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    Way Out sign on London Underground

    Between 2009 and 2011, the BBC collected data from almost 590,000 people as part of its Big Personality Test. An international team of researchers has analysed data from the subset of 56,000 Londoners to examine how associations between personality and life satisfaction differed across the 216 postal districts of Greater London. The results are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “It’s very common for people to talk about where is the best place to live, but most research has tended to look at factors such as income and low crime rates, and only on a very broad geographical scale, failing to consider individual differences in personality,” says Dr Markus Jokela from the University of Helsinki, Finland. “As a result, studies imply that all people would be equally happy in the same places. It’s a one-size-fits-all conclusion that, as we show, is misleading because one’s level of happiness is dependent on whether their environment is suited to their personality.”

    The researchers found geographical differences and clustering in levels of life satisfaction and certain personality traits. For example, people clustered around central and urban areas were the most open – and, to a lesser degree, the most extroverted – with levels decreasing when moving to outer regions. Areas of greater average openness also showed a mixture of neighbourhood characteristics, including higher population density and higher housing prices, higher ethnic and religious diversity, and higher crime rate. The findings support previous research showing that openness is associated with broad interests and tolerance for alternative lifestyles and ideas, and that these dispositions are often thought to characterize residents of densely populated urban areas.


    Click on the images to expand

    The least agreeable areas were found in western central London, an area that has the highest crime rate, busiest pedestrian traffic, and some of the highest housing prices in the capital. The researchers believe this could be interpreted to support the popular notion that residents of big cities tend to be less considerate towards other people.

    The researchers found higher levels of life satisfaction in the most affluent regions of London and pockets of low life satisfaction in northwest, northeast, and south London. As with previous studies, the researchers found that people who were most emotionally stable and/or extroverted tended to have the greatest life satisfaction – and this was not affected by the area in which they lived.

    Importantly, the researchers also showed that the strength of associations between personality traits and life satisfaction were dependent on neighbourhood characteristics. For example, in postal districts with higher extraversion, lower agreeableness and lower conscientiousness, people tended to show greater life satisfaction if they were more open to new experiences.

    In areas that reported lower levels of life satisfaction, the most agreeable and conscientious tended to fare best – to be the most satisfied – suggesting that these personality traits are more important determinants of life satisfaction for individuals living in less favourable environmental circumstances.

    Overall, the analysis of personality–neighbourhood interactions showed that openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness were differently associated with life satisfaction of individuals depending on their residential location and specific characteristics of those locations. This suggests that finding the best place to live will depend on the match between individual dispositions and neighbourhood characteristics.

    “Together, these findings not only add to our understanding of the ways in which features of our personalities relate to our physical environments, but they also provide potentially useful information for choosing a place to live,” says Dr Jason Rentfrow from the Department of Psychology and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College at the University of Cambridge. “Granted, most people don’t have the luxury of complete control over where they live, but given their budgets, people can decide whether it’s more important to live in the centre of town, where daily life is vibrant and accommodation is small, or further out where daily life is slower but space is more plentiful. Making the decision that fits with your personality could have an effect on your overall life satisfaction.”

    This study was funded by the Kone Foundation and the Academy of Finland.

    “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” observed the writer Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century. In fact, research published today suggests such a man may be merely living in the wrong postcode. A study of 56,000 Londoners found that a person’s life satisfaction depends, at least in part, on whether their personality suits the place where they live.

    Making the decision [on where to live] that fits with your personality could have an effect on your overall life satisfaction
    Jason Rentfrow
    Way Out (cropped)

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    A new study, published today in the journal PNAS, compares the ability of computers and people to make accurate judgments about our personalities. People's judgments were based on their familiarity with the judged individual, while computer models used a specific digital signal: Facebook Likes.

    The results show that by mining Facebook Likes, the computer model was able to predict a person's personality more accurately than most of their friends and family. Given enough Likes to analyse, only a person's spouse rivalled the computer for accuracy of broad psychological traits.

    Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University describe the finding as an "emphatic demonstration" of the capacity of computers to discover an individual's psychological traits through pure data analysis, showing machines can know us better than we'd previously thought: an "important milestone" on the path towards more social human-computer interactions.

    "In the future, computers could be able to infer our psychological traits and react accordingly, leading to the emergence of emotionally-intelligent and socially skilled machines," said lead author Wu Youyou, from Cambridge's Psychometrics Centre.

    "In this context, the human-computer interactions depicted in science fiction films such as Her seem to be within our reach."

    The researchers say these results might raise concerns over privacy as such technology develops; the research team support policies giving users full control of their digital footprint.

    In the study, a computer could more accurately predict the subject's personality than a work colleague by analysing just ten Likes; more than a friend or a cohabitant (roommate) with 70, a family member (parent, sibling) with 150, and a spouse with 300 Likes.

    Given that an average Facebook user has about 227 Likes (and this number is growing steadily), the researchers say that this kind of AI has the potential to know us better than our closest companions.

    The latest results build on previous work from the University of Cambridge, published in March 2013, which showed that a variety of psychological and demographic characteristics could be predicted with startling accuracy through Facebook Likes.

    In the new study, researchers used a sample of 86,220 volunteers on Facebook who completed a 100-item personality questionnaire through the 'myPersonality' app, as well as providing access to their Likes.

    These results provided self-reported personality scores for what are known in psychological practice as the 'big five' traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism—the OCEAN model. Through this, researchers could establish which Likes equated with higher levels of particular traits e.g. liking 'Salvador Dali' or 'meditation' showed a high degree of openness.

    Users of the 'myPersonality' app were then given the option of inviting friends and family to judge the psychological traits of the user through a shorter version of the personality test. These were the human judges in the study—those listed on Facebook as friends or family expressing their judgement of a subject's personality using a 10-item questionnaire

    Researchers were able to get a sample of 17,622 participants judged by one friend or family member, and a sample of 14,410 judged by two.

    To gauge the accuracy of these measurements, the online personality judgements were corroborated with a meta-analysis of previous psychological studies over decades which looked at how people's colleagues, family and so on judge their personality. Researchers found their online values similar to the averages from years of person-to-person research.

    In this way, the researchers were able to come up with accuracy comparisons between computer algorithms and the personality judgements made by humans. Given enough Likes, the computers came closer to a person's self-reported personality than their brothers, mothers or partners.

    Dr Michal Kosinski, co-author and researcher at Stanford, says machines have a couple of key advantages that make these results possible: the ability to retain and access vast quantities of information, and the ability to analyse it with algorithms the techniques of 'Big Data'.

    "Big Data and machine-learning provide accuracy that the human mind has a hard time achieving, as humans tend to give too much weight to one or two examples, or lapse into non-rational ways of thinking," he said. Nevertheless, the authors concede that detection of some traits might be best left to human abilities, those without digital footprints or dependant on subtle cognition.

    The authors of the study write that automated, accurate, and cheap personality assessments could improve societal and personal decision-making in many ways—from recruitment to romance.

    "The ability to judge personality is an essential component of social living—from day-to-day decisions to long-term plans such as whom to marry, trust, hire, or elect as president," said Cambridge co-author Dr David Stillwell. "The results of such data analysis can be very useful in aiding people when making decisions."

    Youyou explains: "Recruiters could better match candidates with jobs based on their personality; products and services could adjust their behaviour to best match their users' characters and changing moods.

    "People may choose to augment their own intuitions and judgments with this kind of data analysis when making important life decisions such as choosing activities, career paths, or even romantic partners. Such data-driven decisions may well improve people's lives," she said.

    The researchers say that this kind of data mining and its inferences has hallmarks of techniques currently used by some digital service providers, and that—for many people—a future in which machines read our habits as an open book on a massive scale may seem dystopian to those concerned with privacy.

    It's a concern shared by the researchers. "We hope that consumers, technology developers, and policy-makers will tackle those challenges by supporting privacy-protecting laws and technologies, and giving the users full control over their digital footprints," said Kosinski.

    Take the Facebook personality test yourself here: http://applymagicsauce.com/

    Researchers have found that, based on enough Facebook Likes, computers can judge your personality traits better than your friends, family and even your partner. Using a new algorithm, researchers have calculated the average number of Likes artificial intelligence (AI) needs to draw personality inferences about you as accurately as your partner or parents.

    People may choose to augment their own intuitions and judgments with this kind of data analysis when making important life decisions
    Wu Youyou
    Facebook's Infection

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    There once was a king afflicted by a terrible sadness. His name was Shahriyar. “He had a hundred concubines, but none had given him a son. He had sent agents to buy him slave girls but whether he stayed with them a day, a night or a year, not one of them would conceive. The wide world shrank in his eyes as, whatever greatness he had achieved, he had no son.”

    So begins the English version of Julnar of the Sea and the Marvels of the Sea Encountered by Her, the sixth of 18 stories contained in a collection of Arab medieval fantasy called Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange. Translated into English for the first time, and newly available to millions of readers, the tales open a window on to the enduring preoccupations and wild imaginings of the medieval mind.

    Translation is an art, a question of stepping lightly between accuracy and context, tuned to the slightest nuances of meaning and association. When Malcolm Lyons, former Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Pembroke College, embarked on the task of bringing these age-old stories to life for the modern reader, he had behind him some six decades of scholarship as an academic deeply interested in the interconnections between civilisations and cultures.

