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    Sir Keith O’Nions, a British scientist and outgoing President and Rector of Imperial College London, has been named as the new Chairman of Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge.
    He will assume stewardship of the Board in September overseeing the Board and strategy of Cambridge Enterprise, which is tasked with supporting the commercialisation of the ideas that emerge from the University.

    “It has been my great pleasure to have worked with Sir Keith over many years and he brings a breadth of knowledge that will benefit Cambridge Enterprise and the University of Cambridge for years to come,” said University Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz. “We are delighted to welcome him back to Cambridge.”

    Sir Keith held a Royal Society research Chair at Cambridge from 1979 to 1995.  He joined Imperial College in July 2008 and was appointed as Rector in January 2010.

    Among his other roles, Sir Keith served as the Director General of the UK’s seven Research Councils where he managed an annual science budget of £4 billion and developed the UK science and innovation policy and strategy.

    He was Chief Scientific Adviser for the UK Ministry of Defence, was Head of Earth Sciences and Professor of Physics and Chemistry Minerals at the University of Oxford and was Director General, Science and Innovation in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. 

    Sir Keith received a Knighthood for services to Earth Sciences in the 1999 Queen's Birthday Honours and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1983.

    “I am delighted to be joining Cambridge Enterprise as its Chair,” said Sir Keith. “This area of activity is one of increasing importance to universities and one where Cambridge has been so prominent and successful.”

    Sir Keith succeeds outgoing Cambridge Enterprise Chairman Edward Benthall who served four years in the role. 

    Benthall will continue as Chairman of Cambridge Innovation Capital, launched in 2013 with £50 million of capital to invest in early stage technology companies emerging from the University or the Cambridge Cluster.

    A former partner at Charterhouse Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in London, Benthall is an active participant in the Cambridge business angel community through his membership of the Cambridge Capital Group, and a key supporter of the University of Cambridge Discovery Fund, one of three evergreen funds managed by the Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds team.

    Benthall was Chairman of the 800th Anniversary Campaign Council, a group of volunteers whose support for Collegiate Cambridge helped raised more than £1.2 billion.

    Sir Keith O’Nions named Board Chairman of Cambridge Enterprise

    He brings a breadth of knowledge that will benefit Cambridge Enterprise and the University of Cambridge for years to come.
    Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz

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    Researchers are to assess largely uncharted volcanoes in the East African Rift Valley, home to vast mammal migrations, mountain gorillas, spectacular peaks and fertile plains.

    The region’s volcanoes, numbering more than 100, are shrouded in mystery. Dates of their last eruptions are mostly unknown and very few have detectors in place to highlight early signs of activity.

    The human and financial cost could be huge if any of the volcanoes in the densely-populated and economically crucial area of Ethiopia’s main rift erupt without warning. 

    Researchers aim to understand past volcanic behaviour, search for signs of current activity and make a long-range eruptive forecast for the region. A recent report for the World Bank ranked 49 of Ethiopia’s 65 volcanoes in the highest category of hazard uncertainty.

    The eruption of Nabro volcano on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border in 2011 was a reminder of the potential threat to the region. Despite lying in a remote and sparsely populated location and with no historical record of eruption, it claimed the lives of 32 people and displaced 5000 more. Prior to its eruption, the volcano was believed to be dormant.

    The five-year project, focusing on the on the volcanoes of the Main Ethiopian Rift, will be led by researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Bristol, in collaboration with the Universities of Cambridge, Leeds, Oxford and Southampton, the British Geological Survey, Addis Ababa University and the Geological Survey of Ethiopia. Overseas partners include Reykjavik Geothermal, which is part of a multi-billion dollar investment to develop the infrastructure to exploit this rich source of geothermal power.

    The multi-disciplinary team will collect samples, map the geological record of previous eruptions and deploy geophysical instruments before analysing the data and creating models of the eruptive history, current states of unrest, and computing the likelihood of future eruptions. The team will also work on the best way of communicating their results to the relevant authorities and communities.

    Dr Marie Edmonds from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences will focus on the volcanoes along the rift which form caldera, or depressions formed at the top of inactive volcanoes. Working with other members of the consortium, Dr Edmonds will attempt to characterise how these highly explosive magma types are generated in the crust, how long it takes to ‘prime’ them to erupt, how they erupt, and what a large eruption from one of them might look like.

    “This is the only place on Earth that you can observe a continent splitting apart with the associated volcanoes and earthquakes,” said Dr Edmonds. “It is also, of course, one of the poorest and least developed areas on Earth, with little access to volcano monitoring and hazard assessment.”

    The £3.7 m project, known as RiftVolc, is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and begins in September. It will build on previous successful studies in the region.

    Project co-leader Professor Kathryn Whaler, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, said: “We look forward to tackling such a scientifically challenging and exciting problem. This is only possible because of excellent working relations with our Ethiopian colleagues who, with us, are committed to working on this societally relevant project.”

    Adapted from University of Edinburgh press release.

    Little known volcanoes in one of Africa’s most stunning locations are to be explored in a bid to understand the threat they pose to life, livelihood and the landscape.

    This is the only place on Earth that you can observe a continent splitting apart with the associated volcanoes and earthquakes
    Marie Edmonds
    Satellite view of Nabro volcano

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  • 08/11/14--05:00: Learn more about Cambridge
  • There’s always more to know about Cambridge and there are few better ways to learn more than to take advantage of the many free events organised by Open Cambridge 2014 (12-14 September).   The varied programme is a three-day celebration of a vibrant city and the diverse communities that have brought the city worldwide fame while remaining a thriving local and regional centre. 

    This year’s programme of more than 90 events offers something for everyone with plenty of family friendly events. The talks, tours and walks on offer to the public offer not only an insight into the history of the city as a centre for learning and research but also provide a chance for visitors to get an overview of the ways in which the city is changing and adapting to new challenges, a process that has taken place for hundreds of years.

    History has seen dramatic changes take place in the use of some of the city’s most iconic buildings. Representatives from Cambridge Judge Business School, for example, will take groups of visitors on tours of the eye-catching landmark building that began its history as Addenbrooke’s Hospital and now, as a world-class institution based in the centre of the city, attracts graduate students from around the world.

    Cambridge is expanding fast as a hub of science and technology. As work begins on the North West Cambridge Development, there will be a chance to explore a site that will become home to a new community, look at the archaeology that has been uncovered in the process of making provision for construction, and admire art work created by volunteer groups who have made a scale model of the planned scheme out of cob, a building material made from clay and straw.

    Each year the opportunity to visit buildings and gardens generally closed to the public attracts a growing number of visitors. Organiser Sue Long said: “In the seven-year history of Open Cambridge we’ve been thrilled and amazed by the enthusiasm of participants, both the groups and institutions who so generously open their doors to the public and those who flock to enjoy visiting places ranging from gardens to libraries, and talk to the people whose workplaces they are.”

    Additions to this year’s programme include a chance to look at the workings of the Chronophage clock at Corpus Christi and a talk from historian Dr Christopher de Hamel about its high distractive design, and a tour of the city's newly re-opened Fire Station. Dr Nigel Woodcock, who has won an award for his teaching of undergraduates, will lead a walking tour of the building stones of Cambridge. The walk will include a visit to the Watson Collection of building stones at the Department of Earth Sciences.

    Not surprisingly, commemoration of the centenary of the First World War is a strong theme in this year’s Open Cambridge programme. Events exploring the ways in which the Great War was experienced, and is remembered today, range from a tour of Histon Road Cemetery, a talk at Cambridge University Library about wartime humour and cartoons, and a lecture about the experiences of women students at Girton College during two World Wars when the college played host to students evacuated from London.

    Cambridge is renowned for the libraries, chapels and gardens that have been an integral part of collegiate life for more than 800 years. Many of the colleges have both old and modern libraries with the original libraries containing rare and precious volumes. The spectacular Wren Library at Trinity College is a treat to visit. Built well before the advent of electric light, its huge windows allow natural light to fill the space which is divided into deep bays holding a remarkable collection of materials – from Isaac Newton’s personal library to AA Milne’s original Winnie the Pooh manuscripts.

    Another gem, less widely known but well worth a visit, is the Haddon Library on Downing Street, one of the UK’s most important collections of books relating to the study of archaeology and anthropology. It was founded in 1920 by the pioneering anthropologist Alfred Haddon and holds an extensive collection of offprints gathered by the Victorian archaeologist Augustus Pitt-Rivers as well as the libraries of the distinguished pre-historians Charles McBurney and Grahame Clark.

    Life in Cambridge has always involved sport as well as study. The Real Tennis courts will be opening their doors to visitors keen to get a taste of what is now a niche game. A match of tennis played by some of the top University players will give an idea of the rules of this ancient game. Less than a mile away is the new University Sports Centre. It is offering a tour by architects Arup Associates who designed this sleek and airy facility with its state of the art equipment. The University’s Trampoline Club will showcase their skills in this stunning setting.

