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    A true intellectual feast, it includes over 250 events for all ages and interests, ranging from evening talks and panel discussions to exhibitions, music, theatre, film screenings and participatory workshops.

    Featured speakers include heterodox economist Ha-Joon Chang, historians Sir Richard Evans and David Cesarani, Nigerian author Ben Okri, bioethicist and creator of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series Alexander McCall Smith, comedian Bridget Christie and dyslexia expert Julian Elliott. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy will be presenting prizes in a competition celebrating bilingualism. 

    For the first time this year the Festival is partnering with the Women of the World Festival to present a special day of events on gender politics, including a panel discussion on cyberbullying with feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and one on the “pinkification” of girls’ lives. The WOW Festival, held on 26 October at the Cambridge Junction, will explore the most urgent issues for women today with inspiring talks, heated debates and lively workshops and activities.

    Kicking off at the same time as the Festival of Ideas, and closely tied to it, is a five week festival of fun and creativity called Curating Cambridge: our city, our stories, our stuff.  Jointly organised by the eight University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Garden, with cultural partners and community organisations, the city wide cultural celebration has an exciting mix of workshops, music, talks and performances for all to enjoy. It features a major exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Silent Partners: Artist & Mannequin from Function to Fetish, plus over 100 other events and activities.

    Most of the Festival’s events are free of charge and many do not require pre-booking. Events with limited audience sizes, however, must be booked in advance, via the Festival of Ideas website.

    Among the important and timely questions that will be addressed at the Festival this year are how to teach history and why it is important, how to balance privacy and security in an age of omnipresent surveillance, whether economics education has contributed to our current predicament and what role literature can play in conserving the environment.

    Nine of the British Academy's new Fellows will also be presenting their research, including Usha Goswami, professor of cognitive developmental neuroscience, Professor Gareth Stedman Jones, director of the Centre for History and Economics, and Hamid Sabourian, professor of economics.

    The Festival of Ideas opens on 20 October and the launch event, from 6pm at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, is open to the public. The evening, which also celebrates the launch of Curating Cambridge, will include music, meandering and creativity. Internationally acclaimed poet and spoken word artist Hollie McNish will kick start the exhibitions and activities. The event is free to attend, open to all and places can be booked through the Festival of Ideas website.

    The University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas is sponsored by Cambridge University Press and Anglia Ruskin University, which also organises events during the Festival. Event partners include Heffers, University of Cambridge Museums, RAND Europe, and the Junction. The Festival’s media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
     

    You can also follow us on:
    Twitter  #cfi2014
    Facebook
    Or download the Festival app

    Bookings open today for this year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas, now in its seventh year and bigger and better than ever. The Festival, which runs from 20 October to 2 November, explores the rich contributions the arts, humanities and social sciences make to our culture and understanding of the world.  

    A true intellectual feast, the Festival includes over 250 events for all ages and interests, ranging from evening talks and panel discussions to exhibitions, music, theatre, film screenings and participatory workshops.
    Bridget Christie

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    A new study led by researchers from the University of Cambridge has found that a common characteristic of autism – language delay in early childhood – leaves a ‘signature’ in the brain. The results are published today (23 September) in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

    The researchers studied 80 adult men with autism: 38 who had delayed language onset and 42 who did not. They found that language delay was associated with differences in brain volume in a number of key regions, including the temporal lobe, insula, ventral basal ganglia, which were all smaller in those with language delay; and in brainstem structures, which were larger in those with delayed language onset.

    Additionally, they found that current language function is associated with a specific pattern of grey and white matter volume changes in some key brain regions, particularly temporal, frontal and cerebellar structures.

    The Cambridge researchers, in collaboration with King’s College London and the University of Oxford, studied participants who were part of the MRC Autism Imaging Multicentre Study (AIMS).

    Delayed language onset – defined as when a child’s first meaningful words occur after 24 months of age, or their first phrase occurs after 33 months of age – is seen in a subgroup of children with autism, and is one of the clearest features triggering an assessment for developmental delay in children, including an assessment of autism.

    “Although people with autism share many features, they also have a number of key differences,” said Dr Meng-Chuan Lai of the Cambridge Autism Research Centre, and the paper’s lead author. “Language development and ability is one major source of variation within autism. This new study will help us understand the substantial variety within the umbrella category of ‘autism spectrum’. We need to move beyond investigating average differences in individuals with and without autism, and move towards identifying key dimensions of individual differences within the spectrum.”

    He added: “This study shows how the brain in men with autism varies based on their early language development and their current language functioning. This suggests there are potentially long-lasting effects of delayed language onset on the brain in autism.”

    Last year, the American Psychiatric Association removed Asperger Syndrome (Asperger’s Disorder) as a separate diagnosis from its diagnostic manual (DSM-5), and instead subsumed it within ‘autism spectrum disorder.’ The change was one of many controversial decisions in DSM-5, the main manual for diagnosing psychiatric conditions.

    “This new study shows that a key feature of Asperger Syndrome, the absence of language delay, leaves a long lasting neurobiological signature in the brain,” said Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, senior author of the study. “Although we support the view that autism lies on a spectrum, subgroups based on developmental characteristics, such as Asperger Syndrome, warrant further study.”

    “It is important to note that we found both differences and shared features in individuals with autism who had or had not experienced language delay,” said Dr Lai. “When asking: ‘Is autism a single spectrum or are there discrete subgroups?’ - the answer may be both.”

    This study was supported by the Waterloo Foundation, the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), the Autism Research Trust, the Wellcome Trust, the William Binks Autism Neuroscience Fellowship, and the European Autism Interventions—a Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications (EU-AIMS).

    Individual differences in early language development, and in later language functioning, are associated with changes in the anatomy of the brain in autism.

    We need to move beyond investigating average differences in individuals with and without autism, and move towards identifying key dimensions of individual differences within the spectrum
    Meng-Chuan Lai
    Neural Connections In the Human Brain

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    Early in the 1600s, several groups of Mongols travelled thousands of miles west in search of new pastures for their herds. The migration of the people who became known as the Kalmyks was prompted by tensions between Mongol communities. Their journey lasted several decades and they travelled around 3,000 miles to settle in the wide pastures west of the Caspian Sea. Here they formed the Kalmyk khanate.

    In 1771, more than half the Kalmyk population attempted to return to their original homeland of Dzungaria, a region of central Asia then depopulated as a result of the Qing-Dzungar war. Only a third of those who set out on this return migration survived the perilous journey. Those Kalmyks who remained on the southern edge of Europe were incorporated into the expanding Russian Empire.

    Today the Kalmyk communities living in the Republic of Kalmykia and the neighbouring region of Astrakhan (part of the Russian Federation) are remarkable in being the only Buddhist nation in Europe. Kalmyk culture, however, has long been considered critically endangered by Western scholars. Existing Western research on their distinctive way of life has been directed chiefly at the relatively small Kalmyk diaspora in the USA.

    Now researchers at the Mongolia & Inner Studies Unit of the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, have started work on an ambitious project to document the cultural heritage of a people who are estimated to number around 300,000 worldwide. The objective of the project is to provide Kalmyk communities with a resource that can be used to compare, revive and popularise their endangered culture.