    The process of taking an Arabic text and transforming it into accessible English did not daunt Lyons. In his retirement from teaching at the Faculty of Classics and later at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, he has continued working. With his wife Ursula Lyons (Emeritus Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College), he produced a translation of The Thousand and One Nights (published by Penguin Classics in 2008). He is currently working on translations of early Arab tribal epics.

    The process of translating Tales of the Marvellous took Lyons 18 months of intensive work at his desk at home in a thatched cottage just outside Cambridge. How difficult was it? “As a student, you’re taught to translate each word with precision. But if you set about translating a story word by word, the resulting text would be dull or demented, or both. As I’ve got older, I’ve become more flexible. The purpose of stories is to speak to the reader so you need to bring them alive while remaining faithful to the spirit of the story,” says Lyons.

    The backstory of Tales of the Marvellous is suitably exotic: there is just one copy in the original Arabic, a fabulously precious but battered volume of some 600 handwritten pages held by the mosque of Aya Sofya in Istanbul. The book was discovered in 1933 on the shelves of the mosque’s library by Hellmut Ritter, a German Arabist. Ritter brought its existence to the attention of the academic world but he never translated the stories contained within its fragile and worm-eaten pages.

    Scholars following the clues contained in the text believe that Tales of the Marvellous were compiled in the 10th century. Many of the stories in the collection have yet earlier origins. The manuscript itself, imperfectly transcribed in 'vulgar style' in Egypt or Syria, is likely to date from the 14th century or later.  When the book was discovered 80 years ago, it was incomplete: it has no cover and its contents page suggests that there were originally many more stories.

    Tales of the Marvellous is thought to be the work of Muslim authors. But its ebb and flow of stories – and stories within stories – mix themes found in Islam, Christianity and paganism. With no boundaries between fact and fiction, reality is suspended. A virgin sleeps with a prince but, when he encounters her again, she is still a virgin; crocodiles have pearls in their ears; bronze statues move and speak. Many of the themes known to storytellers and modern film-makers are found in these pages: love unrequited, the jealousy of siblings, the search for novelty and lust for luxury, the blindness that comes with greed, whether for sex or power.

    These are tales brimming with superlatives - jewels, camels and slaves are measured in hundreds and thousands. Yet just when the reader is dizzy with excess the narrative skids to a halt with words of wisdom that travel down the centuries. In Julnar and the Sea, Shahriyar gets the son he has longed for and realises that he will have to cede this throne. He quotes from the poet: “When something is completed, its decline begins;/Say “it is finished” and it starts to fade.” Life is fragile, nothing is permanent.

    The cast of players who feature in Tales of the Marvellous takes in the full gamut of the medieval world, both real and imagined – from kings to slaves, from mermaids to shape-shifting jinn. Craftsmen make frequent appearances: among them tailors, cooks, barbers and greengrocers. Stereotypes abound (women are duplicitous; strangers are ugly and wicked; black men are as big as buffalos) and the text is liberally splattered with blood and gore (heads are lopped off, women are raped).

    Many of these characters would have been familiar to early audiences and some of the same stories (including Julnar and the Sea) feature in The Thousand and One Nights, a later and much better known compilation. But there are some surprises too. “My favourite among novel characters is the devil in The Story of Shul and Shumul who, uniquely for the devil as far as I know, offers to do a good deed and restore a kidnapped bride back to her prospective husband. The would-be astrologer, helped at one point by a little bird and a locust, in The Story of Abu Disa is also unknown elsewhere,” says Lyons.

    Quests are tried-and-tested narratives that bring with them ample possibility for transformations, strange encounters, extraordinary happenings, and travel to exotic islands and beyond. Lyons says: “The notion of transformation was a familiar one – as shown in stories told by the writers Ovid and Apuleius. The sea is a key to wonderment: you can’t see what might be on the other side of it and you can’t take your camels there to find out. So the imagination can run wild.”

    The narrative of Julnar and the Sea unfolds in a roller-coaster of twists and turns. Shahriyar gets his girl and Julnar, a sea princess of stunning beauty, gives him a splendid son named Badr.  When Badr grows up, he too needs a bride. Who is good enough for an invincible rider and dangerous fighter, a man destined to succeed as leader?  The quest for a bride takes Badr over land and sea, a tumultuous journey in which he is turned into a red-legged stork and a scheming queen becomes a mule. The happy-ever-after ending comes when Badr weds Jauhara, daughter of the supreme king of the sea, after which “they all lived the best, most pleasant, comfortable and untroubled of lives”.

    Tales of the Marvellous benefits from an excellent introduction by Robert Irwin, the historian who quietly persuaded Lyons to undertake the translation. In his references to the craft of story-making, Irvin skips nimbly from other Arab stories to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and a cartoon series in the New York Evening Post called Ripley Believe It or Not. Discussing classic tricks of the story teller’s trade, he alludes to Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in which Peter’s mother says: “You may go into the field or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr McGregor’s garden.” The reader wants, and doesn’t want, Peter to disobey his mother.

    What should we make of Tales of the Marvellous, now that six centuries have passed since a scribe sat down with a sharpened quill and ink pot to copy them out on to sheets of parchment? Irwin concludes that the collection is not simply one of folklore; the stories do not read as if they come solely from an oral tradition.  He argues that Tales of the Marvellous should be regarded as an early example of literature – perhaps the very first case of pulp fiction.

    Does the translator agree with this description? “I have to admit that I’m not an expert on pulp fiction as I haven’t read any. As a boy I was brought up on stories of fairy mounds and water horses in the Scottish Highlands as well as the Grey Man who follows climbers on the slopes of Ben Macdhui in the Cairngorms,” says Lyons. “It’s certainly true that Tales of the Marvellous wouldn’t get any prizes for literature but nor were they designed to. They are entertainment for audiences of all ages and transport us to places where anything can happen.”

    Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange (translated by Malcolm Lyons) is published by Penguin Classics.

    Inset images: detail from the Alhambra (cropped) by Frederik Hilmer Svanholm; Istanbul, Aya Sofya (cropped) by Arian Sweggers (both via Flickr Creative Commons); two images from 16th century Persian manuscript, 'The marvels of creation and the oddities of existence' (Cambridge University Library).


     

     

     

     

     

    Crocodiles have pearls in their ears; statues move and speak. The first English translation of a collection of Arab fantasy stories opens a window on to the imaginings of the medieval mind. Professor Malcolm Lyons has brought alive for the modern reader the gripping yarns in Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange. 

    The purpose of stories is to speak to the reader so you need to bring them alive while remaining faithful to the spirit of the story.
    Malcolm Lyons
    Detail from 16th century Persian manuscript, 'The marvels of creation and the oddities of existence'

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    Elderly couple walking.

    Physical inactivity has been consistently associated with an increased risk of early death, as well as being associated with a greater risk of diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Although it may also contribute to an increased body mass index (BMI) and obesity, the association with early death is independent of an individual’s BMI.

    To measure the link between physical inactivity and premature death, and its interaction with obesity, researchers analysed data from 334,161 men and women across Europe participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study. Between 1992 and 2000, the researchers measured height, weight and waist circumference, and used self-assessment to measure levels of physical activity. The participants were then followed up over 12 years, during which 21,438 participants died. The results are published today in the American Journal of Clinical Exercise.

    The researchers found that the greatest reduction in risk of premature death occurred in the comparison between inactive and moderately inactive groups, judged by combining activity at work with recreational activity; just under a quarter (22.7%) of participants were categorised as inactive, reporting no recreational activity in combination with a sedentary occupation. The authors estimate that doing exercise equivalent to just a 20 minute brisk walk each day – burning between 90 and 110 kcal (‘calories’) – would take an individual from the inactive to moderately inactive group and reduce their risk of premature death by between 16-30%. The impact was greatest amongst normal weight individuals, but even those with higher BMI saw a benefit.

    Using the most recent available data on deaths in Europe the researchers estimate that 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths amongst European men and women were attributable to obesity (classed as a BMI greater than 30): however, double this number of deaths (676,000) could be attributed to physical inactivity.

    Professor Ulf Ekelund from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study, says: “This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive. Although we found that just 20 minutes would make a difference, we should really be looking to do more than this – physical activity has many proven health benefits and should be an important part of our daily life.”

    Professor Nick Wareham, Director of the MRC Unit, adds: “Helping people to lose weight can be a real challenge, and whilst we should continue to aim at reducing population levels of obesity, public health interventions that encourage people to make small but achievable changes in physical activity can have significant health benefits and may be easier to achieve and maintain.”

    Reference
    Ekelund, U et al. Activity and all-cause mortality across levels of overall and abdominal adiposity in European men and women: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study (EPIC). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 14 Jan 2015

    A brisk 20 minute walk each day could be enough to reduce an individual’s risk of early death, according to new research published today. The study of over 334,000 European men and women found that twice as many deaths may be attributable to lack of physical activity compared with the number of deaths attributable to obesity, but that just a modest increase in physical activity could have significant health benefits.

    This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive
    Ulf Ekelund
    Quiet Couple on the 18th. Homepage image: Walk Alone... by Thomas Leuthard

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    Housing in Kenema, Sierra Leone

    Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus. First identified in the village of Lassa, Nigeria, in 1969, the disease is thought to be transmitted to humans from contact with food or household items contaminated with rat urine or faeces. There have also been recorded cases of human-to-human transmission within hospital settings, but until now the risk – or mode – of transmission has not been clear. Understanding the different modes of transmission and how they are affected by factors such as people’s interaction with their environment is crucial for understanding the link between Lassa and changes in the ecosystem, and has important implications for public health strategies.