    Walks are a strong feature of the programme. “We’re pleased to offer an increased number of walks and even cycle tours that will get people out exploring the environment that many of them live or work in and encourage them to look afresh at places that they may pass on a daily basis,” said Sue Long. “Each year the programme has benefited from more community groups keen to share places and facilities that mean so much to them. Among the many examples is the Abu Bakr Mosque in Mawson Road which is taking part for the second time.”

    The Open Cambridge programme features a record number of more than 90 events. A greater number than ever before are run on a drop-in basis to maximise visitor participation.  For reasons of capacity, however, some of the ever-popular events must be booked in advance with online bookings opening on Monday 18 August. Early booking is recommended.

    The grand finale to the weekend is the Bridge the Gap charity walk which, enjoyed by hundreds of people, annually raises substantial sums for Arthur Rank Hospice and Press Relief. To register for an early bird place on the walk go to or collect a form from any branch of Cambridge Building Society. Alternatively, just turn up on the day.

    Inset images: Cambridge Fire Station, Cambridge's Sergeant-at-Mace, antique bicycle.

    Bookings begin for Open Cambridge 2014 (12-14 September) on Monday, 18 August. A host of free and fun events is on offer as part of an ever-expanding programme that celebrates a diverse and thriving city with a uniquely rich historic heritage. 

    We’re pleased to offer an increased number of walks and even cycle tours that will get people out exploring the city.
    Sue Long, Open Cambridge
    Fire practice at Girton College

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    A bizarre group of uniquely-shaped organisms known as rangeomorphs may have been some of the earliest animals to appear on Earth, uniquely suited to ocean conditions 575 million years ago.

    A new model devised by researchers at the University of Cambridge has resolved many of the mysteries around the structure, evolution and extinction of these ‘proto animals’. The findings are reported today (11 August) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

    Rangeomorphs were some of the earliest large organisms on Earth, existing during a time when most other forms of life were microscopic in size. Most rangeomorphs were about 10 centimetres high, although some were up to two metres in height.

    These creatures were ocean dwellers which lived during the Ediacaran period, between 635 and 541 million years ago. Their bodies were made up of soft branches, each with many smaller side branches, forming a geometric shape known as a fractal, which can be seen in many familiar branching shapes such as fern leaves and even river networks.

    Rangeomorphs were unlike any modern organism, which has made it difficult to determine how they fed, grew or reproduced, and therefore difficult to link them to any particular modern group. However, despite the fact that they looked like plants, evidence points to the fact that rangeomorphs were actually some of the earliest animals.

    “We know that rangeomorphs lived too deep in the ocean for them to get their energy through photosynthesis as plants do,” said Dr Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the research. “It’s more likely that they absorbed nutrients directly from the sea water through the surface of their body. It would be difficult in the modern world for such large animals to survive only on dissolved nutrients.”

    “The oceans during the Ediacaran period were more like a weak soup – full of nutrients such as organic carbon, whereas today suspended food particles are swiftly harvested by a myriad of animals,” said co-author Professor Simon Conway Morris.

    Starting 541 million years ago, the conditions in the oceans changed quickly with the start of the Cambrian Explosion – a period of rapid evolution when most major animal groups first emerge in the fossil record and competition for nutrients increased dramatically.

    Rangeomorphs have often been considered a ‘failed experiment’ of evolution as they died out so quickly once the Cambrian Explosion began in earnest, but this new analysis shows just how successful they once were.

    Rangeomorphs almost completely filled the space surrounding them, with a massive total surface area. This made them very efficient feeders that were able to extract the maximum amount of nutrients from the ocean water.

    “These creatures were remarkably well-adapted to their environment, as the oceans at the time were high in nutrients and low in competition,” said Dr Hoyal Cuthill. “Mathematically speaking, they filled their space in a nearly perfect way.”

    Dr Hoyal Cuthill examined rangeomorph fossils from a number of locations worldwide, and used them to make the first computer reconstructions of the development and three-dimensional structure of these organisms, showing just how well-suited they were to their Ediacaran environment.

    As the Cambrian Explosion began however, the rangeomorphs became ‘sitting ducks’, as they had no known means of defence from predators which were starting to evolve, and the changing chemical composition of the ocean meant that they could no longer get the nutrients they required to feed.

    “As the Cambrian began, these Ediacaran specialists could no longer survive, and nothing quite like them has been seen again,” said Dr Hoyal Cuthill.

    New three-dimensional reconstructions show how some of the earliest animals on Earth developed, and provide some answers as to why they went extinct.

    As the Cambrian began, these specialists could no longer survive, and nothing quite like them has been seen again
    Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill
    Palaeontological reconstruction of rangeomorph fronds from the Ediacaran Period (635-541 million years ago) built using computer models of rangeomorph growth and development.

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    A new method which uses tightly confined light trapped between gold mirrors a billionth of a metre apart to watch molecules ‘dancing’ in real time could help researchers uncover many of the cell processes that are essential to all life, and how small changes to these processes can lead to diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s.

    Researchers from the University of Cambridge have demonstrated how to use light to view individual molecules bending and flexing as they move through a model cell membrane, in order to better understand the inner workings of cells. Details are published today (12 August) in the journal Scientific Reports.

    The membrane is vital to the normal functioning of cells; keeping viruses out but allowing select molecules, such as drugs, to get through. This critical front line of cellular defence is made up of a layer of fatty lipids, just a few nanometres (one billionth of a metre) thick.

    When the cell membrane is damaged however, unwanted invaders can march into the cell. Many degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy are believed to originate from damage to the cell membrane.

    The ability to watch how individual lipid molecules interact with their environment can help researchers understand not only how these and other diseases behave at their earliest stages, but also many of the fundamental biological processes which are key to all life.

    In order to view the behaviour of the cell membrane at the level of individual molecules, the Cambridge team, working with researchers from the University of Leeds, squeezed them into a tiny gap between  the mirrored gold facets of a nanoparticle sitting just above a flat gold surface.

    Through highly precise control of the geometry of the nanostructures, and using Raman spectroscopy, an ultra-sensitive molecular identification technique, the light can be trapped between the mirrors, allowing the researchers to ‘fingerprint’ individual molecules. “It’s like having an extremely powerful magnifying glass made out of gold,” said Professor Jeremy Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research.

    Analysing the colours of the light which is scattered by the mirrors allowed the different vibrations of each molecule to be seen within this intense optical field. “Probing such delicate biological samples with light allows us to watch these dancing molecules for hours without changing or destroying them,” said co-author Felix Benz. The molecules stand shoulder to shoulder like trees in a forest, while a few jitter around sideways.

    By continuously observing the scattered light, individual molecules are seen moving in and out of the tiny gaps between the mirrors. Carefully analysis of the signatures from different parts of each molecule allowed any changes in the molecule shape to be observed, which helps to understand how their reaction sites can be uncovered when they are at work. Most excitingly the team says these flexing and bending motions are not expected to occur at the slow time scales of the experiment, allowing the researchers  to make videos of their progress.

    “It is completely astonishing to watch the molecules change shape in real time,” said Richard Taylor, lead author of the paper.

    The new insights from this work suggest ways to unveil processes which are essential to all life and understand how small changes to these processes can cause disease.

    The research was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council.

    A new technique which traps light at the nanoscale to enable real-time monitoring of individual molecules bending and flexing may aid in our understanding of how changes within a cell can lead to diseases such as cancer.

    It’s like having an extremely powerful magnifying glass made out of gold
    Jeremy Baumberg
    Lipid flexing within gap plasmon hot stop

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    A “Trojan horse” treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer, which involves using tiny nanoparticles of gold to kill tumour cells, has been successfully tested by scientists.

    The ground-breaking technique could eventually be used to treat glioblastoma multiforme, which is the most common and aggressive brain tumour in adults, and notoriously difficult to treat. Many sufferers die within a few months of diagnosis, and just six in every 100 patients with the condition are alive after five years.

    The research involved engineering nanostructures containing both gold and cisplatin, a conventional chemotherapy drug. These were released into tumour cells that had been taken from glioblastoma patients and grown in the lab.

    Once inside, these “nanospheres” were exposed to radiotherapy. This caused the gold to release electrons which damaged the cancer cell’s DNA and its overall structure, thereby enhancing the impact of the chemotherapy drug.

    The process was so effective that 20 days later, the cell culture showed no evidence of any revival, suggesting that the tumour cells had been destroyed.

    While further work needs to be done before the same technology can be used to treat people with glioblastoma, the results offer a highly promising foundation for future therapies. Importantly, the research was carried out on cell lines derived directly from glioblastoma patients, enabling the team to test the approach on evolving, drug-resistant tumours.

    The study was led by Mark Welland, Professor of Nanotechnology at the Department of Engineering and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and Dr Colin Watts, a clinician scientist and honorary consultant neurosurgeon at the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. Their work is reported in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Nanoscale.

