the emergence of other new technologies such as microelectronics and computer software.”

    OpenPlant unites two leaders in the field. The University of Cambridge has played an important role in many key scientific discoveries in biology, from the structure of the double helix to next generation DNA sequencing. The John Innes Centre is a world-leader in plant and microbial research that benefits farmers, the environment, humans and economies worldwide. Scientific discoveries about synthetic DNA systems will feed future innovation by researchers at both institutions.

    JIC scientists have also pioneered innovative engagement between scientists and the public such as through the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) initiative. Social scientists on the OpenPlant project will help map feasible technical approaches to challenges, such finding a less energy-intensive alternative to nitrogen fertilisers, considering the economic and social implications for different scenarios.

    Inspired by the way open source data has stimulated innovation in computing, a new UK centre will create a climate of openness in synthetic biology, helping young researchers and entrepreneurs develop and share new tools and libraries of plant DNA.

    By creating DNA resources and tools that are free to use, OpenPlant will foster the kind of innovation seen at the emergence of other new technologies such as microelectronics and computer software
    Dr Nicola Patron
    Gemma cups, specialised structures for propagation of Marchantia

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    Allergy experts have found that 84 and 91 per cent of the two groups of children treated with a new form of immunotherapy could eat at least five peanuts a day.

    The phase 2 trial - the largest of its kind worldwide - used oral immunotherapy (OIT), in which peanut protein is consumed in increasingly larger amounts on a regular basis to build up tolerance. The results are published today in The Lancet.

    The research involved young people, aged between seven and sixteen, eating daily doses of peanut protein - starting with a tiny dose and slowly building up over four to six months.

    After 6 months of OIT, 84–91% of the children could safely tolerate daily ingestion of 800 mg of peanut protein (roughly the equivalent of five peanuts), at least 25 times as much peanut protein as they could before the therapy.

    Peanut allergy affects around half a million people in the UK and over 10 million people across the globe. It’s the most common cause of fatal food allergy reactions and, unlike other childhood food allergies such as cow’s milk, peanut allergy rarely goes away. People with peanut allergy risk anaphylactic shock or even death if they become accidentally exposed to peanut.

    The Cambridge allergy research team, led by Dr Andrew Clark and Dr Pamela Ewan from the University’s Department of Medicine, have been leading allergy research for more than 20 years.

    “Before treatment children and their parents would check every food label and avoiding eating out in restaurants,” said Clark. “Now most of the patients in the trial can safely eat at least five whole peanuts. The families involved in this study say that it has changed their lives dramatically.”

    “This large study is the first of its kind in the world to have had such a positive outcome, and is an important advance in peanut allergy research,” added Ewan.
    “However, further studies in wider populations are needed. It is important to note that OIT is not a treatment people should try on their own and should only be done by medical professionals in specialist settings.”

    In the first part of the trial, 99 children with varying severities of peanut allergy were randomly assigned to receive either 26 weeks of OIT or peanut avoidance (the present standard of care). All the children then participated in a double-blind placebo-controlled oral food challenge during which they gradually consumed increasing amounts of peanut protein under medical supervision to determine at what level they experienced allergic symptoms. In the second part, the control group was offered 26 weeks of OIT followed by a final food challenge.

    After 6 months of therapy, 24 of 39 children (62%) who received OIT in the first phase passed the challenge and tolerated a daily dose of 1400 mg of peanut protein, roughly equivalent to 10 peanuts (an amount unlikely to be encountered accidentally), compared with none of those in the control group. After the second phase, 54% tolerated the challenge. Food-allergy specific quality of life scores also improved after OIT.

    Although a fifth of those receiving OIT reported adverse events, most were mild with oral itching being the most common.

    Lena Barden, 11, from Histon in Cambridgeshire, said: “I felt like I had won a prize after I found out I had been picked for the active group. It meant a trip to the hospital every two weeks. A year later I could eat 5 whole peanuts with no reaction at all. The trial has been an experience and adventure that has changed my life and I’ve had so much fun. But I still hate peanuts!”

    Thomas Baragwanath, 16, from Holbeach, Lincolnshire, said: “The trial has helped me so much. I don’t have to worry when I go out with my friends about what I’m eating and where it’s come from ‘What’s in it? Where’s it been prepared?’ - I don’t have to worry at all.”

    The trial was carried out over five and a half years in the NIHR Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility at Addenbrooke’s, part of Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH). It was funded by the MRC-NIHR partnership through the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) Programme. Initial pilot work was funded by the Evelyn Trust, Cambridge.

    The next step is to make peanut immunotherapy widely available to patients. Further investigation and a licensing review will be required to obtain a product licence from the regulatory authorities, which will take several years. In the meantime, Cambridge University Hospitals is planning to open a peanut allergy clinic that would make a range of services, including immunotherapy on a named patient basis, available to patients.

    For further information about the development of peanut immunotherapy and when it will become available in clinics, visit

    For more information on this research, please contact Adrian Ient:

    Inset image: Dr Clark in the allergy clinic at Addenbrooke's Hospital

    A new therapy for peanut allergy has been successful in the majority of the 99 children who took part in a clinical trial.

    The trial has been an experience and adventure that has changed my life and I’ve had so much fun. But I still hate peanuts!
    Lena Barden, 11, from Histon in Cambridgeshire

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  • 01/31/14--01:25: Headland history
  • Jutting out from the edge of the Lake District and home to a proud industrial heritage, the Furness Peninsula seems to weld together many of our contrasting ideas about what Englishness means. To the north lies some of the country’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty; at the southern tip sits a shipyard where nuclear submarines for the Royal Navy are built. The area is defined by working-class values, post-industrial decline and 21st-century regeneration. By uniting these elements, Furness appears to epitomise many of the complex ideas behind a notion of England that is both very modern, and very old.

    But this, it turns out, is far from the complete picture. In a recent project, historians have begun to scratch the surface of a much earlier period in Furness’ past – one that not only changes what we know about its history, but also raises questions about these very ideas of Englishness itself.

    For hundreds of years, it appears, this corner of the country was influenced as much by Irish, Manx and Scandinavian cultures as it was by the Anglo-Saxon, and then Anglo-Norman, kingdoms that stretched from the Channel to the Scottish border. Variously populated by speakers of English, Norse, Gaelic, Brittonic and French, Furness is unlikely to have always identified itself solely with what we now call England. Politically and culturally, its centre of gravity was quite often a complex network of communities clustered around the edges of the Irish Sea.

    This different vision of Furness has the potential to change our view of how social identities and loyalties were formed not just there, but in medieval England as a whole. Why, though, have historians focused specifically on this obscure Cumbrian headland? The answer lies with a monk called Jocelin, who so far as we know was active between 1175 and 1214, and spent most of his life at Furness Abbey. Although now just a ruin outside the town of Barrow, in its heyday, the Abbey was one of the most powerful Cistercian monasteries in England.

    Jocelin of Furness was a writer of saints’ lives, and one of the most significant writers to emerge from north-west England during the Middle Ages. His little-studied legacy poses an interesting conundrum: all four of the major Lives that he wrote are linked to the Celtic world, but were written when divisions between Anglo-Norman England and the Celtic realms (Scotland, Ireland and Wales) were supposedly very distinct. Indeed, recent histories of medieval Lancashire and Cumbria stress that this was a time when English royal government began to dominate and define the region.