    “Given the many competing health priorities in West Africa – exacerbated by the current Ebola epidemic – it is essential that we know the relative risk of human-to-human transmission of other potentially deadly diseases, such as Lassa fever,” says first author Dr Gianni Lo Iacono from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge. “That way, public health officials can decide where to focus their public health campaigns and how to prevent or respond to potential outbreaks.”

    The researchers, part of the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, used mathematical modelling to analyse data from outbreaks known to be due to human-to-human chains of transmission, and calculated the ‘effective reproductive number’. This number represents the number of secondary infections from a typical infected individual – for an outbreak to take hold, this number needs to be greater than one.  They compared data from hundreds of Lassa infected patients from Kenema Government Hospital, in Sierra Leone, who could have been infected either by rodents or humans, with the data from human-to-human chains. By considering the effective reproductive numbers, they inferred the proportion of patients infected by humans rather than rodents.

    The researchers estimated that around one in five cases (20%) of infection is caused by human-to-human transmission. However, the study also highlighted the disproportionate number of infections that could be traced back to a small number of people, whom the researchers describe as ‘super-spreaders’ – rather than passing their infection on to just one other person (if at all), these individuals infected multiple others. It is not clear what makes them a super-spreader – their physiology, the environment in which they live, their social interactions or probably a combination of these factors.

    Dr Donald Grant, chief physician at the Lassa ward in Kenema Government Hospital and co-author of the research, said: "Simple messages to the local people could change their perceptions of risk and hopefully make the difference. For example, making people aware that the virus can remain in urine for several weeks during the recovery period, could promote improved hygienic practices.

    “What’s more, measures to target human-to-human spread of Lassa virus can be bundled in with prevention interventions for diseases with similar transmission routes, such as Ebola and even Hepatitis B.”

    Professor James Wood, Head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and senior author on the study, says: “The idea of super-spreaders in infectious diseases is not new. We’ve known about them since the notorious case of ‘Typhoid Mary’ in the early twentieth century and they’ve been documented for other diseases including TB, measles and SARS.

    “Although we don’t understand what makes someone a ‘super-spreader’, it highlights the importance of strict hygiene measures in preventing infection. In the case of Lassa fever, we now know that whilst the chance of transmission between humans is much lower than it is from rodents, it is still a very real risk.”

    Further progress has been hampered by the Ebola outbreak, which has resulted in the death of key collaborators in Kenema Government Hospital, which was used to nurse Ebola patients, in particular Dr Sheik Humarr Khan, who played such a key role in establishing and furthering the Lassa fever research programme.

    The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, a multidisciplinary research project considering the linkages between zoonoses, ecosystems, health and wellbeing, is supported the UK Government through the Ecosystem for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) research programme.

    Reference
    G. Lo Iacono, A. A. Cunningham, E. Fichet-Calvet, R. F. Garry, D. S. Grant, S. H. Khan, M. Leach, L. M. Moses, J. S. Schieffelin, J. G. Shaffer, C. T. Webb, J. L. N. Wood. Using modelling to disentangle the relative contributions of zoonotic and anthroponotic transmission: the case of Lassa fever. PLOS NTD; January 2015.

     

    One in five cases of Lassa fever – a disease that kills around 5,000 people a year in West Africa – could be due to human-to-human transmission, with a large proportion of these cases caused by ‘super-spreaders’, according to research published today in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

    Given the many competing health priorities in West Africa – exacerbated by the current Ebola epidemic – it is essential that we know the relative risk of human-to-human transmission of other potentially deadly diseases, such as Lassa fever.
    Dr Gianni Lo Iacono
    Housing in Kenema, Sierra Leone

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    Two teams of astronomers led by researchers at the University of Cambridge have looked back nearly 13 billion years, when the Universe was less than 10 percent its present age, to determine how quasars – extremely luminous objects powered by supermassive black holes with the mass of a billion suns – regulate the formation of stars and the build-up of the most massive galaxies.

    Using a combination of data gathered from powerful radio telescopes and supercomputer simulations, the teams found that a quasar spits out cold gas at speeds up to 2000 kilometres per second, and across distances of nearly 200,000 light years – much farther than has been observed before.

    How this cold gas - the raw material for star formation in galaxies - can be accelerated to such high speeds had remained a mystery. Detailed comparison of new observations and supercomputer simulations has only now allowed researchers to understand how this can happen: the gas is first heated to temperatures of tens of millions of degrees by the energy released by the supermassive black hole powering the quasar. This enormous build-up of pressure accelerates the hot gas and pushes it to the outskirts of the galaxy.

    The supercomputer simulations show that on its way out of the parent galaxy, there is just enough time for some of the hot gas to cool to temperatures low enough to be observable with radio telescopes. The results are presented in two separate papers published today (16 January) in the journals Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Quasars are amongst the most luminous objects in the Universe, and the most distant quasars are so far away that they allow us to peer back billions of years in time. They are powered by supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies, surrounded by a rapidly spinning disk-like region of gas. As the black hole pulls in matter from its surroundings, huge amounts of energy are released.

    “It is the first time that we have seen outflowing cold gas moving at these large speeds at such large distances from the supermassive black hole,” said Claudia Cicone, a PhD student at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute for Cosmology, and lead author on the first of the two papers. “It is very difficult to have matter with temperatures this low move as fast as we observed.”

    Cicone’s observations allowed the second team of researchers specialising in supercomputer simulations to develop a detailed theoretical model of the outflowing gas around a bright quasar.

    “We found that while gas is launched out of the quasar at very high temperatures, there is enough time for some of it to cool through radiative cooling – similar to how the Earth cools down on a cloudless night,” said Tiago Costa, a PhD student at the Institute of Astronomy and the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, and lead author on the second paper. “The amazing thing is that in this distant galaxy in the young Universe the conditions are just right for enough of the fast moving hot gas to cool to the low temperatures that Claudia and her team have found.”

    Working at the IRAM Plateau De Bure interferometer in the French Alps, the researchers gathered data in the millimetre band, which allows observation of the emission from the cold gas which is the primary fuel for star formation and main ingredient of galaxies, but is almost invisible at other wavelengths.

    The research was supported by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Isaac Newton Trust and the European Research Council (ERC). The computer simulations were run using the Computer Cluster DARWIN, operated by the University of Cambridge High Performance Computing Service, as part of STFCs DiRAC supercomputer facility.

    Inset image: Comparison of observation and simulations. Credit: Tiago Costa

    Astronomers have been able to peer back to the young Universe to determine how quasars – powered by supermassive black holes with the mass of a billion suns – form and shape the evolution of galaxies.

    While gas is launched out of the quasar at very high temperatures, there is enough time for some of it to cool through radiative cooling – similar to how the Earth cools down on a cloudless night
    Tiago Costa
    Illustration of the outflow (red) and gas flowing in to the quasar in the centre (blue). The cold clumps shown in the inset image are expelled out of the galaxy in a 'galactic hailstorm'

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    The traffic pouring into Cambridge from the east along Newmarket Road passes a tiny flint and stone building that squats on a scrap of meadow. Built around 1125, the Leper Chapel was part of a hospital which took in those afflicted by a disfiguring disease that resulted in stigma and rejection.  In his 1954 guide to the historic buildings of Cambridgeshire, Nikolaus Pevsner described the chapel – St Mary Magdalene – as standing “desperately alone”.

    This gem of a building, once given to the University of Cambridge but now owned by a trust, sits in the centre of an area known as Barnwell. With its sprawling retail park, poor air quality and scattering of sandwich shops, it has an aesthetic that contrasts sharply with the carefully conserved city centre just half a mile away.  But it was precisely this mishmash of unplanned cityscape that prompted Dr Michael Hrebeniak to stop his car one day and walk towards the chapel.

    At a seminar on Monday 19 January, Hrebeniak will talk about his journey into the historic and modern narratives that exist on the edge of the city, an in-between place with a rich but largely unrecorded working class past. In what promises to be a presentation full of surprises, he will move from a description of the smells and sights of mediaeval life to a discourse on ‘culture without archive’ and the ‘ontological terminality of neo-liberalism’ – the way in which late-capitalism commodifies space and experience.

    In particular, Hrebeniak will explain how his investigation of a liminal zone inspired him to create what he calls ‘a deep map’ that dramatises the immense variety of human transactions within the social and ecological realms. The points of reference for this metaphorical map are the human impulses to create and consume, expend and express. Its contours are created by the layered exploitation of the landscape to forge channels of communication – both actual (road, rail and river) and imagined (myth and memory).

    His research takes place within broader concerns about the loss of vulnerable culture worldwide. In 2003, UNESCO adopted a series of points agreed at the Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage which drew attention to the importance of this strand of heritage "as a mainspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development".

    Hrebeniak is a lecturer in English at Wolfson College, and a former jazz musician and journalist. He’s been interested in places and atmospheres ever since he was a boy. “I grew up in an area of suburban north-west London striking for its lack of character – a nowhere kind of place where 20th century development wiped out the past,” he says. “I suppose I’ve always been attentive to traces of cultural memory. As a child, I lacked the language to frame it as such but I'm interested in the habitat and signatures of place and how they’re encoded within the material forms of the commonplace. I remain inveterately curious – a kind of urban Thoreau.”

