Articles on this Page
- 04/23/13--07:19: _‘My dear old friend...
- 04/23/13--09:29: _Evidence shows fish...
- 04/23/13--22:00: _From EDSAC to Raspb...
- 04/24/13--06:02: _YouGov President to...
- 04/25/13--01:13: _New device could ma...
- 04/25/13--02:20: _Breaking Boundaries...
- 04/25/13--03:08: _Access Officer Diar...
- 04/25/13--04:45: _New conceptions: si...
- 04/25/13--08:36: _Harnessing the powe...
- 04/25/13--09:18: _Athena SWAN success
- 04/26/13--02:41: _On the fly: African...
- 04/26/13--03:05: _Movement of pyrrole...
- 04/26/13--08:00: _Down but not out
- 04/29/13--00:00: _Conversations with ...
- 04/29/13--01:56: _‘Mid-sized’ firms k...
- 04/29/13--02:30: _Black, white and re...
- 04/30/13--02:40: _Pirate utopias: a h...
- 04/30/13--03:07: _Crime and punishmen...
- 05/01/13--03:07: _Forging connections...
- 05/01/13--06:28: _'Dirty dozen' invas...
- 04/23/13--09:29: Evidence shows fish collaboration on hunting prey
- 04/23/13--22:00: From EDSAC to Raspberry Pi: 75 years of “computers that work”
- 04/24/13--06:02: YouGov President to discuss equality
- 04/25/13--01:13: New device could make diagnosing disease as simple as breathing
- 04/25/13--02:20: Breaking Boundaries: Higher Education Getaway
- 04/25/13--03:08: Access Officer Diary: St John’s in Shropshire, April 2013
- 04/25/13--04:45: New conceptions: single mothers by sperm donation
- 04/25/13--08:36: Harnessing the power of research to benefit developing countries
- 04/25/13--09:18: Athena SWAN success
- 04/26/13--02:41: On the fly: African summer school on insect neuroscience
- 04/26/13--03:05: Movement of pyrrole molecules defy ‘classical’ physics
- 04/26/13--08:00: Down but not out
- 04/29/13--00:00: Conversations with Cornel West
- 04/29/13--01:56: ‘Mid-sized’ firms key to UK manufacturing
- 04/29/13--02:30: Black, white and red all over
- 04/30/13--02:40: Pirate utopias: a history of digital distribution
- 04/30/13--03:07: Crime and punishment: a 19th-century love affair
- 05/01/13--03:07: Forging connections: digital humanities in Cambridge and beyond
- 05/01/13--06:28: 'Dirty dozen' invasive species threaten UK
Their decades of correspondence include Darwin’s most famous letter, where he first cautiously reveals not only that he thinks species change, but also that he has worked out a completely new theory as to how. Giving voice to such a theory, he admits, is like ‘confessing a murder’.
The 1,200 letters between Darwin and Hooker, 300 of which have not been published before, are being made available in more than 5,000 images by Cambridge’s Digital Library (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/) - which launched to millions of ‘hits’ with the online publication of Isaac Newton’s archive in 2011 .
They have joined forces with the Darwin Correspondence Project (http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/) to present the images alongside the Project's transcriptions in order to bring Darwin more vividly to life, as both a man and scientist, than ever before.
Cambridge University Library is home to the world’s largest and most important collection of Darwin’s personal papers, and hopes eventually to make far more of them available in this way.
Anne Jarvis, University Librarian, said: "Through the linking together of the Darwin Correspondence Project’s superb transcriptions of the letters with high-quality photographic reproductions from the Digital Library, online viewers of the Darwin-Hooker correspondence can now experience something of the immediacy and intimacy of this long exchange of letters, whilst still being able to easily read and search the text. And this is just the start - we are planning to release further letters and scientific manuscripts from the Darwin Papers in this way over the coming months and years."
Dr Alison Pearn of the Darwin Correspondence Project said: "No single set of letters was more important to Darwin, or is more important now, than those exchanged with Hooker over 40 years – a period that encompasses almost the entirety of Darwin’s mature working life. It is unusual for a single repository to hold both sides of any correspondence, so this is a rare opportunity to see one of the longest running and most wide-ranging conversations of the nineteenth-century unfold."
Not only did the pair discuss their sometimes differing views on a spectrum of different subjects, from science to slavery and the American Civil War, the letters between the two illuminate moments of great happiness and tragic loss in both their lives, revealing a much more personal and emotional side to Darwin the man.
It was to Hooker that Darwin sent the manuscript of On the Origin of Species and the pair also traded news and gossip – as well as revealing to one another their grief and anguish at the loss of loved ones.
Nowhere is this more heartbreakingly evident than in a previously unpublished account by Darwin of watching his daughter-in-law Amy die following childbirth. "There are very few people to whom Darwin would have written in this way" continues Pearn. "It gives us a new and unique insight into his attachment to Amy who from the earliest days of her engagement to his son, was recruited by Darwin to help him collect plant specimens and make observations.”
Elsewhere, in a letter dated June 30, 1862, Darwin relates to Hooker how much their correspondence means to him.
The letter reads:
My dear old friend,
You speak of my "warming the cockles of your heart", but you will never know how often you have warmed mine. It is not your approbation of my scientific work (though I care for that more than for any one's); it is something deeper. To this day I remember keenly a letter you wrote to me from Oxford, when I was at the water-cure, & how it cheered me, when I was utterly weary of life.
Their correspondence began in 1843 when Hooker was approached about working on Darwin's collection of plants from the Beagle voyage. Just the previous year Darwin had written out his first coherent account of the main elements of his species theory, and within a few months Hooker was admitted into the small and select group of those with whom Darwin felt able to discuss his emerging ideas. The correspondence flowed back and forth between the men until Darwin’s death in 1882.
The 300 previously unpublished letters cover the last decade of Darwin’s life and give almost day-to-day detail on the experiments that led to his books on insectivorous plants and plants that move – both crucial evidence of the relatedness of plants and animals (and humans). And also to his final and most popular book , on earthworms, published shortly before he died.
Although this is Darwin's longest-running and most detailed conversation, there are many others: the University Library collection includes letters exchanged with more than 100 other correspondents, including Robert FitzRoy, captain of the Beagle; Alfred Russel Wallace; John Murray, Darwin's publisher; his first love, Fanny Owen; his wife, his children; other scientists including the Harvard botanist Asa Gray, the geologist Charles Lyell, and the zoologist Thomas Huxley.
For more information, and links to selected letters see: http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwin-hooker-letters
The 40-year friendship of Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker, the most significant and scientifically important of Darwin’s life, can now be explored by anyone in the world with access to the Internet.
Fish have the ability to communicate with each other while hunting their prey in ways that were previously known only for humans, great apes, and ravens, according to new research.
A study led by Alexander Vail, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology, found that groupers and coral trout perform a pointing signal to indicate the location of hidden prey to cooperative hunting partners including moray eels, octopuses and Napoleon wrasses.
The research paper, "Referential gestures in fish collaborative hunting", was published today, 23 April, in Nature Communications.
Previously it was only known that humans, great apes and ravens were capable of such communication and the signals were taken as further evidence of their complex and comparable cognitive abilities.
The researchers, who include Andrea Manica from the University of Cambridge and Redouan Bshary from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, observed dozens of events where groupers and coral trout performed upside-down headstands with concurrent head shakes to indicate the presence and location of particular prey to cooperative partners. The headstand signal fulfil all the criteria for a referential gesture, being directed at a particular object and recipient, they say, and being acted upon by the recipients.
The grouper's signalling shows what are considered key hallmarks of being carried out with intent - that is, the fish has a goal in mind and uses communication to try and achieve it - rather than being an inflexible gesture. Key evidence is that the grouper elaborates on its headstand signal when the moray eel does not react appropriately to its signal and swims over to the eel, tries a different signal and in some cases even tries to push the moray in the prey's direction. The researchers also observed groupers waiting above a hidden prey for up to 25 minutes before signalling to a passing predatory partner. They say this suggests groupers may perform at an ape-like level in a memory task commonly used to assess cognitive ability.
The researchers believe their findings suggest that other species may be capable of similar communication skills and provide a number of likely candidates for further study.
However, they say that the mental processes underlying the similar signalling behaviour of fish, apes and ravens are unclear and may well vary among these taxa. Their findings point to fish having developed cognitive skills according to their particular ecological needs.
They conclude: "Our results emphasise the importance of a more general evolutionary view of cognition which predicts that species evolve cognitive solutions according to their ecological needs."
Groupers and coral trout perform a pointing signal to indicate the location of hidden prey
In 1938, the staff and students of the Anatomy School at the University of Cambridge moved to a new site, vacating their building in the heart of the city. Among the incoming occupants who took their place were founding members of a brand new service, which the University had only just approved. This “Mathematical Laboratory” began life as a two-man team, confined to the Anatomy School’s North Wing, and was charged with providing a resource for solving complex problems by “numerical methods”. On reflection, it would have been a struggle to give it a less assuming start in life. These events, nevertheless, marked the beginning of Cambridge computing.
This week, the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, as the former Mathematical Laboratory is now known, will host lectures and discussions on computing science and the entrepreneurship of its graduates and members, to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The event will salute achievements far beyond those which anyone would have thought necessary, let alone possible, when it was set up arguably as the world’s first Computer Laboratory. In contrast with its humble origins, the Lab today is comprehensively recognised as a world-leader in computing research and boasts large, modern premises, dozens of staff and hundreds of students. The laboratory has given rise to almost 200 spin-out technology firms, some of which have become major success stories in their own right. As such, it sits at the heart of the region’s cluster of high-tech businesses known as the “silicon fen”.
The anniversary celebrations will also see the launch of a book, Cambridge Computing: The First 75 Years, written by Haroon Ahmed, Professor of Microelectronics, and with a foreword by the University’s former Vice-Chancellor, Lord Broers. As this documents, during the last three-quarters of a century, the Lab has been either home to, or the source of, many of the defining moments in computing history.
It was where EDSAC, the first programmable computer ever brought into general service, was built, and where microprogramming was pioneered by Maurice Wilkes, the Lab’s second Director, using EDSAC 2. Towards the end of the mainframe age, major advances were made in fields such as networked computing and computer-aided design. Cambridge’s Computer Lab was the home of the world’s first webcam. It was the place where Michael Burrows, the leading computer scientist in search engine development, learned his trade, and where Bjarne Stroustrup, inventor of the hugely popular computer language C++, did his PhD. Without the Lab, early home computers like the BBC Micro, or the low-power chip technology used in iPads and mobile phones, or the Raspberry Pi, might well never have emerged.
