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  • 05/27/14--09:26: Heavens above
  • Scholars still do not know how the document came to be deposited in the Perne Library at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in the 15th century, but the astronomical instrument it describes has been brought to life by successive Cambridge academics, and now turned into a fully operational digital model.

    In the 1950s, a PhD student at Christ’s College, Derek de Solla Price, came across a book, dated 1393, which he named the ‘Equatorie of the Planetis’. The manuscript was believed to be just another medieval discussion of astrolabes, instruments that had been widely used since antiquity to observe the positions of the stars. “It was a rather dull volume, traditionally attributed to an obscure astronomer, and it had probably hardly been opened in the last five hundred years,” Price later wrote. “As I opened it, the shock was considerable. The instrument pictured there was quite unlike an astrolabe – or anything else immediately recognisable.”

    Now thoroughly fascinated by the manuscript and its purpose, Price decided to try to recreate the instrument so carefully described in its pages, and fashioned a six foot wide disk of wood, with complex measurements around its edge, and a similarly sized brass ring and pointer. It was clearly designed to be a computational device, assisting a medieval astronomer to accurately calculate the position of the five known planets at the time (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), together with the Sun and the Moon, all of which were believed to orbit around the Earth against a background of ‘fixed’ stars.

    For a time, the equatorium was prominently displayed in the newly opened Whipple Museum, but eventually it was moved into storage to make way for refurbishment. And from there, it slipped into obscurity, only emerging in 2012 thanks to the efforts of PhD candidate Seb Falk, who stumbled across its hiding place almost by accident.

     “I wasn’t expecting to find the actual model, but the curators took me to the storeroom, and tucked away in there was the equatorium. I was able to make the connection with Price – and it was wonderful to see it as so few examples of equatoria have survived,” said Falk, who is researching medieval astronomical instruments in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science.

    Now a new programme, which involves a unique collaboration between Peterhouse, the Whipple Museum and the University Digital Library, has seen the development of an electronic working model of the equatorium, as well as full digitisation of the Equatorie of the Planetis manuscript. Visitors to the museum will be able to use the computer generated model to find out the positions of the planets on any given date from 1393, and will also be able to see the original model built by Price.

    “As there are not many working examples still in existence, we felt that it was important to make a model for the modern age,” explained Scott Mandelbrote, Director of Studies in History at Peterhouse and the Perne Librarian. “ I’m sure that if the original writer of the manuscript had been able to construct a digital model, he would have done.”

    Falk added, “It is likely that there was a whole community of astronomers at the time, who were using documents like this to help them carry out calculations with a high degree of accuracy. We still do not know exactly how it came to be in Cambridge, but we believe it may have been brought here to teach students who were interested in astronomy and astrology, which were inseparable areas of study at the time.”

    For the full version of this article see the latest University Newsletter, distributed to staff this week. You can also view the Newsletter online through the staff webpages.

     

    The Equatorie of the Planetis: Manuscript, Models, and Digitisation

    Wednesday 28 May, 2:15 – 5:00 p.m.

    Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH

    Admission is free, and registration is not required.

    View the digital version of the manuscript 

     

    A 600-year-old astronomical document is now moving into the modern era, with a symposium at the Whipple Museum tomorrow (Wednesday 28 May) to mark its digitisation.

    As I opened it, the shock was considerable. The instrument pictured there was quite unlike an astrolabe – or anything else immediately recognisable
    Derek de Solla Price
    Equatorie of the Planetis

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    The approval has been welcomed by the Cambridge researchers whose work, which started in 1991, led to today’s announcement, and by the MS Society.

    Professor Alastair Compston, Professor of Neurology and Head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, said: "I am delighted that the decision from NICE will make Lemtrada available on the NHS. This brings to a conclusion work involving a number of research groups in Cambridge, stretching back over several decades, which made possible our use of Alemtuzumab in multiple sclerosis. The decision from NICE now provides an opportunity for neurologists to offer a highly effective therapy for patients with multiple sclerosis early in the course of their illness.”

    Dr Alasdair Coles, Senior Lecturer, also in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, added: “We are delighted that NICE has supported the EU decision to make this drug available to anyone with active relapsing-remitting MS, without the restrictions invoked on previous drug approvals. This represents a significant change in the way therapies for MS are approved. We are pleased that we are able to offer patients the choice of this new treatment option.’’

    Lemtrada, manufactured by pharmaceutical company Genzyme, began life as Campath-1H, a drug developed out of research by Professor Herman Waldmann and colleagues in the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge which began in 1979. However, the story of Campath stretches even further back to research by Dr César Milstein at Cambridge’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 1975 to develop monoclonal antibodies – artificially-produced antibodies, a key component of our immune system which rids the body of invading organisms; this work was to win César Milstein and George Köhler the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1984.

    Campath-1H was originally developed as an immunosuppressant to prevent the rejection of bone marrow transplants. The original versions of the drug – Campath-1M and Campath-1G – were developed using mouse and rat antibodies; it would take the development of ‘humanised’ monoclonal antibodies – which replace regions of the animal antibody with human equivalents – for the drug to be successful in humans. This new drug, Campath-1H, was successful at treating two types of blood cancer, lymphocytic leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

    Campath-1H was identified as a potential treatment for multiple sclerosis by Professor Alastair Compston, Professor of Neurology and Head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, in the late 1980s. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system begins to attack the body’s own healthy nerve cells, stripping away their protective myelin sheath and preventing electrical signals from passing smoothly and quickly between the brain and body. The drug reboots the immune system by first depleting a key class of immune cells, called lymphocytes.  The system then repopulates, leading to a modified immune response that no longer regards myelin and nerves as foreign.

    The first MS patient was treated with the drug in 1991 and as evidence began to mount that the drug would be effective, if used to treat people before the disease process had progressed too far, Professor Compston and his colleague Dr Alasdair Coles, who joined the team a few years later, expanded the trials. Eventually, the results of phase III clinical studies, published in 2012, confirmed that the drug is effective both in MS patients who are previously untreated (‘first-line’ therapy) and those who have already failed another treatment.

    As with any medication, however, the drug is not without its side-effects – roughly one third of patients with multiple sclerosis develop another autoimmune disease, mainly targeting the thyroid gland and more rarely other tissues especially blood platelets. The research team is investigating how to identify people who are susceptible to this complication and testing whether the side-effect can be prevented using an additional drug that boosts repopulation of the immune system.

    The announcement by NICE has been welcomed by the MS Society. Nick Rijke, Director for Policy & Research, said: “The NICE approval of Lemtrada is a major step forward in the treatment of people with multiple sclerosis. This drug has taken decades to develop, and we applaud the team at Cambridge for all their work in making it a reality. While it’s not without risk, it’s proven to be a highly effective medicine for people with relapsing remitting MS and we look forward to seeing it made available to those who could benefit.”

    A new drug based on decades of research at the University of Cambridge has today been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for use in people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Clinical trials have shown that Alemtuzumab, marketed under the name Lemtrada, reduces disease activity, limits the accumulation of further disability over time and may even allow some existing damage to recover.

    This brings to conclusion work involving a number of research groups in Cambridge, stretching back over several decades
    Alastair Compston
    CamPath

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    London’s international fish trade can be traced back 800 years to the medieval period, according to new research published today in the journal Antiquity.

    The research, led by archaeologists from Cambridge, UCL and UCLan, provides new insight into the medieval fish trade and the globalisation of London’s food supply.

    Archaeologists analysed data from nearly 3,000 cod bones found in 95 different excavations in and around London. They identified a sudden change in the origin of the fish during the early 13th century, indicating the onset of a large-scale import trade.

    “It's a truly remarkable shift. We had expected a gradual increase in imports as demand grew along with the city's medieval population – thought to have quadrupled between AD 1100 and AD 1300 – but this is something else: evidence for locally caught cod drops off suddenly when the imports come in,” said lead author Dr David Orton, formerly of Cambridge’s McDonald Institute and now at UCL Institute of Archaeology

    “What did this mean for the local fishing industry? Until we've looked at other fish species and other towns we can't be sure, but the start of this long-range trade may well be an important message about changes in supply and demand.”

    Cod were traditionally decapitated as part of preservation for long-range transport, meaning the researchers knew that head bones found during excavations must represent fresh fish from relatively local waters. Vertebrae, by contrast, might be either local or imported.

    Comparing frequencies of the two over time, the researchers discovered the sudden switch 'from heads to tails' during the early 13th century. To confirm that the vertebrae were from distant waters, the team used biochemical signatures to match some of the individual bones to their most likely sources, with the results supporting the archaeological data perfectly: from the middle of the 13th century, the majority of sampled bones have signatures suggesting an origin in the far north, probably Arctic Norway.

    Co-author Dr James Barrett, of Cambridge’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, added: “This discovery clarifies an important rapid shift in the demand for distant food resources of one of Europe’s major centres.

    “It shows us that local fishing could no longer keep up with this demand, that London’s ecological footprint was increasingly extensive and that growing trade connections were making the world a smaller place in the century before the spread of the Black Death”.

    The research also shows a temporary drop in imports in the late 14th century that might reflect the Black Death's impact on European trade, plus a further surge in imports from around AD1500 - coinciding with the beginnings of trans-Atlantic trade and the arrival of cod from Newfoundland on European markets.

    This kind of archaeological data-mining is made possible by London's archaeological contractors – particularly Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), who each year excavate dozens of sites threatened by development and who opened their database to the researchers – and by the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre that curates the resulting finds and data.