    In 2014 Hrebeniak wrote several papers in which he explored – using Barnwell as his case study – the readability of landscape as a ‘palimpsest’ of surfaces that has been repeatedly created and erased over time. His arguments reference work by other authors and artists exploring themes of transience – including performance artist Bruce Lacey, film-maker Patrick Keiller and social anthropologist Tim Ingold. Hrebeniak's first book, Action Writing, concerned the American writer Jack Kerouac, who was similarly preoccupied with registering how the past mediates the present within his experimental prose.

    To capture the permeability of layers of human and ecological stories, Hrebeniak has also used film as a way of expressing the ways in which people and places intersect in a ritualistic cycle of loss and renewal. Filmed over a two-year period, Hrebeniak’s Stirbitch will be screened sometime in the summer, possibly at St Peter’s, a Norman church even smaller than the Leper Chapel, standing on a rise just above Kettle’s Yard.

    At Monday’s seminar, Hrebeniak will show brief clips of the film and talk about his creative collaboration with friends at Cambridge University: Robin Kirkpatrick (Modern and Medieval Languages) is narrator and Jeremy Thurlow (Music Faculty) has written the music. Together they have produced what Hrebeniak describes as a cinematic interpretation of a prose poem, written to celebrate the vegetable, animal and mineral connections locked into a messy patch on the fringes of a historic city.

    Stirbitch is a variant of the older name Steersbrigge, a place where steers (cattle) could cross the river north of Barnwell. Today the name Stourbridge is confined to Stourbridge Common, a fragment of what was once a much larger parcel of common land. Here, for several centuries, an annual fair played a central role in the economic and cultural history of the east of England. The story of Stourbridge Fair is embedded with that of the Leper Chapel which, along with a small number of street names (Oyster Row, Garlic Row, Mercers Row, Cheddars Lane), represents the only surviving evidence of the physicality of an event that attracted people from all over the country.

    In 1199, the monks who ran the leper hospital were given permission from King John to hold an annual three-day fair to raise funds. The fair flourished and soon outgrew its original purpose. By the turn of the 14th century, Stourbridge Fair had established itself as one of medieval England’s most important marketplaces – a trading post linked by road and river where all kinds of goods and services changed hands.

    It was at Stourbridge Fair that Isaac Newton bought the glass prisms he needed to prove that light splits into a spectrum of colours. The bear that Lord Byron kept as a pet at Trinity College (students were not allowed dogs) is likely to have been purchased there too. An 18th century map of the fair, which took place on land that stretches down to the River Cam, shows it divided into a series of smaller fairs, selling horses, coal, hops and oysters.

    In his Tour Throughout the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724), Daniel Defoe wrote that “Sturbridge Fair is not only the greatest in the whole nation, but in the world”. He described it as “a well-fortified city [with] the least disorder and confusion … that can be seen anywhere … with coffee-houses, taverns, brandy-shops, and eating houses, innumerable”. But the gathering had a darker side too: prostitutes, peep shows, menageries of exotic animals and displays of ‘freaks’ (giants, dwarves, ‘faeries’) drew the crowds.

    The allure of the fair lies in its fleeting nature which creates a transgressive space on the margins of everyday life where rules are temporarily suspended – a zone of earthy Saturnalia connecting people, place and performance. Cambridge Corporation and the University of Cambridge asserted their control on activities at Stourbridge, prohibiting ‘idle games and diversions’. But University men – most famously Dr Richard Farmer, Master of Emmanuel – flouted the rules and cavorted with the other revellers.

    Hrebeniak’s encounters with Barnwell led him to research the (frustratingly slim) archival material, explore the wildlife of Stourbridge Common (the hops that ramble over the hedgerows are thought to have been introduced by traders) and engage in conversations with the groundsmen at Cambridge United football club (where the bones of lepers are said to lie under the pitch).

    In 2009, Hrebeniak became a Cambridge United fan, after receiving a free ticket to an Oxford and Cambridge game held to mark the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University. He’s a member of a supporters’ group, the 100 Years of Coconuts, that runs a virtual museum and collates oral histories, and takes its name from the Billy Cotton hit. It was the first piece of music played when the club’s public address system went live in the 1950s and it’s played as the final whistle blows every time that Cambridge United has a home win.

    “The club really got under my skin and last summer my eldest son Louis trained as a goal-keeper with the club’s youth scheme.  The stadium is named after Barnwell Abbey. It’s what the French theorist Michel Foucault would call a ‘heterotopia’ – a contested space, surrounded by the ruins of a lemonade bottling plant and cows grazing on the common,” he says.

    “Northern soul and ska are played over the terrible sound system. Decades of suffering and ecstasy are etched on the subsiding terraces. It’s a proper working-class football club, a place of generational continuity, and nothing to do with the corporate mercenaries that have corrupted the game higher up the pyramid. Our retired players drive taxis, put out fires, and deliver the post. And the ground really gets rocking. There's a hell of a racket. I haven't enjoyed myself this much in 20 years.”

    The development of permanent shops brought an end to fairs as trading places. Stourbridge Fair took place for the last time in 1933. Money now changes hands in the giant stores that cluster on Newmarket Road, built on the site of a quarry that supplied the gault clay used in Cambridgeshire brick. With its car parks and loud signage, it’s a retail park like many others up and down the country. Yet something of the fairground persists in the defiant spontaneity of people and places.

    Each time a new retail unit is constructed, items of debris from the past turn up. While Hrebeniak was filming one day, a workman involved in a recent project explained that one of his colleagues had found a pair of nylon stockings. They dated from the 1940s and, still in their packaging, had almost certainly been brought over by American GIs in the Second World War.  “Did he keep them?” asked Hrebeniak. “No,” replied the builder. “He put them on over his overalls and danced.”

    Michael Hrebeniak will talk about Stourbridge Fair: Performance, Memory and the Vanished Polis for 15 minutes at a work-in-progress seminar at CRASSH on 19 January 2015, 12.30pm to 2pm. Anyone wishing to attend should email Michelle Maciejewska mm405@cam.ac.uk

    Inset images: Leper Chapel (James Myatt via Flickr Creative Commons), map of Stourbridge Fair (Cambridgeshire Collection), murals in Newmarket Road underpass (Martin Pettit via Flickr Creative Commons), Abbey Stadium (stadiumbd.com) Further reading: Cambridge and Stourbridge Fair by Honor Ridout is published by Blue Ocean Publishing.

     

     

    Dr Michael Hrebeniak describes himself as inveterately curious about people and places. His fascination for a messy patch of Cambridge, best known for its traffic jams and retail park, has led him to create with words and film ‘a deep map’ of the layers of human experience on the fringes of the city. 

    I’ve always been attentive to traces of cultural memory. I'm interested in the habitat and signatures of place and how they’re encoded within the material forms of the commonplace.
    Michael Hrebeniak
    Stourbridge Common

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  • 01/16/15--08:00: Women waging peace
  • Two members of a mass movement that has united thousands of Jewish- and Palestinian-Israeli women in opposition to the recurring conflict in Gaza are to give a one-off talk in Cambridge next week, revealing how recent warfare in the region has united women from both sides of the divide in a series of ground-breaking joint initiatives.

    The discussion, which is free and open to all, will involve Michal Barak, a social entrepreneur and political activist, and Samah Salaime Egbariya, a researcher and activist on gender issues, director of Na’am Arab Women in the Center. It will take place at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, on Tuesday, 20 January, at 5pm.

    Both speakers have been involved in important women’s initiatives which emerged following the most recent eruption of violence between Israel and Hamas during July and August last year. In just a few weeks, more than 2,000 people were killed as Israel launched a military operation in Gaza that left many more thousands of Palestinians homeless and in desperate need of emergency aid. During the same period, more than 4,000 rockets were fired from Gaza on Israel.

    In the shadow of this short and savage conflict, women’s organisations began to unite to demand an end to years of intermittent warfare. Operating under the banner of Women Wage Peace, the movement has quickly attracted support from across Israel, with women of all ages, backgrounds and political beliefs pledging support.

    In November, more than 1,000 women travelled on what became known as the “peace train” to the town of Sderot, just a mile from the Gaza Strip, where every year ministers, politicians, social activists and academics meet at a major national conference. Dressed in white, the group gathered on the lawn at Sapir Academic College, where the event was being held, and demanded peace negotiations with the Palestinian leadership to prevent future wars.

    Elsewhere, thousands of people have participated in peaceful demonstrations at major transport intersections across Israel, or attended political hustings to press candidates in the forthcoming elections on how they plan to stop the violence. Commentators increasingly portray the group as a mouthpiece not just for women, but for a broad-based pro-peace camp in Israel that feels marginalised from the political process supposedly aimed at bringing the conflict to an end. It has been described as “spreading like wildfire”, and as having the potential to transform the nation’s political landscape in a decisive manner.

    Yet despite this progress, the women’s peace movement, including Women Wage Peace itself, still only exists on the periphery of Israel’s political establishment. Beyond the country’s borders, it has received little attention and has barely featured in any reporting of the conflict, even though it represents a significant swathe of public opinion.

    The aim of the discussion at Cambridge is partly to raise awareness of the constructive role that the movement is playing in advancing a non-military solution to the conflict. Drawing on the speakers’ own experiences of the events in the summer, however, it will also attempt to show how the movement is, in many ways, a model for how women can and should play a central role in conflict resolution.

    Among other issues, the speakers will investigate how various women’s initiatives successfully created a safe space in which people of different political persuasions were able to discuss their views together, and strive towards common goals, at a time when any engagement between their counterparts in the political mainstream was defined by hostility and tension.