How was this achieved? Andy Hopper, Professor of Computer Technology and the current Head of the Lab, puts such accomplishments down to a culture and spirit of innovation which, he believes, has been the running theme of that 75-year history. “Today, the establishment mentality seems to be that you can industrialise innovation, or innovate on demand,” he observes. “You can’t do that any more than you can ask an artist to paint the next brilliant masterpiece. The success of the Cambridge Computer Lab has come about because we created a culture of innovation and nurtured innovative people within it.”
Even the beginnings of the Computer Lab disrupted the norm. When John Lennard-Jones, a Theoretical Chemist who was to become its first Director, submitted proposals for a computing facility in 1936, the very idea would have struck most people as extraordinary. At the time, a “computer” was a person, very frequently a mathematically gifted woman, employed to carry out tedious numerical calculations by hand.
Lennard-Jones’ visionary proposal was for a facility that would carry out complicated calculations in support of wider University research, with the human computers using “recent developments in mechanical and electrical aids to computation”. The Lab’s early hardware consisted of these machines, and two analog computers which were designed to solve linear differential equations.
In the decades that followed, however, the Lab’s role evolved far beyond Lennard-Jones’ own imaginings, and at a pace matched only by advances in computing itself. Much of this took place under the stewardship of Maurice Wilkes, the other inaugural staff member, and the pre-eminent figure in Cambridge’s computing story. Originally, Wilkes had the post of “University Demonstrator” at the Lab. When he returned to Cambridge after service during the war, he found that Lennard-Jones had moved on, and replaced him as Director.
Rightly remembered as a computing pioneer, Wilkes spent more than 30 years in charge of the Lab, transformed it into a centre of excellence, and oversaw many of its greatest triumphs. His era began in 1946, when the Lab still comprised a smattering of mechanical machines arranged on benches. Under his leadership, EDSAC was pieced together in a former dissecting room of the Anatomy School. In the summer, there was an overwhelming stench of formalin, a solution used by the previous occupants to preserve dead bodies for study, which had soaked into the floorboards and vaporised in the heat. It must have been an odd atmosphere in which to give birth to foundational technology.
Hopper cites the first EDSAC as epitomising the spirit he believes has defined the Lab ever since. Like so many of the projects that followed, it emerged as an innovative solution to a practical problem. Both the concept development and the engineering were characterised by creativity and invention. The focus was also on general usability, as the mantra Wilkes expressed to his own team when he set out to build EDSAC in 1946 suggests: “We will build a computer that works”.
EDSAC was the first programmable computer to come into general use by scientists. On May 6, 1949, after a sometimes infuriating three-year construction period, it successfully completed its first programmed task by accurately calculating the squares of numbers from 0 to 99.
In the context of modern computing, the technology involved sounds almost laughable. Users prepared programs by punching them on to paper. Finished programs then hung on a line, waiting for machine operators to load them in (the original “job queue”). As academics themselves queued up to use EDSAC, they were thwarted by frequent breakdowns, often having worked into the night. The almost hopelessly complex task of designing the computer’s memory was solved by creating a mercury delay-line system, based on the principle of ultrasonic waves being pulsed through a tube filled with the element. Unfortunately, this sometimes leaked during the filling of the tubes, compelling users and technicians to negotiate hazardous globules of mercury on the floor.
Compared with anything that had gone before, however, EDSAC was revolutionary. Today it is celebrated not only as a feat of computer engineering, but because of the usability that Wilkes had emphasized from the outset. Researchers across Cambridge – including astronomers, economists, crystallographers, molecular biologists and others – were able to benefit from its existence. Sir Richard Stone, Sir John Kendrew, and Sir Martin Ryle, all won Nobel Prizes as a result of work which relied on EDSAC’s use.
As the progress of computing technology accelerated, computers became less expensive, more compact, easier to user and, ultimately, ubiquitous, Wilkes’ response was to take the Lab in new directions, still guided by the ethos of innovating to solve problems, but ensuring practical usability as an outcome. From the mid-1960s on, for example, the Lab began to specialise in computer-aided design (CAD), developing 3D-modelling hardware and software. This became so important to the manufacturing sector that in 1968 the Government opened a CAD centre in Cambridge.
Cambridge Computing describes how, as computers became more widely available, the ability to share information across systems also became hugely important. From the 1970s, pivotal research took place which addressed this. The Cambridge Digital Ring was the result of an early attempt to create a local area network which could transmit data between interconnected machines. In the years that followed, research students including Hopper and Ian Leslie - both future Heads of the Lab - were involved in refining and improving it further.
As a continuation of the concept, the Cambridge Model Distributed System tackled the problem of allowing multiple computers to communicate and interact with each other by creating a pool of processing servers from a network of microcomputers. Its features included a forerunner of the Domain Name concept now used to identify areas of control on the internet. By the time it reached its second iteration, the System had linked up 50 different computers and was so successful that members of the Lab preferred to use it for their research projects, rather than rely on the mainframe.
The book then takes up the story of the years after Maurice Wilkes retired, and Roger Needham took over as Director. The advances that followed during the 1980s included “UNIVERSE”, which interconnected several Cambridge Digital Rings using the European Space Agency’s Orbital Test Satellite, and demonstrated the feasibility of linking several local area networks on this basis. The follow-up, UNISON, improved the approach with a focus on Email, document transfer, and the exchange of multimedia information in real time.
One famous by-product of this type of research occurred in 1993. A team of researchers working in multimedia systems who shared the same coffee pot had decided to keep tabs on whether it was full or not by using a lashed-up camera to relay a live display to their desktops. An even better system, which emerged that year, was to display the image online through a web browser. The coffee pot thus became the object of the world’s first webcam, and gained a global cult following so large that, when it was switched off in 2001, the world’s media actively mourned its passing.
As Hopper suggests, this diversification of activity at the Lab in the middle 20th century not only cemented its place at the forefront of world-class research in computing; it also provided the basis for its prolific commercialization of the results. The first glimmers of this knack for generating start-up companies materialised in the 1970s, with the establishment of firms like Shape Data, a CAD business which developed the first 3D modeller. It was in the 1980s, however, that the pace really began to increase, with many researchers playing a central role in the creation of new businesses exploiting their work.
Many case studies of this phenomenon are discussed in depth by Haroon Ahmed in the pages of Cambridge Computing. The better-known number the likes of Acorn, which became a household name after developing the BBC Micro, part of the Corporation’s nationwide computer literacy campaign in the 1980s. Famously, the contract to do so was won after co-founder Hermann Hauser promised to deliver a prototype within a week, well aware that no such demonstration computer existed. He then assembled a team which successfully built the prototype, completing it five hours before the BBC arrived to sample it.
Acorn was mortally wounded in the home computing market crash of 1984, but groundwork undertaken there on chip design ultimately led to the foundation of Cambridge’s most famous existing spin-out firm. Advanced RISC Machines Ltd (ARM) was set up in 1990 and its technology was picked up by Apple, initially for its hand-held Newton computer system. Today billions of chips are produced by ARM and sold to major clients around the world, featuring in the likes of the iPad and iPhone.
More recent examples of companies founded by Lab members include Real VNC, which commercialised software - the Virtual Network Computer – enabling one computer to take over the screen, keyboard and mouse of another. It became key to remote support for customers in the IT sector and was ultimately licensed for use in Google products, consumer appliances and the automotive industry. In 2008, meanwhile, the charity Raspberry Pi was set up by a team of current and former Lab members to create an ultra-small, cheap computer with the express aim of encouraging children to learn computer science. Founded amid concerns that the number of University applicants for the subject across Britain was falling, it to some extent echoes the achievements of the BBC Micro team at Acorn almost a quarter of a century earlier.
Historical evidence suggests that a large proportion of businesses started in the UK fail within a few years. Those which have emerged from roots in the Cambridge Computer Lab are remarkable because they have a dramatic success rate compared with this average. Hopper believes that the reason is the same mentality that underpinned the building of EDSAC, or networks like the Digital Ring - a determination to do research which solves problems in novel ways, often proves disruptive in the context of technology that already exists, but crucially can be applied and used beyond a research context.
“I believe that we are completely unique and that there is no other department in the world quite like us,” he adds. “Cambridge is the place where computers became a tool for general use, and the qualities that made that possible have never left us. They made us the biggest wealth conversion engine in the Cambridge cluster and therefore in Europe. And they have enabled us to achieve more than any other computer science department in the world.”
Cambridge Computing: The First 75 Years is published by Third Millennium Information Ltd (http://www.tmiltd.com/). Further information about the Lab’s anniversary activities can be found at http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/events/cl75/
Cambridge’s Computer Lab marks its 75th anniversary this month, celebrating a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that has taken it from the age of vast mainframes to its modern day place at the heart of silicon fen. “Cambridge Computing: The first 75 years”, published to coincide with the anniversary, tells the story of this remarkable institution.
Peter Kellner, President of YouGov, will give the annual Behaviour and Health Research Unit lecture this Thursday, 25 April 2013.
“Equality remains a long-term goal for progressive politics, but it needs a new definition so that we measure equality and inequality less by reference to Gini coefficients of income, or data on wealth, and more by access to the things that enable people to lead fulfilling lives - such as decent housing, universal access to good quality schools and healthcare, clean air, places for children to play safely, crime-free neighbourhoods and so on,” argues Kellner.
“Where we do consider income inequality, we should be clear about the distinctions between justifiable inequality (e.g. resulting from effort, talent, risk-taking etc.) and unjustifiable inequality (e.g. race and gender differences).”
Peter Kellner’s talk, Redefining Equality, is at 6pm, registration from 5.40, at the Howard Lecture Theatre, Downing College Cambridge (map). This lecture is open to members of public. To attend the lecture, please go to the following website: http://www.cpp.csap.cam.ac.uk/events/behaviour-and-health-research-unit-annual-lecture/signup/
The lecture is jointly sponsored by the Behaviour and Health Research Unit and Cambridge Public Policy.
Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at Cambridge said: “The ability of the majority to lead fulfilling, long and healthy lives is undermined by their lack of core resources including good education, work, money and living in environments that make healthier behaviour the easiest options. Redefining equality may provide a new, much needed set of lens through which to consider the problem and its multiple solutions.”
”Work of this kind is essential and in time, could lead to better public policy decision making and a more stable and content society,” states Miranda Gomperts, Director of Programme Development for Cambridge Public Policy.
The Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU) is collaboration between experts from the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and the University of East Anglia. The aim of the BHRU is to contribute evidence to national and international efforts to achieve sustained behaviour change that improves health outcomes and reduces health inequalities. It is funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme to inform policy-making on behaviour and health
Cambridge Public Policy (CPP) is a new initiative set up to coordinate, support and encourage the development of new approaches to public policy, informed by the best available research, teaching and practice. Throughout the year CPP runs open lectures, seminars and other events providing audiences with the opportunity to hear from, challenge and debate with ministers, senior civil servants, representatives from industry and academia. CPP is leading the development of the new Cambridge Master’s in Public Policy which will welcome the first cohort of students in October 2013.
Behaviour and Health Research Unit’s annual lecture this Thursday
The highly sensitive, low-power, low-cost infrared emitter developed by Cambridge CMOS Sensors (CCMOSS) is capable of identifying more than 35 biomarkers present in exhaled breath in concentrations as low as one part per million, and is being developed for use as a non-invasive medical testing device and other applications.
In addition to nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide, we exhale thousands of chemical compounds with every breath: elevated acetone levels in the breath can indicate poorly-controlled diabetes, asthmatics will exhale higher than normal levels of nitric oxide, and glucose is a sign of kidney failure.
“Non-invasive breath analysis is an area of great potential for diagnosing and monitoring a wide range of medical conditions,” said Professor Florin Udrea of the Department of Engineering and CCMOSS’ CEO and co-founder. “Testing is easy and painless, and can be repeated as often as needed.”
A number of breath analysis tests are currently in the research and development phase, most of which use mass spectrometry or lasers to analyse the breath for specific compounds. These tests can only detect a small range of compounds however, meaning that different devices are needed to detect different conditions.
The technology developed by CCMOSS is different in that it uses broadband infrared radiation to make the detection of a wide range of biomarkers possible in a single device. The company’s miniature heaters, or microhotplates, can be heated from room temperature to 700°C in a fraction of a second, a temperature high enough to emit infrared radiation and allow the sensing material to react with gas molecules.
Many gas molecules absorb infrared. The amount of radiation absorbed allows the gas to be identified and its concentration calculated - this is the basic principle behind the roadside breathalyser test. CCMOSS’ technology however, is far more sensitive. Using broadband infrared, the company’s gas sensing technology can detect wavelengths between two and 14 microns, corresponding to a wide range of biomarkers. In order to detect different wavelengths, a filter is applied on top of the detector, meaning that only infrared radiation of a particular wavelength can get through.
CCMOSS’ devices are based on complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology, a low-power type of semiconductor which is widely used in microprocessors and battery-operated devices. Using CMOS processes results in miniaturised ultra-low power devices that can be produced at higher volume and lower cost than current state of the art gas sensing devices.
Because the CMOS process is highly reproducible, all the parameters can be very tightly controlled. The manufacturing process is highly scalable and cost effective, with yields above 99 per cent.
In addition to medical applications, the company is developing their technology for use in consumer electronics, industrial security and automotive applications. It currently has a range of products on the market and is actively involved in leading edge R&D projects for the next generation of micro and nanosensors.
The company, which spun-out from the Department of Engineering in 2009, was founded by Professors Florin Udrea and Bill Milne of Cambridge, along with Professor Julian Gardner of Warwick University. CCMOSS has been supported by seed funding from Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm, and was recently named Cleantech Business of the Year at the 2013 Business Weekly awards.
A range of diseases and conditions, from asthma to liver disease, could be diagnosed and monitored quickly and painlessly just by breathing, using gas sensing technology developed by a Cambridge spin-out.
Twenty students from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough schools recently enjoyed a two-day Higher Education Getaway, organised by the University of Cambridge and UEA around the theme of “Breaking Boundaries.”
The HE Getaway takes local teenagers away from school routines and encourages them to tackle physical and intellectual challenges - starting with some extreme team-building in Thetford Forest.
“Outdoor LaserTag was great,” said Sollie, from Sir Harry Smith Community College, Whittlesey. “It helped everyone get to know each other.”
The social theme continued in the evening once the students were settled into their accommodation at UEA. A talk on university finance was followed by two traditional undergraduate favourites, a quiz and a film night.
“The news has made student fees seem worse than they actually are,” commented Isaac, from Cromwell Community College, Chatteris. “The talk made it really clear – you’ll pay 9p in the pound once you’re earning enough. That’s much less scary.”
Day two of the Getaway saw the students exploring the campus, guided by current UEA undergraduates Hope and Joseph, before tackling some undergraduate-style seminars.
“The campus is much bigger than I thought,” said Jade, who came on the Getaway from Thomas Clarkson Academy, Wisbech. “I prefer this to somewhere like Cambridge, where the university buildings are spread through the town.”
Isaac and Sollie appreciated the opportunity to see undergraduate accommodation, which at UEA can include groups of study-bedrooms arranged round a shared kitchen. “Everything you need is provided,” said Isaac. “It looks really social.”
The University of Cambridge HE Partnership programme organises several HE Getways each year. This event was for students interested in the Humanities, so having seen the campus and key facilities such as the library and the Sainsbury Institute for Art, the students took part in several classes led by UEA academics.
Dr B J Epstein from the School of Literature, Drama & Creative Writing led a class on Picture Books and the Boundaries of Literature. “That was unexpected,” said Jodie, from Peterborough’s Voyager Academy, whose group was set the task of critically analysing The Red Tree, by Australian illustrator and author Shaun Tan.
Other groups tackled Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss, Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say, and Dr Xargle’s Book of Earthlets, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.
How did the students feel about reading children’s books? “I thought it showed how different and varied the things you can study at university can be,” Sollie said.
Prof. Catherine Rowett led a session on ‘Heaps, Classes and Other Tricky Borders,’ which considered classic Greek philosophical dilemmas including Zeno’s Paradoxes, and Dr Wendy McMahon finished the day with a discussion on ‘The United States of America: Borders of Identity.’
“We design the HE Getaway to give students an experience of university life in microcosm,” explains Matt Diston, HE Partnership Co-Ordinator for the University of Cambridge. “We hope that over the two days participants will have some of their worries about university addressed, whether it’s the cost of tuition fees, the fear of being left out in the rush to make new friends, or worries about keeping up with the course, and that they will head home with renewed confidence in their abilities.”
“This has shown that I will be able to make friends really easily,” said Isaac, who hopes to study History and Politics. “I’m looking forward to the social side of University. And I’m not daunted by the idea of spending 20 hours a week in the library either.”
“This HE Getaway event with Cambridge University is a great partnership opportunity and one which we’re proud to host,” said Liz Ferguson, UEA Outreach Officer. “We aim to work collaboratively with other Higher Education Institutions in our region to help local young people make an informed choice about their HE options.”
“We are excited to welcome students from Cambridgeshire to experience our campus and get a taste of university life,” she added.
The challenge: provide an experience of university in just two days - with the help of The Cat in the Hat, a millet seed and Thetford Forest.
"I spent three days in Shropshire and Telford from the 15th to the 17th April, visiting three different schools, and speaking to around 80 students and 20 parents. My trip started with a train journey to Bishop’s Castle, continued up the Welsh border to Oswestry, and finished in Telford before returning to Cambridge.
On the first day I visited The Community College in Bishop’s Castle, a small school of around 500 students. There I spoke to 20 of their Year 10 and 11 ‘High Flyers’ with the purpose of encouraging the students to aim high with their Higher Education choices and to provide information about how to prepare for applications to top Universities. The session covered topics such as choosing a course and the Russell Group, before moving onto Cambridge University specifically. We discussed the academic and social aspects of life in Cambridge as well as the benefits of the collegiate structure of the University ending with a brief overview of the application process. It is hoped that a follow-up visit to Cambridge will take place in September this year.
Upon departure from Bishop’s Castle I travelled to Gobowen, near Oswestry, to visit The Marches School. I had previously met some of The Marches’ students at Moreton Hall Careers Fair in February, so I was delighted to see some familiar faces again. Thirty Year 10 and 11 students attended a similar ‘Introduction to University’ presentation, which included some specifics of the unique supervision system in Cambridge, as well as the many social opportunities available. Students were particularly keen to ask about A-Level options, as the school is opening a new sixth form in September this year.
In the evening I ran a short presentation followed by a Q&A session for parents of students at The Marches focussing on the application process and dispelling the myths surrounding Cambridge University.
I was greatly impressed with the facilities school has to offer its students; and its ambitious plans for the future. I found the staff to be very supportive of their students’ aspirations and the pupils themselves inquisitive and enthusiastic. The school is bringing a small group of Year 10 students to visit St John’s later this term, followed by a larger party next academic year.
Claire Buckle, Head of Sixth Form at The Marches School told me, “We are very grateful to Cambridge University for taking the time to come and visit the school and provide our students with really helpful and aspirational information. We were delighted so many parents attended in the evening, as it was a great opportunity to ask questions and gather valuable information from such a prestigious university. We are very excited about this developing relationship between The Marches and Cambridge University and the benefits it will bring our students. We are currently in the process of arranging a number of visits to the university for current students and our new sixth formers, who will begin their post-16 education in September. We hope to encourage other secondary schools to get involved in future events and look forward to hosting more Cambridge activity in Shropshire.”
On day two, I visited Thomas Telford School, a school I had previously visited in November to talk to Year 12 about Oxford and Cambridge. On this occasion I ran a session for early UCAS applicants (those applying to Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine or Veterinary medicine) on personal statements. We discussed how they are used as well as basic structure and content. The students used the rest of the time to ask questions and note down any wider reading, extra-curricular activities, etc. they had done. The students were focussed and had many insightful questions to ask about course and College choice.
Before starting my job as St John’s College Access Officer in September 2012, I lived in Cumbria for two years and am originally from Lancashire, but I had never previously visited Shropshire. I have found it to be a beautiful county, full of welcoming people, and I very much look forward to returning there in the future to visit more schools."
Carly Walsh is the Access Officer for St John’s College. As part of the Cambridge University Area Links scheme, each College is responsible for developing good relationships with local schools in particular areas. Two of St John’s areas are Shropshire and Telford. This is Carly's diary of a recent schools tour.
Earlier this month, we were given the sad news that Professor Sir Robert Edwards had passed away. A Nobel Prize winner, scientist, and fellow of Churchill College, Professor Edwards has received much international acclaim for his significant contribution to the field of reproductive medicine. Here in Cambridge, with colleague Patrick Steptoe, he pioneered in vitro fertilisation, a method to facilitate family-building in the face of infertility. Yet, although the scientific implications of IVF were well thought-through by the duo, the extensive social, ethical and philosophical debates which ensued as a result of their work could not have been anticipated.