    “The combined therapy that we have devised appears to be incredibly effective in the live cell culture,” Professor Welland said. “This is not a cure, but it does demonstrate what nanotechnology can achieve in fighting these aggressive cancers. By combining this strategy with cancer cell-targeting materials, we should be able to develop a therapy for glioblastoma and other challenging cancers in the future.”

    To date, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) has proven very resistant to treatments. One reason for this is that the tumour cells invade surrounding, healthy brain tissue, which makes the surgical removal of the tumour virtually impossible.

    Used on their own, chemotherapy drugs can cause a dip in the rate at which the tumour spreads. In many cases, however, this is temporary, as the cell population then recovers.

    “We need to be able to hit the cancer cells directly with more than one treatment at the same time” Dr Watts said. “This is important because some cancer cells are more resistant to one type of treatment than another. Nanotechnology provides the opportunity to give the cancer cells this ‘double whammy’ and open up new treatment options in the future.”

    In an effort to beat tumours more comprehensively, scientists have been researching ways in which gold nanoparticles might be used in treatments for some time. Gold is a benign material which in itself poses no threat to the patient, and the size and shape of the particles can be controlled very accurately.

    When exposed to radiotherapy, the particles emit a type of low energy electron, known as Auger electrons, capable of damaging the diseased cell’s DNA and other intracellular molecules. This low energy emission means that they only have an impact at short range, so they do not cause any serious damage to healthy cells that are nearby.

    In the new study, the researchers first wrapped gold nanoparticles inside a positively charged polymer, polyethylenimine. This interacted with proteins on the cell surface called proteoglycans which led to the nanoparticles being ingested by the cell.

    Once there, it was possible to excite it using standard radiotherapy, which many GBM patients undergo as a matter of course. This released the electrons to attack the cell DNA.

    While gold nanospheres, without any accompanying drug, were found to cause significant cell damage, treatment-resistant cell populations did eventually recover several days after the radiotherapy. As a result, the researchers then engineered a second nanostructure which was suffused with cisplatin.

    The chemotherapeutic effect of cisplatin combined with the radiosensitizing effect of gold nanoparticles resulted in enhanced synergy enabling a more effective cellular damage. Subsequent tests revealed that the treatment had reduced the visible cell population by a factor of 100 thousand, compared with an untreated cell culture, within the space of just 20 days. No population renewal was detected.

    The researchers believe that similar models could eventually be used to treat other types of challenging cancers. First, however, the method itself needs to be turned into an applicable treatment for GBM patients. This process, which will be the focus of much of the group’s forthcoming research, will necessarily involve extensive trials. Further work needs to be done, too, in determining how best to deliver the treatment and in other areas, such as modifying the size and surface chemistry of the nanomedicine so that the body can accommodate it safely.

    Sonali Setua, a PhD student who worked on the project, said: “It was hugely satisfying to chase such a challenging goal and to be able to target and destroy these aggressive cancer cells. This finding has enormous potential to be tested in a clinical trial in the near future and developed into a novel treatment to overcome therapeutic resistance of glioblastoma.”

    Welland added that the significance of the group’s results to date was partly due to the direct collaboration between nanoscientists and clinicians. “It made a huge difference, as by working with surgeons we were able to ensure that the nanoscience was clinically relevant,” he said. “That optimises our chances of taking this beyond the lab stage, and actually having a clinical impact.”

    The full research paper can be found at:

    A smart technology which involves smuggling gold nanoparticles into brain cancer cells has proven highly effective in lab-based tests.

    By combining this strategy with cancer cell-targeting materials, we should be able to develop a therapy for glioblastoma and other challenging cancers in the future
    Mark Welland
    A cancer cell containing the nanoparticles. The nanoparticles are coloured green, and have entered the nucleus, which is the area in blue

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    The study, published today in JAMA Psychiatry, indicates that mental illness and chronic physical illness such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes may share common biological mechanisms.

    When we are exposed to an infection, for example influenza or a stomach bug, our immune system fights back to control and remove the infection. During this process, immune cells flood the blood stream with proteins such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), a tell-tale marker of infection. However, even when we are healthy, our bodies carry trace levels of these proteins – known as ‘inflammatory markers’ – which rise exponentially in response to infection.

    Now, researchers have carried out the first ever longitudinal study – a study that follows the same cohort of people over a long period of time – to examine the link between these markers in childhood and subsequent mental illness.

    A team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge studied a sample of 4,500 individuals from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children – also known as Children of the 90s – taking blood samples at age 9 and following up at age 18 to see if they had experienced episodes of depression or psychosis. The team divided the individuals into three groups, depending on whether their everyday levels of IL-6 were low, medium or high. They found that those children in the ‘high’ group were nearly two times more likely to have experienced depression or psychosis than those in the ‘low’ group.

    Dr Golam Khandaker from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, who led the study, says: “Our immune system acts like a thermostat, turned down low most of the time, but cranked up when we have an infection. In some people, the thermostat is always set slightly higher, behaving as if they have a persistent low level infection – these people appear to be at a higher risk of developing depression and psychosis. It’s too early to say whether this association is causal, and we are carrying out additional studies to examine this association further.”

    The research indicates that chronic physical illness such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes may share a common mechanism with mental illness. People with depression and schizophrenia are known to have a much higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, and elevated levels of IL-6 have previously been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

    Professor Peter Jones, Head of the Department of Psychiatry and senior author of the study, says: “Inflammation may be a common mechanism that influences both our physical and mental health. It is possible that early life adversity and stress lead to persistent increase in levels of IL-6 and other inflammatory markers in our body, which, in turn, increase the risk of a number of chronic physical and mental illness.”

    Indeed, low birth weight, a marker of impaired foetal development, is associated with increased everyday levels of inflammatory markers as well as greater risks of heart disease, diabetes, depression and schizophrenia in adults.

    This potential common mechanism could help explain why physical exercise and diet, classic ways of reducing risk of heart disease, for example, are also thought to improve mood and help depression. The group is now planning additional studies to confirm whether inflammation is a common link between chronic physical and mental illness.

    The research also hints at interesting ways of potentially treating illnesses such as depression: anti-inflammatory drugs. Treatment with anti-inflammatory agents leads to levels of inflammatory markers falling to normal. Previous research has suggested that anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin used in conjunction with antipsychotic treatments may be more effective than just the antipsychotics themselves. A multicentre trial is currently underway, into whether the antibiotic minocycline, used for the treatment of acne, can be used to treat lack of enjoyment, social withdrawal, apathy and other so called negative symptoms in schizophrenia. Minocycline is able to penetrate the ‘blood-brain barrier’, a highly selective permeability barrier which protects the central nervous system from potentially harmful substances circulating in our blood.

    The ‘blood-brain barrier’ is also at the centre of a potential puzzle raised by research such as today’s research: how can the immune system have an effect in the brain when many inflammatory markers and antibodies cannot penetrate this barrier? Studies in mice suggest that the answer may lie in the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to the abdomen. When activated by inflammatory markers in the gut, it sends a signal to the brain, where immune cells produce proteins such as IL-6, leading to increased metabolism (and hence decreased levels) of the ‘happiness hormone’ serotonin in the brain. Similarly, the signals trigger an increase in toxic chemicals such as nitric oxide, quinolonic acid, and kynurenic acid, which are bad for the functioning of nerve cells.

    The research was mainly funded by the Wellcome Trust, with further support from the National Institute for Health Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the Medical Research Council.

    Children with high everyday levels of a protein released into the blood in response to infection are at greater risk of developing depression and psychosis in adulthood, according to new research which suggests a role for the immune system in mental illness.

    Inflammation may be a common mechanism that influences both our physical and mental health
    Peter Jones
    Burnt out

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    Black Holes: Monsters in Space (Artist's Concept)

    A compact source of x-rays that sits near the black hole, called the corona, has moved closer to the black hole over a period of just days.

    “The corona recently collapsed in toward the black hole, with the result that the black hole's intense gravity pulled all the light down onto its surrounding disk, where material is spiralling inward,” said Michael Parker of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, lead author of a paper on the findings which appears in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    As the corona shifted closer to the black hole, the gravity of the black hole exerted a stronger tug on the x-rays emitted by it. The result was an extreme blurring and stretching of the x-ray light. Such events had been observed previously, but never to this degree and in such detail.

    Supermassive black holes are thought to reside in the centres of all galaxies. Some are more massive and rotate faster than others. The black hole in this new study, referred to as Markarian 335, or Mrk 335, is about 324 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the Pegasus constellation. It is one of the most extreme of the systems for which the mass and spin rate have ever been measured. The black hole squeezes about 10 million times the mass of our sun into a region only 30 times the diameter of the sun, and it spins so rapidly that space and time are dragged around with it.

    Even though some light falls into a supermassive black hole never to be seen again, other high-energy light emanates from both the corona and the surrounding accretion disk of superheated material. Though astronomers are uncertain of the shape and temperature of coronas, they know that they contain particles that move close to the speed of light.