    Researchers have uncovered the medieval tipping-point when local fishing could no longer support the demands of the burgeoning metropolis, and catches started to come in from as far away as Arctic Norway.

    Growing trade connections were making the world a smaller place in the century before the spread of the Black Death
    James Barrett
    Cod skeleton indicating anatomical categories used in the study

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  • 05/28/14--04:01: Buddha and the book
  • Buddha’s Word: The Life of Books in Tibet and Beyond puts on display for the first time the museum's astonishing Buddhist artefacts and brings together collections and research from MAA, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, and the Fitzwilliam Museum – as well as the University Library, the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and Emmanuel and Pembroke Colleges.

    Historians, anthropologists, linguists, art historians, chemists and material scientists have all contributed to this unique view into the complex world of the book in Buddhism. Exhibits of particular note include some of the oldest illuminated Buddhist manuscripts from the first decades of the eleventh century, specimens of skilfully illuminated wooden covers and a quartet of scroll paintings brought back from the controversial Younghusband Expedition.

    Dr Hildegard Diemberger, Co-Curator, describes the exhibition as “telling the story of the incredible journeys that the words of the Buddha have taken – crossing mountains and oceans and taking different material forms in different places.”

    This story is told through the curation of three distinct spaces within the Li Ka Shing gallery at the museum. First to greet visitors will be a Himalayan Buddhist Altar which demonstrates an exploration of the text as sacred object, as a relic of the Buddha.

    Secondly, the Laboratory shows how Tibetan books are made and analysed, investigating the long history of printing in Tibet and the recent discoveries made by Cambridge scientists and scholars about the pigments used in illuminations. The final section, the Library, traces the journeys taken by Buddha’s word from India, across Asia, to places as far apart as Sri Lanka and Japan, Mongolia and Taiwan. 

    “It’s a real first,” said Dr Mark Elliott, Senior Curator in Anthropology at MAA. “A lot of these artefacts have never been seen on display before, and certainly not together. But we’re also looking at Tibetan books, and Tibetan Buddhist art, in a completely new way. There have been some real surprises during the development of the exhibition and we’re looking forward to sharing some of those with visitors.”

    This exhibition is one outcome of a series of Cambridge-based, linked projects carried out over the past decade. These projects include Tibetan and Mongolian Rare Books and Manuscripts; Transforming Technology and Buddhist Book Culture: The Introduction of Printing and Digital Text Reproduction in Tibetan Societies; and the Sanskrit Manuscript Project, all funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and Tibetan Books Evolution and Technology (TiBET), supported by the Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship.

    Thanks to exchange schemes run by the Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit, Tibetan scholars have been able to engage with these materials providing new insights and understandings of their cultural significance.

    Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, said: “This is a truly collaborative project that exemplifies the research strengths of the University of Cambridge and the extraordinary potential of the Arts Council-funded Connecting Collections programme, that brings together the collections and expertise of all the University of Cambridge Museums. This particular project has also been generously supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

    "From the Buddhist Altar, to the Library, to the Laboratory, this exhibition promises to be an inspiration for scholars, Buddhists and curious people of all ages and backgrounds. It is the story of the transformation of Buddha’s words, from palm leaves, to paper, to digital dharma."

    Some of the world’s oldest Sanskrit and Buddhist manuscripts – and a gift from the 13th Dalai Lama – go on display from today at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA).

     

    A lot of these artefacts have never been seen on display before.
    Mark Elliott
    Buddha's Word at MAA

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    Washing hands

    In a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry and primarily funded by the Wellcome Trust, researchers show that people who are affected by disorders of compulsivity have lower grey matter volumes (in other words, fewer nerve cells) in the brain regions involved in keeping track of goals and rewards.

    In our daily lives, we make decisions based either on habit or aimed at achieving a specific goal. For example, when driving home from work, we tend to follow habitual choices – our ‘autopilot’ mode – as we know the route well; however, if we move to a nearby street, we will initially follow a ‘goal-directed’ choice to find our way home – unless we slip into autopilot and revert to driving back to our old home. However, we cannot always control the decision-making process and make repeat choices even when we know they are bad for us – in many cases this will be relatively benign, such as being tempted by a cake whilst slimming, but extreme cases it can lead to disorders of compulsivity.

    In order to understand what happens when our decision-making processes malfunction, a team of researchers led by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge compared almost 150 individuals with disorders including methamphetamine dependence, obesity with binge eating and obsessive compulsive disorder, comparing them with healthy volunteers of the same age and gender.

    Study participants first took part in a computerised task to test their ability to make choices aimed a receiving a reward over and above making compulsive choices. In a second study, the researchers compared brain scans taken using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in healthy individuals and a subset of obese individuals with or without binge eating disorder (a subtype of obesity in which the person binge eats large amounts of food rapidly).

    The researchers demonstrated that all of the disorders were connected by a shift away from goal-directed behaviours towards automatic habitual choices. The MRI scans showed that obese subjects with binge eating disorder have lower grey matter volumes – a measure of the number of neurons – in the orbitofrontal cortex and striatum of the brain compared to those who do not binge eat; these brain regions are involved in keeping track of goals and rewards. Even in healthy volunteers, lower grey matter volumes were associated with a shift towards more habitual choices.

    Dr Valerie Voon, principal investigator of the study, says: “Seemingly diverse choices – drug taking, eating quickly despite weight gain, and compulsive cleaning or checking – have an underlying common thread: rather that a person making a choice based on what they think will happen, their choice is automatic or habitual.

    “Compulsive disorders can have a profoundly disabling effect of individuals. Now that we know what is going wrong with their decision making, we can look at developing treatments, for example using psychotherapy focused on forward planning or interventions such as medication which target the shift towards habitual choices.”

    People affected by binge eating, substance abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder all share a common pattern of decision making and similarities in brain structure, according to new research from the University of Cambridge.

    Seemingly diverse choices – drug taking, eating quickly despite weight gain, and compulsive cleaning or checking – have an underlying common thread
    Valerie Voon
    Person washing hands (cropped image)

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    Historical and literary references to the physical deformities of Richard III, who ruled England from 1483-1485, are well-known, but debate has raged for centuries over the extent to which these descriptions are true. Various historical and literary references refer to Richard III as “crook-backed” or “hunch-back’d” , but until now, it was unknown whether these descriptions were based on Richard’s actual appearance, or were an invention of later writers to damage his reputation.

    Early examinations of the remains of Richard III, discovered in 2012 by archaeologists at the University of Leicester, showed that the king had a condition called scoliosis, where the spine curves to the side. The latest analysis, published in The Lancet, reveals that the king’s condition would have had a noticeable, but small, effect on his appearance, and is unlikely to have affected his ability to exercise.

    Professor Bruno Morgan, and the forensic imaging team at the University of Leicester, created both physical and computer-generated replicas of the king’s spine by performing CT scans at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, and using 3D prints of the bones created by the Loughborough University from the CT image data. This allowed the study authors to carefully analyse the remains of Richard III’s skeleton to accurately determine the nature of his spinal condition and the extent to which it would have affected his appearance.

    The results show that Richard’s scoliosis was unlikely to have been inherited, and that it probably appeared sometime after he was 10 years old. The condition would today be called ‘adolescent onset idiopathic scoliosis’, and is one of the commonest forms of scoliosis.

    According to study author Dr Piers Mitchell, of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology: “The physical deformity produced by Richard’s scoliosis was probably slight as he had a well-balanced curve of the spine. His trunk would have been short relative to the length of his limbs, and his right shoulder a little higher than the left. However, a good tailor to adjust his clothing and custom-made armour could have minimised the visual impact of this.”

    “The moderate extent of Richard’s scoliosis is unlikely to have resulted in any impaired tolerance to exercise from reduced lung capacity,” says study co-author Dr Jo Appleby, Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology at the University of Leicester, “Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest Richard would have walked with an overt limp, as his curve was well balanced and the bones of the lower limbs symmetric and well formed.”

    The Dig for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society. The originator of the Search project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.

    Research led by the University of Leicester, working with the University of Cambridge, Loughborough University and University Hospitals of Leicester, has finally uncovered the truth about Richard III’s spinal condition.

    The physical deformity produced by Richard’s scoliosis was probably slight as he had a well-balanced curve of the spine
    Dr Piers Mitchell
    Skeleton of Richard III

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    Diabetes 1/4

    A low-cost, reusable sensor which uses nanotechnology to screen for and monitor diabetes and other conditions, has been developed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, for use both in clinics and home settings.

    The sensors use nanotechnology to monitor levels of glucose, lactate and fructose in individuals with diabetes or urinary tract infections, and change colour when levels reach a certain concentration. They can be used to test compounds in samples such as urine, blood, saliva or tear fluid.

    Earlier this year, clinical trials of the sensors were carried out at Addenbrooke’s Hospital to monitor glucose levels in 33 diabetic patients. Recently, the team has also partnered with a non-governmental organisation to deploy the technology for field use in Ghana early next year.

    According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are an estimated 175 million undiagnosed diabetic patients worldwide, 80% of whom live in low- and middle- income countries. Development of non-invasive and accurate diagnostics that are easily manufactured, robust and reusable will allow for simple monitoring of high-risk individuals in any environment, particularly in the developing world.

    The sensors developed by the Cambridge team are made using laser light, which organises metal nanoparticles into alternating layers in thin gel films to produce the sensors in a matter of seconds.