Twenty five years on, it is clear that assisted reproductive techniques have raised fundamental questions about the relationship between technology and society, and the role of science in human experience. And while IVF at the outset was explicitly used to assist traditional family-building, today technology has enabled lesbian and gay couples and single men and women worldwide to become parents, causing much deliberation, discussion and debate among professionals, politicians, and the wider public.
At the Centre for Family Research, our team, headed by Professor Susan Golombok, is committed to obtaining empirical evidence on the psychological, social and emotional well-being of parents and children in families formed through assisted reproduction. Having conducted research on hundreds of families of different shapes and sizes, we have learnt that what seems to be most important is not how families are formed or structured, but the quality of family relationships and experiences. One of our most recent research projects focuses on single women who have used a sperm donor to have a child.
In 1990, when the UK government first legislated about the use of assisted reproduction, it was stated that clinicians needed to consider a ‘child’s need for a father’ in deciding whom to offer treatment. In practice, we know that some fertility clinics were already offering, and continued to offer, treatment to lesbian couples and single women, but the ‘need for a father’ was only recently replaced by the ‘need for supportive parenting’ when the legislation was last amended – in 2008.
Many of the arguments against single women using sperm donation assume that these families are likely to face similar issues to those that might affect single-parent families by divorce, such as financial or emotional difficulties. It is often assumed that women who want to use fertility treatment on their own will fit a middle-class, career-focused, 40-something stereotype, suddenly struck by the sound of their ticking biological clock.
This group of women has been widely criticised for the pursuit of a non-traditional path to parenthood which ultimately, it is argued, deprives children of the right to know, and have a relationship with, their biological father. In fact, concerns are raised not only by politicians and the wider public, but by professionals working in fertility treatment services. Clinic staff have questioned whether single women have the adequate material and social resources, and psychological and emotional skills, required to parent effectively. It is often assumed that these women’s single status is indicative of their inability to maintain a successful romantic relationship. This being the case, it is supposed that single mothers by sperm donation will lack the qualities necessary for good parenthood.
Our latest findings at the Centre for Family Research indicate not only that the cohort of single women accessing sperm donation may be more diverse than often assumed, but that concerns about the functioning of their families may be based more upon misinformation than anything else. In our work, we have so far been welcomed into the homes of over 40 single mothers by sperm donation. We have met their children, their families, their friends and, sometimes, their pets, and have been entrusted with significant and often deeply personal information about their experiences. So who are these women, why have they chosen this path to parenthood, and what are their families like?
The women we have seen come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and they differ vastly in their experiences of education and employment. They have ranged in age from their early 30s to their early 50s, with some women initially accessing fertility services as 20-somethings. Only one woman we visited described her decision to use fertility treatment as a result of her career choices earlier in life. In fact, the majority of mothers discuss their decision as resulting from not having a suitable partner at the time they decided to have a child. Contrary to clinical opinion, most of the women in our study have previously been in long-term relationships, and several have cohabited with a partner. Some have had children in these relationships, and others have previously been married.
But why do these women want to become single mothers? The answer is that in many ways, they don’t. The majority of women we have visited have described how they had always assumed they would have children within a traditional two-parent family, and would have preferred this to be the case. However, they – like the majority of people in the UK today – want to have children, and they want to do so in a way they see as safe and honest, and supported by the services available to them.
When talking about having chosen their specific sperm donor, mothers have described different approaches, including choosing from a sperm donation website in the company of friends, to asking very little information of clinic staff about the donor they have been matched with on the basis of shared physical characteristics. Some mothers tell their family, friends, and their children about their use of a donor, while others do not share this information so readily, and others have opted to refrain from disclosing the information, until their children – who, in our study, are currently aged four to eight – are older.
At odds with the assumption that single women using a sperm donor intentionally deprive their children of a father, most of the mothers we have seen explicitly acknowledge the possibility that their use of a donor may have consequences for how their children feel about their families. Many reflect upon the significance of male role models for their child’s development, and several highlight how they have fostered relationships between their male family members and friends and their children for this reason.
In fact, it seems fair to say that none of the mothers parent single-handedly: they all receive practical and emotional support from family, friends, and others, in raising their children. And although they do see clear differences between their experiences of parenthood and the experiences of their married friends, these differences are not always seen in a negative light. Mothers mostly distinguish between the good and bad families they are familiar with. Their judgments are based upon whether the people in these families are happy and healthy, rather than how many people are in them.
Having now spent over a year listening to their stories, and sharing in mothers’ experiences, it seems reasonable to suggest that politicians, professionals, and the public might do well to take the lead from these mothers in assessing their families in a similar way: irrespective of family structure. Instead of relying on a single stereotype of single mothers by sperm donation, our focus should remain on research which continues to look closely at the well-being of the mothers and children within these families.
Most fundamentally, the debate ignited by Edwards and Steptoe back in 1978 must now move beyond arguments in favour of the traditional family, comprised of two married, heterosexual parents and their 2.4 children. In other words, the need for new conceptions – of family life in general, and of single motherhood specifically – is now clear.
Sophie Zadeh is an ESRC-funded PhD student at the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge. Her research with Dr Tabitha Freeman and Professor Susan Golombok focuses on the experiences of single women who have used a sperm donor to have a child, and explores the psychological, social and emotional well-being of mothers and children in these families.
Sophie Zadeh, a PhD candidate in the Centre for Family Research, is contributing to a new study of the well-being of single mothers by sperm donation and their children. Her initial findings confound many of the assumptions about this group of women.
On Thursday 2 May, the CEO of the GAVI Alliance, Dr Seth Berkley, will discuss how to harness the power of research to expedite the development of vaccines appropriate for developing countries and improve access to them.
Dr Berkley’s talk will set out how the GAVI Alliance’s public-private partnership model brings together donors, developing countries, industry, civil society and academia to solve the challenges of reaching every child with vaccines no matter where they are born.
GAVI leverages expertise across a variety of sectors, including innovative financing for development, supply chain management, the development of mobile phone platforms for the collection of epidemiological data, mathematical modelling of infectious disease and health economics and policy.
Prior to joining GAVI in 2011, Dr Berkley was the founder, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) for over a decade. His talk, ‘Harnessing the power of science research and the public and private sector: a 21st century model for international development’, is the Wellcome Trust-Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research’s inaugural lecture.
Dr Berkley’s talk will be followed with a presentation by the world-leading flu expert, Professor Derek Smith, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Modelling, Evolution and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Cambridge. There will be an opportunity for questions and answers after the talks.
The evening begins at 5.30pm at the Howard Lecture Theatre, Downing College, Cambridge (map). If you would like to attend, please RSVP: http://wt-cghr-cambridge-gavi-lecture.eventbrite.com/
Professor David Dunne, Director of the Wellcome Trust-Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research and host of the lecture, said: “By partnering with globally important organisations such as the GAVI Alliance, Cambridge’s multi-disciplinary research and technology communities can have a more profound effect on international development, public health, and the lives of people in the developing world.”
“As an innovative public-private partnership, the GAVI Alliance works to harness the expertise and experience from a range of sectors to help us to improve access to lifesaving vaccines for children in developing countries,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance. “Our partners range from WHO and UNICEF to donors – including the UK government – implementing countries, vaccine manufacturers, civil society organisations, and academia.
“We have made great progress in the past decade, but the stark reality is that 22 million children born every year around the world don’t receive the immunisation they need against potentially fatal childhood illnesses. Supply chain management, improving the quality of vaccine coverage data and developing vaccines that remain highly effective outside of cold storage systems are just some of the challenges which, if they can be overcome, would have a huge positive impact on GAVI’s ability to reach more children.
“Cambridge University has an outstanding reputation for academic research, coupled with its commitment to Africa, which makes it an ideal forum to set out the challenges and opportunities in improving access to immunisation in developing countries.”
The GAVI Alliance is a public-private partnership which aims to immunise a quarter of a billion additional children in the developing world with life-saving vaccines by 2015. With GAVI support, countries are now introducing new vaccines against the primary causes of two of the biggest childhood killers in the world: pneumonia and severe diarrhoea. Together these diseases account for 30% of child deaths in low-income countries. It was established in 2000 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK government and others to improve access to immunisation.
The Wellcome Trust-Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research status was awarded to the University of Cambridge in February of this year. The Centre plans to capture and capitalise on the extensive basic biomedical and health-related research capacity across many departments and research institutes in Cambridge. It will make this fully available for research capacity building and knowledge exchange partnerships with African universities and institutes, as a means of improving the health and welfare of those in low- and middle-income countries.
CEO of GAVI Alliance to give Wellcome Trust-Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research inaugural lecture
The Department of Chemistry and the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy both received bronze awards today from Athena SWAN, the charter that recognises commitment to advancing women’s careers in STEMM academia. The University also had its bronze award renewed, which it has held since 2006.
Their success builds on the achievement of the Cavendish Laboratory, which has held a silver award since 2010.
More than half of all higher education institutions that are active in STEMM subjects are members of the Athena Swan charter, including 23 of the 24 Russell Group universities. Awards are available in bronze, silver and gold at both University and departmental level. No university has yet to be recognised at gold level, with Queen’s University Belfast, Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham the only higher education institutions with silver awards.
STEMM subjects have traditionally suffered from an under-representation of women, meaning that education and research in key scientific disciplines are not reaching their full potential. The Athena SWAN awards process enables departments and faculties to develop an action plan aimed at improving the recruitment, retention and promotion of female academic and research staff. They therefore play a significant role in helping departments perform at the highest standards of international excellence.
Submissions for awards are made twice a year – in April and November – and the majority of Cambridge STEMM departments are either awaiting news of an application or are preparing submissions.
Professor Jeremy Sanders, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Affairs at the University, welcomed the news. “As chair of the University’s Athena SWAN governance panel I am delighted that the University’s bronze award has been successfully renewed. The award recognises that progressing gender equality is a key priority for us, leading to a substantial commitment of staff and resources to ensure engagement with Athena SWAN principles across departments, faculties and institutes.
“We are working hard to ensure that women are well represented at the most senior levels of the University, and that women across the whole University are supported and encouraged to achieve their potential. I am particularly proud of the development of our Senior Gender Equality Network to support the exceptional work of the Gender Equality Champion, and the success of a pilot fund to support returning carers, which I hope will reap dividends for both individuals and the University in the future.”
The University and two of its departments have been recognised for their good employment practices for women working in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).
When Cambridge PhD student Lucia Prieto Godino met Professor Sadiq Yusuf, a Nigerian scientist from the Kampala International University in Uganda, she learned that most neuroscientists in Africa use rats as a model system – and the seed of an idea was planted.