    If so, it is curious that Jocelin was so interested in, and conversant with, the Celtic world beyond. With this in mind, researchers embarked on a project in 2010 that aimed to understand more about Jocelin and the context in which he worked. ‘Hagiography at the Frontiers: Jocelin of Furness and Insular Politics’ was a joint project carried out by Dr Clare Downham and Dr Ingrid Sperber from the University of Liverpool and Dr Fiona Edmonds from the University of Cambridge, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

    As part of the initiative, Edmonds, based at Cambridge’s Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, carried out a study which pieced together cultural interactions around the Furness Peninsula, using the evidence of place names, personal names, administrative documents from Furness, the history of the Abbey, its offshoot ‘daughter-houses’ and Jocelin’s work itself.

    “Typically this is a time when there is supposed to have been a strong distinction between the Anglo-Norman kingdom in which Jocelin lived and the Celtic world,” Edmonds said. “In fact, the history also involves deeper connections with Gaelic-Scandinavian communities in places like Ireland and the Isle of Man. These were still relevant in Jocelin’s own time.”

    Her work presents a picture of ongoing cultural fluidity in Furness which pre-dates the Norman invasion by hundreds of years. For example, in the 7th century, when Furness was part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, it is possible that there was an enclave of people speaking Brittonic – the language of the Celtic Britons. Local place names like Leece and Roose have Brittonic origins, and it may be no coincidence that Jocelin himself stressed the Brittonic links of some of the saints whose Lives he wrote.

    During the Viking age, archaeological finds such as the Silverdale Hoard (found on Morecambe Bay in 2011) suggest a distinctive ‘Hiberno-Scandinavian’ culture. This fits with the intermittent link that the Scandinavian rulers of York and Dublin attempted to forge between the two cities during the 10th century in particular. Lying in between, England’s northwest would have been of great strategic importance. Coinage, jewellery, grave goods, stone monuments and place names all point to Norse settlements and staging posts in the Furness area. It may even be that the local nobility was, at times, subject to powerful Norse rulers who dominated the Irish Sea from points such as Dublin and the Norse-Gaelic-ruled Kingdom of Man.

    This cultural hybridity does not seem to have disappeared with the coming of the Normans. In the Domesday Book of 1086, the entry for the territory between the Ribble and the Esk is noteworthy because, unlike other parts of the country, it has not been divided into hundreds or wapentakes, the standard regional subdivisions used by the royal administration. The implication is that this regime was not fully imposed; certainly, landowners recorded around this time still exhibit a variety of Old English, Old Norse and Gaelic names.

    Very strong links with the Isle of Man, in particular, probably remained in place for the next 200 years. In the 12th century, the Abbey established a daughter-house on Man – an unusual event because, by this stage, Furness Abbey was itself the daughter-house of the Norman foundation at Savigny. During the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, the Peninsula fell under the rule of the powerful Scottish king, David I. Meanwhile, Wimund, Bishop of Man and the Isles, launched attacks on the Scottish kingdom, and he was appeased by a grant of the Furness Peninsula.

    So by Jocelin’s own time, although Furness was officially part of the county of Lancashire and the kingdom of England, it seems that its cultural make-up was not so straightforward. If its elite was firmly Anglo-Norman by this stage, the identity of other people living there was less clear cut. Documents from the time reveal insular names among the local freemen, such as Gilmichel (Gaelic), Suanus (Old Norse origin), Waltheof (Old Norse) and Ailsi (Old English). At ecclesiastical sites on the Peninsula, like Conishead and Pennington, archaeologists have found Old Norse runic inscriptions. It may be that both Norse and Gaelic were still spoken. Jocelin himself was certainly able to deal confidently with Gaelic place names and personal names in his work.

    In the end, Edmonds is careful about the implications of this six-century survey. “The Irish Sea link should not be over-emphasised at the expense of links to the rest of England and the Continent,” she writes. But they are also not mutually exclusive. At a time when historians have traditionally perceived the affirmation of Anglo-Norman England, Furness was a place with international contacts reaching from Scandinavia to Normandy. Beyond those who ruled, ordinary people may never have stopped looking west, where ties with those living on, and across, the Irish Sea survived.

    The medieval monk Jocelin of Furness has been little studied by historians - now a project investigating his work and its context is transforming what we know about past cultural identities in England’s north-west.

    This is a time when there is supposed to have been a strong distinction between the Anglo-Norman kingdom in which Jocelin lived and the Celtic world
    Dr Fiona Edmonds
    Furness Abbey

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    Take Maths Further!, a day for Year 10 students, aims to promote the further study of maths through fun and stretching mathematical challenges.

    Students from Cottenham Village College were attending Take Maths Further! for the first time.

    “The whole day has been great, really exciting,” said Ciara, currently in Year 10. “It’s helped me think about all the different ways maths can be used.

    “We’re making use of the fact that there’s a fantastic university on our doorstep to give our Year 10 students experience outside the maths classroom,” said Louise Shepherd, Second in Maths Department.

    “Today is a good way to encourage them to take maths further, to give it a higher priority in their A Level choices,” Louise added.

    The second workshop was designed to help teachers and sixth-form students develop their problem-solving skills.

    “The problem-solving days are a chance for teachers and students to work together,” explained Richard Lissaman, Programme Leader of the Further Mathematics Support Programme.

    “We’re trying to get the students to become strong, independent learners with good problem solving skills. The teachers’ role today is to encourage them to engage with the problems. Everyone is working together.

    “We hope that hosting the day here in the department adds to the experience – by coming into a different environment we’re showing that it’s not going to be a typical school day.”

    “It’s really exciting to use these resources,” agreed Dr Caroline Skeels, Head of Mathematics at King’s, Ely.

    “One of the best things about coming into the Centre for events like this is the chance for our students to meet Cambridge students, and hear them talk about the research they are doing, the problem-solving, the fun and the innovation involved in studying pure maths.

    “It makes our students feel that maths is accessible, and that Cambridge is accessible.

    “We just couldn’t have this opportunity anywhere else. It is simply phenomenal,” Caroline concluded.

    Teenage mathematicians and their teachers were welcomed into the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Mathematical Sciences for two workshops organised by the Millennium Maths Project’s Further Mathematics Support Programme.

    We’re making use of the fact that there’s a fantastic university on our doorstep to give our Year 10 students experience outside the maths classroom.
    Louise Shepherd, Second in Maths Department, Cottenham Village College.

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    Conspiracies and conspiracy theories lie at the heart of many great films.  The plots of some of cinema’s most gripping narratives turn on secrets and lies, deception and collusion, revelation and exposure. Spy stories, political thrillers and horror movies are full of shadowy organisations, devious governments, criminal networks and evil masterminds in storylines skilfully crafted to tread a thin line between fact and fiction and to play with reality and imagination.

    The Conspiracy and Conspiracy Theory Film Season is an initiative of the Leverhulme-funded Conspiracy and Democracy research project, based at CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences), University of Cambridge, in partnership with Cambridge Arts Picturehouse.