    NASA's Swift satellite has monitored Mrk 335 for years, and recently noted a dramatic change in its x-ray brightness. In what is called a target-of-opportunity observation, NuSTAR was redirected to take a look at high-energy x-rays from this source in the range of 3 to 79 kiloelectron volts. This particular energy range offers astronomers a detailed look at what is happening near the event horizon, the region around a black hole from which light can no longer escape gravity's grasp.

    Follow-up observations indicate that the corona still is in this close configuration, months after it moved. Researchers don't know whether and when the corona will shift back. What is more, the NuSTAR observations reveal that the grip of the black hole's gravity pulled the corona's light onto the inner portion of its superheated disk, better illuminating it. Almost as if somebody had shone a flashlight for the astronomers, the shifting corona lit up the precise region they wanted to study.

    The new data could ultimately help determine more about the mysterious nature of black hole coronas. In addition, the observations have provided better measurements of Mrk 335's furious relativistic spin rate. Relativistic speeds are those approaching the speed of light, as described by Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.

    “We still don't understand exactly how the corona is produced or why it changes its shape, but we see it lighting up material around the black hole, enabling us to study the regions so close in that effects described by Einstein's theory of general relativity become prominent,” said NuSTAR Principal Investigator Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. “NuSTAR's unprecedented capability for observing this and similar events allows us to study the most extreme light-bending effects of general relativity.”

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech, JPL, the University of California, Berkeley, Columbia University, New York, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, the Danish Technical University in Denmark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, ATK Aerospace Systems in Goleta, California, and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

    NuSTAR's mission operations centre is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located in Malindi, Kenya. The mission's outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. NASA's Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

    NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has captured an extreme and rare event in the regions immediately surrounding a supermassive black hole.

    Black Holes: Monsters in Space (Artist's Concept)

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  • 08/15/14--02:00: The beetle’s white album
  • Cyphochilus beetle

    The Cyphochilus beetle, which is native to South-East Asia, is whiter than paper, thanks to ultra-thin scales which cover its body. A new investigation of the optical properties of these scales has shown that they are able to scatter light more efficiently than any other biological tissue known, which is how they are able to achieve such a bright whiteness. The findings are published today (15 August) in the journal Scientific Reports.

    Animals produce colours for several purposes, from camouflage to communication, to mating and thermoregulation. Bright colours are usually produced using pigments, which absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, which our eyes then perceive as colour.

    To appear as white, however, a tissue needs to reflect all wavelengths of light with the same efficiency. The ultra-white Cyphochilus and L. Stigma beetles produce this colouration by exploiting the geometry of a dense complex network of chitin – a molecule similar in structure to cellulose, which is found throughout nature, including in the shells of molluscs, the exoskeletons of insects and the cell walls of fungi. The chitin filaments are just a few billionths of a metre thick, and on their own are not particularly good at reflecting light.

    The research, a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the European Laboratory for non-Linear Spectroscopy in Italy has shown that the beetles have optimised their internal structure in order to produce maximum white with minimum material, like a painter who needs to whiten a wall with a very small quantity of paint. This efficiency is particularly important for insects that fly, as it makes them lighter.

    Over millions of years of evolution the beetles have developed a compressed network of chitin filaments. This network is directionally-dependent, or anisotropic, which allows high intensities of reflected light for all colours at the same time, resulting in a very intense white with very little material.

    “Current technology is not able to produce a coating as white as these beetles can in such a thin layer,” said Dr Silvia Vignolini of the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research. “In order to survive, these beetles need to optimise their optical response but this comes with the strong constraint of using as little material as possible in order to save energy and to keep the scales light enough in order to fly. Curiously, these beetles succeed in this task using chitin, which has a relatively low refractive index.”

    Exactly how this could be possible remained unclear up to now. The researchers studied how light propagates in the white scales, quantitatively measuring their scattering strength for the first time and demonstrating that they scatter light more efficiently than any other low-refractive-index material yet known.

    “These scales have a structure that is truly complex since it gives rise to something that is more than the sum of its parts,” said co-author Dr Matteo Burresi of the Italian National Institute of Optics in Florence. “Our simulations show that a randomly packed collection of its constituent elements by itself is not sufficient to achieve the degree of brightness that we observe.”

    In recent years, many engineers having been looking to structures found in nature to inspire their designs. “The lessons we are learning from these beetles is two-fold,” said Dr Vignolini. “On one hand, we now know how to look to improve scattering strength of a given structure by varying its geometry. On the other hand the use of strongly scattering materials, such as the particles commonly used for white paint, is not mandatory to achieve an ultra-white coating.”

    These findings will likely be relevant for many applications, enabling objects such as paper, plastics, paints, as well as white-light reflectors inside new-generation displays to be made whiter, while at the same time using a smaller amount of material.

    The research was funded by the European Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

    The physical properties of the ultra-white scales on certain species of beetle could be used to make whiter paper, plastics and paints, while using far less material than is used in current manufacturing methods.

    Current technology is not able to produce a coating as white as these beetles can in such a thin layer
    Silvia Vignolini
    Cyphochilus beetle

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    Fossil Hallucigenia sparsa from the Burgess Shale

    The animal, known as Hallucigenia due to its otherworldly appearance, had been considered an ‘evolutionary misfit’ as it was not clear how it related to modern animal groups. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered an important link with modern velvet worms, also known as onychophorans, a relatively small group of worm-like animals that live in tropical forests. The results are published in the advance online edition of the journal Nature.

    The affinity of Hallucigenia and other contemporary ‘legged worms’, collectively known as lobopodians, has been very controversial, as a lack of clear characteristics linking them to each other or to modern animals has made it difficult to determine their evolutionary home.

    What is more, early interpretations of Hallucigenia, which was first identified in the 1970s, placed it both backwards and upside-down. The spines along the creature’s back were originally thought to be legs, its legs were thought to be tentacles along its back, and its head was mistaken for its tail.

    Hallucigenia lived approximately 505 million years ago during the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolution when most major animal groups first appear in the fossil record. These particular fossils come from the Burgess Shale in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, one of the richest Cambrian fossil deposits in the world.

    Looking like something from science fiction, Hallucigenia had a row of rigid spines along its back, and seven or eight pairs of legs ending in claws. The animals were between five and 35 millimetres in length, and lived on the floor of the Cambrian oceans.

    A new study of the creature’s claws revealed an organisation very close to those of modern velvet worms, where layers of cuticle (a hard substance similar to fingernails) are stacked one inside the other, like Russian nesting dolls. The same nesting structure can also be seen in the jaws of velvet worms, which are no more than legs modified for chewing.

    “It’s often thought that modern animal groups arose fully formed during the Cambrian Explosion,” said Dr Martin Smith of the University’s Department of Earth Sciences, the paper’s lead author. “But evolution is a gradual process: today’s complex anatomies emerged step by step, one feature at a time. By deciphering ‘in-between’ fossils like Hallucigenia, we can determine how different animal groups built up their modern body plans.”

    While Hallucigenia had been suspected to be an ancestor of velvet worms, definitive characteristics linking them together had been hard to come by, and their claws had never been studied in detail. Through analysing both the prehistoric and living creatures, the researchers found that claws were the connection joining them together. Cambrian fossils continue to produce new information on origins of complex animals, and the use of high-end imaging techniques and data on living organisms further allows researchers to untangle the enigmatic evolution of earliest creatures.

    “An exciting outcome of this study is that it turns our current understanding of the evolutionary tree of arthropods – the group including spiders, insects and crustaceans – upside down,” said Dr Javier Ortega-Hernandez, the paper’s co-author. “Most gene-based studies suggest that arthropods and velvet worms are closely related to each other; however, our results indicate that arthropods are actually closer to water bears, or tardigrades, a group of hardy microscopic animals best known for being able to survive the vacuum of space and sub-zero temperatures – leaving velvet worms as distant cousins.”

    “The peculiar claws of Hallucigenia are a smoking gun that solve a long and heated debate in evolutionary biology, and may even help to decipher other problematic Cambrian critters,” said Dr Smith.

    One of the most bizarre-looking fossils ever found - a worm-like creature with legs, spikes and a head difficult to distinguish from its tail – has found its place in the evolutionary Tree of Life, definitively linking it with a group of modern animals for the first time.

    The spines along its back were thought to be legs, its legs thought to be tentacles along its back, and its head was mistaken for its tail.
    Fossil Hallucigenia sparsa from the Burgess Shale

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    A new study of over 10,000 mothers has shown that women who breastfed their babies were at significantly lower risk of postnatal depression than those who did not.

    The study, by researchers in the UK and Spain, and published today in the journal Maternal and Child Health, shows that mothers who planned to breastfeed and who actually went on to breastfeed were around 50% less likely to become depressed than mothers who had not planned to, and who did not, breastfeed. Mothers who planned to breastfeed, but who did not go on to breastfeed, were over twice as likely to become depressed as mothers who had not planned to, and who did not, breastfeed.

    The relationship between breastfeeding and depression was most pronounced when babies were 8 weeks old, but much smaller when babies were 8 months or older.