    Making use of audio and video, the Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project will document Kalmyk culture in its broadest sense, including traditional songs and melodies, musical instruments, dances, oral literature, cuisine, crafts, festivals and many other. This unique body of knowledge will be deposited in open-access digital archives so that it can be shared worldwide.

    The five-year project is being funded by Arcadia, a charitable fund dedicated to the preservation of at-risk cultural heritage and the environments. The principal investigator is Dr Uradyn Bulag, a social anthropologist known for his research into transnational studies of people, politics and culture – and particularly for his work on Mongolia and Chinese minorities.

    “The project will focus on the Republic of Kalmykia and the adjoining Astrakhan region which is home to more than half the worldwide Kalmyk population. It will also look more broadly at Kalmyk communities in China and elsewhere in order to understand the inter-connectedness of Kalmyk culture in the Eurasian context,” said Dr Bulag.

    “From the outset the project will involve local Kalmyk scholars and students. We hope that the resource we create will provide a means for long-separated communities to understand, communicate and exchange cultural information with each other.”

    Throughout history, the Kalmyk people have been repeatedly displaced and oppressed. Many of the Kalmyks who attempted to return to Dzungaria in the second half of the 18th century perished. Those who survived the trip found themselves divided into various segregated settlements by the powerful Qing Empire.  In the late 19th century they suffered major devastations in the Muslim rebellions in Xinjiang.

    The increasingly marginalised Kalmyks who remained in south west Russia were drafted by the Russian government to fight various wars of conquest which exerted a heavy toll on the population. Between 1943 and 1957 the entire community was exiled to Siberia and Central Asia, charged with betraying the Soviet motherland and collaborating with the invading German army.

    The fractured nature of the Kalmyk community – and the shifting identity of groups within it - represents a challenge to those seeking to document their culture. “In terms of the project, we are defining as Kalmyk the people who separated from the Oirats of Dzungaria in the 17th century, travelled to Russia where they formed the Kalmyk khanate, and later scattered,” said Dr Bulag.

    “We hold that these people have a common culture even though, as a result of historical migration processes, some of them later adopted other identities and are now no longer called Kalmyk. In China and Mongolia, for example, they are known as Torghut.”

    Under the Soviet Union, observance of traditional cultural practises was discouraged or banned. With the collapse of Soviet regime, opportunities opened up for minority cultures to rediscover themselves.
    “The Kalmyks in Russia lost many of their traditional knowledge bearers in exile and, when were allowed to return in 1957, they found themselves living as a minority in the autonomous republic that bears their name. In these circumstances, post-Soviet Kalmyk cultural revitalisation has been slow and ineffective,” said Dr Bulag.

    "We hope that the Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project will help to redress the balance by capturing and archiving an endangered culture and thus breathing new life into its richly distinctive practices.”

    The team contributing to the project reflects its ambitious transnational reach. Dr Bulag and Dr Borjigin Burensain (University of Shiga Prefecture, Japan) will be overseeing the gathering of material among Oirat/Kalmyk groups in China. Dr Baasanjav Terbish and Dr Elvira Churuymova (both University of Cambridge) will be working in Kalmykia in collaboration with local Kalmyk scholars.The project benefits from the expertise of Professor Caroline Humphrey (University of Cambridge) who is renowned for her work on Mongolian cultures.

    Inset images: a pagoda in the centre of Elista; opening of a stupa in Shatta village, Kalmykia; an interview in progress (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project)

    Arcadia is the charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Since its inception in 2001, Arcadia has awarded grants in excess of $326 million.  Arcadia works to protect endangered culture and nature. For more information please see: www.arcadiafund.org.uk

    Almost four centuries ago, ancestors of the Kalmyk people trekked across central Asia to form a Buddhist nation on the edge of Europe. Today Kalmyk communities are scattered across Eurasia, with the largest group in the Republic of Kalmykia. A new project will document Kalmyk heritage to produce an open-access online resource to help Kalmyk communities revive their culture. 

    From the outset the project will involve local Kalmyk scholars and students. We hope that the resource we create will provide a means for long-separated communities to understand, communicate and exchange cultural information with each other.
    Uradyn Bulag
    Dancing at the opening of a stupa in Shatta village

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    In 1908 the famously plump Venus of Willendorf, thought to be a symbol of fecundity, was discovered during an excavation near the Austrian town of Melk. The statuette, on display at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, has been dated to 30,000 years ago and is one of the world’s earliest examples of figurative art.

    Now a team of archaeologists has dated a number of stone tools, excavated recently from the same site at the village of Willendorf, to 43,500 years ago. The multinational team, led by Dr Philip Nigst of the University of Cambridge, has identified the tools as belonging to the Aurignacian culture, generally accepted as indicative of modern human presence. 

    The results of the study will be published this week (22 September 2014) in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

    It is agreed that modern humans dispersed into Europe, and began to replace Neanderthals, at least 40,000 years ago. The new research pushes this date back to a potentially much earlier time when temperatures north of the Alps were cool.

    "Recent finds at the Willendorf site contribute valuable new information to the debate about modern human colonisation of Europe,” said Nigst. “The remarkably early date of the finds shows that modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped for much longer than we thought and that modern humans coped well with a variety of climates.”

    The stone tools, excavated between 2006 and 2011, include small ‘bladelets’, which were originally part of composite tools and may have been used as projectile points. Using stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating, the researchers demonstrated that the finds date to 43,500 years ago – making them significantly older than other known Aurignacian artefacts, which have been found all over Europe.

    “The recent finds indicate a modern human presence and the date of the artefacts represents the oldest well-documented occurrence of modern humans in Europe,” said Dr Nigst.

    The study reveals that modern humans were living in the region that is now Austria at the same time that Neanderthals were living in other parts of Europe and that modern humans and Neanderthals shared this region for longer than previously thought.

    “The Willendorf finds strongly suggest that modern humans and Neanderthals met and interacted, and may well have exchanged both mates and ideas,” said Nigst.

    “The picture emerging from our study is fascinating because we see significant changes in the material culture of the last Neanderthals – and these changes occur at the same time that modern humans were present at Willendorf. The timing of these events cannot be a coincidence.”

    Analysis of the type of soil in which the tools were found, reveals that the tools were in use during an era when the climatic conditions were cool with a steppe-like environment with conifer trees distributed along river valleys.

    “Our results suggest that the early modern human settlers, who are thought to have come to Central Europe from the warmer environments of southern Europe, did so in a cool steppe-type climate. Previous studies have suggested that modern humans moved into Western Europe during either a very cold phase or during a warmer temperate phase,” said Nigst.

    “Our study shows that early modern human settlers in Central Europe were resilient to a variety of environmental conditions. Rather than tracking a particular environment, they coped very well with a wide diversity of environments, each one requiring a different subsistence strategy.”

    Fieldwork and research were supported by the Leakey Foundation (2006–2012), Max Planck Society (2006–2012), University of Vienna (2006–2011), Hugo Obermaier Society (2006), Federal Office for Scientific Affairs of the State of Belgium (Projects Sc-004, Sc-09, and MO/36/021), the Hochschuljubiläumsfonds of the City of Vienna (2007), the Department of Prehistory of the Natural History Museum in Vienna, the Marktgemeinde Aggsbach, and the Museumsverein Willendorf. 
     