    "We selected these five films because, through very different types of cinematic treatment, they expose the conspiratorial side of human relationships whether between groups or individuals,’ said Professor David Runciman, a political scientist at Cambridge and one of the project’s co-directors. "They’re great movies, too, that everyone should have a chance to see at least once, and understand more about. So we have an exciting line-up of speakers to give brief introductory talks before each film."

    The Manchurian Candidate (showing on Tuesday 11 February) is a political thriller based on the novel by the same name. Directed by John Frankenheimer, it was released in 1962 at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. The setting for the action is the Korean War and the narrative centres on brainwashing and assassination.  Also released in the 1960s, the chilling Rosemary’s Baby (showing 18 February) directed by Roman Polanski is known as one of the all-time classics among psychological horror movies, featuring a heady mix of paranoia and satanism.

    Starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as journalists investigating the Watergate scandal, All The President’s Men (showing 25 February) proved a massive hit for the way in which it told the story of how a pair of conspiracy theorists brought down a president. A film that met with mixed reviews when it appeared in 1990, Hidden Agenda (showing on 4 March) is set in Northern Ireland and directed by Ken Loach. Through a fictional scenario, in which several characters are silenced by covert assassination, it looks at the possible role of British state terrorism during the Troubles.   

    The series concludes with Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (showing 11 March), a thriller regarded as the best of the early films directed by the master of horror and suspense. It first hit the screens in 1935 and has been ranked by the British Film Institute as the fourth best British film of the 20th century.

    The speakers who will introduce these five films include: David Trotter, King Edward VII Professor of English at Cambridge University; John Naughton, a columnist on the Observer; and Michael Newton, film writer for the Guardian.

    Conspiracy and Democracy is an exciting five-year interdisciplinary project that brings together researchers from a wide range of fields to look at a phenomenon that has becoming increasingly pervasive and explore what it can tell us about how societies function in terms of trust and mistrust. The project is led by Professor Sir Richard J Evans (History), Professor John Naughton (CRASSH) and Professor David Runciman (Politics and International Studies).

    All films start at 5.45pm with a 30-minute introductory talk. Standard prices and concessions apply plus student discounts of £6. Book at the Picturehouse Box Office or call 0871 902 5720.

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

    Inset images: Rosemary's Baby,, Paramount Pictures;The Manchurian Candidate,, MC Productions.



    Don’t miss the chance to see films that explore humankind’s capacity for deception. Showing at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse  in February and March, each of the five movies screened as part of a Conspiracy and Conspiracy Theory Film Season will be introduced by an eminent speaker.

    We selected these five films because, through very different types of cinematic treatment, they expose the conspiratorial side of human relationships whether between groups or individuals.
    David Runciman
    All the President's Men

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    The private letters and publications of Bishop John Colenso, a pioneering 19th century missionary who enraged the South African colonial authorities with his outspoken campaigns on behalf of the Zulu population, are being put on public display.

    The exhibition, entitled The Missionary College, marks the bicentenary of Colenso’s birth, and can be seen from today (3 February) at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he was a student.

    Appointed the first Church of England Bishop of Natal in 1852, Colenso became a prominent and often controversial public figure. He campaigned against the colonial government in defence of local Zulu tribes, and publicly criticised the British for starting the Anglo-Zulu war.

    He was also briefly excommunicated from the Church itself, after he caused outrage by questioning the historical accuracy of parts of the Bible – a position which was highly unconventional for a Bishop at the time, and which led to a running feud with his immediate superiors.

    The small exhibition also tells the story of a second graduate missionary, Thomas Whytehead, whose attempts to do similar work with the Maori population in New Zealand were cut short when he died while working for the country’s first mission in 1843.

    Kathryn McKee, special collections librarian at the College, said: “These were similar characters and near contemporaries at Cambridge, but their careers followed very different paths. Colenso occupied a position of influence and was deeply controversial, partly because many of his views were slightly ahead of their time. Whytehead is a tragic figure, who was denied the opportunity to become anything more than a minor player in the same sort of story.”

    Items from the private collections of both men, which were given to St John’s and are now kept in the College Library, will be on view.

    They include some of the materials which Colenso produced to enable South African missionaries to learn Zulu, among them the expansively-titled: Three native accounts of a visit to the Zulu King, with translation, vocabulary, and explanatory notes, referring minutely to the Grammar and designed expressly for the use of missionaries studying the language. 

    Having arrived in Natal at a time when the Church was only just beginning to establish itself, amid ethnic tensions and widespread economic hardship, Colenso saw it as essential for missionaries to work closely with the Zulu population, and worked tirelessly to understand and teach their language to make this possible.

    In doing so, he developed a more sensitive appreciation of Zulu culture and customs than many of his colonial contemporaries, which rapidly led to run-ins with the government and other establishment bodies.

    One such quarrel was over the question of polygamy, illustrated in a letter which Colenso wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in defence of Zulu men who had converted but already had two wives. The official Church stance was that such men should disown one wife and any children, based on the colonial perspective that for Zulus, marriage was simply a business transaction. Colenso, however, disagreed, insisting that these were stable and loving relationships, comparable with those in the West.

    In 1874, Colenso also actively campaigned on behalf of the Hlubi tribe and their chief, Langalibalele, who had been accused of rebellion. Langalibalele was imprisoned on Robben Island, where a century later Nelson Mandela would also be incarcerated. Colenso petitioned the Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon, who was sympathetic to his views and ordered mitigation of the sentences, but his acts won him few friends in the colonial government itself and Colenso was vilified in the local press.

    His reputation suffered further when he also championed the cause of the Zulu chief, Catewayo, in the Anglo-Zulu War – a conflict which he was convinced the British had started. From the early 1880s, as a member of the Natal native affairs commission, Colenso encouraged the Zulu people to resist government pressure. His stance further estranged him from the authorities, with local officials claiming that the missionary bishop was responsible for fomenting riot and rebellion.

    Perhaps the biggest controversy of Colenso’s career, however, was over religious matters which led to him being branded by some a “heretic” bishop. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to examine writings which Colenso published as a result of the careful study of the Pentateuch, which he undertook while translating it into Zulu.

    The work led him to question directly the origins of the Five Books of Moses. “I have arrived at the conclusion,” Colenso wrote, “…that the Pentateuch cannot have been written by Moses, or by anyone acquainted personally with the facts which it professes to describe, and, further, that the whole (so-called) Mosaic narrative, by whomsoever written, cannot possibly be regarded as historically true.”

    By the standards of the time, these were deeply unorthodox view for a Church of England bishop. Bishop Grey, the leader of the South African mission, responded by having Colenso tried for heresy. He was found guilty and deposed, but refused to acknowledge the verdict, at which point Grey excommunicated him altogether. Ultimately, Colenso was able to overturn this ruling by direct petition to the Crown. This led to a brief schism in South Africa itself, with Grey appointing a rival Bishop of Maritzburg, in 1869.

    Had Thomas Whytehead lived, it seems likely that his work with the Maoris of New Zealand would have followed a similar path to that of Colenso with the Zulus. En route to the mission in 1843, however, he suffered complications arising from a burst blood vessel, and arrived in New Zealand a dying man.