    The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, used data drawn from the Avon Longitudinal Survey of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a study of 13,998 births in the Bristol area in the early 1990s. Maternal depression was measured using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale when babies were 8 weeks, and 8, 21 and 33 months old. Depression was also assessed at two points during pregnancy, enabling the researchers to take into account mothers’ pre-existing mental health conditions.

    This is one of the largest studies of its kind; as well as being one of the few studies taking into account mothers’ previous mental health, it also controls for socioeconomic factors such as income and relationship status, and for other potential confounders such as how babies were delivered, and whether they were premature.

    “Breastfeeding has well-established benefits to babies, in terms of their physical health and cognitive development; our study shows that it also benefits the mental health of mothers,” says Dr Maria Iacovou, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Sociology and a Bye Fellow at Fitzwilliam College.

    “In fact, the effects on mothers’ mental health that we report in this study are also likely to have an impact on babies, since maternal depression has previously been shown to have negative effects on many aspects of children’s development.”

    Dr Iacovou believes that health authorities should not only be encouraging women to breastfeed, but should also provide a level of support that will help mothers who want to breastfeed succeed.

    “Lots of mothers and babies take to breastfeeding pretty easily. But for many others, it doesn’t come naturally at all; for these mothers, having someone with the training, the skills, and perhaps most importantly the time to help them get it right, can make all the difference,” she adds.

    “However good the level of support that’s provided, there will be some mothers who wanted to breastfeed and who don’t manage to. It’s clear that these mothers need a great deal of understanding and support; there is currently hardly any skilled specialist help for these mothers, and this is something else that health providers should be thinking about.”

    Around one in 12 women in the sample experienced depressive symptoms during pregnancy, while one in eight experienced depression at one or more of the four measurement points after giving birth.

    According to figures from the UK’s Department of Health, almost three-quarters of mothers initiated breastfeeding in 2012/13; by the time of the 6-8 week check, only 47% of babies were being breastfed. This is one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe.

    The study was carried out in collaboration with Dr Almudena Sevilla from Queen Mary University of London and Cristina Borra from Universidad de Sevilla, Spain.

    A new study of over 10,000 mothers has shown that women who breastfed their babies were at significantly lower risk of postnatal depression than those who did not.

    Breastfeeding has well-established benefits to babies. Our study shows that it also benefits the mental health of mothers
    Maria Iacovou
    Mothering Touch (cropped)

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    In a year characterised by digital developments and significant back office investment, the Press achieved sales of £263.4m, an increase of 5 per cent at constant currency rates from the same period in 2013, and a pre-tax operating surplus of £8.0m.

    With some 90 per cent of the Press’s sales originating from customers based outside the UK, the Press has continued to see strong underlying growth across Latin America, Southeast Asia, China, South Africa, Australia and Spain, all delivered against a background of continued economic challenges in many markets.

    Digital revenues continued to rise, with e-book sales growing by almost a third on the previous year. Throughout 2013/14, the Press has launched a host of innovative digital products across its Academic, Education and English Language Teaching operations. This included the massive open online course (MOOC) for GCSE Computing, launched in partnership with Cambridge Assessment’s OCR exam board and RaspberryPi, and The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online, a vast digital archive representing 15 years of the most meticulous scholarship uniquely available as a digital product. 

    The English Language Group has seen significant underlying growth over the past 12 months with particular success in Latin America, Asia and Spain, driven by exceptionally strong growth in Schools and Exams. Highlights of the year include the first ever fully interactive e-books for Complete IELTS 4-5, The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS, the first-ever official Cambridge publication for IELTS, and the release of Unlock, our new four-level course launched in March 2014 at TESOL Arabia.

    This financial year also saw continued investment in the renewal of the Press’s back-office systems. This major investment programme is giving the Press faster and deeper business information and is helping to introduce new products and business models more quickly.

    Chief Executive Peter Phillips said: "Our continued commitment to quality and innovation have paid dividends this year. In spite of unfavorable currency movements, we have seen sales grow with particularly strong expansion in English Language Teaching and Education. As we move into an exciting and challenging new publishing age, we are investing heavily to ensure that the Press is in the strongest position to succeed in the rapidly evolving global and digital world."

    Cambridge University Press today reported a twelfth successive year of sales growth in its 2013/4 Annual Report.

    We have seen sales grow with particularly strong expansion in English Language Teaching and Education.
    Peter Phillips
    Cambridge University Press

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    It was spring when I went to Kashmir. The winter cold was still in the air but, in the gardens and parks, tulips of all colours stood in straight rows, an audience gaping at the mountains. In Srinagar, the summer capital of one of the most heavily militarised states in the world, there is ample evidence of the conflict between India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri fighters that has blighted the city since the British colonisers left India and Partition took place in 1947. I saw the bullet holes that pock mark the buildings; telecommunications are limited and people remain convinced that they are under Indian state surveillance. The world knows little about the traumas inflicted on the Kashmiri people, or about contemporary life in the state. Theatres and cinemas remain closed, and fiction writing translated into English or dealing with the conflict is scarce.

    In 2012 I spent six months travelling in India to research my PhD in Creative Writing. My dissertation took the form of a novel, re-imagining Shakespeare’s King Lear set in contemporary India. I’ve called the book We That Are Young, a quotation from the last lines of the play. India is the world’s largest and most youthful democracy: the International Labour Organisation reports that 66% of the total population (more than 808 million) are under the age of 35. These young people are coming of age in a time of great economic and social change, causing upheaval to traditional family expectations. This is a key theme of the play, and my book is told from the shifting perspectives of the five young people in King Lear.

    My fascination with King Lear began when I read it as an A-level student. My remarkable English teacher introduced this world of autocratic fathers and obedient daughters, the households of servants and strict gender and social hierarchies, and I recognised the Indian extended family I was used to visiting in Delhi each summer. Shakespeare somehow recognised the part of my life my English friends had no idea about – the Indian part, in India.

    I’ve seen King Lear countless times, and have read and researched dozens of adaptations and appropriations of the play from around the world. For me, the parallels between the play and current conditions in my parents’ homeland are impossible to ignore. A country partitioned, a resulting war. ‘Divide and rule’ – the colonial policy of setting factions against each other around a central figure of loyalty is foreshadowed in the love test of Act One, where Lear demands his daughters compete with each other for the security of a dowry and his love.

    Shakespeare’s play also deals with the themes of familial and political conflict and exile from the land and from one’s sense of oneself. King Lear questions our fixed sense of identity and asks what it means to be human towards one another. Shakespeare’s plays also have a special history in India as part of the colonising cultural mission, which insisted that the works be taught in schools as a means of creating, ‘a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect,’ according to Macaulay’s now infamous Minute on Indian Education of 1835. To appropriate them into Indian settings can therefore make for politically charged research and creative work.

    In Srinagar, evidence of British colonial presence remains everywhere: the iconic houseboats that fringe the Dal and Nagin lakes are a colonial circumvention of a law prohibiting those not born in the state from owning immovable property. Reports by Amnesty International and other NGOs bear witness to suffering of the Kashmiri people, who have been subject to countless human rights abuses including arbitrary killings, torture, enforced disappearances and violence against women. This has been at the hands of the Indian security forces, who have been protected by the controversial colonial-era Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

    That spring, though some demilitarisation was taking place, there were sandbags piled up outside the long-closed cinemas, and in the evenings the streets were empty. The vibrant tradition of folk theatre, Bhand Pather, has been dormant for generations. Searching for Kashmiri folk songs and stories, I found one or two collections in the bookshops, lovingly translated years ago. This cultural silencing and surviving traditions alongside the state’s turbulent history inspired some of the writing of my novel.

    The feral energy of New Delhi was right for the early chapters of my book: young entrepreneurs making money in the city as the old ways dictate home life. But the denouement of Shakespeare’s tragedy takes place on precarious cliffs: the characters stumble towards Dover as if pushed there by insistent, buffeting winds. Dover is where the full impact of a divided Kingdom must be reckoned with: for a contemporary Indian appropriation of the play, those scenes had to take place around the mountains and lakes of Kashmir.

    Srinagar felt like a city smothered by shock under which daily life has struggled to carry on. Before my PhD, I spent six years working in human rights. I’d had the same sense of tattered, determined survival when reporting from the slums of Kigali, working with women affected by the Rwandan genocide. Contrasts of old and new abound: at Srinagar airport, armed soldiers and rolls of barbed wire greeted middle class Indian tourists wearing huge Puffa-jackets; their daughters queued at the checkpoints carrying matching pink Barbie backpacks. Around the city, people travelling by car and bus were stopped to have their papers checked, while on Sundays, families picnicked in the serene beauty of the Mughal gardens, and children scrambled over a vast, uprooted tree trunk on which the words Azad Kashmir (Free Kashmir) were carved.