    Samah Salaime Egbariya, who was herself instrumental in uniting Palestinian and Jewish women in the heat of the conflict in the summer of 2014, said: “In the midst of the war, Palestinian and Jewish women came together to find a common language which enabled them to do something constructive towards ending the bloodshed. Women involved in the summer peace initiative sought to humanise what was happening and this was key to bringing them together. As a result, women are redefining the very notion of what security means in the Israel-Palestine conflict. This was also an effort to compel Jewish Israeli women to engage with the consequences of the violence on people in Gaza through the eyes of women.”

    Michal Barak, a key activist of the movement, said: “There have been important and impactful initiatives in the past. What Women Wage Peace has so far succeeded in doing is bringing those disparate efforts together. We have created a movement in which women from across the social, ethnic and political spectrum are engaging with the urgency of peace across the country.”

    The event has been co-organised by Dr Ornit Shani, an Israeli Visiting Scholar at St John’s College, who was actively involved in the women’s peace movement in Israel during the 2014 war, and Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner, Senior Research Fellow at the Woolf Institute, an interfaith organisation which studies the relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

    “In part, we simply want to tell the story of something that is happening in Israel and is largely unknown,” Dr Shani said. “What we hear about in the news tends to be representative of the political right on both sides of the conflict. The simple truth is that not enough women are involved in decision-making concerning any peace settlement. At the same time, there are findings from many recent peace settlements that suggests women can have a hugely positive effect when they are involved.”

    The event, Active Women in the Shadow of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Reflections from the Summer of 2014, will be held in the Main Lecture of the Divinity School, St John’s College, Cambridge, at 5pm on Tuesday, 20 January. All are welcome to attend.

    Thousands of Jewish- and Palestinian-Israeli women have joined a movement that is spreading across Israel in opposition to repeated cycles of violence in Gaza. Yet Women Wage Peace remains overlooked by the political establishment, and largely unknown outside Israel. An event at Cambridge will ask why, and examine its significance as a model for women’s action in times of war.

    The simple truth is that not enough women are involved in decision-making concerning any peace settlement
    Ornit Shani
    Members of the Women Wage Peace movement arriving at the Sderot Conference for Society in the Israeli town of Sderot, November 2014.

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    An in-depth study of mothers and young children living in multicultural areas of London found that many of the women interviewed had prepared children for coping with a social environment that might be likely to include elements of racism. Many parents advised their children to ignore racist barbs which were made by people who were “rude and ignorant”.

    While at the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, Dr Humera Iqbal carried out a small-scale but intensive study of 36 British-born mothers – 12 British Indian, 12 British Pakistani and 12 White British – living in multicultural areas of the capital.This qualitative research into families from the UK’s three largest ethnic groups was part of a larger project on ethnicity and family life.

    The study, ‘Multicultural parenting: Preparation for bias socialisation in British South Asian and White families in the UK’, is published in the January 2015 issue of the International Journal of Intercultural Relations.

    The 36 families studied in depth were all non-immigrant British citizens. The mothers interviewed were at least the second generation to live in the UK. All had one child or more aged between five and seven years old. The children, who came from a range of socioeconomic settings, attended state primary schools in areas of London with high proportions of each of the groups being studied.

    Iqbal found that, overall, parents described positive experiences of diversity. However, mothers and children from all three groups also reported experiencing discrimination – sometimes on a daily basis. Mothers of children as young as five found themselves addressing topics related to racism, either as a result of prejudice or in anticipation of it, to help their youngsters cope with the discrimination they were likely to face.

    A marked difference emerged in the use of these ‘preparation for bias’ strategies across the three groups studied with 75% of British Pakistani families reporting their use, compared with 50% of White British families and just 16% of British Indian families.

    “It’s important to stress that my research looks at a small number of families. However, it is clear that increased diversity in the UK has encouraged families to adapt their parenting strategies.This is particularly the case for groups who are experiencing wider societal pressures. British Pakistani Muslims, for example, increasingly face Islamophobia,” said Iqbal.

    “International political events, such as the rise of the Islamic state and local negative attitudes towards immigration and the corresponding rise of UKIP in Britain, have all heightened the current mistrust towards Muslims - a highly diverse and complex set of groups often described as a single entity which is seen to include British Pakistanis.”

    The research is notable for its inclusion of White British families who, as the dominant group, might not be expected to experience discrimination. “It was important to include White mothers and children because few studies have looked at the experiences of majority ethnic groups,” said Iqbal.

    “A shift in the demographics of an area can mean that White British families find that, in their particular neighbourhood, they are no longer in the majority. One mother described this as ‘informal segregation’. She felt that many of the White families previously living in the community had chosen to move outwards leaving fewer White families behind and a predominance of families from one or two other ethnicities,” said Iqbal.

    “Several of the White families interviewed reported feeling different and more vulnerable to experiencing both subtle and less subtle forms of discrimination as they now represented a group that was in smaller numbers.”

    Previous research into similar issues has concentrated on older children, particularly teenagers. In concentrating on young children, who were just starting school, Iqbal shows that issues related to race and ethnicity begin to impact on children very early in their lives. Her study makes an important contribution to awareness of the potential implications of racism for child health and development.

    “Previous research has found that stressful environments and ethnic inequalities are associated with unfavourable development profiles in children,” she said. “For example, a recent big study found that mothers who had experienced racism first-hand were more likely to have children at risk of obesity. Other research showed that mothers’ perception of racism was associated with socio-emotional difficulties in children such as being withdrawn or isolated.”

    Iqbal looked at two types of ‘preparation for bias’ strategies: reactive and proactive. Her research showed that, while some parents downplayed race-related incidents and encouraged children to ignore such behaviour, other parents addressed incidents directly and urged their children to make a stand.

    A White British mother told her son to ignore news reports and comments related to racism. “I’ll try to explain what’s going on, and, I just kind of say to him that you need to ignore it, babe… Don’t bite back if it happens, because…that’s what they want.”

    How parents responded to discrimination depended on a range of factors – including their own experiences of racism. A study by researchers at New York University found that parents who had been victims of discrimination were more likely to prepare their children to cope with similar problems. This concurred with findings from the present study. British Pakistani parents, in particular, anticipated that their child would encounter racial barriers and did their utmost to equip their child with tools for future success by stressing the importance of a good education.

    Some mothers used a discussion about racism as an opportunity to promote the importance of equality and to bolster their children’s psychological resources. Also, talking about discrimination following an incident emerged as an important way of protecting the emotional state of the child.

    A British Pakistani mother had experienced frequent racism about her niqab (head covering with veil) from a group of teenagers, and these incidents had made her young son increasingly distressed and angry. She worried that as a result he would have negative views of white people and explained that he shouldn’t “discriminate against a whole bunch of people because there’s a few idiots…”

    A British White mother said that her child and his friends had been called “white rats” by some children visiting the same block of flats. “My attitude is… you’re no different, you’re a different colour but you are no different to us… I won’t have racism at all…”

    However, a number of White parents did look for “people like us” when choosing a school. Some felt that a multicultural school intake was a good thing but should be a “healthy” mix – in other words not too diverse. Two White British mothers reported moving their children to schools with more White pupils as they were worried about their children being marginalised.

    Mothers did not always agree with schools about the best way to handle questions relating to race and faith and gave examples of schools either being heavy-handed or lacking in awareness of children’s sensitivities about differences.

    A White mother said that her son had asked for the halal dish being served to his Muslim friend in the school canteen.Told he couldn’t have it, because he was “clearly not a Muslim child”, he was upset and asked his mother if he was “only allowed to eat Christian food”.  She said that the incident was “making him aware of differences between everyone when really there was no need for it or it could have been dealt with in a more positive way”.

    Iqbal’s study gives a vivid, and valuable, snapshot of the topics navigated by many parents living in multicultural areas in talking to young children about issues of profound importance to their development. She emphasises that, while parents spoke of many positive encounters with diversity, discrimination remained an underlying problem in modern Britain. Experiences varied in intensity and severity between groups.

    She concludes that parents are often instilling protective and positive messages about race and ethnicity. Researchers and policy-makers, she argues, need to acknowledge the way in which parents adapt to changing environments and, in particular, how interactions within these settings lead to discussions of race and ethnicity with children at an early age.

    Humera Iqbal was a member of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge until 2014. She is currently a researcher at the Institute of Education in London.

     

    Research among mothers with young children living in multicultural London shows that racism is a reality for children as young as five – and that many mothers adopt parenting strategies to help their children deal with it. 

    It is clear that increased diversity in the UK has encouraged families to adapt their parenting strategies. This is particularly the case for groups who are experiencing wider societal pressures – British Pakistani Muslims, for example.
    Humera Iqbal
    A child's portrait of multiculturalism in the playground

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    Aedes aegypti mosquito

    Dengue outbreaks, caused by bites from infected mosquitoes, are common in many developing countries. Four billion people live in areas with the disease, although mortality is relatively low. There are 400 million infections a year: 500,000 people develop severe infection symptoms and approximately 25,000 of these die. However, it places a huge burden on the health services of countries where there are major outbreaks. “Epidemics can swamp public health and intensive care services,” says Leah. “They create fear even if there is a low likelihood of death and in many countries virtually everyone knows someone who has died from it, most of whom are children.”

    For her PhD she has been working with both human and non-human primate sera in partnership with the US-based National Institutes of Health. Isolates from some of the main strains of the dengue virus are injected and Leah studies the immune sera to chart the inter-relationship between the four main strains of the virus. Dengue only causes mild infection in the non-human primates she works with.