    One of his last acts was to translate a hymn by Bishop Thomas Ken into Maori. In a letter, written days before his death, Whytehead tells a friend that as he lay in bed desperately ill, local Maoris came and sang the hymn beside his window. “It is a comfort to think one has introduced Bishop Ken’s beautiful hymn into the Maoris’ evening worship and, left them this legacy when I could do no more for them,” Whytehead added.

    The Missionary College is a small display which can be viewed in the Library of St John’s College, Cambridge, from 3 February to 17 April. It will be open to the public from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

    For more information about this story, please contact Tom Kirk,

    Letters and publications belonging to John Colenso, a 19th-century missionary who caused outrage for his sympathetic work with Zulus in South Africa, and his open questioning of the provenance of the Old Testament, are being put on public display to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth.

    Colenso occupied a position of influence and was deeply controversial, partly because many of his views were slightly ahead of their time
    Kathryn McKee
    Left: Image of Thomas Whytehead from St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge; Right: Portrait of John Colenso

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    Immigration and migration have become symbolic of the 21st century. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), called this century the “new migration age”, a second stage of globalisation, the first being the movement of goods and capital.

    Estimates from the UN suggest that although only 3% of the global population is living outside their country of origin, absolute numbers grew from 155 million in 1990 to 214 million in 2010. In Europe (including Russia), this means an increase from 49 million to 70 million (UNDESA, 2011). Of the world’s migrant population, 16 million (8%) are refugees, with a further 26 million internally displaced.  Just over a third of international migrants have moved from a developing to a developed country.

    In the UK, the issue of migration is very much in the public eye. The Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum reported that between January 2000 and January 2006, four newspapers and their Sunday editions published 8,163 articles on refugees and asylum seekers (almost five articles per day). According to the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees, the most commonly used terms in headlines were ‘arrested’, ‘jailed’ and ‘guilty’, as well as ‘scrounger’, ‘fraudster’, ‘burden’, ‘cheap labour’, ‘threat’, ‘to be feared’. Some feel that this narrative, which presents immigration purely as a threat, is now so dominant that it cannot be displaced.

    However, while there is understandable concern for the effects of immigration on local economies, particularly in relation to high unemployment, demographic explosions, welfare provision and crime, there is now recognition that migration could be an important means of reducing social inequality within and across nations. In a comment in The Guardian newspaper, Ban Ki-moon notes that the world has moved from the first stage of globalisation, when the benefits and wealth flowed to developed countries and their major trading partners – India, China and Brazil – to a second stage, an “age of migration”. Migration now has a beneficial impact in which, in one year alone, some £131 billion, three times the level of international aid, was sent by migrants living in the developed world back to their homes in developing countries in the form of remittances, subsidising new educational institutions, healthcare and economic enterprise.

    Similarly, the global flow of highly specialised knowledge, expertise and personnel back to the developing world has the potential to generate new opportunities for growth. School and university students and scholars migrating across the world contribute to the dynamic global knowledge economy, while new global forums have been established to harness what Ki-moon describes as “the power of migration to advance development”. Ban Ki-moon asks us to note that the freedom of travel and movement “oils” the global economy providing new sources of labour, creating new forms of employment, and opening up new personal trajectories in search of better lives and opportunities. He argues: “Migration can be an enormous force for good. If we follow the evidence, and begin a rational, forward-looking conversation about how to better manage our shared interests, we can together help to usher in the third stage of globalisation – a long-awaited era where more people than ever before begin to share in the world’s prosperity.”

    Such sentiments challenge world-class universities to engage with global development through a better, richer and more informed analysis of migratory patterns of human kind, whether in prehistoric, historic or contemporary times. The Cambridge Migration Research Network, thanks to support by a grant from the Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Fund, addresses this challenge by bringing together scholars from the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The aim is that we improve our understanding of migration, considering not only the difficulties associated with human movements but also how they have contributed to global development in the past and how they might do so in the future.

    Humans have always been on the move – their movement is linked to survival. It represents one of the ways in which, through human adaptability, the species can survive changes both in its physical environment and in the social and political habitat. The escape from violence from fellow humans, the exploitation of our desire for a better life, the recruitment of slaves, migrant workers and sex trafficking are all part of this complex story.

    The University of Cambridge is well placed to advance our knowledge about the reasons and causes, the impacts and consequences, of moving populations within and across national boundaries. The University’s vitality as a world-class international research institution is itself dependent on being at the centre of scholarly mobility of people, ideas and resources. The extraordinary diversity in its scientific and engineering laboratories is directly related to the effervescence of innovative ideas and knowledge. Creativity comes from the interchange between people with different histories, perspectives and ideas. Diversity caused by migration has been at the heart of humankind’s capacity to innovate and change for thousands of years.

    On the assumption that no one discipline can explain the power of human migration as a social force, the network aims to bring forward the insights of various research programmes and combine them with the perspectives of a diverse range of disciplines including biological anthropology, archaeology, history, politics, economics and sociology, health and education studies, criminology and law, so as to capture the significance of human movement, over time and space, for the health and well being of populations, societies, communities and individuals.

    By combining disciplinary forces, the network aims to encourage a different debate about the impact of “the age of migration”. There are many contemporary questions we want to answer:

    • How do economic globalisation and environmental change affect migration?
    • What new categories of migrants are emerging?
    • What drives the movement of women in current migration flows and how can women be better protected from violence within such flows?
    • What are the consequences for professional and practitioner knowledge within, for example, the health, education and criminal justice systems?
    • What are the consequences for peace of the changing political climate and forms of governance and domestic/foreign policies and where does this leave international agreements?
    • Many countries are in transition, shifting from being countries of emigration to become countries of immigration – how does that affect poverty levels?

    The consequences for the next generation of this debate are particularly important for teaching universities such as Cambridge. There are tangible gains from global migration but as The World We Want (a platform created by the UN and civil society) argue “without migration policies that have human rights and equity at their core”, the potential of young people whether migrant or not will not be realised – rather they will be distanced from humanistic values and are likely to experience escalating national and global conflict.

    Professor Madeleine Arnot is in the Faculty of Education and Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe is in the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge.

    Today, we commence a month-long focus on research on migration. To begin, Professor Madeleine Arnot and Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe, Co-Convenors of the new Cambridge Migration Research Network, discuss the Network’s rationale and aims, and our preoccupation with the impact of migrant populations.

    Cambridge is well placed to advance our knowledge about the reasons and causes, the impacts and consequences, of moving populations within and across national boundaries
    Professor Madeleine Arnot and Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe
    Sudanese hitchhiker

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    Next-generation batteries based on silicon have come one step closer to commercial reality, after the mystery surrounding what is happening inside batteries when silicon comes into contact with lithium has been understood in unprecedented detail. Silicon-based technology would greatly expand the capacity of the batteries used in mobile phones, electric vehicles and other applications.

    Using a combination of nanotechnology and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques, researchers have developed a new probing system that gives a view into what is happening inside the batteries at the atomic level, enabling greater control over the properties of the materials.