    When glucose, lactate or fructose concentrations are high in a sample, the sensor changes colour. The exact concentration can be determined by visually comparing the colour to a reference chart, or the image can be automatically processed by a smartphone application.

    In trials conducted earlier this year in Cambridge, the sensors showed improved performance over commercial glucose test strips read by an automated reader, while showing comparable performance state-of-the-art fully-automated glucose monitoring technology. Details were recently published in the journal Nano Letters.

    Additionally, the sensors can be produced at a fraction of the cost of commercially-available test strips. A single sensor would cost 20 pence to produce, and can be reused up to 400 times, compared with disposable urine test strips, which cost about 10 pence per use. The use of lasers means that the sensors can be easily manufactured at scale.

    “These sensors can be used to screen for diabetes in resource-poor countries, where disposable test strips and other equipment are simply not affordable,” said Ali Yetisen, a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology, who led the research.

    The researchers are developing a prototype smartphone-based test suitable for both clinical and home testing of diabetes and other clinically relevant conditions.

    “The value of these reusable sensors will be realised when they are mass produced and adopted as a diagnostic tool for routine diabetes screening,” said Yunuen Montelongo who co-authored the article.

    A sensor which can be used to screen for diabetes in resource-poor settings has been developed by researchers and tested in diabetic patients, and will soon be field tested in sub-Saharan Africa.

    These sensors can be used to screen for diabetes in resource-poor countries, where disposable test strips and other equipment are simply not affordable
    Ali Yetisen
    Diabetes 1/4

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    Research by Cambridge University art historian, Dr Meredith Hale, published in the June edition of the Burlington Magazine, reveals how this unique piece of interior design embodies the merging of cultures separated by thousands of miles. She considers how the artists who created the screen took their inspiration from a wide range of traditions and genres – including, most notably, the work of Dutch printmakers – showing just how fluid was the exchange of ideas and objects during a time when the world was rapidly opening up and its elites desiring of novelties and luxuries.

    The screen, which early in its history was divided in half, depicts two of the most important European victories in the Great Turkish War (1683–1699). The section of the screen now in the Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlán, shows the siege of Vienna on 12 September 1683, when the forces of the Holy Roman Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Saxony, Bavaria, and Franconia relieved the city from a two-month siege by over 100,000 Turkish troops. The section of the screen now in the Brooklyn Museum, New York, tells the story of the siege of Belgrade on 6 September 1688, when Imperial Habsburg troops under the leadership of the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emanuel, took Belgrade, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire since 1521. 

    On the side of the screen designed to face the women’s sitting room are elegant hunting scenes based on a range of European prints. The scenes on the Tepotzotlán half of the screen are based on prints after Gobelins tapestries by Louis XIV’s court artists, Adam Frans van der Meulen (1632–1690) and Charles Le Brun (1619–1690). The hunt on the Brooklyn half of the screen is based on the Medici court artist Johannes Stradanus’s designs for tapestries for Cosimo I’s villa at Poggio a Caiano. The rich floral border and garlands tied with red ribbons along the tops of the hunt scenes recall the kinds of decorative elements that would have appeared in the tapestries to which the prints were related. Both the main scenes and the decorative borders are embellished with gold paint and inlaid shell work which would have, particularly in candlelight, enlivened the busy multi-figured compositions. 

    “The paintings have been attributed to Juan and Miguel González, artists associated with the viceregal court,” said Hale. “The González brothers are something of a mystery. Scholars of Spanish colonial art have debated whether they are of Spanish or Japanese origin. Both are possible, given the cosmopolitan nature of Mexico City at this time and the very real influences from both traditions.”

    When it was first made, the screen comprised 12 painted panels and, at more than seven feet high, measured 18 feet from end to end. Early in its history, this fabulous objet d’art made its way to Europe, most likely with Sarmiento de Valladares upon his return to Spain in 1701, where it was divided into two six-panel screens. The Tepotzotlán half of the screen seems to have remained in Spain until 1970, when it was taken back to Mexico and became part of the collection of the Museo Nacional del Virreinato. The half of the screen now in New York was bought by the Blois family of Cockfield Hall, Suffolk, almost certainly during the first half of the 20th century. Following a sale of some of the contents of the house in 1996, this second part is now owned by the Brooklyn Museum. 

    As a single objet d’art, the screen told the story of Spanish Habsburg power and, for those who viewed it, communicated a message of its inevitable continuity. Research by Hale, a specialist in Netherlandish art with a particular interest in the printmakers of the 17th century, has concentrated on the print sources for the battle scenes and the surprising ways in which newssheets produced in Amsterdam could be used in colonial Latin America. She reveals just how closely the painters drew on etchings made by the Dutch printmaker Romeyn de Hooghe during a period when printing was the primary means of producing propaganda and dispersing information.

    “Prints that were designed to satisfy the European buyer’s desire for information on current events and celebration of military successes were transformed into grand decorative objects with impressive propagandistic power. What began as ‘news’ ended as an entirely new kind of object whose evocative and commemorative function was akin to that of history painting,” she said.  “De Hooghe, who is best known for Williamite propaganda, had one of the most important and prolific workshops in the 1680s in Amsterdam so while it’s surprising to see newssheets put to this particular use, his authorship of them would have made them collectible in a way that other newssheets may not have been.”

    De Hooghe’s work was decidedly high-end. Prints by the same artist feature in another series of large scale painted panels that were also in the viceroy’s collection, The Battles of Alessandro Farnese. Hale’s study of this series will be published later this year.

    European prints, particularly religious ones, had circulated in Latin America since the 16th century and had often been used in interesting and surprising ways, such as the pair of feather mosaics, Jesus at the Age of Twelve and The Weeping Virgin (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) made in Michoacán, Mexico, c 1600, and based on engravings of c 1590 by Philippe Thomassin after Giulio Clovio. These works already featured in the collection of Rudolf II in Prague by the early 17th century. The long-standing and lively export of European prints to Latin America was mirrored in the importation of such exotic ‘New World’ objects.

    “With his commission of this painted screen, Valladares created an entirely new kind of luxury object. As shown by Rich Aste, curator of Spanish Colonial Art at the Brooklyn Museum, this is the only known work to combine the two elite Mexican genres of biombos, or folding screens, and shell inlay paintings known as enconchados. Folding screens retained their exotic status throughout the 17th century—their eastern origins were often emphasised in inventories—and the unique combination of the folding screen format, local technique of shell-inlay painting, and scenes of famous recent Habsburg victories would have served as a reminder of New Spain’s strategic location at the centre of trade from the east and the west and of the viceroy’s loyalty to the Habsburg king,” said Hale.

    “However, the significance of the Folding Screen with the Siege of Vienna and Belgrade and Hunting Scenes far exceeds its original context. The use of near-contemporary broadsheets produced by one of the most important Dutch printmakers of the late 17th century expands our view not only of the kinds of print sources that were used in Latin America, but also the distances that such political prints, which have often been considered to be ephemeral, travelled, the degree to which they were prized, and how, at least in one instance, such prints were used. Far from the straightforward acquisition of aspects of one culture by another, Folding Screen with the Siege of Vienna and Belgrade is a fundamentally ‘transcultural’ work of art, one that reflects the merging and converging of a range of cultures in the early modern period.”

    Meredith Hale is the Speelman Fellow in Netherlandish Art at Wolfson College.

    Inset images are details from: Folding screen with hunting scene, Museo Nacional de Virreinato (Hector Montano Morales); Folding Screen with the Siege of Vienna, Brooklyn Museum; etching of Siege of Vienna, Romeyn de Hooghe 1683 (Atlas van Stolk, Rotterdam); Siege of Belgrade, Romeyn de Hooghe, 1688 Koninklijk Bibliotheek, The Hague.
     

    Art historian Dr Meredith Hale reveals that a 17th-century screen, commissioned by the Viceroy of Mexico for a palace designed to impress visitors with the immutability of Spanish rule, is a striking example of a transcultural work of art. In an article for the Burlington Magazine, she traces the many influences that went into its narrative imagery and luxurious embellishment. 

    Prints that were designed to satisfy the European buyer’s desire for information on current events and celebration of military successes were transformed into grand decorative objects with impressive propagandistic power
    Meredith Hale
    Detail from Folding Screen with the Siege of Vienna, Mexico c 1697-1701, Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlan

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    Everything is made of something, yet, during the past century, the scientific and technological importance of materials has not been widely appreciated. Indeed, even though historical materials breakthroughs such as the development of steel to replace wrought iron had enormous commercial impacts, the term ‘advanced materials’ was coined only comparatively recently.

    Although much of the development underpinned by advanced materials remains invisible to the general public – for example the requirement for high dielectric constant gate materials for ultra-small transistors and advanced alloys to improve the efficiency of jet engines – a lot is now literally in one’s face such as scratch-resistant glass for smart-phone screens and optoelectronic polymers for displays.

    In many cases it is not the material itself which is ‘advanced’ but rather the manufacturing processes required either to create it or to integrate it with other materials. Sapphire, for example, has been recognised and used for thousands of years but the ability to create and machine large, perfect crystals has enabled it to be used as the substrate for the growth of gallium nitride (GaN) films for light-emitting diodes and soon to provide even more scratch-resistance for the smart-phone. In Cambridge, this too is advancing, with the more economically viable silicon replacing sapphire for GaN growth.