    I met people from each community – Sunni, Shi’a and Hindu – and heard their stories of the changing times. In the courtyard of a bridal house, I tasted the efforts of a group of men preparing the wedding feast: a 32-course Wazan of lamb cooked over open fires. A Shi’a friend proudly showed me the family home he was building – all poured concrete and modern brick, while along the banks of the river Jhelum, the wooden houses once occupied by the Kashmiri Pandits, a Hindu minority who fled waves of sectarian violence and targeted attacks, were falling into rubble.

    Sitting with a Shi’a shawl embroiderer as he stitched lotus flowers onto the finest pashmina, I heard how his son doesn’t want to follow the ancient family artisanal tradition. Instead, he and his young friends spoke about how they want to forge paths beyond Srinagar: conflict and corruption has ensured the city lags far behind the modernisation sweeping many of India’s urban centres. The alternative would be to remain in Srinagar, where the increase of Sunni Islam over the decades of conflict has made the Shi’a community feel increasingly marginalised, discriminated against and under threat.

    I began to wonder whether contemporary Indian appropriations of Shakespeare’s works could even begin to express the complex issues that Kashmiris face. But I’m certainly not the first to draw on Shakespeare as a means of talking about life there.

    In 2012, a group of theatre performers from a remote border village revived their Bhand Pather tradition following decades of prohibition on theatre by religious extremists. The troupe was invited to bring their production of King Lear to the National Drama Festival in New Delhi, the Bharat Rang Mahotsav. Their production influenced the work of Samir Bhamra, the British Asian director of the theatre company Phizzical, who travelled to Kashmir in 2013 to research an adaptation of The Winter’s Tale, Perdita + Florizel, which also focuses on the play’s young people and which he hopes to bring to the UK next year.

    If children are copies of their parents, are they destined to repeat their parents’ mistakes? This is a central question of The Winter’s Tale. With the Bhand Pather company, Bhamra discussed staging, performance techniques and is thinking about a possible collaboration. He realised that setting the play in Kashmir turns Shakespeare’s question into a matter of life or death.

    He said: “I want to take the British audience on a journey. I want to recreate that sensation of personal space being robbed; of being stripped of dignity by the army and police presence.” He experienced similar treatment himself when he was stopped by police after taking photos of the Pandit houses in Srinagar, and at the airport where he was searched.

    You need to be brave to speak out about the difficulties of Kashmiri life and the conflict, particularly so in the current climate in India, where the hard-line Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi is the recently elected Prime Minister. Perceived criticism of Hinduism or the state by artists, writers and filmmakers, is often met with allegations of unpatriotic behaviour, and accusations of offending Hindu sensibilities: a criminal offence in India.

    It remains to be seen whether another Indian appropriation of Shakespeare set in Kashmir, Vishal Bhardwaj’s film Haider (Hamlet), which is due to be released internationally this autumn, will pass the government censor’s eye. Though the film includes the essential Bollywood elements of song and dance, its script is by Basharat Peer, whose book of journalism on Kashmir, Curfewed Night was nominated for the Guardian First Book award and was essential to my own research. Haider is set in the 1990s at the height of conflict between Kashmiri separatists and Indian security forces and shows scenes of torture in Indian army camps.

    Media reports have dropped other tantalising details about the film: Haider is a young man, returning to Srinagar from university to search for his ‘disappeared’ father, who he later finds was killed by paramilitaries recruited by Indian authorities, run by Haider’s uncle. Speaking to the Guardian, Bhardwaj said: “What happened in Kashmir is a human tragedy, but no one is talking about it.” Haider, which completes Bhardwaj’s Bollywood Shakespeare trilogy, (Omkara/ Othello in 2006 and Maqbool/ Macbeth in 2003) could begin that conversation. But can it be had peacefully?

    Shakespeare’s tragedies often explore how histories of violence can repeat across generations. Kashmir remains the flashpoint between India, Pakistan and those who want independence for the state. Though armed conflict continues to flare, Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which dates from the colonial era, grants a limited autonomy to the Kashmiri people by minimising Indian central government control over the state. The right to buy land also falls in its jurisdiction. But many argue that the Article has fed sectarian violence, contributed to the deprivations and exodus of the Pandits, and is responsible for the lack of economic development in the state.

    Now Modi has called for new discussion on 370 and others from the right wing have called for it to be completely scrapped. This would allow Hindu property developers and businesses to move in: it might aid economic development, but it would also alter again the communal balance of India’s only Muslim majority state. How would Pakistan and the Kashmiri people respond? On Modi’s first official visit to Srinagar in July, there were no cheering crowds: people stayed home in protest at human rights abuses and the streets were lined instead with Indian security. ‘This Island’s mine,’ says the abused, enslaved Caliban in the Tempest; yet he is not the only character to state his claim in the play.

    When they were first performed, Shakespeare’s works challenged power and questioned authority. In Indian appropriations that engage with contemporary conditions, they can do the same for audiences who have grown up with the after-effects of colonialism, who live against the backdrop of conflicts. And by fusing Shakespeare with Kashmiri art forms, cultural traditions from East and West can be recast, creating fresh ways of reading both the plays and our own turbulent times.

    Dr Preti Taneja is a Fellow Commoner at Jesus College, Cambridge, where she works as postdoctoral research associate to Professor Juliet Mitchell on the Leverhulme funded project, Siblings, Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis. She is an AHRC/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker for 2014. We That Are Young, her PhD novel, is currently with a literary agent. In 2007 she co-founded the human rights and advocacy group ERA Films.

    Inset images: tulips and mountains in Kashmir; houseboat on Dal Lake; cook preparing Wazwan feast; Free Kashmir slogan in a park in Srinagar; Pashmina embroider at work. All images copyright Ben Crowe.


    Dr Preti Taneja first read King Lear as a teenager and immediately saw parallels with the Indian culture of her parents’ homeland. Almost 20 years later, she spent six months exploring the subcontinent, tracing the themes that make Shakespeare’s exploration of humanity so compelling, and researching a novel that re-imagines her favourite play. 

    In King Lear I recognised the Indian extended family I was used to visiting in Delhi each summer. Shakespeare somehow recognised the part of my life my English friends had no idea about – the Indian part, in India.
    Preti Taneja
    Preti Taneja in Kashmir

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    The study,  “Place making” in Kawakami: aspirations and migrant realities of Chinese “technical interns”, was led by Gates Cambridge Scholar Meng Liang and was published in the peer reviewed journal Contemporary Japan.

    The paper examines Chinese agricultural labour migrants’ experiences in rural Japan. The research is based on multi-sited ethnography, mainly in Kawakami, a village located in central Japan, from July to November 2012.

    Meng Liang says: "I go beyond the labelling of Chinese migrants as passive victims of difficult work conditions and exploitation, which pervades much of the literature on international migration, and argue that Chinese peasant workers possess an agency to negotiate, navigate, and survive in the village. The strategy they take is to contest over local institutions to build up their own 'places', where they can find provisional security, a sense of relief, and mutual support. These 'places' further facilitate the formation of social networks among the workers, although this is officially repressed by the dominant society. A functioning social network plays a significant role to help workers adapt, overcome difficulties, and exercise their agency in a more effective way."

    Meng, who is doing a PhD in Asian & Middle East Studies at the University of Cambridge, says the Japanese press have tended to focus on the negative and depicted the relationship as solely one of exploitation, but her research has found a much more complex and nuanced situation based on mutual dependency.

    “China has a huge labour surplus and a huge population of peasants," she says. "It supplies the highest number of migrant workers to Japan. Working in Japan they earn more than in Chinese cities. They earn around £6 an hour. They may earn in one summer as much as they would earn in a year in China.”

    There are problems, for instance, over communication, but her main concern is that immigration policy and Japanese and Chinese people's perceptions of each other need to be informed by what is actually going on the ground, not sensationalist media reports.

    Meng's work focuses on a Japanese agricultural workers programme, the ‘Technical Internship Programme’, which worked through recruitment agencies in China to bring Chinese workers to Japan, and in particular on the Japanese village of Kawakami which accepts more than 600 Chinese workers per year (the local population is only around 4,000). Her fieldwork involved spending around 10 months in China and Japan. In China, she studied how workers were dispatched. Most came from rural areas of China.

    Her research found a much more complicated relationship than is suggested by Japanese newspaper headlines with Japanese employers largely dependent on the Chinese workers because of Japan’s demographics.  She noted no obvious discrimination, although there was not much communication because the Chinese workers only have basic Japanese despite some use of translators. She noted that lack of communication can cause confusion and tension.

    Workers normally get an initial work visa to stay for seven months, from April to November. Most then return to China and cannot reapply. However, if they pass a test they can extend their visa for up to three years, depending on the area they are working in. If they stay longer, a strong relationship may be formed between worker and employer. Meng says some employers treat their workers like members of the family and, for instance, buy them laptops.

    For more information, click here.

    Chinese migrant workers in Japan are more than passive victims of difficult work conditions and are able to use their own networks and provide mutual support, according to new research.