    Silicon has been proposed as a replacement for carbon in battery anodes (negative electrodes) for the past 20 years, as it has roughly ten times more storage capacity than carbon. However, difficulty in managing silicon’s properties has prevented the technology from being applied at scale.

    The primary problem with using silicon in a lithium-ion battery is that silicon atoms absorb lithium atoms, and the silicon expands up to three times in volume, degrading the battery. Although controlling this expansion has become easier over the past decade, a lack of understanding about what is happening inside the batteries and what governs the reactions have continued to hold silicon batteries back.

    Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a new method to probe silicon batteries and determined what causes the expansion to take place. The results are reported in the 3 February edition of the journal Nature Communications.

    “The most basic challenge for delivering such high-capacity batteries is to understand the reactions going on inside them,” said lead author Dr Ken Ogata of the Department of Engineering.

    Using nanoscale wires made of silicon and NMR techniques, the researchers developed a robust model system able to accommodate the expansion of the silicon over multiple cycles, and integrated it with short-range probing techniques that reveal what is happening inside the battery at the atomic level. The team found that the reactions proceed with interactions of various sizes of silicon networks and clusters, energetics of which partly govern the path of the reaction.

    Using these combined techniques, the researchers were able to develop a ‘map’ of how silicon transforms when it is put into contact with lithium in a battery. The insights opened up by the technology will boost further developments of silicon batteries, as it will be easier for engineers to control their properties.

    “Using this technique will help make battery design much more systematic, and less trial and error,” said Dr Ogata. “The nanowire-based batteries coupled with the NMR system enabled us to follow the reaction kinetics over multiple cycles with various cycling strategies. Importantly, the insights achieved by the new technology are relevant to current state-of-the-art silicon-carbon composite anodes and will lead to further development of the anodes.”

    This versatile nanowire-based technology can be applied to other battery system such as tin and germanium-based lithium-ion batteries and sodium-ion batteries, and studies are currently on going with the NMR spectroscopy under a wide variety of electrochemical regimes.

    Dr Ogata is a JSPS Research Fellow.

    Resolving the mystery of what happens inside batteries when silicon comes into contact with lithium could accelerate the commercialisation of next-generation high capacity batteries, for use in mobile phones and other applications.

    Using this technique will help make battery design much more systematic, and less trial and error
    Ken Ogata
    When Li meets Si - the Wedding Cake

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    Scientists have found that people who feel powerless actually see the world differently, and find a task to be more physically challenging than those with a greater sense of personal and social power.

    Eun Hee Lee - a researcher working with Dr Simone Schnall at Cambridge’s Department of Psychology - carried out a series of tests in which volunteers were surreptitiously surveyed about their own social power, then asked to lift boxes of varying weights and guess how heavy they were. Those who felt powerless consistently perceived the weight of the boxes as much heavier than those who felt more powerful.

    The study is the first demonstration that power – a ‘psychosocial’ construct relating to the control of resources – changes peoples’ perception of objects; that how you feel about your social standing in a situation can influence how you see the physical environment.

    The researchers say this overestimation of weight may be an adaptive strategy when faced with a lack of resources: when in a position of powerlessness, it would be ‘advantageous’ to have an overly cautious approach to the world in order to preserve your existing limited resources.

    Experiencing perceptual attributes of the world – such as the weight of objects - in an “exaggerated fashion” when feeling powerless might be symptomatic of this instinctive resource conservation.

    The study is published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology

    “Although many psychological studies have been conducted on power not much was known about how power influences actual perceptual experiences in everyday life,” said lead researcher Eun Hee Lee.

    “This research demonstrates that people’s social role, as indicated by a sense of social power, or a lack thereof, can change the way they see the physical environment.” 

    To measure a person’s sense of their own social power, Lee and Schnall conducted three separate studies – all disguised by cover stories so that participants were unaware of what was being tested.

    In the first, 145 participants were asked to rank how strongly they felt a series of statements applied to them – such as “I can get people to listen to what I say” – to measure beliefs about their power in social relationships. They were then tasked with lifting a number of boxes and guessing the weight, before taking a final test to gauge their mood. Researchers found that the lower a person’s feelings of social power, the more they thought the boxes weighed.

    In the second test, the researchers manipulated the sense of power by asking 41 participants to sit in either an expansive, domineering position – with one elbow on the arm of their chair and the other on the desk next to them – or a more constricting one, with hands tucked under thighs and shoulders dropped.

    Prior to manipulation, most participants overestimated the weight; after manipulation, those who sat in the more powerful pose gave more accurate estimates, while those in the submissive condition continued to imagine heavier weight.

    In the final test, 68 participants were asked to recall an experience in which they had felt either powerful or powerless, and then repeatedly estimate the weights of various boxes - under the guise of studying the effect of exercise on autobiographical memory. Those who focused on the powerful incident became more accurate at guessing the weight, while those recalling a powerless situation continually overestimated the heaviness of the boxes.                

    While previous research has shown that various physical and emotional states can influence perception of the environment – such as perceiving a hill slant to be steeper when wearing a heavy backpack, or threatening objects, such as a tarantula, appearing to be further from your face when feeling good about yourself – this is the first study to show that a sense of power can now be added to that list.

    Giulio Andreotti, the former Italian Prime Minister who was nicknamed ‘Il Divo’ after the epithet for Julius Caesar, famously once said that “power tires only those who do not have it”. Lee and Schnall write that this comment is “no longer an unsubstantiated conjecture”, and that their data suggests the world of the powerless “is indeed full of heavy burdens”. 

    Added Lee: “Power plays a role when it is present in a given moment, but also when it comes to people’s personality. We find that personality, which determines how people interact with the social world, also shapes how people interact with the physical world.”

    New research shows that the more personally and socially powerless you feel the heavier objects appear to weigh.

    People’s social role, as indicated by a sense of social power, or a lack thereof, can change the way they see the physical environment
    Eun Hee Lee
    Heave, Ho!

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  • 02/04/14--16:01: The eyes have it
  • While what humans do with their eyes has been well studied, we know almost nothing about whether birds communicate with members of the same species with their eyes.

    The new study, published today in Biology Letters, shows that jackdaw eyes are used as a warning signal to successfully deter competitors from coming near their nest boxes.

    Gabrielle Davidson of the University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: “Jackdaw eyes are very unusual. Unlike their close relatives, the rooks and crows – which have very dark eyes – jackdaw eyes are almost white and their striking pale irises are very conspicuous against their dark feathers.”

    While most birds have black or dark brown eyes, bright eyes are not unknown in the avian world, and around 10% of passerines (perching birds) have coloured irises. The question Davidson wanted to answer was do jackdaws use their bright eyes to communicate with fellow jackdaws?

    Just before the spring breeding season arrived last year, Davidson installed one of four different pictures in 100 jackdaw nest boxes on the outskirts of Cambridge. The pictures were either black (the control), a pair of jackdaw eyes, a pair of jackdaw eyes in a jackdaw’s face, or a jackdaw’s face with a pair of black rook eyes. She then filmed the effect the different pictures had on the birds’ behaviour.