    The economic importance of advanced materials was recently highlighted by a key Government statement as one of the “eight great technologies” crucial for the UK’s future success. UK businesses that produce and process materials are essential to the UK economy. They employ over 2.6 million people, and represent 11% of the country’s Gross Value Added with a turnover of £140 billion per annum and exports valued at £46 billion in 2013.

    Cambridge is at the forefront of UK materials research and is investing heavily in the area: the University’s West Cambridge site is now home to the brand new building housing the Department of Materials Science and construction is under way for the Maxwell Centre – designed as a research hub to promote partnership between the physical sciences and industry – and a bespoke facility to host the Cambridge Graphene Centre with additional spaces for large-area electronics

    Materials activities, across many University departments, range from the most blue-sky basic research through to the translation of the results into industrial processes. For example what began a decade ago as basic studies of the properties of carbon nanotubes has evolved through the invention in Cambridge of a process for manufacturing macroscopic nanotube fibres into research programmes aimed at using this material as a structural reinforcement for body armour and as a potential replacement for copper as an electrical wire.

    Cambridge has often developed networks of research interconnections that have led to the acceleration of research outputs and the rapid translation of cutting-edge research into high-level economic impact. The collaborations of research teams from the basic sciences engaged in the creation of new materials with those responsible for the development of engineering advances and the manufacturing systems required to produce new products are an example of the kind of collaborations that are essential if basic materials research is to have a positive impact on UK economic growth. 

    Advanced materials have always played a central part in the success of products and systems. With the world marching towards even higher levels of personal and data interconnectivity, the demand for advanced materials and products is set to continue. The new infrastructural developments on the West and North West Cambridge site, is set to provide Cambridge even greater opportunities for establishing multidisciplinary research networks that are required to produce the advances in materials that are much sought after by UK and global industries.

    Professor Mark Blamire is head of the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy; Professor Bill O’Neil is in the Institute for Manufacturing and Director of the Centre for Industrial Photonics.

    Today, we commence a month-long focus on research on advanced materials. To begin, materials scientist Professor Mark Blamire and engineer Professor Bill O’Neil discuss how research in Cambridge is helping to advance the material world.

    The collaborations of research teams from the basic sciences with those responsible for the development of engineering advances and the manufacturing systems are an example of the kind that are essential if basic materials research is to have a positive impact on UK economic growth
    Mark Blamire and Bill O’Neil
    Nanotubes

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    Boy with autism

    The team of researchers, led by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and Dr Michael Lombardo in Cambridge and Professor Bent Nørgaard-Pedersen in Denmark, utilized approximately 19,500 amniotic fluid samples stored in a Danish biobank from individuals born between 1993-1999. Amniotic fluid surrounds the baby in the womb during pregnancy and is collected when some women choose to have an amniocentesis around 15-16 weeks of pregnancy. This coincides with a critical period for early brain development and sexual differentiation, and thus allows scientists access into this important window in fetal development. The researchers identified amniotic fluid samples from 128 males later diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition and matched these up with information from a central register of all psychiatric diagnoses in Denmark.

    Within the amniotic fluid the researchers looked at four key ‘sex steroid’ hormones that are each synthesized, step-by-step from the preceding one*. They also tested the steroid hormone cortisol that lies outside this pathway. The researchers found that levels of all steroid hormones were highly associated with each other and most importantly, that the autism group on average had higher levels of all steroid hormones, compared to a typically developing male comparison group. The results of the study, which was funded by the Medical Research Council, are published today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

    Professor Baron-Cohen said: “This is one of the earliest non-genetic biomarkers that has been identified in children who go on to develop autism. We previously knew that elevated prenatal testosterone is associated with slower social and language development, better attention to detail, and more autistic traits. Now, for the first time, we have also shown that these steroid hormones are elevated in children clinically diagnosed with autism. Because some of these hormones are produced in much higher quantities in males than in females, this may help us explain why autism is more common in males.”

    He added: “These new results are particularly striking because they are found across all the subgroups on the autism spectrum, for the first time uniting those with Asperger Syndrome, classic autism, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not-Otherwise-Specified. We now want to test if the same finding is found in females with autism.”

    Dr Michael Lombardo said: “This result potentially has very important implications about the early biological mechanisms that alter brain development in autism and also pinpoints an important window in fetal development when such mechanisms exert their effects.”

    Steroid hormones are particularly important because they exert influence on the process of how instructions in the genetic code are translated into building proteins. The researchers believe that altering this process during periods when the building blocks for the brain are being laid down may be particularly important in explaining how genetic risk factors for autism get expressed.

    Dr Lombardo adds: “Our discovery here meshes nicely with other recent findings that highlight the prenatal period around 15 weeks gestation as a key period when important genetic risk mechanisms for autism are working together to be expressed in the developing brain.”

    Professor Baron-Cohen said: “These results should not be taken as a reason to jump to steroid hormone blockers as a treatment as this could have unwanted side effects and may have little to no effect in changing the potentially permanent effects that fetal steroid hormones exert during the early foundational stages of brain development.”

    He cautioned further: “Nor should these results be taken as a promising prenatal screening test. There is considerable overlap between the groups and our findings showed differences found at an average group level, rather than at the level of accurately predicting diagnosis for individuals. The value of the new results lies in identifying key biological mechanisms during fetal development that could play important roles in atypical brain development in autism.”

    *Within the amniotic fluid the researchers looked at 4 key ‘sex steroid’ hormones that are each synthesized, step-by-step from the preceding one, in the ‘Δ4 sex steroid’ pathway: progesterone, 17α-hydroxy-progesterone, androstenedione and testosterone.

    Children who later develop autism are exposed to elevated levels of steroid hormones (for example testosterone, progesterone and cortisol) in the womb, according to scientists from the University of Cambridge and the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. The finding may help explain why autism is more common in males than females. However, the researchers caution it should not be used to screen for the condition.

    This is one of the earliest non-genetic biomarkers that has been identified in children who go on to develop autism
    Simon Baron-Cohen
    I Think... therefore I am more than a diagnosis. (Cropped image)

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    The construction industry, which uses half of the 1.5 billion tonnes of steel produced each year, could drastically reduce its carbon footprint by optimising the design of new buildings. Smart design could slash the sector’s carbon emissions by around 50%, without any impact on safety. If buildings are also maintained for their full design life and not replaced early, the sector's emissions could in total be cut by around 80% - the target set in the UK's 2008 Climate Change Act.

    New research from the University of Cambridge has found that the amount of steel used by the construction industry, and the resulting carbon emissions, could be significantly lowered by optimising the design of new buildings in order to use less material.

    At present, in order to keep labour costs down, the construction industry regularly uses double the material required by safety codes. Analysis of more than 10,000 structural steel beams in 23 buildings from across the UK found that on average, the beams were only carrying half the load they were designed for. The results are published in the June 4th issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

    Over one-quarter of the steel produced each year is used in the construction of buildings. Demand for steel is increasing rapidly, especially in the developing world, and is expected to double in the coming decades.

    The iron and steel industry contributes nearly 10% of total global carbon emissions, which climate change experts recommend be halved by 2050. Coupled with skyrocketing demand from the developing world, drastic action is required if a reduction in the sector’s carbon footprint is to be achieved.

    One option to achieve this reduction is by designing and building more efficiently, delivering the same performance from buildings but with less steel, but this is not common practice at present.

    “Structural engineers do not usually design optimised structures because it would take too much time; instead they use repetition to decrease the cost of construction,” said Dr Julian Allwood of the Department of Engineering, who led the research, which was funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC). “This leads to the specification of larger steel components than are required.”

    The researchers found that building designs are exceeding Eurocode Safety Standards by a factor of two and so are unnecessarily using double the amount of steel and concrete needed. “As materials are cheap and structural design time is expensive, it is currently cheaper to complete a design by using safe but considerably over-specified materials,” said Dr Allwood.

    Additionally, many buildings are being designed to last for 100 years but on average are replaced after just 40.

    By designing for minimum material rather than minimum cost, steel use in buildings could be drastically reduced, leading to an equivalent reduction in carbon emissions, at relatively low cost. The net result of avoiding over-design and early replacement is that the UK could provide the same amount of built space with just 20% of the materials - and therefore 20% of the carbon emissions - used at present.

    “We need to see a more sensible use of materials in the construction sector if we are to meet carbon reduction targets, regardless of the energy mix used in manufacturing the materials,” said Dr Allwood.

    The construction industry could slash its carbon emissions by as much as 50% by optimising the design of new buildings, which currently use double the amount of steel and concrete required by safety codes.

    We need to see a more sensible use of materials in the construction sector if we are to meet carbon reduction targets
    Julian Allwood
    Construction

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    Lucy Sercombe,  Sessional Gallery Teacher and Arts Award Coordinator, the Fitzwilliam Museum, being shown a student’s portfolio.

    ReaThe Arts Award week was made possible by a unique partnership between the University of Cambridge’s Realise project for young people in care, the University of Cambridge Museums, and Cambridgeshire County Council.

    At the end of the week each portfolio was assessed by an Arts Award moderator. The Arts Award is a nationally recognised qualification which can lead to further study or employment. 

    The young people took time out of their work in the museums to join the Realise Art and Architecture Day, hosted at Sidney Sussex College.  The Realise project has been running since 2010 and is organised by the University of Cambridge to encourage more young people in care to consider higher education.

    “We’ve walked round the museums, sketching and painting – and found out the facts about the artists and thought about stories and questions triggered by the art,” explained one participant.