    Leah, who majored in anthropology as an undergraduate in the US, travelled to Nicaragua in her third year as part of a summer fellowship programme on international health. Her aim was to learn about different health systems and beliefs about health. Her research involved talking to people in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) about their aims and talking to people on the ground about how the NGOs were perceived. Then she contracted dengue fever and became very sick and was admitted to hospital.

    “There is no cure for dengue and only the symptoms can be treated. In the most mild cases dengue is asymptomatic. Normally people suffer from joint ache, headaches, pain behind the eyes and a strange rash on the hands. In the most extreme cases they suffer from haemorrhagic fever and a rapid drop in platelet count and blood pressure which can cause the body to go into shock. Children who go into shock have a high mortality rate, but if they get good healthcare they can survive,” says Leah.

    She spent a week in hospital being monitored for possible shock. Her vascular system was so traumatised afterwards that she felt very weak. The experience led to her doing a lot of research on dengue fever and caused her to rethink her future since people who have been exposed to dengue fever before are more likely to suffer the more extreme form the next time round.  As an anthropologist she would have needed to travel and mainly to places where there was dengue fever, but she did not want to risk getting it again.

    Leah applied for a fellowship from Williams College in the US to study at Cambridge and spent the summer before in a dengue laboratory in North Carolina estimating transmission of dengue fever in Sri Lanka.

    Once at Cambridge, she googled dengue fever research on the university website and the only person she came across who mentioned it was Professor Derek Smith, who studies infectious disease in the Department of Zoology. She read his paper on antigenic cartography and the evolution of flu viruses and felt it could be applied to the four different types of dengue and the complex interaction between those types. She wanted to design an antigenic map for dengue which would show the relationship between the different viruses and how having one might protect you from having that same strain again while having the others could make your feel worse.

    She emailed Professor Smith and put her proposal to him. He said there was no funding for a project on dengue. However, Leah’s fellowship allowed her to switch the focus of her studies after a year. That meant she could get funding for a year. She then applied to do a PhD to continue her work and for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to support her.

    Leah began her PhD in 2012 and hopes to complete it next year.  She has been working round the clock on her research and says it was initially terrifying since her background was in anthropology rather than lab-based science. Since then she has been presenting her findings at international meetings such as the World Health Organization and has submitted a paper for review to a top journal. She plans to keep working on dengue fever after her PhD is completed and to better understand the human immune response to dengue virus infection so that scientists can limit its impact.

    Leah Katzelnick was all set for a career as an anthropologist until she contracted dengue fever. She was in hospital for a week with severe symptoms. It changed her life. She is now working on a new perspective on dengue fever which involves mapping the complex interaction between different strains of the virus, based on similar work done by Cambridge experts on flu.

    There is no cure for dengue and only the symptoms can be treated
    Leah Katzelnick
    Aedes aegypti mosquito

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    The Funding will be provided by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

    As a world-leading university, Cambridge seeks to bring together the most brilliant minds to freely interact, learn and discover. Its goal is to encourage and support the best people from around the world to work and study at the University. The new Blavatnik Fellowships offer an important addition in support of this aim.

    The Fellowship programme, which will run for an initial period of five years, will be administered by the British Council in Israel which actively promotes academic and scientific exchange between Israel and the United Kingdom, and is warmly supportive of the initiative.

    Fellows will receive an annual stipend of £30,000, and Fellowships will be tenable for up to two years.  It is planned that there will be at least three Fellows appointed each year, although it is anticipated that this number may increase in future years.

    The first three Fellows will research in the areas of Engineering, Genetics and Physics.

    Potential Fellows are encouraged to apply to the programme by the British Council. Successful applicants are selected by a committee of senior academics.

    Professor Eric Miska, the Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Genetics and Senior Group Leader at the Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge said:

    “I am delighted to host a Blavatnik Fellow in my lab within the Gurdon Institute. Fellowships such as these enable the exchange of ideas and expertise that is the lifeblood of cutting-edge research. We’re deeply grateful to Leonard Blavatnik and the Blavatnik Family Foundation for their support and hope to host many more fellows in the future.”

    Mr Blavatnik, speaking on behalf of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, said: “I am very pleased to strengthen the Foundation’s existing links to Cambridge with this important initiative, which will serve the mutual interests of the University, the Israeli scientific community and those selected to be Blavatnik Fellows.”

    Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “We are committed to enabling the very best people from around the world to come to Cambridge, to drive forward our pioneering research and address new questions. We are delighted that the generosity of Leonard Blavatnik and the Blavatnik Family Foundation adds a further way in which we can support this ambition.”

    A benefactor of the University of Cambridge, Leonard Blavatnik, has made a multi-million pound pledge to provide funding for Israeli scientists of outstanding ability to study in Cambridge.

    Fellowships such as these enable the exchange of ideas and expertise that is the lifeblood of cutting-edge research.
    Professor Eric Miska

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    When Debbie Purdy, the right-to-die campaigner, died on 23 December, the media reminded us that, in 2009, she had “won a landmark ruling to clarify the law on assisted suicide”. Barely mentioned was the manner of her death: self-starvation.

    A slow and horrible way to die, chosen, presumably, as the only way in which, being completely helpless, she could end her life without involving others, who would risk being prosecuted for assisting suicide, or even murder.

    So much good her “landmark victory” did for her, or for others in her unhappy state.

    In many other countries, the law enables people in Debbie Purdy’s condition to die in ways that are more humane. Among them is The Netherlands. But there, as in the UK, the law on assisted dying is controversial, and last year the Dutch government set up an official commission to look into it.

    A member of this commission is the eminent Dutch criminal lawyer Professor Paul Mevis.

    On Monday 26 January, at 5.30 p.m. in the Cambridge Law Faculty building on the Sidgwick Site he will give a public lecture to explain the current position in the Netherlands, the arguments surrounding it, and the proposals to amend it.

    The lecture is open to the public – all are welcome – and it will be followed by a drinks reception.

    The lecture is part of a series of talks on medico-legal topics sponsored by the University’s Baron Ver Heyden de Lancey Fund.

    It coincides with the creation, within the Law Faculty, of a new Centre for law, medicine and life sciences.

    The creation of this new centre has been made possible by the generosity of two benefactors: the WYNG Foundation, and the Hatton Trust.

    Both benefactors have strong links with Hong Kong, and the new Cambridge centre will work in parallel with a sister centre at Hong Kong University, the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, which is organising a conference later this year on end-of-life issues.

    Baron Cornelius Ver Heyden de Lancey (1889-1984) was a wealthy and public-spirited Dutchman who at different times in his life was a dentist, doctor, surgeon, barrister and art historian. In 1970 he created the De Lancey and De La Hanty Foundation, to promote studies in medico-legal topics.

    The Foundation generously gave Cambridge the Ver Heyden de Lancey Fund, which since 1996 has funded occasional public lectures on medico-legal issues of current interest.

    A public lecture in the Law Faculty next Monday will explore the current legal position on assisted suicide in the Netherlands in the light of the Debbie Purdy case.

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    The dying moments of an asteroid’s magnetic field have been successfully captured by researchers, in a study that offers a tantalising glimpse of what may happen to the Earth’s magnetic core billions of years from now.

    Using a detailed imaging technique, the research team were able to read the magnetic memory contained in ancient meteorites, formed in the early solar system over 4.5 billion years ago. The readings taken from these tiny ‘space magnets’ may give a sneak preview of the fate of the Earth’s magnetic core as it continues to freeze. The findings are published today (22 January) in the journal Nature.

    Using an intense beam of x-rays to image the nanoscale magnetisation of the meteoritic metal, researchers led by the University of Cambridge were able to capture the precise moment when the core of the meteorite’s parent asteroid froze, killing its magnetic field. These ‘nano-paleomagnetic’ measurements, the highest-resolution paleomagnetic measurements ever made, were performed at the BESSY II synchrotron in Berlin.

    The researchers found that the magnetic fields generated by asteroids were much longer-lived than previously thought, lasting for as long as several hundred million years after the asteroid formed, and were created by a similar mechanism to the one that generates the Earth’s own magnetic field. The results help to answer many of the questions surrounding the longevity and stability of magnetic activity on small bodies, such as asteroids and moons.

    “Observing magnetic fields is one of the few ways we can peek inside a planet,” said Dr Richard Harrison of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the research. “It’s long been assumed that metal-rich meteorites have poor magnetic memories, since they are primarily composed of iron, which has a terrible memory – you wouldn’t ever make a hard drive out of iron, for instance. It was thought that the magnetic signals carried by metal-rich meteorites would have been written and rewritten many times during their lifetime, so no-one has ever bothered to study their magnetic properties in any detail.”

    The particular meteorites used for this study are known as pallasites, which are primarily composed of iron and nickel, studded with gem-quality silicate crystals. Contained within these unassuming chunks of iron however, are tiny particles just 100 nanometres across – about one thousandth the width of a human hair – of a unique magnetic mineral called tetrataenite, which is magnetically much more stable than the rest of the meteorite, and holds within it a magnetic memory going back billions of years.

    “We’re taking ancient magnetic field measurements in nanoscale materials to the highest ever resolution in order to piece together the magnetic history of asteroids – it’s like a cosmic archaeological mission,” said PhD student James Bryson, the paper’s lead author.