“Rats are expensive model organisms with very limited accessibility to genetic manipulation. Drosophila, however, are easy and inexpensive to breed and maintain in the lab, and the wealth of genetic tools available for the study of the brain makes it an attractive model organism used by many scientists in the West,” she explained. “But without training, it can seem a major step for researchers to change to this approach.”
Now, Dr Prieto Godino (currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lausanne) and scientists from several European universities are gearing up to hold their third summer school in Uganda to help early career scientists learn how to work with flies. To date, 34 scientists from six African countries have taken part in the three-week, hands-on programme that combines both theoretical and laboratory sessions.
One participant said: “This course changed my attitude towards almost everything in science; actually I can say this course serve as an eye opener to us.” Another said: “I will carry the knowledge I have gained in the course of the workshop to other places.”
Crucial to the course’s successful organisation was the presence of a local committee in Uganda led by Sadiq Yusuf, together with fundraising by Prieto Godino to pay for the shipping of donated equipment and reagents to Africa and full scholarships for course participants. Additionally, researchers from several European universities, including Cambridge zoologists Professor Mike Bate and Dr Berthold Hedwig, have volunteered to teach at the summer school, which is now supported by the International Brain Research Organization.
“As the three weeks of the first course progressed, we realised how much of a difference could be made over there, and we decided to found an NGO to formalise and channel our future efforts in improving higher education and research in Africa. In January of 2012, with Sadiq as our African partner, we founded ‘TReND in Africa’, which stands for Teaching and Research in Neuroscience for Development in Africa,” said Prieto Godino.
TReND in Africa co-founder Dr Tom Baden, who along with Prieto Godino was a PhD student in the Department of Zoology and is now at the University of Tübingen, said: “In TReND in Africa, we aim to provide young African university graduates with the global perspective on science and society that we have enjoyed all our lives thanks to the privilege of going through a Western education system.”
The summer school is still one of the main activities developed by TReND in Africa, but activities are rapidly diversifying. Current projects include furnishing labs in Africa and supporting the development of the first MSc course in Neuroscience in Uganda in collaboration between the Kampala International University.
TReND in Africa shares ideology and collaborates with the Cambridge in Africa programme, which views strengthening of Africa’s indigenous scientific research base as crucial to the identification of its disease control and public health priorities, and to the discovery of appropriate solutions.
“Providing higher education and research capacity building locally in Africa is essential for the development of its societies,” Prieto Godino added. “It empowers the local production of knowledge and the capability of addressing local problems and challenges in a more adequate and cost-effective manner.”
The next summer school is from 19 August until 8 September 2013 (http://trendinafrica.org/activities/summer-schools/)
A programme created by Cambridge researchers is teaching African scientists how insects can be powerful yet inexpensive model systems in neuroscientific research.
New research shows that movement of the ring-like molecule pyrrole over a metal surface runs counter to the centuries-old laws of ‘classical’ physics that govern our everyday world.
Using uniquely sensitive experimental techniques, scientists have found that laws of quantum physics - believed primarily to influence at only sub-atomic levels – can actually impact on a molecular level.
Researchers at Cambridge’s Chemistry Department and Cavendish Laboratory say they have evidence that, in the case of pyrrole, quantum laws affecting the internal motions of the molecule change the “very nature of the energy landscape” – making this ‘quantum motion’ essential to understanding the distribution of the whole molecule.
The study, a collaboration between scientists from Cambridge and Rutgers universities, appeared in the German chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie earlier this month.
A pyrrole molecule’s centre consists of a “flat pentagram” of five atoms, four carbon and one nitrogen. Each of these atoms has an additional hydrogen atom attached, sticking out like spokes.
Following experiments performed by Barbara Lechner at the Cavendish Laboratory to determine the energy required for movement of pyrrole across a copper surface, the team discovered a discrepancy that led them down a ‘quantum’ road to an unusual discovery.
In previous work on simpler molecules, the scientists were able to accurately calculate the ‘activation barrier’ – the energy required to loosen a molecule’s bond to a surface, allowing movement – using ‘density functional theory’, a method that treats the electrons which bind the atoms according to quantum mechanics but, crucially, deals with atomic nuclei using a ‘classical’ physics approach.
Surprisingly, with pyrrole the predicted ‘activation barriers’ were way out, with calculations “less than a third of the measured value”. After much head scratching, puzzled scientists turned to a purely quantum phenomenon called ‘zero-point energy’.
In classical physics, an object losing energy can continue to do so until it can be thought of as sitting perfectly still. In the quantum world, this is never the case: everything always retains some form of residual – even undetectable – energy, known as ‘zero-point energy’.
While ‘zero-point energy’ is well known to be associated with motion of the atoms contained in molecules, it was previously believed that such tiny amounts of energy simply don’t affect the molecule as a whole to any measurable extent, unless the molecule broke apart.
But now, the researchers have discovered that the “quantum nature” of the molecule's internal motion actually does affect the molecule as a whole as it moves across the surface, defying the ‘classical’ laws that it’s simply too big to feel quantum effects.
‘Zero-point energy’ moving within a pyrrole molecule is unexpectedly sensitive to the exact site occupied by the molecule on the surface. In moving from one site to another, the ‘activation energy’ must include a sizeable contribution due to the change in the quantum ‘zero-point energy’.
Scientists believe the effect is particularly noticeable in the case of pyrrole because the ‘activation energy’ needed for diffusion is particularly small, but that many other similar molecules ought to show the same kind of behavior.
“Understanding the nature of molecular diffusion on metal surfaces is of great current interest, due to efforts to manufacture two-dimensional networks of ring-like molecules for use in optical, electronic or spintronic devices,” said Dr Stephen Jenkins, who heads up the Surface Science Group in Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry.
“The balance between the activation energy and the energy barrier that sticks the molecules to the surface is critical in determining which networks are able to form under different conditions.”
Quantum laws loom ever larger in physical world as new research finds quantum phenomena in effect on a molecular level
Stephen Jenkins is head of the Chemistry Department's Surface Science Group; Marco Sacchi is the post-doc in that group who did the calculations.
Bill Allison and John Ellis lead the Surface Science section of the Surfaces, Microstructure and Fracture Group at the Cavendish; Holly Hedgeland was a post-doc in that group, who started a lot of the experimental work on diffusion of aromatic molecules; Barbara Lechner was the student who took the lead on the experimental work for this specific system.
Jane Hinch is a collaborator from Rutgers University, involved in the experimental work and its interpretation
Biographies of Apple co-founder and many-times-over millionaire Steve Jobs are best-sellers. The narrative of his life with its drama of highs and lows, friendships and fallings-out, makes compelling reading for anyone interested in what drives a human being to risk all in pursuing a dream. Stories are how we make sense of what’s happening around us: consider these more modest snapshots of success and failure.
British entrepreneur Henry left academia to set up a venture based on his expertise in the physical sciences. His enterprise failed, as did his second, and he remains bitter about what happened. American Priya also experienced business failures. She travelled around India to give herself thinking time and back in the USA she set up a social network for entrepreneurs. Hans is a German physicist whose venture collapsed when business partners embezzled its funds. With his wife, he purchased the assets of the bankrupt firm and started a ‘phoenix’ company, turning the enterprise around.
Starting a business is risky. It is estimated that between 50 and 90 per cent of the new companies that emerge each year collapse. Many more fall by the wayside while still at the business planning stage, having failed to attract start-up capital. Others make it much further down the line but never attain viability and become the ‘living dead’. When entrepreneurs fail, the consequences can be drastic, entailing not just crippling financial implications but also loss of self-esteem and, sometimes, traumatic implications for personal life – including alcoholism, depression and family break-up.
Yet many entrepreneurs who fail go on to start further businesses, only some of which succeed. How do they cope with failure, and what motivates them to pick themselves up and start afresh? Given that start-up companies are widely regarded as the engine of economic growth, and that each year a small number of new enterprises prove spectacularly successful, these are important questions.
When Dr Keith Cotterill embarked on a study of the attitudes of habitual technology entrepreneurs who had experienced at least one business failure, he opted for an in-depth approach that would add to our knowledge of how people make sense of, and respond to, the roller-coaster narratives of their careers. His research draws on data he obtained from extensive interviews with business people based in three contrasting regions – Silicon Valley in the USA, Munich in Germany, and Cambridge in the UK.
“My own years of experience in technology start-ups – successful and otherwise – made me uncertain about my own attitudes to failure, and having worked in many countries, I was drawn to an international context, comparing how different cultures and regions might impact such attitudes. Silicon Valley appears to enjoy a pioneering but forgiving culture where failure is celebrated as valuable experience. Germany seems the opposite, with strong cultural aversion to risk and personal exposure leading to the fear and stigma of failure. Cambridge, with its high reputation for entrepreneurship in the UK, seemed an obvious third region to explore” said Cotterill.
His first challenge was to find people willing to talk to him in depth about episodes of failure. To build rounded profiles of interviewees, he needed to find individuals open to sharing not just information about their careers but also their personality traits and emotional responses to negative events.
“Entrepreneurs tend to create stories as part of a survival strategy: they may know funding is running out and customers aren’t signing deals, but they need to remain optimistic and persuasive about a positive outcome, and this often requires maintaining parallel versions of events to balance conflicting demands. Obtaining a dispassionate, truthful account of their experiences can therefore be challenging. However, my interviews provided a unique opportunity to discuss their failed ventures and most interviewees were remarkably candid,” said Cotterill.
By listening to the unfiltered narrative accounts of the entrepreneurs, he was able to gain insights into their experience, and lessons they had learned. “Although entrepreneurs are typically highly skilled at presenting their version of events, the interviewees relaxed sufficiently to share traumatic and difficult aspects of their experience and recounted personal consequences with commendable frankness. Without exception, they appreciated the chance to discuss their failures with a neutral observer, revealing various attitudes including blaming others for their downfall, feeling the practical stigma of being shunned by investors and future employers, while also celebrating their experience by recounting what they had learned and how they had developed as a result.”
The interviewees whom Cotterill recruited ranged in age from mid-40s to mid-50s. Four of the six US interviewees came from minority ethnic backgrounds – a fact that several saw as contributing to a high level of motivation. All but one of the 18 respondents were men, a fact that Cotterill recognises as a potential source of bias, but reflective of start-up demographics in general.
To capture and tabulate the attitudes of his interviewees, Cotterill used a qualitative psychology technique called Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to gather data, summarise the cases and create a thematic analysis. The themes covered different aspects of business context, language and narrative, environmental factors, personality characteristics and entrepreneurial response. This approach is particularly appropriate where there is little primary data on such experiences: failed entrepreneurs are hard to find, and not all want to talk about their ventures. Furthermore, many of their stories are traumatic and filled with nuance that is hard to capture through more structured approaches.