    Recent finds at Willendorf in Austria reveal that modern humans were living in cool steppe-like conditions some 43,500 years ago – and that their presence overlapped with that of Neanderthals for far longer than we thought. 

    The remarkably early date of the finds shows that modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped for much longer than we thought and that modern humans coped well with a variety of climates.
    Philip Nigst
    Example of one of the stone tools found recently at Willendorf

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  • 09/24/14--10:00: Clear skies on exo-Neptune
  • Astronomers have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapour on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet, known as HAT-P-11b, is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest-ever planet for which water vapour has been detected.

    Using data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Kepler Space Telescope, an international team including astronomers from the University of Cambridge found that HAT-P-11b is blanketed in water vapour, hydrogen gas, and other yet-to-be-identified molecules. The results are published today (24 September) in the online version of the journal Nature.

    “This discovery is milepost on the road to eventually searching for molecules in the atmospheres of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Such achievements are only possible when we combine the capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.”

    Clouds in the atmospheres of planets can block the view to underlying molecules that reveal information about the planets’ compositions and histories. Finding clear skies on a Neptune-size planet is a good sign that smaller planets might have similarly good visibility.

    “When astronomers go observing at night with telescopes, they say ‘clear skies’ to mean good luck,” said Jonathan Fraine of the University of Maryland, the study’s lead author. “In this case, we found clear skies on a distant planet. That's lucky for us because it means clouds didn't block our view of water molecules.”

    HAT-P-11b is a so-called exo-Neptune — a Neptune-sized planet that orbits another star. It is located 120 light-years away in the constellation of Cygnus (The Swan). Unlike Neptune, this planet orbits closer to its star, making one lap roughly every five days. It is a warm world thought to have a rocky core, a mantle of fluid and ice, and a thick gaseous atmosphere. Not much else was known about the composition of the planet, or other exo-Neptunes like it, until now.

    Part of the challenge in analysing the atmospheres of planets like this is their size. Larger Jupiter-like planets are easier to observe and researchers have already been able to detect water vapour in the atmospheres of some of these giant planets. Smaller planets are more difficult to probe — and all the smaller ones observed to date have appeared to be cloudy.

    The team used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and a technique called transmission spectroscopy, in which a planet is observed as it crosses in front of its parent star. Starlight filters through the rim of the planet’s atmosphere and into a telescope. If molecules like water vapour are present, they absorb some of the starlight, leaving distinct signatures in the light that reaches our telescopes.

    “We set out to look at the atmosphere of HAT-P-11b without knowing if its weather would be cloudy or not,” said Dr Nikku Madhusudhan, from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, who was part of the study team. “By using transmission spectroscopy, we could use Hubble to detect water vapour in the planet. This told us that the planet didn’t have thick clouds blocking the view and is a very hopeful sign that we can find and analyse more cloudless, smaller, planets in the future. It is ground-breaking!”

    Before the team could celebrate they had to be sure that the water vapour was from the planet and not from cool starspots — “freckles” on the face of stars — on the parent star. Luckily, Kepler had been observing the patch of sky in which HAT-P-11b happens to lie for years. Those visible-light data were combined with targeted infrared Spitzer observations. By comparing the datasets the astronomers could confirm that the starspots were too hot to contain any water vapour, and so it must belong to the planet.

    The results from all three telescopes demonstrate that HAT-P-11b is blanketed in water vapour, hydrogen gas, and other yet-to-be-identified molecules. So in fact it is not only the smallest planet to have water vapour found in its atmosphere but is also the smallest planet for which molecules of any kind have been directly detected using spectroscopy. Theorists will be drawing up new models to explain the planet’s makeup and origins.

    Although HAT-P-11b is dubbed as an exo-Neptune it is actually quite unlike any planet in our Solar System. It is thought that exo-Neptunes may have diverse compositions that reflect their formation histories. New findings such as this can help astronomers to piece together a theory for the origin of these distant worlds.

    “We are working our way down the line, from hot Jupiters to exo-Neptunes,” said Drake Deming, a co-author of the study also from University of Maryland. “We want to expand our knowledge to a diverse range of exoplanets.”

    The astronomers plan to examine more exo-Neptunes in the future, and hope to apply the same method to smaller super-Earths — massive, rocky cousins to our home world with up to ten times the mass of Earth. Our solar system does not contain a super-Earth, but NASA’s Kepler mission is finding them around other stars in droves, and the NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018, will search super-Earths for signs of water vapour and other molecules. However, finding signs of oceans and potentially habitable worlds is likely a way off.

    This work is important for future studies of super-Earths and even smaller planets. It could allow astronomers to pick out in advance the planets with atmospheres clear enough for molecules to be detected. Once again, astronomers will be crossing their fingers for clear skies.

    Smallest exoplanet ever found to have water vapour

    This is a very hopeful sign that we can find and analyse more cloudless, smaller, planets in the future
    Nikku Madhusudhan
    Illustration of the view from HAT-P-11b

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    Cambridge has joined a select group of universities with an institutional Athena SWAN silver award.

    The awards are bestowed in recognition of commitment to advancing women's careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research.

    The silver award – announced today (September 25) - sees the University join Imperial College London, University of Warwick, University of Nottingham and Queen’s University Belfast.

    In addition bronze departmental awards were given to: the Department of Biochemistry; Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience; and the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute.

    Professor Jeremy Sanders, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Affairs, said: “The University is delighted that its commitment and intensive activity in supporting and promoting women at all levels have been recognised by an Athena SWAN institution silver award.

    “The sustained momentum of actions at University level to progress and embed gender equality complements our support for local departmental action, so we are also delighted that local commitment to the Athena SWAN principles has been recognised by additional departmental awards. Together we are striving to ensure that the University is a supportive and inclusive environment for all our students and staff.”

    A full list of award winners is available via the Equality Challenge Unit website.

    Cambridge joins a select group of universities thanks to national recognition for work on gender equality.

    Together we are striving to ensure that the University is a supportive and inclusive environment for all our students and staff.
    Professor Jeremy Sanders, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Affairs
    Science daily #1

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    Vitamin D is nicknamed the ‘sunshine vitamin’ as it is produced in the skin in response to sunlight. It is also found in some foods, such as oily fish (including salmon and mackerel) and eggs. Low levels of the vitamin have been associated with increased risk of conditions as wide-ranging as rickets, bone fractures, diabetes, respiratory diseases and cancers. People living in northern Europe, where sunlight is often insufficient to manufacture adequate vitamin D, have to rely on body stores of vitamin D produced over the summer months.

    In a study funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, Cambridge researchers looked at levels of vitamin D in blood samples taken from around 15,000 participants from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) in Norfolk Study in order to identify optimal levels of the vitamin for health.

    “We know that vitamin D deficiency can be detrimental to health, but until now there has been no clear answer as to what is actually the ideal amount of the vitamin,” explains Professor Nick Wareham, Director of the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge. “Outside of those whose levels are extremely low, we’ve had no way of knowing how many people are actually getting less vitamin D than they need.”

    Trials involving vitamin D supplements have so far proved inconclusive, possibly because the method in which the vitamin D is administered (orally or intramuscularly), the type of vitamin D (D3 or D2) and frequency and amount have differed between trials, and hence blood levels and biological effects vary hugely.