    One of the youngest participants said “It has been a lot of hard work! We looked around the museums, really looked at the art, learned how to read paintings, and how to see the emotions and feelings in the paintings. It has been a really good thing to do, and is a way to get inspired. You can find an artist who relates to you. I chose Pablo Picasso, he didn’t follow the normal rules.”

    One Arts Award student, who plans to study fashion photography, said “We looked at the exhibitions, and we’ve also had a day looking at the uni, for them to give us information about what’s available to us. It shows that people like us can go to Cambridge – it was very inspiring.”

    Another young woman said the week had given her renewed confidence in her potential. “Talking to people who are here at the uni and hearing that I wouldn’t have to struggle with costs were the most important things for me. I’m thinking again about applying to uni now.”

    Describing the week as “an entire success,” Roy Nevitt, the Arts Award Moderator, said “The abundant resources within the University of Cambridge Museums were richly exploited by the young people to great effect.”

    “I was impressed by the fact that the whole of the Bronze Award work was achieved in one intensive week,” Roy added.

    Michelle Dean, from the Children’s Social Care Participation Team on Cambridgeshire County Council, and one of the organisers of the week, said "Our goal is to build aspirations in these young people.

    “This week has really developed their self-confidence, and shown them that they can learn new things, they can enjoy art, and they can achieve a formal qualification.

    “They have all told me that they want to carry on to higher awards, which is a fantastic testament to the project."

    Claire Gardner, Realise Co-ordinator for the University of Cambridge, said "It was wonderful to see the amazing artwork being produced in response to the museum collections.

    "Our aim is to inspire young people in care to realise their potential academically and also more broadly.

    "To speak to students who, as a result of completing the Arts Award, have regained confidence in their abilities and are now considering staying in education is fantastic."

    Fifteen young people in the care of Cambridgeshire County Council have spent their half-term holidays building a portfolio of artwork inspired by the exhibitions in the University of Cambridge Museums.

    The abundant resources within the University of Cambridge Museums were richly exploited by the young people to great effect.
    Roy Nevitt, Arts Award Moderator
    Lucy Sercombe, Sessional Gallery Teacher and Arts Award Coordinator, the Fitzwilliam Museum, being shown a student’s portfolio.

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  • 06/04/14--02:07: Body builders
  • It may not look like much to the naked eye, but collagen is remarkably strong. The most abundant protein in the animal kingdom, it gives strength and structure to skin, tendons, ligaments, smooth muscle tissue and many other parts of the body.

    Through precise manipulation at a structural level, collagen can also be used as a construction material in the laboratory or clinic to help regenerate new tissue, repair damaged cartilage and bone, or aid in the development of new therapies for cardiac disease, blood disorders and cancer.

    To understand these conditions better and develop new treatments, or regenerate new tissue, researchers require models that very closely mimic the complex, three-dimensional environments found in human tissue.

    As a natural material, collagen is ideal for these biomimetic applications. By shaping it into porous structures, collagen acts as a ‘scaffold’ on which cells and tissue can grow in three dimensions in predetermined forms, mimicking those found in the body.

    The idea of using collagen as a scaffold is not new, but the very high level of control that Cambridge researchers are able to achieve over its properties has made a huge range of clinical applications possible, including the repair of damaged joints or tissue, or accelerating the development of new therapies for cancer.

    “There is an increasing need for improved materials that work with the systems in the body to regenerate healthy tissue, rather than just replacing what’s there with something synthetic,” said Professor Ruth Cameron of the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, who, along with Professor Serena Best, is working with researchers from across the University to develop the scaffolds for a range of clinical applications. “You’re trying to help the body to heal itself and produce what it needs in order to do that.”

    To build the scaffolds, the researchers begin with a solution of collagen and water and freeze it, creating ice crystals. As the collagen cannot incorporate into ice, it gathers around the edges of the crystals. When the pressure around the ice is dropped to very low levels, it converts directly from a solid to vapour, leaving the collagen structure behind. By precisely controlling how the ice crystals grow as the water freezes, the researchers are able to control the shape and properties of the resulting collagen scaffold.

    By adding small groups of amino acids known as peptide sequences to the surface of the scaffold at different points, the way in which the collagen interacts with the growing cells changes, altering the potential uses for the scaffold. The peptide sequences signal certain cells to bind to the scaffold or to each other, while signalling other cells to migrate. Collectively, these signals direct the scaffold to form a certain type of tissue or have a certain type of biological response.

    “The scaffolds are a three-dimensional blank canvas – they can then be used in any number of different ways,” said Cameron, who is funded by the European Research Council. “They can be used to mimic the way in which natural tissue behaves, or they can be directed to form different sized or sequenced structures.”

    The technology has already gone from the laboratory all the way to patients, first as Chondromimetic, a product for the repair of damaged knee joints and bone defects associated with conditions such as osteoarthritis, trauma or surgery. By adding calcium and phosphate to the scaffold to mimic the structure of bone, it helps regenerate bone and cartilage. Chondromimetic has been through clinical trials and has received its CE mark, enabling its sale in Europe.

    In future, the scaffolds could also see use as a treatment for cardiac disease. Working with Professor Richard Farndale from the Department of Biochemistry and Dr Sanjay Sinha from the Department of Medicine, and supported by funding from the British Heart Foundation, Best and Cameron are developing the scaffolds for use as patches to repair the heart after a heart attack.

    Heart attacks occur when there is an interruption of blood to the heart, killing heart muscle. The remaining heart muscle then has to work harder to pump blood around the body, which can lead to a thickening of the heart wall and potential future heart failure.

    By modifying the collagen scaffolds with the addition of peptide sequences, they could be used to grow new heart cells to ‘patch’ over areas of dead muscle, regenerating the heart and helping it function normally. Cells could be taken directly from the patient and reprogrammed to form heart cells through stem cell techniques.

    While the work is still in its early stages, the scaffolds could one day be an important tool in treating coronary heart disease, which is the UK’s biggest killer. “These scaffolds give cells a foothold,” said Farndale, who is working with Sinha to characterise the scaffolds so that they encourage heart cells to grow. “Eventually, we hope to be able to use them, along with cells we’ve taken directly from the patient, to enable the heart to heal itself following cardiac failure.”

    Another potentially important application for the scaffolds is in breast cancer research. By using them to grow mimics of breast tissue, the scaffolds could help accelerate the development of new therapies. Working with Professor Christine Watson in the Department of Pathology, Best and Cameron are fine-tuning the scaffolds so that they can be used to create three-dimensional models of breast tissue. If successful, this artificial breast tissue could assist with the screening of new drugs for breast cancer, reduce the number of animals used in cancer research and ultimately lead to personalised therapies.

    “This is a unique culture system,” said Watson. “We are able to add different types of cells to the scaffold at different times, which no-one else can do. Better models will make our work as cancer researchers much easier, which will ultimately benefit patients.”

    Like breast tissue, blood platelets also require a very specific environment to grow. Dr Cedric Ghevaert of the Department of Haematology is working with Best and Cameron to use the scaffold technology to create a bone-like niche to grow bone marrow cells, or megakaryocytes, for the production of blood platelets from adult stem cells. In theory, this could be used to produce platelets as and when they are needed, without having to rely on blood donations.

    “The technology for culturing the cells is actually quite generic, so the range of applications it could be used for in future is quite broad,” said Best. “In terms of clinical applications, it could be used in almost any situation where you’re trying to regenerate tissue.”

    “In some senses, it can be used for anything,” added Cameron. “As you start to create highly organised structures made up of many different types of cells – such as the liver or pancreas – there is an ever-increasing complexity. But the potential of this technology is huge. It could make a huge difference for researchers and patients alike.”

    Miniature scaffolds made from collagen – the ‘glue’ that holds our bodies together – are being used to heal damaged joints, and could be used to develop new cancer therapies or help repair the heart after a heart attack.

    We are able to add different types of cells to the scaffold at different times, which no-one else can do
    Christine Watson
    Collagen scaffold imaged using X-ray microtomography to reveal its 3D structure

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    In 1873 the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, was given a number of Dutch landscape paintings by a benefactor called Richard Kerrich. Among these works of art was a beach scene painted by the artist Hendrick van Anthonissen early in the 17th century. Anthonissen depicts groups of people clustered on a sandy beach at the small town of Scheveningen. Other figures stand on the cliffs and, on the shore, several boats have been pulled up on the sand.

    For at least 150 years this seemingly unremarkable work of art has harboured a secret.The cleaning of the painting has now revealed that a beached whale provided the focus of the original composition.  The whale explains the hitherto slightly baffling presence of groups of people on the beach, and atop the cliffs, on what appears to be a blustery winter’s day. With the Leviathan now back where the artist placed it, the scene makes perfect sense.

    The hulking shape of the stranded whale was discovered by Shan Kuang, a postgraduate student at the world-renowned Hamilton Kerr Institute, a division of the Fitzwilliam Museum dedicated to the conservation and restoration of easel paintings. Kuang was assigned the painting as part of conservation carried out on Dutch works of art during the refurbishment of the Fitzwilliam’s gallery of Dutch Golden Age painting, which reopened on Tuesday. 

    The first inkling that a key feature was missing from the Anthonissen artwork came when Kuang meticulously removed a top layer of varnish and overpaint to reveal a small figure, apparently standing on the sea horizon.  “As conservators, we take off the resin varnish that was applied to protect and saturate the paint. The varnish yellows and darkens with time,” said Kuang.