    “Jackdaws are unique among the crow family in that they nest in cavities in trees. These hollows are natural – the birds cannot excavate their own nest cavities as some woodpeckers do – so they have to compete for a limited resource.  And because jackdaws nest in close proximity to each other, they fight a lot to gain the best nesting sites,” she explained. Often what initiates these fights are jackdaws approaching nest boxes that are not their own. 

    After analysing 40 videos of jackdaws peeking into each other’s nest boxes, she found that compared with the other nest boxes, those that contained the picture of a jackdaw with its bright eyes was much more likely to deter the birds from landing on it, and that the birds spent less time near such a nest box.

    Davidson’s study is the first to show the eyes being used as a means of communication between members of the same species outside primates.

    “Before now we knew very little about why some birds have brightly coloured eyes. In jackdaws, the pale eyes may function to improve their ability to defend their nest and chicks from competitors. It also raises the question of whether this is unique to jackdaws, or if other cavity nesting birds also use their eyes in a similar way,” she added.

    The field research took place at the Cambridge Jackdaw Project, which was established by Dr Alex Thornton of the University of Exeter. 

    To see the research in action, view video here


    Researchers in Cambridge and Exeter have discovered that jackdaws use their eyes to communicate with each other – the first time this has been shown in non-primates.

    Unlike their close relatives, rooks and crows, jackdaw eyes are almost white and their striking pale irises are very conspicuous against their dark feathers.
    Gabrielle Davidson

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  • 02/04/14--03:16: Honorary Degrees 2014
  • Today the University Council has submitted to the Regent House, the University's Governing Body, the names of eight renowned individuals, seeking final authority for their admission to Honorary Doctorates by the Chancellor, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, at a Congregation to be held on Wednesday 18 June 2014.

    The eight people nominated are:

    Catherine Cesarsky, astronomer and former President of the International Astronomical Union

    Zaha Hadid, architect and winner of the Pritzker Prize

    Yusuf Hamied, pharmaceutical chemist and Chairman of Cipla Limited, Honorary Fellow of Christ's College

    Ian McKellen, actor and director, Honorary Fellow of St Catharine's College

    Dan McKenzie, geophysicist, Fellow of King's College and Royal Society Professor of Earth Sciences Emeritus

    Martin Rees, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal, former Master of Trinity College and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics Emeritus

    Albie Sachs, lawyer, campaigner against apartheid and retired Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa

    Mitsuko Uchida, pianist and winner of the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society

    Already authorised for the Honorary Degree of Master of Arts and to be admitted by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, at a Congregation on Saturday 26 April 2014:

    Joy Seddon, Founder of Welcome International Students of Cambridge

    Nominations announced today

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    As the humanitarian crisis in Syria continues to unfold, over two million people are thought to have crossed the borders into neighbouring countries. Desperate, empty-handed and facing an uncertain future, most of the refugees will seek aid and support in camps, where they will be exposed to yet another threat: infectious disease.

    High population densities, malnutrition, poor sanitation, sexual violence and reduced access to healthcare following forced migration can create a ‘perfect storm’ where communicable diseases become a major cause of mortality and morbidity. And it’s far from a recent problem.

    Over 600,000 cases of cholera have been recorded in Haiti since the earthquake of 2010, which displaced up to 2.3 million people. Cholera was also responsible for some 50,000 deaths in 1994 among refugees of the Rwandan genocide. In 1949, the British Red Cross noted that malaria and dysentery were widespread among 30,000 Arab refugees living in huts, caves or ragged tents in Jordan.  In 1901, Boer War refugees were exposed to measles, pneumonia, dysentery, diarrhoea, bronchitis and enteric fever in the camps of the Transvaal.

    “Since biblical times, mass migrations have followed conflict and crises,” said Professor Andy Cliff. “Today, humanitarian aid organisations perform an incredible job in taking care of refugees but this can take time to come into play, and the conditions that migrants find themselves in raises the spectre of epidemics. Diseases such as cholera, dysentery, measles and meningitis, for instance, have resulted in high mortality rates in relief camps in Africa, Asia and Central America.”

    Although the impact of forced migration on health is well known, no study has ever systematically linked the nature of displacement, its geographical location and the particular patterns of disease that occur: a triangulation that, if charted, could help authorities and aid agencies prepare as crises unfold.

    "We call this the displacement–disease nexus,” added Cliff. “Understanding it lies at the heart of preparing for future displacements, both for the welfare of the migrants and for the health and economy of the destination.”

    For the past year, Cliff from the Department of Geography and Professor Matthew Smallman-Raynor from the University of Nottingham have been leading a project that is assembling the first ever database to link these types of information. And to do so, their team is looking back over 100 years of forced migrations, across the globe.

    “The research could scarcely be more timely,” said Smallman-Raynor. “The most recent figures released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate up to 45.2 million people in situations of displacement for 2012, which is the highest figure in 20 years.”

    Cliff’s colleagues Dr Anna Barford and Heather Hooper have begun the task of hunting through the rich archives held by organisations such as the UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Office at Geneva and the World Health Organization, as well as searching through scientific journals dating back to 1901. A doctoral student, Anna-Meagan Fairley at the University of Nottingham, is looking specifically at infectious disease among people displaced by natural disasters.

    “Because each set of circumstances is unique, we need to look at as many cases of displacement as possible, over a long time period,” said Barford. “Only then can we start to work out whether there are patterns that governments and aid agencies can learn from in preventing epidemics and delivering healthcare.”

    Epidemics of communicable diseases not only affect the health of migrants in camps, but also the health of those in areas the migrants pass through during their migration. “Perhaps one of the most significant examples relates to the First World War,” said Cliff.  “Chaos ensued in terms of preparedness for the end of the war – several million refugees were swilling around on borders between Russia and eastern Europe, and you could map the spread of typhus and cholera marching with the refugees as they crisscrossed Europe.”

    The results will be used to establish global electronic databases of infectious disease events in relation to mass population movements since the beginning of the 20th century. “It will be a fascinating resource,” said Barford. “Out of this we’ll pick 50 events and look in detail at the short-, medium- and long-term geographical patterns and consequences of displacement-associated epidemics. The databases will be available to national and international organisations involved in health promotion and in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

    The results will also be published by Oxford University Press as one of a series of atlases; a previous volume in the series Atlas of Epidemic Britain: A Twentieth Century Picture authored by Cliff and Smallman-Raynor won the British Medical Association prize for Best Medical Book of the Year 2013.

    The results of this ambitious project, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will also be of interest to countries such as the UK that eventually become home to refugees after they have left intermediary camps. “This so-called secondary migration has been the cause of much public and political debate, with the UK’s Department of Health launching a consultation into proposals for charging migrants to use the health system,” added Cliff. “By also looking at the long-term health consequences for secondary migrants, we hope to shed light on how best to prepare for their arrival and support their healthcare.”


    Inset image: A Syrian woman near a fire at a refugee camp in Azaz, Syria, on December 17, 2012. Credit: Freedom House

    A new study is looking at a century of mass migrations worldwide to understand the public health consequences when people are forced to flee from war, persecution and natural disaster.