Across the individuals studied, there were more similarities than differences – though some of the differences were striking. Most notable were the personality-centred differences between individuals such as self-belief, ability to handle conflict and anger, and relationships with work colleagues and families. One US interviewee professed to be so furious with an investor that ‘I would not piss on him if his back was on fire’; another said ‘I don’t feel any animosity towards any of my investors, nor do I feel very negative about any of us’.
What surprised Cotterill most about his analysis of the interviews was how the high degree of self-efficacy of entrepreneurs was evident regardless of the region in which they operated: although German and British entrepreneurs recognised their countries were not the best at coping with failure, they did not did not allow this to deter them. It was as if they were sufficiently confident and capable that ‘rules for others’ did not apply. German interviewees talked about how bad stigma could be but most did not feel directly affected by it; British entrepreneurs discussed how funding was hard to obtain but not for them. Another issue was tenacity: more tenacious entrepreneurs sometimes concealed a difficulty in letting go – when the consequences of failure were so bad, they were more likely to sustain their venture at all costs.
Cotterill’s own background put him in a strong position to tackle some of the trickier issues. A graduate of Oxford University (PPE), he trained in London as a chartered accountant before entering the technology industry. Over the past 25 years, he has created and built multiple software companies, working extensively in the USA and elsewhere. Many of his ventures proved successful – including the IPO of Commerce One, and Webify Solutions which sold to IBM in 2006 – but he has also had first-hand experience of failure when multiple companies did not take off. Some failed for obvious reasons – business timing, lack of funding, lack of customer deals – but sometimes as a result of what he describes as inexplicable bad fortune.
He said: “I became increasingly fascinated by the human factors that cause people to start new ventures when the rate of failure is so high, and applied to Cambridge University to take a PhD allowing me to frame an investigation into entrepreneurial failure. What I learnt helped me understand my own experience and may help me support others through mentoring and coaching. Perhaps failed entrepreneurs would benefit from explicitly evaluating their experience of failure in order to speed their recovery. In my thesis I developed a framework, based on primary research to support a holistic evaluation of a failed venture, enabling an entrepreneur to systematically examine all aspects of the experience before concluding what they might wish to do next.”
Cotterill took his PhD at the Institute for Manufacturing (Department of Engineering) under the supervision of Dr Tim Minshall. He graduates tomorrow (27 April). He is already working in London as CTO for a high-growth start-up in financial technology, while advising multiple new ventures in the UK and California. He is also teaching graduate students in Cambridge and continuing to refine his research in collaboration with the Institute for Manufacturing.
For more information on this story contact Alex Buxton, Communications Office, University of Cambridge, firstname.lastname@example.org 01223 761673
Most business start-ups fail. But countless failed entrepreneurs go on to establish further enterprises. In his PhD research, Dr Keith Cotterill, a businessman with more than 25 years’ experience, examined attitudes to failure in Cambridge, Munich and Silicon Valley.
He is a philosopher and a Princeton University professor. On top of that, he is an activist, actor and orator. In his youth he had run-ins with the authorities during marches in support of civil rights. His best known books are Race Matters and Democracy Matters. The legendary Cornel West will be in Cambridge at the start of May to take part in wide-ranging conversations with three other people unafraid of tackling big questions. All events are free and open to the public.
West will engage in a debate with Paul Gilroy on ‘Politics and Race’ (3 May), with Mary Margaret McCabe on ‘Philosophy in the Public Sphere’ (7 May) and with Ben Okri on ‘Literature and the Nation’ (9 May).
Both Gilroy and McCabe are at Kings College London, where Gilroy is known for his work in postcolonial studies and McCabe for her focus on Plato, one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy. Poet and novelist Ben Okri published his first novel when he was only 21 but made his name with The Famished Road which won the Booker Prize in 1991.
Each of the three dialogues will be chaired by a different respondent who will also guide the subsequent audience discussion. The respondent at the first event will be Stephen Tuck, from the University of Oxford, at the second Constanze Guthenke, professor of classics at Princeton University, and at the third Malachi McIntosh, a fellow at King’s College, Cambridge.
In his acclaimed book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Gilroy revisits the notion of diaspora as peoples are cut adrift from their cultural source or origin. His own background as the child of Guyanese and English parents informs his views as a social and political commentator and he has spoken out in defence of the criminalisation of the young black community in Britain.
Raised in Britain and Nigeria, Okri was deeply affected by his experiences as a young man, which included a period of homelessness that he has described as vital to his inner world as a writer. His work weaves together strands of realism, folklore and myth into a narrative that defies categorisation. In an interview he is said to have rebuffed the term magical realism with the argument that “a horse ... has four legs and a tail. That doesn’t describe it".
The line ‘Our future is greater than our past’ was chosen from Ben Okri’s visionary poem ‘Turn on your light’ as an inscription for one of the pillars of the Commonwealth Memorial Gates at London’s Hyde Park Corner, built in 2002 to remember soldiers from the British Empire forces killed in the two World Wars.
McCabe has written a number of books on Plato and published work on other ancient philosophers, including the pre-Socratics, Socrates and Aristotle. In her book Plato’s Individuals she contradicts the long-held belief that Aristotle was the first to discuss individuation systematically, arguing that Plato was concerned with what makes something a something and that he solved the problem in a radically different way than did Aristotle.
All events will take place from 5.00-6.30pm at the Faculty of Law, Sidgwick Site, University of Cambridge. Free, open to all, no need to book. http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/2411/
For more information contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, email@example.com 01223 761673.
Don’t miss the chance to hear the controversial commentator Cornel West in dialogue with other great minds on politics, philosophy and literature, touching in particular on issues of race and identity.
A reduction in the trade deficit by £20bn and an estimated 200,000 UK-based jobs could be created over the next ten years, as mid-sized manufacturing firms end the outsourcing of production to Asia in response to changing business dynamics, according to a report published today.
Many kinds of manufacturing have reached a ‘tipping point’ in terms of whether they should be located overseas or in the country where the goods are consumed, say the report’s authors.
They believe that large-scale global trends - such as rising oil costs and regulations on emissions - combined with new production technologies will make global manufacturing uneconomic and unattractive to many businesses.
The UK’s estimated 2,500 mid-sized manufacturing companies - and, critically, the support they receive from government and the finance industry - will be crucial to capitalising on these trends, argue the authors, as they have the agility, ambition and a “closeness to their customer base” best suited for a return to localised production and distribution.
But the authors warn that these mid-sized companies are “under-reported and undervalued”- overlooked by government, lenders and the media. They question whether the UK is ready to respond to the challenges and opportunities this changing context requires.
The report Making at home, owning abroad was written by Dr Finbarr Livesey, a lecturer in Public Policy at Cambridge, in conjunction with Julian Thompson, Director of Enterprise at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and supported by Lloyds banking group.
It will be presented at today at the RSA, where those speaking about the research include the Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The authors’ believe that the movement of production to Asia based on cost advantages may have “run its course” for many industries, pointing to signs of change such as Apple and GE restarting production in the US and ‘next generation’ ultra-affordable computer Raspberry Pi returning its production to the UK.
Emerging production technologies should make it possible to make lower volumes closer to the consumer. Shorter distances would greatly reduce emissions and contribute to so-called “green growth”, as well as providing a ‘shot in the arm’ so desperately needed by many of this country’s regional economies.
Many mid-sized companies - those with a turnover between £25m and £500m and between 100 and 2000 employees - are currently concerned about finding and retaining skilled employees and attracting top management. Relatively low profiles mean that they are rarely at the forefront of the minds of top graduates.
But, as the report points out, it is these very companies that have continued to grow through the recession, adding employment while large companies have been outsourcing and “shedding jobs”. The “agile” mid-sized companies will be the ones large enough to invest in the new technology and have the ambition to grow internationally through investing in productive assets overseas.
While, if well managed, the authors estimate that adapting to these changes by assisting mid-sized firms could reduce the UK’s trade deficit by a third and create up to 200,000 new jobs in the next decade, they also warn that failure to take action would result in production opportunities being lost to other EU countries - such as Germany and France - and continue the spiral of decline we are currently seeing in UK manufacturing.
“The UK economy needs to find a path to sustained growth,” write the report’s authors. “Since the recession of 2008/2009 gross domestic product has either contracted or grown at very low levels, leading to an economy that is flat-lining”.
“Mid-sized manufacturing companies will have a significant role to play in the future of UK manufacturing, rebalancing of the economy and overall growth. It is imperative the industry and government begin to discuss how investment decisions now will affect growth for both companies and the country.”
A new report suggests that global production shift to Asia may have “run its course” and points to “undervalued” mid-sized manufacturing firms as essential to UK economic regrowth
Colour pictures surround us – so much so that we ignore many of them. The average waste bin contains dozens of printed images that would once have been considered little short of miraculous.
Five hundred years ago, when printing was a new technology and only the well-off could afford to buy books, ink was made from soot and nut oil, and paper was manufactured by hand from cotton rags, images that were printed in colour were rare and correspondingly precious. The appearance of these images in books and as objects in their own right marks progressive breakthroughs in the development of the mechanical printing press, an invention that revolutionised communication.
Research into the emergence of colour printing has revealed that colour-prints were produced in a significant quantity centuries earlier than has been widely supposed – and that there was a dynamic relationship between the skilled artisans who created images for printing and a host of other artists, including sculptors, metalworkers and armourers.
An exploration of archives and collections of rare books by Dr Elizabeth Upper, Munby Fellow in Bibliography at Cambridge University Library, has revealed many hundreds of examples of colour prints that have hitherto been overlooked by scholars. She suggests that much remains to be learnt about the making of the colour images that illustrate thousands of rare books held in the world’s libraries.
Parallel work in into the history of printmaking as a technology, carried out by Professor Sean Roberts at the University of Southern California, throws a light on the pioneering activities of early printmakers in working with materials (wood, copper, steel and bronze) and processes as they competed with each other in the creation of increasingly sophisticated images that ranged from art to maps.
Tomorrow (30 April), Dr Upper and Professor Roberts will be talking about their complementary research into printmaking in early modern Europe at the first of this term’s seminars on the theme of Things, held at CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) at the University of Cambridge.
There are two categories of prints: relief (in which the design is raised from the surface, like woodcuts) and intaglio (in which the design is sunken into the surface, such as etching and engraving on metal). Dr Upper’s expertise lies primarily in the area of relief and, as the Munby Fellow, she has access to the unrivalled collections of rare books held by Cambridge University Library. Woodcuts are associated with black and white images, but they were frequently coloured by hand as a secondary process using a wash, for example.