    "I go beyond the labelling of Chinese migrants as passive victims of difficult work conditions and exploitation and argue that Chinese peasant workers possess an agency to negotiate, navigate, and survive in the village."
    Meng Liang

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  • 08/26/14--08:39: Monitoring Bárðarbunga
  • The volume of magma on the move under and beyond Bárðarbunga is huge – at 350 million cubic metres it is already twice the size of the Eyjfjallajökull eruption in 2010 which forced the cancellation of more than 100,000 airline flights.

    In the last 24 hours, an extra 50 million cubic metres of magma has been injected into the system. That is equivalent to the volume of 20,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools in just one day. The volcano is also rifting a huge length of the dyke network, and molten rock continues to move over 40 kilometres northwards, between five and ten kilometres underground.

    Since 2006, our group has been monitoring the area in which the volcanism is occurring using up to 70 broadband seismometers. These are partly Cambridge owned, but are predominantly loaned for research by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

    Fortuitously, the seismometers and field researchers were still in Iceland at the time that this most recent activity began, as our team had recently finished recovering 25 seismometers from the Vatnajökull ice cap where they had been used for a study of small quakes caused by ice cracking.

    Within 24 hours of the start of this magmatic intrusion, Cambridge researcher Tobba Ágústsdóttir had joined others from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) and the Earth Sciences Institute of the University of Iceland on a Coast Guard helicopter flight to the Vatnajökull ice cap where she was able to deploy one of the Cambridge NERC seismometers close to the site of activity on an IMO site that telemetered the data to Reykjavik. Over subsequent days, using snow scooters and IMO colleagues she was able to deploy three more seismometers on the Vatnajökull ice cap to track the movement of the molten rock northwards.

    The newly-deployed Cambridge seismometers, plus three other Cambridge instruments deployed the previous year, and telemetered by IMO from three different sites are crucial for the 24/7 real-time tracking by IMO of the seismicity because they are the closest to the activity. The aviation and civil hazard warnings in place in Iceland depend heavily on the IMO tracking of the seismicity.

    At the time of writing, the Cambridge team have driven into the restricted area around Askja to deploy additional instruments above the tip of the propagating dyke, and to service and download the rest of the seismometer array which record automatically without telemetering the data.

    If the dyke continues northwards into the Askja system it could liberate a huge volume of melt that is hanging around there at several depths - this underground melt has already been mapped and published by our group. At present the dyke is headed straight for it. The massive eruption of Askja in 1875 led to the depopulation of northeast Iceland as ash-fall made subsistence farming impossible, so a repeat scenario of that massive eruption remains on the cards. But the future is uncertain and the dyke may not reach that far. That is why continued monitoring is so important.

    Professor Páll Einarsson, geophysicist at the University of Iceland, commented: “It is already clear that the event presently in progress is a significant magmatic and tectonic event. In terms of seismicity, volumes, and displacements involved only two events in recent decades are comparable to this one. These are the Gjálp eruption in the Bárðarbunga area in 1996 and the Krafla rifting episode of 1975-1989. The presently propagating dyke is superseded by only the initial dyke in the Krafla sequence of dykes. In fact, is resembles that event in many ways. The possibility must be seriously considered that we are witnessing the initial phase of a major rifting episode on the scale of the Krafla episode and the similar episode that began in Afar in 2005.”

    Inset image: Selection of images by Tobba Ágústsdóttir.

    Follow her on Twitter to catch the latest developments: @fencingtobba

    Cambridge scientists and PhD students are at the forefront of monitoring the activity of the Bárðarbunga volcano in Iceland. The research group, led by Professor Bob White of the Department of Earth Sciences, is monitoring the ongoing massive volcanic intrusion through its array of seismic instrumentation - never before has such an intrusion been so well documented. The data they gather is likely to yield considerable new insights into how molten rock moves underground, and whether or not it erupts. Here, Professor White outlines the team’s ongoing work in Iceland.

    Bárðarbunga is huge – at 350 million cubic metres it is already twice the size of the Eyjfjallajökull eruption in 2010 which forced the cancellation of more than 100,000 airline flights
    Bob White
    A Cambridge seismometer station deployed on Vatnajökull ice cap directly above the underground molten rock

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    An unusual new fossil discovery of one of the earliest animals on earth may also provide the oldest evidence of muscle tissue – the bundles of cells that make movement in animals possible.

    The fossil, dating from 560 million years ago, was discovered in Newfoundland, Canada. On the basis of its four-fold symmetry, morphological characteristics, and what appear to be some of the earliest impressions of muscular tissue, researchers from the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Memorial University of Newfoundland, have interpreted it as a cnidarian: the group which contains modern animals such as corals, sea anemones and jellyfish. The results are published today (27 August) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

    Historically, the origin, evolution and spread of animals has been viewed as having begun during the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid evolutionary development starting 541 million years ago when most major animal groups first appear in the fossil record.

    “However, in recent decades, discoveries of preserved trackways and chemical evidence in older rocks, as well as molecular comparisons, have indirectly suggested that animals may have a much earlier origin than previously thought,” said Dr Alex Liu of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, lead author of the paper.

    “The problem is that although animals are now widely expected to have been present before the Cambrian Explosion, very few of the fossils found in older rocks possess features that can be used to convincingly identify them as animals,” said Liu. “Instead, we study aspects of their ecology, feeding or reproduction, in order to understand what they might have been.”

    The new fossil, named Haootia quadriformis, dates from the Ediacaran Period, an interval spanning 635 to 541 million years ago. It differs from any previously described Ediacaran fossil, as it comprises of bundles of fibres in a broadly four-fold symmetrical arrangement: a body plan that is similar to that seen in modern cnidarians.

    The researchers determined that the similarities between Haootia quadriformis and both living and fossil cnidarians suggest that the organism was probably a cnidarian, and that the bundles represent muscular tissue. This would make it not only a rare example of an Ediacaran animal, but also one of the oldest fossils to show evidence of muscle anywhere in the world.

    “The evolution of muscular animals, in possession of muscle tissues that enabled them to precisely control their movements, paved the way for the exploration of a vast range of feeding strategies, environments, and ecological niches, allowing animals to become the dominant force in global ecosystems,” said Liu.

    The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Burdett Coutts Fund of the University of Oxford, and the National Geographic Global Exploration Fund Northern Europe.

    Inset image: Artist reconstruction of Haootia quadriformis. Credit: Martin Brasier

    A new fossil discovery identifies the earliest evidence for animals with muscles.

    Animals may have a much earlier origin than previously thought
    Alex Liu
    Fossil of Haootia quadriformis

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    Reduse, which was founded 2014, was named the winner at a ceremony held earlier this month in London for the UK’s top climate start-ups.

    David Leal, Reduse’s Chief Scientist, invented the ‘Unprinter’ during his PhD research under the supervision of Dr Julian Allwood in the Low Carbon Materials Processing Group at the Engineering Department.

    Their invention is able to remove print from laser-printed paper, and this process can be repeated several times without damaging the fibres of the paper, providing cost savings and CO2 reductions. Just one office employee can use up to 10,000 sheets of paper every year, most of which are thrown away after only a few days. Along with saving forests from being used for new paper, reusing paper could save an additional 50-80% in carbon emissions over recycling.

    Climate-KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) shortlisted Reduse as a finalist in their annual UK Venture Competition, following the company’s involvement in the Climate-KIC Accelerator Programme, which provides up to €95,000 funding to the most promising carbon start-ups in Europe.

    Reduse were one of nine finalists who competed for the prize at the Royal College of Music in London.

    “We are of course delighted to have won this competition. This is more proof that we are on the right track to solving the incredible waste that is being generated by printing," said Hidde-Jan Lemstra, CEO of Reduse.

    The company recently recruited Tony Dunn to become their new Chief Technology Officer. He has over twenty years’ experience with product design and development, and will lead the development of the Unprinter. Reduse has already started raising its first round of funding and looks to gain a £224,000 grant from the Technology Strategy Board.

    University of Cambridge spin-out Reduse, which has developed a technology to remove print from paper allowing it to be reused several times before being recycled, has won the Venture Competition, organised by the Climate-KIC UK , the EU’s main climate innovation initiative.

    This is more proof that we are on the right track to solving the incredible waste that is being generated by printing.
    Hidde-Jan Lemstra
    A crumpled paper ball

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    The digital revolution and America’s growing influence on our culture have dramatically changed the way British people speak over the past two decades, new research has revealed.

    ‘Marvellous’ has been consigned to the dustbin of vocabulary – replaced by the American ‘awesome’, according to the study by Lancaster University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and Cambridge University Press.

    The changes also reflect the nation’s eating habits – with ‘marmalade’ also falling out of favour as one of the country’s most used words.

    Using the ‘Spoken British National Corpus 2014’, the team at Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press are shedding light on the way our spoken language changes over time.

    The study looks at the most characteristic words of today’s Britain. Not surprisingly the internet age has had a massive influence on the words we use.