    Since biblical times, mass migrations have followed conflict and crises
    Professor Andy Cliff
    Caption: A group of Sri Lankan refugees arrives in Tamil Nadu after a risky 30-mile boat ride across the Palk Straits
    Migration and mental health

    Infectious disease is not the only health threat that victims of forced migration face. Their mental health is also at risk.

    Forced migrations are often the result of violent events or economic hardship, which can have profound psychological consequences. Migrants may be without their family support network and living in difficult conditions, while their left-behind families might find it equally hard to cope.

    The mental health of individuals after forced migration, as well as after their subsequent return migration, is an area that Dr Tine Van Bortel from the University’s Institute of Public Health describes as “one of the least explored areas of health research.”

    She has been involved in pilot projects that have looked at the quality of life, well-being and mental health of migrant domestic workers and their left-behind families in Singapore and Sri Lanka, and of Muslims forcibly resettled in 1990 by rebel fighters in Sri Lanka, working in collaboration with Dr Chesmal Siriwardhana and Sabrina Anjara at King’s College London and researchers at the Sri Lankan Institute of Research and Development (IRD).

    “In terms of economic forced migration, we find that both labour-receiving countries and labour-sending countries have inadequate measures to provide the information, care and support that’s needed for migrant workers and their left-behind families,” said Van Bortel. “Some labour-receiving countries have health checks in place but these focus mainly on communicable diseases and not on mental health. Hard work, social isolation, abuse and missing their left-behind family members often lead to significant mental strain and sometimes suicide. In turn, the left-behind families often find it difficult to cope too."

    “We are now broadening our research to look at possible interventions to raise awareness, psycho-educate and empower people to make more informed decisions about economic migration, to help migrant workers and their left-behind families cope more constructively with often challenging situations, and to address the psycho-social needs of displaced populations,” added Van Bortel.

    “Humanitarian agencies are increasingly aware of the psychological consequences of forced migration and have been campaigning for change. We hope that the results might be used by legislators and policy makers in countries affected by forced migration and internal displacement to improve policy and practice for the benefit of individuals, families and communities.”

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  • 02/06/14--02:03: The public eye?
  • In 2011, the Indian government launched a massive programme to collect the iris patterns and fingerprints of all of its 1.2 billion citizens within three years. The numbers associated with the project are staggering. To date, more than 540 million people have enrolled in the optional programme, with one million more joining every day across 36,000 stations operated by 83 agencies. Each new iris pattern must be checked against every other pattern in the database to detect and prevent duplication: this equates to almost 500 trillion iris comparisons each day. Apart from its scale, what makes UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) different is its purpose. It is not a security exercise or a means to control national borders, but a social development programme whose stated aim is “to give the poor an identity.”

    The algorithms that make iris recognition possible have been developed in the University’s Computer Laboratory by Professor John Daugman. “If you can’t prove your identity, in the eyes of the government, you don’t exist,” he said. The algorithms, which were patented in 1994 and have been licensed to several companies around the world over the past two decades, are still the basis of all significant iris recognition deployments.

    The question of whether anyone has the right to be anonymous has been debated for hundreds of years, but it is just as relevant today as it was in the 18th century. The thought of large-scale data collection by governments is a cause for concern: digital identity schemes in the UK and elsewhere have been scrapped due to questions around data protection and the right to anonymity.

    But in India, anonymity is a huge problem. Just 4% of Indians have a passport, and fewer than half have a bank account – in fact, many of India’s citizens have never had any form of government identification. Without any way to prove their identity, millions of Indians living in poverty cannot access government benefits such as pensions, or subsidies for food and housing. At the same time, there is a huge problem with fraud in the benefits system – it is estimated that roughly half of all government funding spent on welfare programmes does not reach the intended recipient.

    Each person who enrols with UIDAI is issued a unique 12-digit number, known as Aadhaar. Currently, Aadhaar is a means of confirming an individual’s identity, but it will eventually be used to access a range of government and non-government services, such as passports, banking and mobile phones. Once an individual has their Aadhaar, they can open a bank account without going to a bank, giving the government a secure place to deposit allowances and subsidies. Individuals can then withdraw money from their Aadhaar-associated account at a national network of ‘micro-ATMs’, which are often neighbourhood shops in villages and towns that do not have banking facilities. In addition to the social benefits which the project will provide, Aadhaar is seen as an important test of the effectiveness of iris recognition in large-scale identity projects.

    Irises have an incredible degree of random variation in their texture. The uniqueness of each pattern makes iris recognition 100,000 times more powerful than face recognition as a biometric. “Even our left and right irises are completely different from each other in detail, as are those of identical twins,” said Daugman. “You have a random, chaotic collection of features, which is why it’s almost universally regarded today as the most distinguishing biometric, as independent government tests have confirmed.”

    In cryptographic protocols, the length and randomness (entropy) of the encryption key determines its strength. The same theory is at the core of biometrics. Iris recognition and other types of biometrics work by finding some unique feature of a person’s behaviour, anatomy or physical appearance that is sufficiently complex and has enough randomness to provide a unique signature. Although faces, DNA and fingerprints are all strong methods for asserting an individual’s identity, their ‘encryption keys’ are not nearly as random as those of an iris. For example, DNA cannot distinguish between identical twins, and faces do not have nearly the same degree of uniqueness as iris patterns. The overwhelming mathematical challenge of Aadhaar and other large-scale iris recognition programmes is that every new entrant to the database must be checked against each existing entrant to prevent acquisition of duplicate or multiple identities. This requires both enormous resistance to false matches and enormous speed of matching.

    “When searching a database whose size corresponds to the population of India, you can’t afford for the likelihood of a false match to be similar to that of face recognition or fingerprints: you’d be drowning in false matches,” said Daugman. “While it may be more difficult to acquire an iris image due to the small size of the target, the real strength of iris recognition is that you simply don’t get false matches, even when searching national-scale databases.”

    The technology has to be able to isolate and recognise an iris, while extracting the texture and structure that make it different from any other iris. The Cambridge algorithms convert an iris pattern into a code made up of a series of ones and zeroes, which takes just a few milliseconds. The algorithms then measure the amount of dissimilarity between the new iris code and every other iris code by taking the strings of ones and zeroes and counting all the bits that disagree. An average CPU core can do around one million comparisons per second, so even when dealing with the trillions of comparisons that take place every day in India, only a moderately-sized server farm is required to search and compare against the entire database.

    When computing iris codes, typically less than 70% of the iris is visible, as it is partially covered by the eyelid, or obscured by eyelashes, heavy makeup or reflections on the cornea. However, the amount of variation is such that, even so, the likelihood of two people generating iris codes that ‘collide’ with each other is vanishingly small. It is roughly equivalent to tossing a fair coin 250 times in a row and getting (say) three-quarters heads and one-quarter tails, which is extremely improbable.

    As people continue to enrol in cities, towns and villages across India, the Aadhaar scheme is being watched with great interest by governments and organisations from all over the world. While privacy concerns have been voiced, the benefits to those who cannot currently prove who they are could be enormous. The President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has described the programme as one of the best examples of integration of technology for social welfare use, and one which could play a major part in achieving the goal of poverty eradication by 2030.