    The Cambridge team measured the amount of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the blood, which is an indicator of individual vitamin D status. Previous studies have suggested that individuals with less than 30 nanomoles per litre (nmol/l) of the molecule are at risk of rickets and other bone diseases, but that too much vitamin D – over 125 nmol/l – could potentially be detrimental to one’s health.

    By comparing blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D with health of individuals over the next 13 years the researchers found that between 30 and 120 nmol/l, the higher the amount of the molecule in an individual’s blood, the lower their risk of heart disease, respiratory diseases and bone fractures. In fact, for every additional 20 nmol/l, an individual had an 8% smaller chance of dying during the 13 year follow up. Only one per cent of the participants had levels above 120 nmol/l, so it was not possible to say what effect higher levels of vitamin D had on an individual’s health.

    The researchers suggest that the optimum level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the blood is somewhere between 50-90 nmol/l. Over four in ten of the 15,000 individuals studied fell below this level.

    “Our data suggest that a modest increase in vitamin D in the general population may minimise the number of people with very low levels of the vitamin and may have some benefits even for those whose levels are acceptable,” adds Professor Kay-Tee Khaw from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge.

    “This could be achieved by taking modest daily vitamin D supplements* or eating oily fish two or three times a week and increasing physical activity  as we are more efficient at producing vitamin D if we are physically active. We only need around 20 minutes a day of sunlight in summer to ensure that we have sufficient levels to see us through the winter and must be careful as we know that over-exposure to sunlight – particularly if we burn – raises skin cancer risk.”

    *Around 800IU daily.

    As many as one in ten people in Britain over forty years old may be vitamin D deficient, according to a study carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

    We know that vitamin D deficiency can be detrimental to health, but until now there has been no clear answer as to what is actually the ideal amount of the vitamin
    Nick Wareham
    Vitamin D

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    The consortium of European cancer centres will link cancer programmes on a huge scale to help the joint monitoring of patients and the development of next-generation clinical trials.

    Cancer Core Europe, launched today, brings together the Cambridge Cancer Centre, the Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm, Sweden), the Netherlands Cancer Institute (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (Barcelona, Spain), and the German Cancer Research Center and its National Center for Tumor Diseases (Heidelberg, Germany).

    Professor Carlos Caldas, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Oncology and Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, has played a leading role in establishing the new collaboration. Cancer is a strategic research initiative within the University, and with around 150 research group leaders and 100 clinicians currently undertaking basic, translational or clinical cancer research, Cambridge has substantial expertise to offer the consortium.

    Across the Cancer Core Europe consortium as a whole, ever year around 60,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients are seen, 300,000 cancer treatments are delivered, about 1,000,000 outpatient visits are performed, and around 1,500 clinical trials are conducted.

    The consortium’s goal of linking scientific discovery from bench to bedside includes the creation of a virtual ‘e-hospital’ to enable joint research programs. Four areas of data will be linked across the partnership: electronic medical records that will ease the exchange of patient information according to clinical trial protocols; molecular imaging and diagnostics to enable comparable monitoring of patients; a clinical trial infrastructure that will eventually allow one of the six centres to sponsor trials across the consortium; and the development of innovative next generation clinical trials.

    “This initiative brings together outstanding cancer centres across Europe in a visionary way,” said Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine. “Our understanding of cancer is increasing faster than ever before, and over the next decade or so I believe that this will lead to a revolution in how physicians treat patients. This network will lead that revolution.”

    Cancer Core Europe will be able to support the full spectrum of research required to address the continuum between cancer research and cancer care, as well as provide a unique environment to train the next generation of talents in innovative translational and clinical oncology.

    “There is little doubt that this partnership will bring new insights into, and opportunities to address, the critical issues we all face in caring for patients with cancer, and we are absolutely delighted, and incredibly excited to be part of it,” said Dr Keith McNeil, Chief Executive of Cambridge University Hospitals.

    Susan Galbraith, Head of Oncology at Astra Zeneca, added: “The development of Cancer Core Europe is exciting. The understanding of the science that drives cancer growth is leading to rapid and significant changes in how we need to approach the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of patients with cancer. If we are to be successful in bringing revolutionary new treatment regimens to patients quickly it will require this kind of collaboration across cancer centres. AZ Oncology looks forward to also collaborating with Cancer Core Europe to help deliver this revolutionary vision.”

    Launched today (26 September), Cancer Core Europe brings together six cancer centres – including the Cambridge Cancer Centre at the University of Cambridge –  to link cancer research through to cancer care.

    Our understanding of cancer is increasing faster than ever before, and over the next decade or so I believe that this will lead to a revolution in how physicians treat patients. This network will lead that revolution.
    Patrick Maxwell
    Breast cells grown in the laboratory for research on which cells in the breast form tumours
    Examples of the expertise that Cambridge brings to the Cancer Core Europe partnership

    • An established and growing early phase clinical trials team already collaborating on innovative national and international clinical trials. The POSEIDON trial , co-led by Cambridge in collaboration with the Netherlands Cancer Institute and the Vall d'Hebron Cancer Centre in Barcelona, is assessing the effectiveness of combining Tamoxifen and the Genentech inhibitor GDC0032 in patients with ER+ breast cancer. The BET inhibitor trial is a phase I/II open-label, dose escalation study to investigate the safety, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and clinical activity of a BET-family inhibitor (GSK525762) in patients with relapsed, refractory haematologic malignancies.

    • Pioneering development of the technology to analyse circulating tumour DNA. This technique has exciting potential application in the form of a ‘liquid biopsy’ from a simple blood sample that could be used in future for the early diagnosis of cancer and for monitoring how a tumour is responding to treatment.

    Novel magnetic resonance imaging methods, such as hyperpolarised C13 MRI, are being developed to detect how tumours are responding to treatment within hours rather than days, which will in future enable patients to be given the best personalised treatment for their cancer as soon as possible.

    • The Joint Clinical Information System (JCIS)  records key cancer data items and tracks treatment pathways for all patients with cancer at Addenbrooke’s Hospital  and the use of electronic health records such as EPIC, recently launched at Addenbrooke’s, will enhance the ability to treat and monitor patients. 

    • The MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge is one of the largest groups of biostatisticians in Europe and has established itself as an internationally acclaimed centre for research in biostatistics and a major centre for training and knowledge transfer. A particular area of expertise is the design and analysis of randomised trials, specifically to give them the flexibility to adapt as trial data emerges and to be used to plan the extent and scope of the next phase of research.

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    Professor Marc Weller, the Director of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge, has won the prestigious Halsbury Legal Award for his distinguished academic contribution to law.

    In their citation for the award, which is considered the ‘Oscar’ of the legal world, the panel of senior independent judges noted that the winner’s contribution to his field was ‘unrivalled—truly stellar’.

    Marc Weller is Professor of International Law and International Constitutional Studies in the Department of Politics and International Studies of the University. He joined the faculty of law in 1990 and has served as Director of the Lauterpacht Centre since 2010.

    He is the author, editor or co-editor of some 25 books on international law, most recently the Oxford University Press Handbook on the Use of Force in International Law.