    “As I worked across the surface a man appeared – and then next to him a shape that looked like a sail. By this time I could also make out an area of the sea which had been painted more crudely than the rest of the ocean. It was a thick layer of repaint covering a large section of original artwork. At the end of the treatment, the whale had returned as a key component of the composition, just as the artist had intended.”

    The man who seemed to be standing on the horizon is, in fact, balanced on the whale’s back where Kuang suggests that he might even be measuring its length.The chosen focus of the painting resonates with a surge of public interest in whales: contemporary records show many instances of whale beaching on the coastline of the Netherlands in the first half of the 17th century. While the Anthonissen painting seeks to represent the whale in a realistic manner, some prints from the period portray whales as rampaging monsters of the deep and omens of disaster.

    Conservators face difficult decisions when confronted with overpainting. “It’s important that we are true to the artist’s intentions. After establishing that Anthonissen had not made this alteration himself, the decision was made – in conjunction with curators at the Fitzwilliam – to uncover the original paint hiding beneath the repaint,” said Kuang.

    “Removing repaint has its uncertainties: you don’t always know how easily the paint can be removed or the condition of the original painting beneath the overpaint. Fortunately, the whale only had a few damages and was overall in good condition. I was able to remove the overpainting by scraping with a scalpel and using carefully chosen solvents. I had to proceed very gently and often work under the microscope to ensure no damage was done to the painting. It was very satisfying to see the whale slowly appearing.”

    No-one knows why the whale was painted out of the picture – or when. “Today we treat works of art as entities but in the previous centuries, painting were often elements of interior design that were adapted to fit certain spaces – or adjusted to suit changing tastes. It’s possible that the whale was removed because the presence of a dead animal was considered offensive – or perhaps without the whale the picture was more marketable,” said Kuang.

    “According to the documentation, no-one had any idea that the painting featured a whale when it was gifted to the Fitzwilliam. An analysis of the paint suggests the alteration is very old, but not contemporary to when the picture was painted circa 1641. The whale was likely overpainted in the 18th or 19th century, before it was given to the Fitzwilliam in 1873.”

    Conservators require a thorough grounding in chemistry as well as fine art. On top of that, they need excellent hand-eye coordination and a commitment to detail. Kuang, who took a first degree in chemistry at Yale University in the USA, is in her second year of a three-year course that will lead to a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation of Easel Paintings. “As students at the Hamilton Kerr we are extremely privileged to be able to work, under close supervision from tutors, on the conservation of important works of art. To have made a discovery like this – and bring an element of the composition back to life – is just wonderful,” she said.

    View of Scheveningen Sands by Hendrick van Anthonissen is on permanent display in the Fitzwilliam Museum. For information and opening times http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/ 

    For more information about this story contact Alexandra Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, amb206@admin.cam.ac.uk 01223 761673 or communications@admin.cam.ac.uk  01223 332300
     

    Earlier this year a conservator at the Hamilton Kerr Institute made a surprising discovery while working on a 17th-century painting owned by the Fitzwilliam Museum.  As Shan Kuang cleaned the surface, she revealed the beached whale that had been the intended focus of the composition. The artwork is now back on display in the Fitzwilliam's newly-refurbished gallery of Dutch Golden Age painting.  

    As I worked across the surface a man appeared – and then next to him a shape that looked like a sail... At the end of the treatment, the whale had returned as a key component of the composition, just as the artist had intended.
    Shan Kuang
    View of Scheveningen Sands by Hendrick van Anthonissen

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    I never thought I would be quizzing people over a radio about the sandiness of nipples. Then again, I never foresaw that for many months my days would start with a bump, lurching over sand dunes in a Land Rover, heading off to find meerkats, to whom those nipples belong. Life in the Kalahari is inherently full of surprises.

    My PhD research with Professor Tim Clutton-Brock has brought me here, to the far northern reaches of South Africa, where I study the phenomenon of allolactation – essentially, wet-nursing. In each of the 16 groups of meerkats scattered across our large reserve, only one dominant female will breed. The other females in the group will help her to raise her young, sometimes even lactating for them. This year though, those females are not being forthcoming, and their nipples, which will have wet, sandy rings around them if they are allolactating, remain dismally dry.

    The radio crackles as the network of volunteers spread out in separate cars and on foot to begin the task of monitoring different meerkat groups. I’m dropped off, and suddenly am in a state of solitude that I’ve come to find blissful. At the top of Sandy Hill, a large dune and one of our main landmarks, I leave grey flat scrub behind me and come to my favourite part of the reserve. Here the grass is a dry platinum, and dunes tumble gently into wide valleys. Tall trees, now erupting into a lush green after the first rains, are dotted evenly like a wild orchard. I love best the southward vista, where the dunes drop so suddenly to the flats that it looks like the edge of the world.

    It is the edge of the world for my favourite group of meerkats, the Sequoia group. I find their burrow just in time – the first to rise, just as the sun is coming up, is Bruce. He’s the dominant male of the group, a well-built and handsome meerkat easily recognisable from his striking left shoulder and left thigh dye marks, our means of identifying each individual. Bruce is a local hero for his audaciously bold guarding of his group – he can often be seen high up in some tree, watching the horizon with a fierce expression. The dominant female, Ru, is a big, good-natured girl, and her cohort are characterful and a pleasure to wander in the dunes with.

    After weighing each individual and conducting a roll-call, I follow the females I’m interested in – the dominant female and the potential allolactators – and collect detailed data on their every move, as well as staying aware of what’s going on with the whole group. Summer in the Kalahari is a time to watch your step too. I walked past the same bush dozens of times in Sequoia territory last week before we heard the telltale deflating-football sound of a deadly poisonous puff adder coiled menacingly at its base. It raised a lazy head at a young male venturing too close, who thankfully alerted the group, and me, to its presence.

    Watching my step is also important for happier reasons – to avoid the plucky little pups who dart around the adult females that I’m following in the hope of getting fed a juicy grub. The pups at Sequoia are obsessed with shoes, and play-forage around my heels as I record observations on their mother. If I sit down, there’s soon an investigation of my hems, laces and pockets. The pups are still the size of my palm, though getting heavier by the day.

    There is a time somewhere between 11 o’clock and midday when the Kalahari turns from a balmy, soft-edged paradise to a hell that crackles underfoot and becomes alien and angry, with a sudden fierce heat. Time to head home, and sleep off our early morning.

    I’m back out again mid-afternoon though, this time looking for Pandora, a group at the far edge of the land we cover. I find them using signals from a tiny radio collar that the pregnant dominant female, Toblerone, wears around her neck. But something odd is going on this evening  and I find I’m getting a strong signal for Toblerone below ground, at the group’s burrow. Luckily most of the rest of the gang, including a lovable adult male called Cecil – an incorrigible lothario with neighbouring groups – are foraging fairly nearby.

    It’s cooling now, but it’s been a long, hot afternoon, and when we return to the burrow at dusk, they are all eager to jump on my scales and be weighed, and then receive the gulps of water we reward them with.

    After a few moments, I discover the reason for Toblerone’s absence is just as I expected – she emerges, sleek and placid, with the suckle marks on her belly of some strong and healthy pups, born this afternoon. And even better news for me, the oldest subordinate female also appears, and by the sandy rings around her nipples, it looks like she has also started lactating – the first allolactator of my study. Like I said, the Kalahari is full of surprises – the tiny bundles of life produced in this dry, hot world are the best of them all.

    Kirsty MacLeod

    Kirsty MacLeod is a PhD student with Professor Tim Clutton-Brock In the Department of Zoology.

    Reporting back from her time spent in the Kalahari Desert, PhD student Kirsty MacLeod describes the fascinating life of a gang of meerkats that includes an audacious boy called Bruce and a good-natured girl called Ru.

    Bruce is a local hero for his audaciously bold guarding of his group – he can often be seen high up in some tree, watching the horizon with a fierce expression.
    Kirsty MacLeod
    Kirsty MacLeod and meerkats

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    "These baskets are just ordinary salt, dried from droplets of salt water. As the perfectly spherical water droplets dry out, the salt crystallises quickly from the outside, each crystal straining against the rest of the structure and breaking up the spheres.

    This image was taken on a scanning electron microscope, enabling us to look far beyond the ordinary micron sized world. In it you can see sort of spherical cages made of cuboid blocks. The incompatibility of the crystalline cuboids with the sphere are ripping the cages apart, there's no chance of making this cubic structure form good true spheres.

    To me this is an expression of the power of the nanoscale where we are confronted with the limits of our capacity to change materials. We can come up with new ways to manipulate and weave unnatural baskets, but it's the scale at which we find out the true nature of the atoms that form the materials which form us and the rest of our world."

    This image was taken while Rox Middleton was doing a summer placement with Dr Alex Finnemore in the Thin Films & Interfaces group in the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, using a scanning electron microscope in the University's Nanoscience Centre. Rox is currently a student on the Nanoscience and Technology Doctoral Training Centre (NanoDTC) PhD programme.

    'Nanomaterials Up Close' is a special series linked to our 'Under the Microscope' collection of videos produced by Cambridge University that show glimpses of the natural and man-made world in stunning close-up.

    This electron microscope picture, reminiscent of man-made baskets or children’s blocks, shows cubic salt crystals that have been forced to form in spheres, as Rox Middleton explains.