The study of the history of English prints is based on the assumption that none were printed in colour for the 250 years between the first in the Book of St Albans in 1486 (a guide to gentlemanly pursuits that is resplendent with printed colour images) and the mid-18th century, when technical innovations suddenly allowed for the cheap and (relatively) mass production of pictures printed in accurate colours.
Research by Dr Upper in the libraries and collections in Europe and the USA challenges the existence of this gap. “It’s certainly true that colour prints are the needles in the haystack – but there are many more needles than we thought,” she says. “This suggests that the technology of colour printing was much more firmly established than scholars have generally realised in both centres of book production – such as Augsburg in Germany – and in provincial presses across Europe.”
Dr Upper is currently looking at the many examples of Tudor woodcuts printed in colour to create images that have added visual impact. Cambridge University Library has many, some of them dating back as far as the early 16th century. They are present in copies of books such as the Book of Common Prayer (1549 and 1552) and the King James Bible (1611), where they can be discerned through careful examination of how the colour was applied. Colour washes often sit inside the printed lines while printed colours often overlap; the blocks are misregistered, or not exactly aligned; beaded lines of ink can often be seen at the edge of blocks; and the layer of colour is often printed under (not over) the black outline.
“These book illustrations have not been systematically described as colour prints and are not known to art historians. Many show innovative techniques or use colour in surprising ways. Because there has been such a pervasive bias against colour in the study of graphic art, there is still no standard descriptive terminology. This means that printed colour cannot be recorded, so these prints cannot be identified in catalogues,” she says.
“This lack of documentation has led to the belief that early colour prints did not exist, with a few well-known exceptions, and that colour printmaking is a later technology. So entrenched is this view that histories of colour printing often start c 1700. But vividly printed images from the 1400s, 1500s and 1600s are hiding in plain sight, and their production challenges long-held assumptions in fields as diverse as early modern visual culture and the history of medicine.”
Professor Roberts is especially interested in Europe and its connections with a wider Mediterranean world between the 15th and 17th centuries and his recent research has centred on the relationship between art, technology, maps and books. His talk will draw on his work on the crucial role that trade secrecy, industrial espionage and other skulduggery played in shaping early European prints.
“We’re accustomed to consider engraving as a rudimentary artistic medium that was widely understood. However, for the early makers and viewers of these remarkable images, the technique used to produce them was anything but transparent,” says Professor Roberts.
“Artisans laboured diligently to assert exclusive knowledge of the process and to discourage its diffusion among potential rivals. Not only painters but also metalworkers, sculptors and book printers tried – sometimes with desperation – to claim engraving as a proprietary technology. The Italian artist Andrea Mantegna, for example, sought to force rival engravers out from the city-state of Mantua. Similarly, the Florentine map-maker Francesco Rosselli claimed a monopoly of advanced tools acquired in Hungary. In his famous Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, the historian Giorgio Vasari spun a web of myths, lies and misdirections to convince readers of the primacy of Italian printmaking.”
In the course of his research, Professor Roberts has traced the movement of artisans and their tools throughout Europe, across the Alps and over the Mediterranean as printmaking technology spread from region to region. In this way, his work questions the geographical boundaries that have traditionally led to the characterisation of prints along the connoisseurial divide of German and Italian schools.
The 'Things' seminar series, including Sean Roberts’ visit, is sponsored by the 'Seeing Things' programme (http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/page/1159/seeing-things.htm), a collaboration between CRASSH and the EMSI of the University of Southern California. There will be three further Things seminars this term.
The Munby Fellowship (http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/munby/), founded in memory of the late ANL Munby, a greatly respected scholar in the field of bibliography, is an annual fellowship to work on bibliographical research within Cambridge University Library. The Rare Book collections of Cambridge University Library (http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/deptserv/rarebooks/) are of international significance, and include material from the first European printing presses in the 15th century up to the present day, and publications from all parts of the world.
Elizabeth Upper is editing Printing Colour, 1400-1800: Histories, Techniques, Functions and Receptions (Brill: forthcoming 2014) with Ad Stijnman, which is the first handbook of colour printing techniques during the hand-press period. Sean Roberts is the author of Printing a Mediterranean World: Florence, Constantinople, and the Renaissance of Geography (Harvard University Press, 2013) and co-editor of Visual Cultures of Secrecy in Early Modern Europe (2013), and his next book is provisionally entitled Sabotage! Rivalry, Secrecy, and the Making of Renaissance Prints.
For more information contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, firstname.lastname@example.org 01223 761673.
The latest research into the emergence of printmaking technology in early modern Europe is challenging accepted thinking about the development of colour printing. A seminar at CRASSH tomorrow will reappraise these assumptions in the light of new archival evidence.
In 2005, Sony went too far. In an attempt to control the illegal digital spread of music, they placed a ‘rootkit’ bug in all music CDs that automatically buried itself in a customer’s home computer on disc insertion.
This bug, only hinted at in terms and conditions which presumed compliance, monitored and reported on the personal use of the purchased music files - a covert invasion of the privacy of anyone buying a CD from one of the music industry’s major players.
As programmer Mark Russinovich - who uncovered the bugging strategy - pointed out: such techniques are more often affiliated with those looking to compromise a computer’s security. In the fog of desperation gripping an industry that could no longer see its own future, a global conglomerate turned hacker. Class action lawsuits were filed and Sony were forced to recall products and issue software to remove the bugs in what became a PR nightmare.
For most the term ‘hacker’ is still commonly associated with similarly invasive tactics, but in certain circles the ‘hacker ethic’ means something very different. It is the “information liberalism” at the heart of our new digital world, an ideology of playful creation and dissemination through unbreakable networks. The freedom of information.
And increasingly it’s political. The ‘hacker ethic’ can be traced through Western opposition movements such as Anonymous and Wikileaks - who use networking to empower and whose arsenal is information.
For Dr James Allen-Robertson, sociologist and author of the new book Digital Culture Industry: A History of Digital Distribution, this ‘hacker ethic’ - forged when hippy counterculture overlapped with the budding computing industry in the sixties - is at the root of the modern media industry’s now dominant methodologies, from iTunes to Netflix.
Ironically however, it may also change the nature of ownership forever - and not in the consumers’ favour, with purchasing effectively becoming “more like a long term loan”.
“If the music industry had jumped on digital media straight away, they may well have been able to define the model of how we consume, a ‘subscription’ model, for example, such as Spotify. People would have probably gone along with it - the perception at the time was digital files were inferior and dispensable” says Allen-Robertson.
“Once Napster showed people that they could cultivate and organise MP3s - got them thinking in terms of digital music collections - the industry entered a spiral of both scrabbling to catch up with public expectations and losing ground to the pirate sites, who proved themselves adept at outfoxing the industry by evolving increasingly decentralised networks and utilising national boundaries to hide in plain sight.”
Allen-Robertson’s new book charts the rise of the pirates and their ideology, the “ethos of free cultural sharing”, and the media industry’s struggle to handle digital distribution. One of his conclusions is that perhaps the “killer app” for media in the digital age is simply convenience, ‘click of a button’ ease - which is how a computer company, Apple, has come to be the major gatekeeper for the music industry.
Online piracy began in earnest with file-sharing forums in the mid-nineties, based on a perhaps naïve idealism. “There was a sense of ‘what’s the problem if I have a file and I copy it? It doesn’t cost anything or hurt anyone, and now this person has it and we both get to learn from it and enjoy it’, after all, information sharing was the point of the internet,” says Allen-Robertson.
Piracy really got going with the Napster, a ‘peer to peer’ system with sophisticated distribution mechanisms. Demonised and eventually torpedoed by the industry, Napster embodied emergent approaches to digital distribution and caused a sea-change that we live with now - the MP3 as king, versatile and immediate.
Napster’s increasingly decentralised systems made them difficult, but not impossible, to take down. BitTorrent, however, the system currently used by sites such as the infamous Swedish hub The Pirate Bay, is pure network:
“The Pirate Bay is simply a website, one of many that act as a pick-up point, but the network itself is now completely without centre - no ‘in’ for government and industry to target for prosecution,” says Allen-Robertson.
“As long as there is one person broadcasting into the abyss that they have a file, and one person starts broadcasting that they want said file, the network retriggers itself.”
While the threat of prosecution may act as a deterrent for some, the pirates continue to adapt. Traffic is increasingly disguised, bounced around the world through different proxy services, with the individual behind the action hiding in the network.
As Allen-Robertson points out, huge industries and governments have tried and failed to stop piracy networks, which “demonstrated these technologies have real power that can be utilised”.
Indeed, the power of anonymity in the networked hive, as displayed by BitTorrent, is being increasingly embraced by political activism in the wake of economic meltdown. Social activist, or ‘hacktivist’, groups like Anonymous sprang from online networks based on notorious online messageboard 4chan.
Whether it’s illegal Rhianna downloads, funny-looking cats or anti-capitalist riots, the ideology of the network, the ‘hacker ethic’ of unfettered dissemination, remains strong: “it’s difficult to fight against. It’s one thing to say ‘you can’t have our stuff for free’, quite another to say ‘your value system is wrong’,” says Allen-Robertson.
The ‘hacker ethic’ stemmed from open source software programming communities in which developers freely collaborate and build on each other’s work, allowing for speed and innovation that would be impossible if every line of code was patented. The music industry, however, is based on an absolute copyright model, where every sale and radio play equates to income.
While the corporate music industry fought in vain for control from the vantage point of rights holders and revenue stream, the programmers focused on accessibility of information from the perspective of the consumer.
Technology became portable and affordable. In the same year Sony bugged its CDs, Apple launched the iPod shuffle - a small, relatively cheap way to get your musical fix on the go. Apple understood that people wanted the immediacy and access to information that piracy offered, and if you made it as easy as possible for people to obtain music - easier than the pirates - then they would pay for it.
“Apple presented a complete solution for digital distribution at a time when the music industry was without direction. iTunes benefited greatly from both the accessibility ethos of the pirates and the state in which they’d left the music industry,” says Allen-Robertson.
“Apple has become the major distributor of music on the planet because of the convenience they offer. Getting the same music for free involves finding a good version, working around ISP blocks, the inherent - if minimal - risks of an illegal act and so on. Or, just tap a button on your iPhone. It’s so much easier.”
Subscription digital streaming is starting to do the same for film and TV, offering successful services such as Netflix that trump piracy in convenience stakes - but these services come at a price, and not just the 79p you paid for Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’.
“As the media industries have matured to take on piracy, pushing controls and legal statements into the background to ensure maximum convenience, troubling issues of ownership are starting to emerge,” says Allen-Robertson.