    Professor Weller is an Associate at Doughty Street Chambers in London, a fully qualified Mediator and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. In his practice, he has acted as senior legal advisor in a long list of international peace negotiations, including Kosovo, Darfur, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria.

    Having served as Senior United Nations Mediation Expert and as Director of the European Centre for Minority Issues he now advises on the drafting of the new constitution for Yemen. He is frequently consulted by governments and other entities, and regularly comments on issues of international law in the media.

    Academic wins the "Oscar" of the legal world.

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    The K-J Zülch Prize of the Gertrud Reemtsma Foundation has been awarded to Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly of University of Cambridge  and Dr Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University, New York, “for Research into Metabolic Diseases”.

    Professor O’Rahilly is co-director of the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science and director of the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, University of Cambridge.

    The prize has been awarded for outstanding achievements in basic neurological research every year since 1990, is endowed with 50,000 Euro, and is awarded and shared by two scientists.

    Winners are selected by a jury is administered by the Max Planck Society who administer the Gertrud Reemtsma Foundation as a Trust.

    Image: Jeffrey M. Friedman (left) and Sir Stephen O’Rahilly (right). Credit: Friedman/ O'Rahilly.

    Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly awarded K-J Zülch Prize.

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    A new model developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge has shown that despite its apparent stability, the massive ice sheet covering most of Greenland is more sensitive to climate change than earlier estimates have suggested, which would accelerate the rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities worldwide.

    In addition to assessing the impact of the increasing levels of meltwater created and spilled into the ocean each year as the climate continues to warm, the new model also takes into account the role that the soft, spongy ground beneath the ice sheet plays in its changing dynamics. Details are published today (29 September) in the journal Nature Communications.

    The Greenland Ice Sheet, which is the second-largest ice sheet in the world, covers 1.7 million square kilometres - an area roughly eight times the size of the United Kingdom - and contains enough ice to raise sea levels by more than seven metres if it were to be lost altogether.

    Currently, due to surface melting alone, it is losing ice at a net annual rate of 200 gigatonnes, equating to 0.6 millimetres of sea level rise. A similarly large, but ultimately more uncertain source of sea level rise is tied to a net annual ice loss caused by increased movement of the ice sheet, which results in more ice being discharged into the ocean. Globally, sea levels are rising at three millimetres annually.

    Large ice sheets such as in Greenland are far from stationary. Different parts of the ice often move at different speeds, causing ice to shear, a phenomenon known as ice flow.

    Click images to enlarge

     

    “When these large ice sheets melt, whether that’s due to seasonal change or a warming climate, they don’t melt like an ice cube,” said Dr Marion Bougamont of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute, who led the research. “Instead, there are two sources of net ice loss: melting on the surface and increased flow of the ice itself, and there is a connection between these two mechanisms which we don’t fully understand and isn’t taken into account by standard ice sheet models.”

    Whereas other models of the Greenland Ice Sheet typically assume the ice slides over hard and impermeable bedrock - an assumption which is largely practical and based on lack of constraints - this study incorporates new evidence from ground-based surveys, which show soft and porous sediments at the bed of the ice sheet, more like the soft and muddy bottom of a lake than a sheet of solid rock. The new study specifically identifies the intake and temporal storage of water by weak sediment beneath the ice sheet as a crucial process in governing the ice flow.

    Using a three-dimensional ice sheet model, together with an observational record of surface melting produced by collaborators at Aberystwyth University, Dr Bougamont and Dr Poul Christoffersen were able to accurately reproduce how the ice sheet’s seasonal movement changes in response to the amount of surface meltwater being delivered to the ground below.

    Lakes which form on the surfaces of glaciers, known as supraglacial lakes, are often created during the melt season, and typically last from early June to late August. Co-author Professor Alun Hubbard of Aberystwyth University studied these lakes and found that many empty in just a matter of hours, when hydrofracturing opens up water-filled crevasses, resulting in huge amounts of water entering and flooding the subglacial environment. In warmer years, these high-discharge drainage events are expected to become even more frequent.

    “Not only is the ice sheet sensitive to a changing climate, but extreme meteorological events, such as heavy rainfall and heat waves, can also have a large effect on the rate of ice loss,” said Dr Christoffersen. “The soft sediment gets weaker as it tries to soak up more water, making it less resistant, so that the ice above moves faster. The Greenland Ice Sheet is not nearly as stable as we think.”

    While complete loss of all ice in Greenland is judged to be extremely unlikely during this century, the record extent of surface melting in the past decade clearly shows that the ice sheet is responding to Earth’s changing climate.

    In this study, the researchers used two different approaches. First, they used the total amount of surface runoff as a means to drive their model, but the outcome from this experiment was inconsistent with observations. They then used only water stored temporarily in supraglacial lakes on the ice sheet’s surface. They found that although only a small fraction of the total amount of meltwater produced on the surface is stored in supraglacial lakes, the high magnitude and frequency of lake drainage events causes the ice sheet to immediately accelerate as observed.

    Having accurately reproduced the hydrological response of ice flow along the western margin of the ice sheet, the authors were able to subsequently evaluate the sensitivity of flow to warmer climatic conditions, resulting in more meltwater on the surface. This showed stable annual flow under present-day conditions, but a more vulnerable ice sheet in warmer years when more meltwater reaches the bed via frequent high-discharge drainage events, not only because of the emptying of supraglacial lakes such as the ones currently observed, but also because daily variations in melt volume will become equally large. The study concludes that there is a limit on how much water can be stored in the soft ground beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet. This makes it sensitive to climate change as well as to increased frequency of short-lived, but extreme, meteorological events including rainfall and heat waves.

    The work was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

    A new study finds that the Greenland Ice Sheet, which covers 1.7 million square kilometres and contains enough ice to raise sea levels worldwide by seven metres, is less stable and more sensitive to climate change than previously thought.

    The Greenland Ice Sheet is not nearly as stable as we think
    Poul Christoffersen
    Scientist explores remains of supraglacial lake after it has drained

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    British Antarctic Survey

    The challenges our planet is faced with require innovative approaches. To increase the impact of publicly funded research, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has joined forces with the University of Cambridge to create an Innovation Centre that focuses on climate change and challenging environments.

    Located at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge, the Centre will be launched in 2015, but feasibility studies to kick-start interdisciplinary research projects are already under way.

    First results arising from these new collaborations will be presented at a workshop today (Monday 29 September).

    Twenty-seven diverse projects will be represented, including cold-adapted enzymes with potential applications in the biotech industries, remote sensing for conservation of seabirds and marine mammals, and measuring coastal vulnerability through sea-level rise. In addition to researchers from BAS and from 12 departments of the University of Cambridge, external partners from other research institutions and companies are also involved.

    BAS Director Professor Jane Francis said, “I am delighted that this workshop is taking place; it clearly demonstrates how much we have to gain from working together. This is just the beginning. The excellent laboratory and meeting facilities that the new Innovation Centre will offer from next year will help us to extend the range of fruitful partnerships with academia, business, policy makers and the third sector to create tangible benefits for society."

    Image Credit: British Antarctic Survey

    Projects to reveal first results in collaboration between the University and British Antarctic Survey.

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    School physics students and their teachers can now tackle an interactive library of problems designed to develop their physics and maths problem-solving skills, thanks to isaacphysics.org, the latest strand of  the Rutherford School Physics Partnership.