    To me this is an expression of the power of the nanoscale
    Rox Middleton
    Salt baskets

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    Latest reforms of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have been declared significantly “greener” by the Members of the European Parliament, following promises to make the environment and climate change ‘core issues’ for the new CAP.

    However, leading conservation experts writing in the journal Science warn that after three years of CAP negotiations the environmental reforms are so diluted they will be of no benefit to European wildlife, and biodiversity will continue to decline across the continent.

    Under the new CAP almost a third of direct payments to farmers are now subject to conditions relating to ‘greening measures’. However, disagreements over the measures have led to a wide range of exemptions being put in place.

    After analysing the details of the reformed CAP, experts from a number of major organisations revealed that about half of all farmland and 80-90% of all the farmers in the EU could be exempt from having to abide by two of the three new environmental requirements. At the same time, budgets to support voluntary ‘greening measures’ have been reduced.

    Individual member states must use the flexibility offered by the reforms to design national plans for sustaining ecosystems, say the experts. Unless member states take serious steps beyond those required for the CAP, the EU’s own biodiversity targets for 2020 are very unlikely to be met.

    The experts – who range from scientists to policy analysts and conservationists – offer six ‘immediate actions’ that states should take. These include comprehensive mapping of existing grasslands and increasing the availability of ecological expertise to farmers. They also list six recommendations for the EU to consider towards the next, still-much-needed revision of the CAP.

    They hope these recommendations encourage individual states and the EU as a whole to move towards sustainable agriculture, securing vital ecosystems for “current and future generations”.

    “The targets implicitly assume that the biodiversity-related measures under the CAP are effective at protecting wildlife. While some specific, carefully designed actions – such as planting flowers for pollinators, restoring species-rich grassland, or providing nesting areas for ground-nesting birds – have been shown to work when properly implemented, these are not included as options under the new compulsory greening elements,” said Dr Lynn Dicks, a co-author from the Department of Zoology in the University of Cambridge.

    “The weak environmental reforms in the CAP put the fate of Europe’s declining biodiversity at the hands of the individual member states,” said Dr Guy Pe’er, lead author from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, who collaborated with Lynn Dicks and William Sutherland from Cambridge, as well as experts from RSPB, the Society for Conservation Biology and others.

    “The EU should openly communicate this dependency, and encourage member states to make responsible decisions, rather than pretend that the reform allows meeting the EU’s important ecological targets,” he said.

    Expansion of the EU and its common market continues to drive agricultural intensification across Europe at the expense of wildlife and natural habitats, say the experts.

    The Common Agricultural Policy – which uses almost 40% of the EU’s budget and influences the management of half of its entire territory – provides subsidies that increase the scale of farming throughout the EU. This has led to increased grassland conversion and peatland drainage. The situation is particularly severe in new member states, where the use of agri-chemicals such as fertilizers has shot up.

    This continues to take a heavy toll on wildlife, with dramatic declines in everything from the farmland bird index to ‘permanent’ grassland that, in newer member states, has shrunk over 11% in just the last decade.  

    To address this, the new CAP made 30% of all direct payments to farmers conditional on compliance with three ‘greening measures’: establishing Ecological Focus Areas, maintaining permanent grasslands, and setting minimum requirements on number of crops grown to stop areas slipping into homogenous ‘monocultures’.

    However, following thorough analysis, experts have found that the large number of clauses introduced to the greening measures exempt over 88% of farmers in the EU, and over 48% of its agricultural areas from having to incorporate Ecological Focus Areas.  81% of arable farmers are now exempt from the crop diversity measure, and the grassland measure allows another 5% decline in area.

    “The measures themselves do not include quality criteria for what counts as green,” said Pe’er. “The thresholds set will allow on-going intensification under a green label”.

    They conclude that the CAP reforms fail to fulfil Target 3A of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which explicitly requires the EU to “maximise areas […] covered by biodiversity-related measures under the CAP”.

    “The CAP should pay for ‘public goods’ associated with sustainable farming: thriving wildlife, beautiful landscapes, clean water, fertile soils, land that contributes to a stable climate, and diverse communities of wild insects to pollinate crops or regulate pest outbreaks. These are things enjoyed by everyone but not so easy to pay for through food sales,” added Dicks.

    “Finding a way to produce enough food for humanity without losing these assets is perhaps the biggest challenge of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, the latest CAP reform has not found a way to secure them.”

    Despite political proclamation of increased environmental focus, experts argue that the European Union’s recent agricultural reforms are far too weak to have any positive impact on the continent’s shrinking farmland biodiversity, and call on member states to take action.

    The targets implicitly assume that the biodiversity-related measures under the CAP are effective at protecting wildlife
    Lynn Dicks
    Homogenous agriculture in Germany

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    Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay was part of General Eisenhower’s inner circle during the months and years of top secret planning that led to the Allied invasion, launched on June 6, 1944.

    Ramsay was in overall command of Operation Neptune, the unimaginably complex naval and landing operations of D-Day, as more than 4,000 ships and landing craft, nearly 200,000 men and thousands of aircraft took part in the first wave of Normandy landings.
    However, Ramsay has become one of D-Day’s forgotten men; a fatal plane crash in 1945 robbing him of the chance of penning his memoirs or taking his place alongside other venerated Allied leaders such as Eisenhower and Churchill.

    Today, the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College, Cambridge, is home to the personal archive of Admiral Ramsay, as well as those of Churchill and other distinguished military and political figures. The Ramsay archive includes his D-Day diary, invasion maps, photographs and correspondence – as well as eyewitness accounts from the Dunkirk evacuation, another watershed occasion in British naval history overseen by Ramsay.

    Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, said: “Ramsay had a really interesting and quite different career path. He walked away from the Navy in 1935 and ended up on the retired list – before coming back out of the wilderness at the start of World War Two.

    “He eschewed normal career advancement to specialise in logistics but these are exactly the skills needed when we get to the Second World War. He oversaw the Dunkirk evacuation, then worked under Eisenhower as part of the team that devised Operation Torch to liberate North Africa in 1942 and the invasion of Sicily in 1943. So by the time we get to June 1944, he is the go-to man for complex naval operations; although nothing he had done was anything like as complex as D-Day itself.”

    The film released today by Cambridge also includes an interview with 90-year-old Fanny Hugill, one of the original ‘Ramsay Wrens’ who was on duty during D-Day and who earlier this year spoke at a symposium in honour of her former commander.

    Added Packwood: “I think it’s wonderful to be able, on the 70th anniversary, to focus on Admiral Ramsay as the architect of Operation Neptune and a crucial part of the team that wins D-Day.”

    Seventy years after Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, the Churchill Archives Centre has released a short film commemorating the ‘forgotten architect’ of D-Day.

    I think it’s wonderful to be able, on the 70th anniversary, to focus on Admiral Ramsay as the architect of Operation Neptune and a crucial part of the team that wins D-Day.
    Allen Packwood
    Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay

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    On 9 June 1689 a man in his late 40s named William Courten bought the following items from Mrs Alley in Upper Shadwell (East London): 1 sea fowle, 1 cap of seafowles skin, 1 young Pelican, 1 Large Starfish of ye wreck, 1 smaller starfish of ye wreck, 1 sawfishes saw, 1 East India Coconut, 1 branch of pine from Norway, 1 Large concha veneris, 2 Small concha veneris.

    Courten, who was an ambitious collector, went on to buy items from at least three other Londoners that same day.  The list of his purchases, each of which is accompanied by a price, makes intriguing reading for scholars seeking to understand the nature and mechanisms of 17th-century collecting. It was collections such as Courten’s that laid the foundations for some of Britain’s best known institutions – including the British Museum, British Library and Natural History Museum.

    As a specialist in the production of knowledge in the early modern period, Cambridge University historian Dr Sachiko Kusukawa is particularly interested in the marketplace for curiosities, tracing the routes by which items passed from hand to hand and for how much, to try to build a picture of the networks and infrastructure that underpinned interests in natural and antiquarian objects.

    It is thought that Courten’s museum opened its doors for the first time in 1684 at Middle Temple. As its owner and, most probably its sole curator, Courten was known to be generous in showing and sharing his collection. Writing in 1695, Ralph Thoresby recorded in his diary that Courten’s museum “is perhaps the most noble collection of natural and artificial curiosities, of ancient and modern coins and medals, that any private person in the world enjoys; it is said to have cost him 7,000 or 8,000 pound sterling”.

    Courten was part of a milieu that included the naturalists John Ray and Francis Willughby and the diarist John Evelyn. When Courten died in 1702 his collections were passed, as his will stipulated, to his friend Hans Sloane, a fellow collector and physician whose collection provided the foundations for the British Museum.

    Although tantalisingly little has been passed down as a record of his museum, Courten’s accounts of his purchases (meticulously recorded in his own neat hand) survive in the extensive Sloane papers which are held by the British Library.

    “If you examine Courten’s accounts – which exist for the years 1689 to 1693 – you get a picture of a thriving trade in objects which were purchased by Courten from a large number of individuals who lived or worked within walking distance of his rooms in Middle Temple. He mentions many of them by name – quite a few were women – and some of the names crop up several times,” said Kusukawa.

    An investigation of Courten’s accounts for 1689-93 by Kusukawa reveals that he purchased hundreds of objects from more than 80 named individuals as well as from a smaller number of people described simply in terms of their jobs (a barber at the Hermitage, a Dutch Doctor of the East Indian Ship) or trading spots (at the sign of the coffin in Watling Street, in Milke Alley).