    “It’s very satisfying to see something that one has developed be deployed on such a huge scale,” said Daugman. “It’s also mathematically interesting to me that one can make randomness the key to the solution, rather than the problem.”

    For more information on this story, contact Sarah Collins on

    The largest biometric programme in history – collecting iris and fingerprint patterns of 1.2 billion people in three years – aims to improve the quality of life for some of India’s most disadvantaged and marginalised citizens by “giving the poor an identity.”

    If you can’t prove your identity, in the eyes of the government, you don’t exist
    Professor John Daugman
    Iris (eye)

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    Published in the journal Diabetologia, the study showed that eating yoghurt in place of a portion of other snacks such as crisps also reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

    The study found that higher consumption of yoghurt, compared with no consumption, can reduce the risk of new-onset type 2 diabetes by 28%, and that higher consumption of low-fat fermented dairy products – including all yoghurt varieties and some low-fat cheeses – also reduced the relative risk of diabetes by 24% overall.

    According to lead researcher Dr Nita Forouhi, from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge: “This research highlights that specific foods may have an important role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and are relevant for public health messages.”

    The research was based on the large EPIC-Norfolk study, which includes more than 25,000 men and women living in Norfolk, UK.

    It compared a detailed daily record of all the food and drink consumed over a week at the time of study entry among 753 people who developed new-onset type 2 diabetes over 11 years of follow-up with 3,502 randomly selected study participants.

    This allowed the researchers to examine the risk of diabetes in relation to the consumption of total dairy products as well as individual dairy products.

    Total dairy, total high-fat dairy or total low-fat dairy consumption was not associated with new-onset diabetes once important factors like healthier lifestyles, education, obesity levels, other eating habits and total calorie intake were taken into account. Total milk and cheese intakes were also not associated with diabetes risk.

    However, those with the highest consumption of low-fat fermented dairy products (such as yoghurt, fromage frais and low-fat cottage cheese) were 24% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the 11 years, compared with non-consumers.

    Previous studies on the link between dairy product consumption (high fat or low fat) and diabetes have proved inconclusive, prompting this more detailed assessment of diary product consumption.

    Type 2 diabetes is common and its incidence is increasing. In 2013, there were 382 million people worldwide with diabetes and by 2035 that number will increase to 592 million, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

    While this type of study cannot prove that eating dairy products causes the reduced diabetes risk, dairy products do contain beneficial constituents such as vitamin D, calcium and magnesium. In addition, fermented dairy products may exert beneficial effects against diabetes through probiotic bacteria and a special form of vitamin K (part of the menaquinone family) associated with fermentation.

    “At a time when we have a lot of other evidence that consuming high amounts of certain foods, such as added sugars and sugary drinks, is bad for our health, it is very reassuring to have messages about other foods like yoghurt and low-fat fermented dairy products, that could be good for our health,” said Dr Forouhi.

    Eating more yoghurt can reduce the risk of new-onset type 2 diabetes, researchers at Cambridge have found.

    It is very reassuring to have messages about other foods like yoghurt and low-fat fermented dairy products, that could be good for our health
    Nita Forouhi
    Home made yoghurt

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    Reviewing over 20 years of neuroscience research into sex differences in brain structure, a Cambridge University team has conducted the first meta-analysis of the evidence, published this week in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews

    The team, led by doctoral candidate Amber Ruigrok and Professors John Suckling and Simon Baron-Cohen in the Department of Psychiatry, performed a quantitative review of the brain imaging literature testing overall sex differences in total and regional brain volumes. They searched all articles published between 1990 and 2013. A total of 126 articles were included in the study, covering brains from individuals as young as birth to 80 years old.

    They found that males on average have larger total brain volumes than women (by 8-13%). On average, males had larger absolute volumes than females in the intracranial space (12%; >14,000 brains), total brain (11%; 2,523 brains), cerebrum (10%; 1,851 brains), grey matter (9%; 7,934 brains), white matter (13%; 7,515 brains), regions filled with cerebrospinal fluid (11.5%; 4,484 brains), and cerebellum (9%; 1,842 brains). Looking more closely, differences in volume between the sexes were located in several regions. These included parts of the limbic system, and the language system.

    Specifically, males on average had larger volumes and higher tissue densities in the left amygdala, hippocampus, insular cortex, putamen; higher densities in the right VI lobe of the cerebellum and in the left claustrum; and larger volumes in the bilateral anterior parahippocampal gyri, posterior cingulate gyri, precuneus, temporal poles, and cerebellum, areas in the left posterior and anterior cingulate gyri, and in the right amygdala, hippocampus, and putamen.

    By contrast, females on average had higher density in the left frontal pole, and larger volumes in the right frontal pole, inferior and middle frontal gyri, pars triangularis, planum temporale/parietal operculum, anterior cingulate gyrus, insular cortex, and Heschl’s gyrus; bilateral thalami and precuneus; the left parahippocampal gyrus, and lateral occipital cortex.

    The results highlight an asymmetric effect of sex on the developing brain. Amber Ruigrok, who carried out the study as part of her PhD, said: “For the first time we can look across the vast literature and confirm that brain size and structure are different in males and females. We should no longer ignore sex in neuroscience research, especially when investigating psychiatric conditions that are more prevalent in either males or females.”

    Professor Suckling added: “The sex differences in the limbic system include areas often implicated in psychiatric conditions with biased sex ratios such as autism, schizophrenia, and depression. This new study may therefore help us understand not just typical sex differences but also sex-linked psychiatric conditions. It is important to note that we only investigated sex differences in brain structure, so we cannot infer anything about how this relates to behaviour or brain function. Integrating across different levels will be an important goal for future research.”

    Professor Baron-Cohen commented: “Although these very clear sex differences in brain structure may reflect an environmental or social factor, from other studies we know that biological influences are also important, including prenatal sex steroid hormones (such as foetal testosterone) as well as sex chromosome effects. Such influences need to be teased out, one by one.”

    Dr Meng-Chuan Lai, another member of the team, noted: “The advantage of conducting a meta-analysis is that we can summarise the best knowledge from a vast, heterogeneous literature, with a very large sample size. However, we found a bias in the existing literature towards the use of volunteers over 18 years old, probably because this is the easiest age group to recruit and to brain scan. We need more research exploring brain development over the entire lifespan, especially in the early, formative years”.

    This study was supported by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Autism Research Trust, the Dr Hendrik Müller Vaderlandsch Fonds, the Carolus Magnus Fonds under the Prins Bernard Cultuurfonds, and the Waterloo Foundation. It was conducted in association with the NIHR CLAHRC for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

    Professor Simon Baron-Cohen will be speaking on ‘Do hormones in the womb affect how your brain and mind develop’ on Saturday 15 March at the Cambridge Science Festival. For more information about the Festival and to book tickets for Professor Baron-Cohen’s talk, please visit:

    New study examines thousands of brains from two decades of research to reveal differences between male and female brain structure.

    For the first time we can look across the vast literature and confirm that brain size and structure are different in males and females
    Amber Ruigrok
    Overview of average regional sex differences in grey matter volume. Areas of larger volumes in women are in red and areas of larger volume in men are in blue.

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