    An open online course, isaacphysics.org challenges participants to solve a series of physics and maths problems, each tailored to the individual’s skills and experience. Questions are supported by hints and tips from Cambridge physics staff and undergraduates. Isaac is a bespoke tool for teachers and their students as they transition from GCSE (Y11) through to Sixth Form (Y12 & 13) and on to university.

    Registered students will be able to record their performance, save their question gameboards, and develop a personal portfolio of completed boards tailored to their progress.

    Registered participants will be able to watch lectures from the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, to participate in group problem-solving sessions in a Google+ hangout and, as the site develops, collaborate in teams to solve problems together.

    The overall goal of the Rutherford School Physics Partnership is to show students what STEM at top universities is about and to make it more accessible to all, by supporting students as individual learners. Isaac introduces students to the different style of study they will need at university, engaging them in the intellectual challenge of university physics, maths and engineering.

    “We want Isaac Physics to be particularly useful for students in schools that struggle to deliver specialist maths and physics teaching,” explains Professor Mark Warner, Co-Director of the Rutherford School Physics Partnership.

    “Isaac Physics can be used as a stand-alone learning resource by students who want to improve their physics and maths skills, or by teachers looking to improve fluency and depth of understanding in their students.

    “As the site develops, teachers will be able to set questions from the website for a whole class, and Isaac will mark the work and provide feedback to teachers and students.”

    “Working in groups and analysing problems posed in words alone, through diagram sketching and the application of fundamental concepts, are skills that students need to develop in order to do well at university-level physics.  In addition, students also need to learn how to cope when they don’t get the answer right first, or even second, time.”

    said Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright, Co-Director of the Rutherford School Physics Project.

    “These questions will require thought, but are achievable, and students will gain in confidence and the questions will become easier with practice.  Students shouldn’t be put off if they need to use the hints to reach the answer.

    “Even as professional physics researchers, we can find ourselves struggling to solve a problem, and getting it wrong at first. The challenge, and the satisfaction, comes from persevering, working the problem out, and getting it right in the end.”

     

    New online resource will help schools and pupils build specialist maths and physics skills.

    We want Isaac Physics to be particularly useful for students in schools that struggle to deliver specialist maths and physics teaching.
    Professor Mark Warner, Co-Director of the Rutherford School Physics Partnership
    More information:
    • The site can be found at: https://isaacphysics.org/
    • Around 80,000 students take AS and A2 physics. Around 100,000 achieve A*-B in GCSE physics and have the potential to go on to AS physics.
    • isaacphysics.org, and the Rutherford Schools Physics Partnership, aims to smooth the transition between these stages and to encourage students to continue studying physics, maths and engineeringat more advanced levels, by developing student skills and confidence.
    • For students: Questions have associated concept sheets, graded hints and hint videos. There are challenge questions, and themed sets of questions. If students register, then their progress will be followed, levels and problems will be suggested to them, they will be contacted about events open to them and about new materials being made available.
    • For teachers: in the next phase of the project, registered teachers will be able to follow the progress of students in their school, suggest selected problem sets to them and have them marked by Isaac, with results returned automatically.

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    Capacityforconservation.org is a free online resource designed to act as a central hub where biodiversity conservation organisations can download tools, contribute their expertise, and learn from one another to strengthen their ability to address complex conservation challenges.

    Knowing the best way for an organisation to develop to become a sustainable and resilient entity, or even understanding the questions the organisation needs to ask of itself in order to start this development, can be a daunting challenge.

    The new resource recognises that conservation organisations often ask similar questions as to how they can best address the challenges they are tackling – whether it’s a local organisation on the Kenyan coast seeking to improve the sustainable management of marine and coastal resources or a grassroots non-government organisation trying to tackle the trade in threatened species in Vietnam.

    Capacityforconservation.org provides resources such as published reports, case studies and indicators that these types of organisations can use to help them answer their questions, as well as a global platform for organisations to share best practice with one another. Having a single source of information and a platform where organisations can share their experiences of undertaking their own development will be a significant benefit to these organisations, and, in turn, the conservation actions they are undertaking.

    Christina Garcia, Director of the Ya’axché Conservation Trust, Belize, and a user of capacityforconservation.org said: “Accessing different tools on the Capacity for Conservation website allowed Ya’axché to realise the experiences we have are shared among organisations around the world.”

    In addition to access to resources and examples of best practice, capacityforconservation.org also offers self-led organisational health checks for conservation organisations. The results of these health checks indicate areas where organisations could consider improving their capacity, along with recommendations for tools on the website that the organisation could use to do so. An organisation that needs to work on its financial management, for example, would be directed to over 25 resources, ranging from a guide to budgetary management to a document about risk analysis.

    Professor Nigel Leader-Williams, Director of Conservation Leadership at the Department of Geography, is a member of the consortium who developed capacityforconservation.org. “The site seeks to offer conservation organisations around the world the ability to self-check their capacity to meet the immense organisational challenges they face in saving biodiversity globally.

    “Based around an easy to navigate and attractive interface, capacityforconservation.org has the potential to make a real difference to the ability of conservation organisations to implement conservation actions on the ground. Developed by a group of partners in the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, the resource draws on the experience within CCI and its networks to offer a unique resource to conservation practitioners world-wide.”

    Capacityforconservation.org has been developed by the Capacity for Conservation Collaboration, a joint initiative between the Cambridge Conservation Initiative’s partners BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International, the Tropical Biology Association and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Geography, with funds from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative’s Collaborative Fund for Conservation.

    Capacityforconservation.org currently contains over 140 tools, resources and case studies gathered by leading conservation organisations. Resources are available in 18 languages, and work is under way to translate the site into Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

    A free online resource, launched today (1 October), will help conservation organisations share expertise and tools, aiding them in addressing some of the planet’s most challenging conservation issues.

    Capacityforconservation.org has the potential to make a real difference to the ability of conservation organisations to implement conservation actions on the ground
    Nigel Leader-Williams
    Bee

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    During embryo development, stem cells are a fleeting presence at the beginning of tissue and organ formation. If we could rewind the human developmental clock, to around 7-9-days after the egg is fertilised, we would witness a truly remarkable event, an extraordinary time when anything is possible. This is the true starting point for human development, when a group of cells develop that that can make any type of cell in the human body. These are the ‘ultimate’ stem cells.

    But stem cells are not just important for a moment in time. In adults, stem cells are constantly required to sustain and repair tissues throughout life – they are the ‘master builders’. Like their embryonic counterparts, these cells share the characteristic of immortality, but are more restricted in their ability to develop into other cells: an embryonic stem cell can make every type of cell in the body, while an adult blood stem cell can make ten different types of blood cell but no other cell type.

    Both types of stem cell present fundamental and fascinating questions for biologists. Stem cells fuel the turnover and repair of blood, intestine, skin and many other tissues. But under- or over-production of their output will lead to tissue damage and disease: how is this controlled so precisely? Stem cell properties can change with age and their control systems begin to break down – what causes this important system to alter and go awry?

    A deeper understanding of the remarkable biology of stem cells could in future allow the production of safe and more reproducible starting materials for a wide range of applications, including cell therapies.