    Kusukawa has so far been able to identify around a dozen of the individuals named by Courten. They include John Lloyd, the London print publisher, Edward Lhuyd, the Keeper of the Ashmolean, the philosopher John Locke and Hans Sloane. Further research may reveal more details of other people from whom Courten bought objects or, in the case of other collectors, engaged in exchanges.

    She said: “A fascinating aspect of Courten’s records is the listing of the price paid, or asked for, for each of the objects. This gives us a picture of perceived value. The surviving archive relating to Sloane’s collection, by contrast, contains very little information on monetary transactions which suggests that there may well have been a deliberate removal of papers relating to finance.”

    Courten (also known as Charleton) was a collector with an extensive museum in his rooms in Middle Temple devoted to displays of natural, ethnographical and antiquarian objects. A reference to Courten’s headaches, which prompted him to resolve not to accept visitors on consecutive days, suggests that he often received guests on a daily basis. 

    Kusukawa’s reading of Courten’s accounts suggests that a dizzying diversity of curiosities was on display. Painstakingly described by Courten, they range from a “stone taken out of a man’s bladder” and  a “Verry fine Tokan beak” to a “Very pretty small dunish fly with dark browne spots on ye wings & red and green on ye body” and (purchased from Mr Partridge, possibly a goldsmith) “Penis & Testicles of crocodile”.

    So detailed are Courten’s notes of his purchases that some of the objects he bought may be traced. A “goose R[oman god found] at Pauls” is to be found today in the collections of the British Museum and “2 pcs of teeth of an Elephant found neare by ye Pinard of Wakefield (a pub on Gray’s Inn Road) in a Ditch” are almost certainly mammoth teeth that were discovered alongside the (lower paleolithic) flint-axe in 1679 by John Conyers.

    Courten was a keen collector of prints, and he valued Albrecht Duerer’s print of Adam and Eve, for example, as worth £2. But by far the most costly items that appear in Courten’s accounts are paintings on vellum by Guillaume Toulouze, a master embroiderer at Montpellier whom Courten must have met when he was staying there.  A purchase of 17 drawings of natural objects by Toulouze came to £550, and with glass frames, a total of £690 pounds. One picture ‘vipers and lizards’, for example, cost £75, glass for the frame £11, and the frame itself £5.

    These are substantial sums but little is known about how Courten funded his collection. He came from a wealthy family (his grandfather acquired and then lost a huge fortune by investing in Barbados) which had experienced a dramatic downturn in fortunes, and his father was involved in a slew of lawsuits. Courten seems to have brokered a deal whereby he dropped claims on his family fortune, which may be the reason why he changed his name to Charleton.

    “It’s possible that Courten sought to disassociate himself from these financial wranglings and make his mark as a man of culture, sharing his collection with scholars and visitors,” said Kusuwara.

    “Courten’s lists may well help with the provenance of surviving objects in the British Museum, but they also raise larger questions about the economics of collecting in late 17th-century England, and the infrastructure that supported it. The contacts listed in his lists suggest a wide and vibrant circulation of natural, ethnographical and antiquarian objects, a social circulation of nature that deserves further research.”

    Inset images: Cabinet of Curiosities at National Geographic Museum, City of London Ogilby and Morgan's Map of 1677, Interior of a London Coffee-House, 17th century (all Wikimedia Commons). Portrait of William Courten as a younfg man, Roman bronze goose (both British Museum).

     

    A remarkable archive records the purchases made by William Courten (1642–1702) whose museum was praised by visitors as a noble collection of curiosities. An investigation of Courten’s records by Dr Sachiko Kusukawa reveals that Courten bought items from more than 80 individuals, many of them trading within walking distance of his rooms in London’s Middle Temple. 

    If you examine Courten’s accounts – which exist for the years 1689 to 1693 – you get a picture of a thriving trade in objects which were purchased by Courten from a large number of individuals who lived or worked within walking distance of his rooms in Middle Temple.
    Sachiko Kusukawa
    Francesco Calzolari Cabinet of curiosities

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  • 06/09/14--00:17: The making of a smart tunnel
  • Twenty-five metres beneath central London is the world’s first ‘smart tunnel’, where ground-breaking new sensing technologies are providing massive amounts of information about the UK’s ageing infrastructure, and how best to maintain and protect it for generations to come.

    The Royal Mail tunnel, which was used to carry post across London from 1927 until 2003, is now the site of a unique underground laboratory where University of Cambridge engineers are monitoring movement in real time and seeing how the tunnel changes as a gigantic new tunnel is constructed just beneath it.

    Hundreds of low-cost sensors have been installed in a 30 metre stretch of the Royal Mail tunnel beneath Liverpool Street Station, where it is located only a few metres above the excavation of one of Crossrail’s new stations. Crossrail, a new commuter rail line across London due to open in 2018, is the largest civil engineering project currently under construction in Europe, and has put technology at the heart of its efforts to ensure minimal impact from its construction on adjacent infrastructure.

    The Royal Mail tunnel is just over 2.5 metres in diameter. By comparison, the Crossrail platform tunnel being excavated close beneath it is nearly 11 metres in diameter – more than the height of two double-decker buses.

    “A project as big as Crossrail comes with all sorts of engineering challenges,” said Professor Robert Mair, Head of Civil Engineering and of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) at the University of Cambridge. “One of the most important of those challenges is how you excavate large tunnels underneath urban infrastructure without causing any distress to buildings or other tunnels.”

    The two tunnels run parallel to each other for more than 100 metres, with just a few metres between them. This is the first time that two tunnels have been dug in London in such close proximity and parallel to each other for such a long distance.

    Some limited movement of the Royal Mail tunnel, in the region of only a few millimetres, is inevitable during the Crossrail excavation, but the questions that the Cambridge technology is answering is how much movement is happening, what form the movement is taking, and whether it is within acceptable limits – the mechanics of which are quite complex.

    The CSIC team are using four different low-cost sensing technologies, which together can detect movements as small as one-hundredth of a millimetre, enabling any potential problems to be spotted and corrected well before they represent any risk to the older tunnel. To date, the minor movement that has taken place is well within the acceptable limits.

    “Together, the sensors paint an incredibly accurate and detailed picture of how the older tunnel is behaving, which will inform the best way to protect and maintain it,” said PhD student Mehdi Alhaddad, who has been monitoring the Royal Mail tunnel for more than a year. “In future, this type of technology could also be used to efficiently and economically monitor much of the UK’s Victorian and 20th century infrastructure, such as the miles of tunnels of the London Underground, 70 per cent of which is made of cast iron, similar to the Royal Mail tunnel.”

    The University has worked closely with Crossrail on ground monitoring on several of its construction sites. Crossrail has a sophisticated and extensive range of technologies, including monitors, installed across London to remove the possibility of damage to adjacent properties.

    “Right across London, cutting edge technology is being used to ensure that tunnelling work being carried out for Crossrail doesn’t cause damage to structures above or below ground,” said Chris Dulake, Crossrail Chief Engineer. “The movement that we have seen from our bored tunnelling so far has been significantly less than we expected and we will keep on working hard to make sure that continues to be the case.”

    Compared with current methods of monitoring, the sensing technologies installed by the CSIC team are cheaper, easier to install, consume less power and provide a complete picture of the entire tunnel, rather than just information about what is happening at selected points.

    Optical fibre has been installed along the length of the tunnel, which show if the tunnel is deforming or bending. Wireless displacement transducers measure displacement of one part of the tunnel relative to the next and wirelessly transmit the data to a receiving station. Photogrammetry, or computer vision, techniques allow the team to measure many more points than current methods and visualise what is happening in the tunnel.

    Long-lasting, ultra-low-power sensors, invented by PhD student Heba Bevan, have also been installed throughout the tunnel. These sensors measure temperature, humidity, acceleration and tilt, and can be left in place for years without requiring the battery to be changed.

    “The Crossrail project provides a great opportunity to improve knowledge in our profession, which will assist in the development of future projects in the UK and worldwide,” said Mike Devriendt, Associate Director at global engineering consultancy firm Arup, who worked as a technical consultant on the project. “Until now, there hasn’t been a way to assess the impact of construction on cast iron tunnels with such pinpoint accuracy.”

    “This is not only incredibly exciting for the CSIC team,” said Dr Jennifer Schooling, CSIC’s Director. “It is also a first on a number of counts. It is the first time so many of our revolutionary devices have been used to monitor the movement of an existing tunnel. It will also mean that we will see what effect such a large-scale excavation will have on a cast iron tunnel for the first time, almost in real time.”

    “By installing the kind of sensors that can give a continuous update about how much those tunnels might be moving and what changes are taking place, we can answer a lot of important questions about the value of our current infrastructure, the future of it, whether it needs to be maintained, whether it needs to be replaced - all those kinds of issues can be much better quantified,” said Professor Mair.

    CSIC is an Innovation and Knowledge Centre funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Technology Strategy Board to develop and commercialise emerging technologies.

    Ground-breaking new sensing technologies in the world’s first ‘smart tunnel’ are providing engineers with an inexpensive and efficient method of monitoring, maintaining and protecting the UK’s infrastructure, now and well into the future.

    Together, the sensors paint an incredibly accurate and detailed picture of how the older tunnel is behaving, which will inform the best way to protect and maintain it
    Mehdi Alhaddad
    Completed smart tunnel

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