    The researchers’ magnetic measurements, supported by computer simulations, demonstrate that the magnetic fields of these asteroids were created by compositional, rather than thermal, convection – meaning that the field was long-lasting, intense and widespread. The results change our perspective on the way magnetic fields were generated during the early life of the solar system.

    These meteorites came from asteroids formed in the first few million years after the formation of the Solar System. At that time, planetary bodies were heated by radioactive decay to temperatures hot enough to cause them to melt and segregate into a liquid metal core surrounded by a rocky mantle. As their cores cooled and began to freeze, the swirling motions of liquid metal, driven by the expulsion of sulphur from the growing inner core, generated a magnetic field, just as the Earth does today.

    “It’s funny that we study other bodies in order to learn more about the Earth,” said Bryson. “Since asteroids are much smaller than the Earth, they cooled much more quickly, so these processes occur on shorter timescales, enabling us to study the whole process of core solidification.”

    Scientists now think that the Earth’s core only began to freeze relatively recently in geological terms, maybe less than a billion years ago. How this freezing has affected the Earth’s magnetic field is not known. “In our meteorites we’ve been able to capture both the beginning and the end of core freezing, which will help us understand how these processes affected the Earth in the past and provide a possible glimpse of what might happen in the future,” said Harrison.

    However, the Earth’s core is freezing rather slowly. The solid inner core is getting bigger, and eventually the liquid outer core will disappear, killing the Earth’s magnetic field, which protects us from the Sun’s radiation. “There’s no need to panic just yet, however,” said Harrison. “The core won’t completely freeze for billions of years, and chances are, the Sun will get us first.”

    The research was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

    Hidden magnetic messages contained within ancient meteorites are providing a unique window into the processes that shaped our solar system, and may give a sneak preview of the fate of the Earth’s core as it continues to freeze.

    It’s like a cosmic archaeological mission
    James Bryson
    The Esquel pallasite from the Natural History Museum collections, consists of gem-quality crystals of the silicate mineral olivine embedded in a matrix of iron-nickel alloy.

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    In an article published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Professor Jon Crowcroft argues that by parcelling and spreading data across multiple sites, and weaving it together like a tapestry, not only would our information be safer, it would be quicker to access, and could potentially be stored at lower overall cost.

    The internet is a vast, decentralised communications system, with minimal administrative or governmental oversight. However, we increasingly access our information through cloud-based services, such as Google Drive, iCloud and Dropbox, which are very large centralised storage and processing systems. Cloud-based services offer convenience to the user, as their data can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, but their centralised nature can make them vulnerable to attack, such as when personal photos of mostly young and female celebrities were leaked last summer after their iCloud accounts were hacked.

    Storing information in the cloud makes it easily accessible to users, while removing the burden of managing it; and the cloud’s highly centralised nature keeps costs low for the companies providing the storage. However, centralised systems can lack resilience, meaning that service can be lost when any one part of the network access path fails.

    Centralised systems also give a specific point to attack for those who may want to access them illegally. Even if data is copied many times, if all the copies have the same flaw, they are all vulnerable. Just as a small gene pool places a population at risk from a change in the environment, such as a disease, the lack of variety in centralised storage systems places information at greater risk of theft.

    The alternative is a decentralised system, also known as a peer-to-peer system, where resources from many potential locations in the network are mixed, rather than putting all one’s eggs in one basket.

    The strength of a peer-to-peer system is that its value grows as the number of users increases: all producers are also potential consumers, so each added node gives the new producer as many customers as are already on the network.

    “Since all the members of a peer-to-peer network are giving as well as consuming resources, it quickly overtakes a centralised network in terms of its strength,” said Crowcroft, of the University’s Computer Laboratory.

    The higher reliability and performance of fibre to the home, the availability of 4G networks, and IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) are all helping to make decentralised networks viable. In practice, a user would carry most of the data they need to access immediately with them on their mobile device, with their home computer acting as the ‘master’ point of contact.

    “Essentially, data is encoded redundantly, but rather than making many copies, we weave a tapestry using the bits that represent data, so that threads making up particular pieces of information are repeated but meshed together with threads making up different pieces of information,” said Crowcroft. “Then to dis-entangle a particular piece of information, we need to unpick several threads.”

    Varying the ways that our information is stored or distributed is normally done to protect against faults in the network, but it can also improve the privacy of our data. In a decentralised system where data is partitioned across several sites, any attacker attempting to access that data has a much more complex target – the attacker has to know where all bits of the information are, as opposed to using brute force at one point to access everything. “The more diversity we use in a peer-to-peer system, the closer we get to an ideal in terms of resilience and privacy,” said Crowcroft.

    A peer-to-peer system could also be built at a lower overall cost than a centralised system, argues Crowcroft, since no ‘cache’ is needed in order to store data near the user. To the end user, costs could be as low as a pound per month, or even free, much lower than monthly internet access costs or mobile tariffs.

    “We haven’t seen massive take-up of decentralised networks yet, but perhaps that’s just premature,” said Crowcroft. “We’ve only had these massive centralised systems for about a decade, and like many other utilities, the internet will most likely move away from centralisation and towards decentralisation over time, especially as developments in technology make these systems attractive for customers.”

    Private information would be much more secure if individuals moved away from cloud-based storage towards peer-to-peer systems, where data is stored in a variety of ways and across a variety of sites, argues a University of Cambridge researcher.

    The more diversity we use in a peer-to-peer system, the closer we get to an ideal in terms of resilience and privacy
    Jon Crowcroft
    Privacy

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    “I greatly disdain piddling little buildings (plerumque indignor pusillis edificiis),” wrote a forthright Flemish monk called Goscelin of Saint-Bertin in a book dated around 1080. He went on to declare that: “I would not allow any buildings, however much they were valued, to stand unless they were, in my view, glorious, magnificent, tall, vast, filled with light and thoroughly beautiful.”

    Goscelin, who dedicated his life to documenting the lives of saints, could have been describing the great Gothic cathedrals built to proclaim Christianity in the 12th and 13th centuries, when they played a pivotal role in medieval life.  These masterpieces of structure and style remain extraordinary examples of human ingenuity in moulding materials into places that still inspire awe and wonder.

    Piddling is not a word you would choose to describe the cathedrals of Ely, Norwich or Canterbury. These magnificent stone buildings dwarf the ancient streets that cluster around them and even today dominate the skyline. Size (magnitude in Latin) mattered to the architects, builders and patrons of these Gothic masterpieces: the bigger and taller the building, the greater its political and spiritual punch.

    A league table of lengths of European cathedrals appears in the first few pages of Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style 1290-1350, a book by Paul Binski, Professor of Medieval Art at Cambridge University, that looks afresh at a remarkable flowering of English creativity.

    Top of the list in the size stakes is Cluny Abbey in Burgundy, begun in 1088, at approximately 172 metres, setting a standard that challenged the English to think big and bold. Winchester Cathedral ranks second, measuring 157 metres from its great west door to its east end, with London’s St Paul’s Cathedral (155 metres) close behind.

    In early medieval England, most people lived in dwellings constructed from local materials. Amid the humdrum and struggle of daily existence, something extraordinary happened: teams of workers overseen by highly skilled craftspeople challenged ideas of what could be accomplished in art and architecture and told compelling stories about all manner of earthly and heavenly matters.

    Size is just one measure of the majesty of a building. Another measure, equally important to the makers of Gothic buildings in the race for maximum visual and sensual impact, was variety (varietas). The interiors of Salisbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey gleam and dazzle with semi-translucent alabaster obtained from Nottingham, white marble quarried in Purbeck (Dorset) and richly-veined marble imported from southern Europe.

    Marble was the ‘must-have’ material of the world of Gothic architecture. The word itself comes from the Greek marmairo, to shine. In a world where natural light was augmented only by candles, the sparkle and gleam of marble, and its similarity to skin tones, appealed to the senses. The allure of this exotic material contributed to what Binski calls the ‘soft’ power of the building, its subtlety, whereas sheer scale is a form of ‘hard’ power.

    The transportation of stone across land and sea was costly, dangerous and difficult. The efforts of man pitted against nature, and emerging as winner, were heroic in the same way as literary epics which spoke of the human capacity to conquer difficulties in war or peace.  Similarly, craftsmanship sought to create objects of supreme beauty, imitating and surpassing the complexity found in the natural world.  

    While Norman and Romanesque buildings were ponderous with their rounded arches, relatively small windows and wooden roofs, the architects of Gothic buildings sought to create what Binski calls a “wondrous heightening” in their playful treatment of light and shade and exploitation of the plasticity of materials to create decorative effects, such as wall arcading, that enriched the interiors of these buildings.

    In many instances, Gothic was a process of ‘improvement’ that saw earlier buildings dismantled, adapted and enlarged to make room for expanding pilgrimage and religious activities. In the 14th century old buildings underwent makeovers which gave architects in the Gothic style an opportunity to study and emulate the achievements of their forebears.  

    To non-specialists, ‘Gothic’ is shorthand for pointed arches, elaborate window tracery and daringly vaulted roofs – though, curiously, the word itself emerged during the Renaissance as a term of abuse for northern European art.  But Binski’s latest book is much more than a generously illustrated exploration of style. In his introduction, he explains that his emphasis is on human agency – why we do things and how we do them – expressed in all manner of arts and crafts.