    In certain disorders, stem cells grown in the laboratory could be used to supply new cells to renew damaged tissues and replace missing cells. In other conditions, stem cells in the body could be activated and their repair potential boosted by administering chemical or biological therapeutic agents.

    As we learn how stem cells are controlled it may become possible to correct faulty behaviour that underlies some diseases, including forms of cancer. Learning how to prevent a decline in the number and activity of stem cells may help to maintain health during ageing. In addition, human stem cells grown in the laboratory can be used to produce experimental models of diseased tissues and to test therapeutic drugs.

    Cambridge University has invested in recruiting high-quality investigators in mammalian stem cell research at both senior and junior levels. The Stem Cell Institute – a partnership between the University, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council – currently has 26 mainstream stem cell laboratories comprising more than 200 research staff and PhD students.

    Research scientists, technology specialists and medical doctors work side by side in the Stem Cell Institute to create an international centre of excellence in stem cell biology and medicine. Cross-disciplinary approaches are commonplace and Institute investigators collaborate widely with colleagues elsewhere in the University and in other research centres. Joint research with bioindustry is also a key opportunity. Importantly, the Institute is also committed to rigorous high level training for PhD students to provide the next generation of stem cell scientists.

    Our aim now is to expand to more than 30 groups in the next 5 years, an expansion made possible due to the future construction of a dedicated new building, scheduled to open in 2018 on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. The combination of intellectual environment and excellent specialist research facilities will keep attracting leading scientists from around the world. Stem cells will continue to be one of Cambridge’s real success stories.

    Professor Austin Smith is Director, and Professor Robin Franklin is Head of Translational Science, at the Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.

    Today, we commence a month-long focus on research on stem cells. To begin, Professors Austin Smith and Robin Franklin discuss how Cambridge scientists are helping to provide a stream of new knowledge about how our bodies are made and maintained, and how stem cells can fulfil the promise of being one of medical research’s great hopes.

    Stem cells are not just important for a moment in time
    Austin Smith and Robin Franklin
    Brain cells obtained in tissue culture from human embryonic stem cells

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  • 10/01/14--23:08: Responsibility
  • The start of the University’s new academic year was marked yesterday morning by a Congregation in the Senate House for the annual election and admission of the Proctors.

    It was preceded by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, giving his annual address to the University which this year focused on the responsibility to contribute to society which is borne out of the freedom granted to the University to determine its development.

    For the full text of the speech click here.

    For an abridged filmed message from the Vice-Chancellor click here.

    The Vice-Chancellor addresses the University at the start of the new academic year

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    On this year’s National Poetry Day (2 October), themed ‘Remember!’, the University of Cambridge will launch the first nationwide survey to find the UK’s most memorised poems. The survey is part of a research project investigating how our relationship to poetry changes when it’s committed to memory.

    The Poetry and Memory Project, supported by former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, aims to investigate how memorisation and recitation affect our understanding and appreciation of poetry – how, for example, poems might act as an emotional resource, develop an ear for language, and play a role in memories of a personal or communal past.

    The researchers are asking the public to contribute to their research through a national online survey (with a print-and-post option available). Participants are asked what poem they know by heart, and what it means for them. To take part, visit: www.poetryandmemory.com.

    The site contains audio clips of poetic reflections, such as a poet remembering his mother reciting John Masefield and a comedian finding a life manual in T S Eliot.

    Poetry memorisation, once a staple of British education, declined dramatically over the last century, and was controversially reinstated on the English primary curriculum by Michael Gove – the then Secretary of State for Education – in 2012. But researchers from the University’s Faculty of Education say that how these changes have affected our relationship with poetry remains largely unexamined.

    “Whilst there is evidence of reviving interest in memorising and reciting poems, both within and outside education, there is practically no research on the particular value of these embodied experiences of poetry. And whilst many – notably poets themselves – argue that poems communicate much of their meaning through sound, classroom activities tend to focus on the poem on the page, and on poetry as a textual construct, particularly once you get to GCSE stage. It’s like studying music by only reading the score,” said project researcher Dr Debbie Pullinger.

    “In an age where we can summon thousands of poems onto a smartphone in seconds, the idea of keeping a sonnet in our head may appear rather pointless. So this research also feeds into a wider debate about locations of knowledge, the short-circuiting of learning and the ‘out-sourcing’ of human memory to digital devices.”

    Sir Andrew Motion said: “This project is fascinating and important. And it reveals a web of truths that we too often fail to notice: that our pleasure in poetry is as natural as breathing, that it forms a part of our foundation as individuals, that the poems we commit to memory stay with us for ever, and grow as we grow.”

    Pullinger says that the researchers are not looking for ‘GCSE English answers’ or an analysis of what the poem is ‘supposed to be about’:

    “We want to know what significance this particular poem holds for you. This might be something to do with the meaning, but it could also be to do with the sound. It may be that there’s one line which is particularly special. It may be that you associate the poem with a particular occasion or period of your life. Or it could have no significance for you at all – and we want to know about that, too.

    “We really want to hear from anyone at all who has a poem in their head.”

    The team hope to reveal the UK’s by-heart ‘top ten’, and will be combining survey data with other research approaches as part of the wider investigation – including an analysis of the past 100 years of educational literature, in-depth participant interviews, and studies in schools adopting these practices.

    The researchers believe their findings may have particular relevance at a time when teaching of poetry is seen as problematic. A number of reports towards the end of the 2000s, such as the Ofsted report Poetry in Schools, found that poetry was the worst taught of all literary forms, with many teachers having difficulty teaching it and feeling deeply unconfident.

    A similar picture emerged from a small-scale Cambridgeshire study, conducted in 2012 in primary and secondary schools by the same project team, which indicated that – although a few classes benefitted from inspirational teachers – the overall poetry picture was extremely patchy.

    So if knowing and speaking are found to be vital modes for understanding and appreciating poetry, a reassessment of their place within poetry teaching may be part of the answer.

    That, the researchers say, is why research in this area is so important – because at the moment, opinion is divided.

    “For some people, there is nostalgia for a shared poetic repertoire within public memory, but for others, negative associations with rote learning and the stress of enforced performance is very strong,” said Pullinger.

    “Had we been doing this research a hundred or even fifty years ago, the results would have been more predictable. Up until 1944, children memorised ‘staple poems’. But in the second half of the century, poetry learning became deeply unfashionable within education – the baby thrown out with the rote-learning bathwater.

    “And yet, many people do still know a poem or two, for all sorts of reasons. So that’s what we’d like to know: what are the poems that live in people’s memories, at this moment, in October 2014? What poem or poems beat most strongly at the heart of the nation?”

     

     

     

    By aiming to discover the UK’s most memorised poems, a new research project – backed by a former Poet Laureate – will explore the poems that live in our collective memory, and the value of keeping poetry in our heads and hearts instead of just the page and screen. Is there a poem inside your head?

    This research feeds into a wider debate about locations of knowledge, the short-circuiting of learning and the ‘out-sourcing’ of human memory to digital devices
    Debbie Pullinger
    Thought
    Is there a poem inside your head? Get involved:

    • For more details and to do the survey, visit: www.poetryandmemory.com
    • Hear people reflecting on poems they know by heart for the project on Soundcloud
    • Follow the project on Twitter and Facebook, and help spread the word

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    The effectiveness of salt marshes – wetlands which are flooded and drained by tides – in protecting coastal areas in times of severe weather has been quantified in a study by researchers from the University of Cambridge.