    While in the 1990s we were captivated by ‘Walkmans’, today it has been replaced by the likes of ‘online’ and ‘smartphone’. ‘Awesome’ has rapidly overtaken ‘marvellous’ as the most characteristic emotive word in today’s speech.

    The research shows that in 2014 the word ‘awesome’ appears 72 times per million words compared to ‘marvellous’, which has fallen in use from 155 times per million 20 years ago to only two times per million today.

    Language expert Professor Tony McEnery, from the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) at Lancaster University, said: “These very early findings suggest the things that are most important to British society are indeed reflected in the amount we talk about them.

    “New technologies like Facebook have really captured our attention, to the extent that, if we’re not using it, we’re probably talking about it.

    “The rise of ‘awesome’ seems to provide evidence of American English’s influence on British speakers.”

    These are only the initial findings from a small pilot of the project, named the ‘Spoken British National Corpus 2014’, which is now underway.

    Prof McEnery said: “We need to gather hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations to create a spoken corpus so we can continue to analyse the way language has changed over the last 20 years.

    “We are calling for people to send us MP3 files of their everyday, informal conversations in exchange for a small payment to help me and my team to delve deeper into spoken language.”

    It is an ambitious project. Prof McEnery said: “It has not been completed to this scale in the UK since the early 1990s.

    “That data, which is now out of date, is still used by researchers from around the world today, so we know there is a real appetite for research of this kind.

    “It is of great importance to collect new recordings from the 2010s in order to understand the nature of British English speech as it is today and not how it was more than two decades ago.”

    The research also allows analysis into language used in different regions, between genders and across different age groups.

    People who wish to submit recordings to the research team should email

    Using the Spoken British National Corpus 2014, a very large collection of recordings of real-life, informal, spoken interactions between speakers of British English from across the United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press and Lancaster University are shedding light on the way our spoken language changes over time.

    The rise of ‘awesome’ seems to provide evidence of American English’s influence on British speakers
    Professor Tony McEnery, Lancaster University
    Computer words wallpaper (cropped)

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    Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a new method for making multi-coloured holograms from a thin film of silver nanoparticles, which could greatly increase the storage capabilities of typical optical storage devices.

    The interference produced by the interaction of light with the nanoparticles allows the holograms to go beyond the normal limits of diffraction, or the way in which waves spread or bend when they encounter an opening or obstacle. The results were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    When metallic particles have dimensions on the nanoscale, they display iridescent colours. A noted example of this phenomenon is the Lycurgus cup, which was made in the 4th century during the Roman Empire, and changes colour when held up to the light. An optical phenomenon, known as dichroism, occurs when the colour of the cup changes from green to red according to the position of the light source.

    Roman artisans made the cup by incorporating nanoparticles into glass, although they would have been unaware of the specific physical characteristics responsible for the colours observed in the cup. Only in the last 20 years have scientists begun to understand this phenomenon, but they have not been able to utilise its effects in currently-available technology.

    To apply this phenomenon in modern optics, an interdisciplinary team of researchers have created nanoscale metallic nanoparticle arrays that mimic the colour effects of the Lycurgus cup, to form multi-colour holograms. This breakthrough could lead to the shrinkage of standard bulky optical devices.

    “This technology will lead to a new range of applications in the area of photonics, as conventional optical components simply cannot achieve this kind of functionality,” said Yunuen Montelongo, a PhD student from the Department of Engineering, who led the research. “The potential of this technology will be realised when they are mass produced and integrated into the next generation of ultra-thin consumer electronics.”

    Using a single thin layer of silver, Montelongo and his colleagues patterned colourful holograms containing 16 million nanoparticles per square millimetre. Each nanoparticle, approximately 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, scatters light into different colours depending on its particular size and shape. The scattered light from each of the nanoparticles interacts and combines with all of the others to produce an image.

    The device can display different images when illuminated with a different colour light, a property not seen before in a device of this type. Furthermore, when multiple light sources are shone simultaneously, a multi-colour image is projected.

    These holographic devices are between 10 and 100 times smaller than just one of the millions of pixels used to produce a colour image on a typical laptop screen, yet they project a complete multi-colour image to the eye. This is possible through plasmonics: the study of how light interacts with metals on the nanoscale, which allows the researchers to go beyond the capability of conventional optical technologies.

    “This hologram may find a wide range of applications in the area of displays, optical data storage, and sensors,” said PhD student Calum Williams, a co-author of the paper. “However, scalable approaches are needed to fulfil the potential of this technology.” 

    Currently, the team is exploring various optical mechanisms involved in the light-matter interaction at nanoscale. The future research will involve the construction of three-dimensional dynamic displays for consumer electronics and the researchers are already looking into tuning these devices for reconfigurable display technologies.

    Holograms made of tiny particles of silver could double the amount of information that can be stored in digital optical devices, such as sensors, displays and medical imaging devices.

    Conventional optical components simply cannot achieve this kind of functionality
    Yunuen Montelongo
    Multi-coloured holograms

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    The research, published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, was conducted by Gates Cambridge Scholar Katherine Bruce-Lockhart and is the first study to make use of new material on a camp in Gitamayu used to hold "hardcore" female detainees.

    The treatment of the Mau Mau by the British has led to compensation claims in the courts. Last year the British government agreed to pay out £19.9m in costs and compensation to more than 5,000 elderly Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse during the Mau Mau uprising in the 50s. Two of those involved in the recent case were women and further female compensation cases are pending.

    Bruce-Lockhart is interested in the treatment of "hardcore" Mau Mau women in the final years of the Emergency Period, one that was marked by uncertainty, violence and an increasing reliance on ethno-psychiatry.

    From 1954 to 1960, the British detained approximately 8,000 women under the Emergency Powers imposed to combat the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya. The majority of female detainees were held in Kamiti Detention Camp and its importance has been widely acknowledged by historians. However, new documentary evidence released from the Hanslope Park Archive since 2011 has revealed the existence of a second camp established for women at Gitamayu, created in 1958 in order to deal with the remaining “hardcore” female detainees.

    The Archive contains over 1,500 files and was uncovered in 2011 by historians working on the London High Court case between the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Kenyan plaintiffs who were held in detention camps during the Emergency Period. The files were considered too sensitive to fall into the hands of the Kenyan government, and were taken out of Kenya by the British prior to independence. The files have been pivotal in the London High Court Case, as their contents show how senior British officials sanctioned the use of systematic force against Mau Mau detainees in the camps, stretching the legal limits of legitimate violence. The documents relating to Kamiti and Gitamayu reveal how this systematic use of violence was extended to hardcore women and the multiple ways colonial officials tried to hide it.

    The intensity of this struggle with hardcore detainees, and the trajectory it took, has been overlooked by previous scholarly works on Mau Mau women, which have provided a general overview of female involvement in the movement, as well as their detention at Kamiti. Much more is known about hardcore men, who have authored over a dozen Mau Mau memoirs and are the subject of extensive scholarly analysis. The stories and identities of these men, from Jomo Kenyatta to J.M. Kariuki, are well known. The hardcore male camps, such as Manyani, Athi River, and Hola, are remembered as the sites of intense struggles between detainees and warders. Recent work from historian David Anderson has detailed the British policy toward hardcore males, which became more brutal and systematic from 1957 onwards.

    Bruce-Lockhart says: "In contrast, the history of women's detention has not been investigated in detail, especially in the latter years of the Emergency Period. Women's punishment broadly followed a pattern similar to that of their male counterparts, with increasing severity of treatment characterising the final phase of incarceration as the British endeavored to compel inmates to confess their crimes. But the story of the female detainees at Gitamayu and Kamiti also reveals unique elements that were determined by colonial ideas about female deviancy, these ultimately becoming the defining feature of incarceration for Mau Mau's hardcore women.

    "The Hanslope archives reveal the strategies that the colonial administration employed to deal with hardcore women in the late 1950s. Whereas previously there was an assumption that women were malleable and could be easily persuaded away from the Mau Mau cause this expectation greatly diminished during this time, and was replaced with a discourse of madness, as certain elements of the colonial administration pressed for hardcore women to be classified as insane. This move was instrumental rather than genuine, meant to explain away women's physical ailments in order to cover up mistreatment in the camp."

    She adds: "Debates about how to deal with this group of women engaged and perplexed the highest levels of the colonial administration, generating tensions between legal, political, and medical officials. At the centre of these debates was the question of the female detainees' sanity, with some officials pressing for these women to be classified as insane. Examining the British approach to these detainees illuminates how ideas about gender, deviancy, and mental health shaped colonial practices of punishment."

    For more information, click here

    New research on the treatment of 'hardcore' female Mau Mau prisoners by the British in the late 1950s sheds new light on how ideas about gender, deviancy and mental health shaped colonial practices of punishment.

    The story of the female detainees at Gitamayu and Kamiti also reveals unique elements that were determined by colonial ideas about female deviancy, these ultimately becoming the defining feature of incarceration for Mau Mau's hardcore women.
    Katherine Bruce-Lockhart
    Mau Mau gang

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