“Anything you’ve bought from iTunes or Xbox Arcade, for example, you don’t own and you never will. Access to it can be removed at any time, the content itself can change - it’s fundamentally different to buying a CD.”
Allen-Robertson cites the Orwellian example - both figuratively and literally - of a version of the classic novel 1984 that was being sold through Amazon’s Kindle store. In 2009 licensing issues around the specific version emerged, and Amazon wiped the book from the device of everyone who had purchased it overnight.
“An entirely finicky legal issue, which was Amazon’s problem not the customers, meant that - instead of issuing an apology - they simply retracted the files. Now everyone got refunded, but if you bought that book physically you wouldn’t come downstairs one morning to see a hole in your bookshelf!”
For Allen-Robertson, such cases are an unnerving example of how the nature of ownership is changing, in direct conflict with the original ethos of the ‘hacker ethic’. The question of whether we have traded freedom for convenience remains to be seen perhaps, but, instead of just ticking the ‘I accept’ box next time, those terms and conditions might be worth a read.
Digital Culture Industry: A History of Digital Distribution is available now, published by Palgrave MacMillan.
Dr James Allen-Robertson is currently based at the Cambridge-INET Institute in the Faculty of Economics. He will be a taking up a Lectureship in Media and Communications at the University of Essex in September.
How the ‘Hacker ethic’ almost killed the music industry, then helped save it, but might spell the end of ownership as we know it.
Read all about it! Wrongdoing in Spain and England in the long nineteenth century opens free to the public today (April 30) and reveals a catalogue of criminality from the Library’s remarkable collections of books, broadsides, penny dreadfuls and cheap, mass-produced ephemera.
They reveal how, just like today, tales of crime and punishment were lapped up by a huge cross-section of society in the two countries; from illiterate Spanish peasants who consumed tales of wickedness and evil deeds via rudimentary picture stories to the English middle classes who devoured verbatim court reports from The Times.
The exhibition, opened by Lord Williams of Oystermouth, Master of Magdalene College and former Archbishop of Canterbury, draws on the Library’s vast collection of material from both countries, and runs until December 2013. Themes include: ‘Don’t lock up your daughters’, ‘The glamour of bandits’, and ‘Monstrous criminals’.
Many of the exhibits feature magnificently gruesome, sometimes comically exaggerated, depictions of criminals and their crimes, such as Francisquillo el Sastre (Frankie the Tailor), whose weapon of choice was a gigantic pair of scissors – which, he boasts, were used to cut up the bodies of his victims.
The exhibition also spotlights literature and illustrations of notorious bandits and highwaymen such as Dick Turpin, and savage women like Sebastiana – a woman who killer her parents before removing their hearts and frying them.
Common to both countries was a huge fascination for ‘unnatural women’ – those representing the antithesis of femininity in their abominable deeds.
Professor Alison Sinclair, one of the two curators of the exhibition, who is part-way through a three-year research project looking at wrongdoing in Spain, said: “Why are we fascinated by the wrongs that men and women do? This is the literature that was sold in the streets; it took people into a world populated by bandits, sordid criminals and terrible women.
“Many of the stories share the message that if you stray away from the right path, then a terrible fate will likely befall you. But there is also a strange celebration of wrongdoing, particularly in the case of bandits. Above all, the stories tell us not just about day-to-day life in the street, but about the fantasies people had to distract them from that life.”
The variance in literacy levels between the two countries led to a marked difference of style. Much of the English material is text-based, with a single illustration. But only around one in five Spaniards could read in the mid-19th century, so the material produced for this audience is often more visually arresting, telling stories in pictures with many fewer words.
Vanessa Lacey, curator of the English material, said “Victorian Britain had a huge crime problem and that is absolutely reflected in the popular literature of the time; bar brawls that turned into stabbings in the street are common. The scourge of alcohol is a recurring feature in the heinous crimes depicted.
“There is a serious social history element to the collections. They show how society was divided and how poverty could lead to crime. The streets could be incredibly dangerous. We also have posters advertising or reporting from executions, which could be attended by thirty to fifty thousand people at a time. These aren’t just Dickensian characters; these are real people, real lives.”
One of Lacey’s favourite items is the account of Florence Maybrick, an American national who was sentenced to death for allegedly poisoning her husband. Her sentence was reduced to life imprisonment following a public outcry; released after fifteen years, she chronicled the appalling conditions for inmates in a book that laid bare the horrors of prison life and did much to inform the growing clamour for penal reform.
Both Sinclair and Lacey are at pains to point out the importance of the collections to the national heritages of Britain, Spain and Europe as a whole.
As part of the exhibition and Professor Sinclair’s ongoing research, all the Spanish material on display and selected English items, including Florence Maybrick’s account, are being made available on the Cambridge Digital Library (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/exhibition), where they will sit alongside the works of Darwin and Newton.
The physical display is accompanied by a virtual exhibition giving additional information about selected exhibits, and images of all the items on display: http://exhibitions.lib.cam.ac.uk
Sinclair summarized the significance of what is being put on display: “The items on show in the exhibition are a window onto 19th-century life and the things people read and looked at to entertain them. It’s also a timeline of the beginnings of criminology, psychiatry, phrenology and theories of heredity. These are incredibly important collections.”
The violence of everyday life in 19th-century Europe – including murder most foul, handsome bandits, wicked women and huge crowds at executions – is being revealed in all its bloody detail by Cambridge University Library.
Humanities research and the questions underlying it are being radically reshaped by new digital technologies and the connections and insights that they afford.
Digital tools have been used for decades to browse library catalogues and to access, collate and disseminate primary and secondary research materials. Many of these tools were produced by ‘humanities computing’ teams that basically offered support services to academic researchers. But during the past 10 years or so, the field of digital humanities has developed into “a genuinely intellectual endeavour with its own professional practices, rigorous standards, and exciting theoretical explorations,” as noted by the literary theorist Katherine Hayles (Duke University).
Cambridge is well placed to exploit and enhance the transformative potential of digital technologies in the arts and humanities, and to make a major contribution to the ongoing development of the emergent discipline.
Significant research clusters using digital mapping tools (such as GIS) can be found in Archaeology, Geography, History, the Computer Laboratory, and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Several departments have a well-established profile in social network and social media research. In addition, clusters of expertise in digital editions can be found in Music, English, History and Philosophy of Science, Classics and the University Library.
Further attributes of the Cambridge DH ‘scene’ include the longstanding role of the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) in fostering crossdisciplinary interaction between digital humanities researchers. E-research and e-learning tools have been developed at the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET). The University Library has become a centre for digitisation and digital project management, as well as home to the e-repository DSpace@ Cambridge. Across the spectrum of humanities disciplines, expertise in digital research is flourishing.
The Digital Humanities Network was established in 2011 to enhance Cambridge’s potential in this area, and to foster collaboration and synergy across an extraordinarily rich research environment. It aims to engage leading scholars across the University in developing a shared agenda for digital humanities research throughout the next decade. This involves setting current and future research themes, helping to plan future IT infrastructure needs, and encouraging the University to support staff training and recruitment policies that will provide the people needed to realise the Network’s vision.
Among other activities, the Network has already helped to generate major external funding, supported a transferable digital skills project for early career researchers, and led a social media knowledge exchange project.
The great strengths and distinctive contribution of digital humanities at Cambridge derive from the wealth of ideas that inform and underpin the research in this area. The fact that Cambridge researchers are uniquely skilled in analysis, critique and interpretation gives them an edge in developing what Todd Presner (University of California, Los Angeles) has called the “entirely new disciplinary paradigms, convergent fields, hybrid methodologies, and … publication models” that now characterise digital humanities, thereby paving the way for future developments of signal importance to those working in the field and well beyond.
To launch our month-long focus on digital humanities research, Professor John Rink and Professor Simon Goldhill – Co-Directors of Cambridge’s Digital Humanities Network – explain how digital tools are transforming scholarship in Cambridge.
Parts of the UK are at greater risk of invasion by non-native aquatic species than previously thought, according to new research.
The first to include human factors in models used to predict where invasive species will arrive and spread, the study shows the Thames, Anglian and Humber river basins are most vulnerable. The findings, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology today, should help improve control of invasive species in the UK.
The researchers, Dr Belinda Gallardo and Dr David Aldridge from the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology, focused on the 'dirty dozen'– a group of high-risk invasive aquatic plants and animals. Some, like the killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus) and the bloody red mysid (Hemimysis anomala) are already in UK but have yet to spread. Others, such as the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminalis) and the marmokrebs, a crayfish (Procambarus fallax) may not yet have arrived.
Working with Species Distribution Models, which are routinely used to predict which regions most suit invasive species, the Cambridge pair made the models more accurate by including human factors such as population density, land-use and proximity to ports. Traditionally, the models are based on environmental conditions such as temperature and rainfall.
According to Dr Gallardo: “Invasive species need to be in the right place at the right time; they need the right environmental conditions, but they also need a helping hand from humans. This can happen intentionally, for example through introduction of commercial fish, or accidentally via hulls of boats, fishing equipment, or ballast water.”
The role of humans, plus invasive species' great adaptability, make predicting their spread challenging. By including both human and environmental factors in the models, the researchers found the risk of invasion in the UK was increased by 20% in coastal, densely populated areas and places near transport routes, with the Thames, Anglian and Humber river basins at highest risk.
“These river basins already host many aquatic invaders. This is particularly worrying because invasive species often modify their habitat, making it more favourable to other invaders. This can eventually lead to a process known as invasional meltdown,” she says.
Tackling the problem is costly. Invasive species are the second biggest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss. Around 12,000 invasive species have already arrived in Europe, where their combined impact on native biodiversity, agriculture, health and the economy costs at least €12 billion a year.
By producing more accurate maps, the study should allow environmental managers and policy makers to target resources at the most invasive species and the areas most under threat.
“Effective management of invasive species depends on rapid detection and control. Our maps are fundamental to direct biomonitoring efforts towards areas most suitable for the ‘dirty dozen’, so they can be detected as soon as possible,” Dr Gallardo explains.
“At present, environmental managers and policy makers have few tools to make informed decisions about the risk posed by existing and future invaders. Our study gives them basic information to prioritise management and control decisions regarding 12 of the most worrisome freshwater invasive species.”
The study is also timely because of climate change, which might further favour invasive species, she adds: “Invasive species might better adapt to climate change than natives because of their wide environmental tolerance and highly competitive biological traits. And because they usually reproduce rapidly, invasive species may be better than native species at resisting and recovering from extreme events.”
Story adapted from British Ecological Society press release.
Group of high-risk invasive aquatic plants and animals identified