    In the largest laboratory experiment ever constructed to investigate this phenomenon, the researchers have shown that over a distance of 40 metres, the salt marsh reduced the height of large waves in deep water by 18%, making them an effective tool for reducing the risk of coastal erosion and flooding. Sixty percent of this reduction is due to the presence of marsh plants alone. The results are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

    One of the most noticeable effects of climate change is the increasing frequency and severity of storms, such as the series of storms which battered parts of south west England last winter. As the climate continues to warm and sea levels continue to rise, the effects of these storms could be devastating, putting these and other coastal communities worldwide at risk.

    While the important role of salt marshes in protecting against coastal erosion is well-known, their effectiveness in mitigating the effects of extreme weather, when water levels are at their maximum and waves are at their highest, had not been understood or definitively quantified.

    Recreating a salt marsh in a large wave tank and subjecting it to realistic storm conditions, the researchers found that it significantly ‘buffered’ the effects of the waves. Similar to wind blowing through a forest, the plants reduce the energy of the water as it flows through and around them. Even when the waves flattened and broke the marsh’s vegetation, the soil surface beneath remained stable and resistant to surface erosion.

    Salt marshes are found throughout the world, particularly at middle to high latitudes. In addition to their role in protecting against coastal erosion and reducing flooding, they also act as nurseries and refuges for many species of marine animals, and protect water quality by filtering runoff.

    Given increased rates of global sea level rise, there are concerns about losing salt marsh on many coasts, particularly where there is insufficient sediment and space to allow marshes to build upwards and landwards.

    “While we have long known that salt marshes and other natural defences such as sand dunes or mudflats can help protect our coastlines, a lack of data on their effectiveness in extreme conditions has meant that they often are not included in flood risk assessments,” said Dr Iris Möller of Cambridge’s Department of Geography (Cambridge Coastal Research Unit), who led the research. “But we’ve shown that even in extreme conditions, salt marshes are a vital defence for our coastlines and protect against more frequent storms.”

    The researchers used large sections of salt marsh, cut from a natural marsh in northwestern Germany. The team then rebuilt the marsh in one of the world’s largest wave tanks, located in Hannover, and subjected it to water depths and types of waves that are typical in storm surge conditions. Even after the waves flattened the plants, the marsh was still an effective barrier against erosion, demonstrating the importance of natural flood defences alongside manufactured defences such as flood walls.

    The flooding which hit south west England last winter was the worst in nearly 20 years. A series of 12 major storms between December and February caused huge waves, strong winds and hide tides to pummel large parts of Cornwall, Devon and the southwest, causing millions of pounds worth of damage. Many homes and businesses were flooded multiple times, and major flooding in the Somerset Levels forced many families to evacuate their homes and many farmers to evacuate their livestock.

    As part of the government’s attempts to mitigate the effects of future storms, salt marshes have been re-created in several locations around the UK coast: a large new salt marsh on the Somerset’s Steart peninsula was recently completed, and several more are planned for locations throughout the UK.

    The research was supported by the European Community’s 7th Framework Programme and a grant from The Isaac Newton Trust, Trinity College, Cambridge.

    The researchers are blogging about their work at thesaltmarshexperiment.wordpress.com

    Study finds that natural flood defences such as salt marshes can reduce the height of damaging waves in storm surge conditions by close to 20%.

    Even in extreme conditions, salt marshes are a vital defence for our coastlines
    Iris Möller
    Storm on a rising tide, Orplands, Essex

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    Cambridge Online German for Schools (COGS) is part of the Cambridge German Network - a platform for all interested in promoting German culture and language in the region, pooling resources provided by various cultural institutions.

    An interactive website provides easy access to high-quality downloadable teaching and learning materials.

    It also gives networking opportunities for teachers of German at all levels, and advice and suggestions for interesting extension projects on German themes at A level, allowing students to benefit from the resources being made available as well.

    Speaking at a launch event yesterday (October 1) Professor David Midgley of the Department of German and Dutch said: "The Department, which has over 25 years' experience of teaching German from scratch as part of the degree course in Modern Languages at Cambridge, provides the guarantee for the excellent quality of the materials."

    The teaching and learning materials posted on the site have been provided by experienced language teachers working in conjunction with members of the Department.

    A launch event was held at Cripps Court of Magdalene College with contributions from the German Embassy, Routes into Languages East, UK-German Connection, the British Museum, the German Academic Exchange Service and the Goethe Institut.

    The online platform has been developed with the help of a grant from the German government, and as the Cambridge contribution to the "Think German" campaign in the UK, which is promoted by the German Embassy and supported by University German Departments in the UK.

    To view the website go to: www.cogs.mml.cam.ac.uk.

    A major new facility to support the teaching and learning of German in UK schools has been launched by the Department of German and Dutch at the University of Cambridge.

    German Flag, Berlin

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    Now, researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified the two regions of the brain involved in these two tasks – picking out objects from background noise and identifying the specific objects – and have shown why training people to recognise specific objects improves their ability to pick out objects.

    In a study funded by the Wellcome Trust, volunteers were given a series of 3D stereoscopic images with varying levels of background noise and asked first to find a target object and then to say whether the object was in the foreground or the background. During the task, researchers applied transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – a technique whereby a magnetic field is applied to the head – to disrupt the performance of two regions of the brain used in object identification: the parietal cortex and the ventral cortex. Their results are published in the journal Current Biology.

    The researchers showed that the parietal cortex was involved in selecting potential targets from background noise, while the ventral cortex was involved in object recognition. When TMS was applied to the parietal cortex, volunteers performed less well at selecting objects from the background; when the field was applied to the ventral cortex, they performed less well at identifying the specific objects.

    However, the researchers found that after the volunteers had undergone training to discriminate between specific objects, the ventral cortex – which, until then, had only been used for this purpose – also became involved in selecting targets from noise, enhancing their ability to distinguish between objects. The reverse was not true – in other words, the parietal cortex did not become involved in object discrimination.

    Dr Welchman, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology, explains: “The parietal cortex and the ventral cortex appear to be involved in the overlapping tasks to a different extent. By analogy to the World War II analysts, the parietal cortex helped them spot suspect objects while the ventral cortex helped them distinguish the weapons from the pylons. But training these operatives to identify the weapons will have improved their ability to spot potential weapons in the first place.”

    The research may have implications for therapies to help people with attentional difficulties. For example, people with damage to the parietal cortex, such as through stroke, are known to have difficulty in finding objects in displays, particularly when the display is distracting.

    “These results show that training in clear displays modifies the brain areas that underlie performance in distracting situations. This suggests a route for rehabilitative training that helps individuals avoid distracting information by training individuals to make fine judgements,” he adds.

    During the Second World War, analysts pored over stereoscopic aerial reconnaissance photographs, becoming experts at identifying potential targets from camouflaged or visually noisy backgrounds, and then at distinguishing between V-weapons and innocuous electricity pylons.

    Training World War II operatives to identify weapons will have improved their ability to spot potential weapons in the first place
    Andrew Welchman
    Examining WWII aerial reconnaissance photos

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