    His motivation, he says, stems from the question of “why aesthetic decisions were made in the light of beliefs about how and to what ends art creates experience”. In other words, Binski is interested in the power of things to manipulate thoughts and feelings – “art as the rational education of desire” is how he puts it – and how Gothic works of art were wrought through supreme human effort in order to convey unshakable statements about belief, control and sovereignty with God, the Church, royalty and man enmeshed in an entire social and artistic network. 

    In tackling these fundamental and often trickily complex themes, Binski explores not just architecture but also the decorative arts and especially manuscript illumination and painting, in the great age of ‘marginalia’ when English devices amused those who encountered them all over Europe. Among the weirdest are the grotesques found in the famous Luttrell Psalter of around 1340. Human and animal body parts are mixed in bizarre combinations: a human head pops out of a pair of goatish legs; an archer has a horse’s body and long swishing tail; a man is swallowed by a fish that has sprouted legs.

    These hybrids and monsters, with their saucy sense of humour, fed into the literature of the time, providing a rich fodder of witty and disturbing imagery. The writer Geoffrey Chaucer called them ‘japes’. “Amusement was part of the point,” says Binski. “The tendency to see ‘marginal’ art as always subversive or political has obscured the pleasures that marginal art, often apolitical and nonsensical, created for viewers.” 

    The impact of Gothic buildings, whether in their scale or the intricate detail of their decoration, cannot be overemphasised. Impressive to us today, 650 years ago they were powerful embodiments of the greatness of their patrons – whether bishops, abbots or kings – with greatness being a virtue measured in terms of magnificent conduct and charitable largesse.  And English Gothic architecture surpassed European in the sophistication and complexity of its designs for window tracery and the patterning of stone vaults.

    The silhouette of Ely Cathedral broods over miles of Cambridgeshire fenland. One of the most striking of the 300-plus plates in Gothic Wonder is a photograph taken from the cathedral’s nave crossing looking up into the Octagon tower that was built after the collapse of the earlier campanile tower which came crashing down one February night in 1322, just after the singing of Matins.

    Ely was a desolate place, surrounded much of the year by water, but the crafting of its cathedral’s Octagon Tower and Lady Chapel suggest that this tiny city was locked into a network of trading and cultural connections that extended far and wide – right to southern France. The inside height of the Octagon Tower is 43 metres, making it almost the same height as the Pantheon in Rome, and its lantern-shaped top directs beams of light in much the same way as the circular opening in the Pantheon’s vast dome.

    Whether religious or secular in purpose, buildings are about the assertion of political power. In the wake of the Norman Conquest, tensions ran high between the incoming Normans and the subjugated English. In 1097-1099 William Rufus (son of William 1) ordered the construction of the palace hall at Westminster. By far the largest hall in England, measuring 73 metres by 21 metres, it was designed for events such as banquets, court meetings and other displays of consumption and control.

    Reactions to the lavish scale and splendour of the hall were divided. In his Historia anglorum, Henry of Huntington described that, on entering the hall, some people said “that it was a good size and others that it was too large. The king said it was only half large enough. This saying was that of a great king, but it was little to his credit”.William of Malmesbury, on the other hand, regarded the new hall as an example of William Rufus’s liberality rather than his pride. The king, Malmesbury wrote “provided some examples of real greatness (magnanimitas)”.

    The Gothic buildings that rose above the English landscape are the outcome of a flow of cultural traffic not just from Christian Europe but also from the Islamic world where similar values about magnanimity held sway. It was a cultural flow that went both ways. Artists identified as English or working in the English style can be traced to Trondheim in Norway, to  Santes Creus in Catalonia, where the architect of a cloister is described as an ‘English mason’, to Papal Avignon, and even as far away as Cyprus.

     “I think that to understand the true achievement of English Gothic art, we need to travel far afield, as far as Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, to follow the activities of English architects and artists and their ideas. Even Popes took an interest, whether in English carving or embroidery,” says Binski.

    Binski’s particular focus is the half century from 1300 to 1348, the date that marked the onset of the Black Death (bubonic plague) in England. This period saw the first flowering of Gothic art and architecture, sowing the seeds of a style that has endured for centuries. Many of England’s most splendid and most visited buildings incorporate in their fabric and spirit strong elements of Gothic style.

    “Gothic as a style has proved the most successful of all ways of building since classical times, shaping our cities and our ideas of what impressive public buildings should look like,” says Binski. “The much-admired Gothic Revival architecture of St Pancras station and the Midland Grand Hotel is just one of many examples.”

    Great buildings are a result of the work of great people. Among them is Alan of Walsingham, who became sacrist (church official) of Ely in 1321, just months before the cathedral’s original tower collapsed into a pitiful pile of rubble. A passage in the Ely chronicon (chronicle) describes how, immediately after the disaster, Alan set about the task of removing the debris and, “with architectural art”, made meticulous plans for a replacement tower even more splendid than the one that had fallen.

    “And at once in that year, the most artful wooden structure of the new campanile, conceived with the highest and most wonderful ingenuity of mind … was started, and with great and burdensome outlay especially for the huge timbers needed for assembling the said structure, sought far and wide and at length found with great difficulty and purchased at great cost, carried by land and by sea to Ely, and then carved, wrought and assembled for that work by cunning workmen; with God’s help it was brought to an honourable and long-wished-for conclusion.”

    “The British are modest about their achievements in art,” says Binski. “My aim is to show to readers here and abroad just how inventive and versatile our arts really were at this time.”

    Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style is published by Yale University Press. Paul Binski will talk about the book at the 2015 Heffers Lecture at Heffers Bookshop, 20 Trinity Street, Cambridge CB2  1TY, on Thursday, 29 January, 6.15pm. For details contact Francé Davies fc295@cam.ac.uk

    Inset images (all cropped): Lady Chapel wall arcade, Ely cathedral, begun 1321; Ely Octagon, designed 1320s; Pantheon, interior, Rome; Westminster Hall, late 14th century; boss depicting a woman fending off a laundry thief, Norwich Cathedral cloister, east walk (all taken from Gothic Wonder).
     

    In his book, Gothic Wonder, Professor Paul Binski explores a period in which English art and architecture pushed the boundaries to produce some of Europe’s most spectacular buildings and illuminated manuscripts. Binski’s research sets into context the whole gamut of human endeavour: from awesome cathedrals to playfully irreverent grotesques.

    The British are modest about their achievements in art. My aim is to show to readers here and abroad just how inventive and versatile our arts really were at this time.
    Paul Binski
    Macclesfield Psalter, skate surprise, circa 1330-40

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    Pregnant mother

    In the Journal of Physiology, researchers at the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge examine whether levels of the stress hormones known as glucocorticoids can influence the supply of glucose from mother to foetus. Glucocorticoids are important in regulating metabolism in adults as well as in the foetus. Levels of the hormone are raised by stress related to the physical or social environment, disease or pregnancy.

    Pregnant mice received the natural glucocorticoid corticosterone at different times during pregnancy via their drinking water, either from days 11 to 16, days 14-19, or not at all; pregnancy in mice lasts 21 days and the days on which corticosterone was given corresponds to different developmental phases of the placenta. This treatment was designed to produce glucocorticoid levels in the mother similar to those seen in stressful conditions. The animals were either allowed to eat freely or their food intake limited to that of normal, untreated mice. The researchers then measured the amount of glucose crossing the placenta, the organ that supplies all of the substances required for foetal growth, in a specific period of time.

    The researchers found that when corticosterone was given later in pregnancy and the mice allowed to eat freely, the mother ate more but her placenta was less able to transport glucose to the foetus, leading to a decrease in the size of the foetus. This effect was not seen when the hormone was administered earlier in pregnancy or when the diet was restricted. They believe this may be because, under stress and with an unlimited diet, the activity of certain genes in the placenta was modified, including that of the gene Redd1. This gene is believed to signal availability of other substances, like oxygen, and to interact with intracellular pathways regulating growth and nutrient uptake in other tissues of the body. The team believe that future studies may prove this molecule is important in the placenta in linking environmental effects to the nutrition of the foetus.

    Together with previous work, the findings show that maternal glucocorticoids regulate foetal nutrition by acting on the placenta. The researchers believe that glucocorticoid levels in pregnant women may therefore determine the specific combination of nutrients received by the foetus and influence the long term metabolic health of their children as a result.

    Dr Owen Vaughan from the University of Cambridge says: “The foetuses of the mice with raised levels of the stress hormone tended to be smaller, despite the mother overeating, suggesting that a mother’s stress levels may affect her child’s growth. We showed that this is likely to be because the stress hormone reduced the ability of the placenta to pass essential nutrients to the foetus.”

    The researchers believe this study may have implications for women stressed during pregnancy or treated clinically with glucocorticoids, if the mechanisms are similar in humans, though it is unclear yet the extent to which changes in the ability of the placenta to transport nutrients to the foetus exacerbate or protect the child from the potential adverse effects of glucocorticoid overexposure during pregnancy. Nor is it clear whether maternal diet influences the outcome of glucocorticoid overexposure during human pregnancy.

    Professor Abby Fowden, who led the research, adds: “It may be that by changing her diet, a mother can counter the effects of stress hormones on the human placenta. In other words, a mother’s ‘hormonal profile’ may dictate the most appropriate diet for a successful outcome of pregnancy. We need more research in this area before we can start giving such advice, however.”

    Reference
    Vaughan OR, Fisher HM, Dionelis KN, Jefferies EC, Higgins JS, Musial B, Sferruzzi-Perri AN & Fowden AL (2015) Corticosterone alters materno-foetal glucose partitioning and insulin signalling in pregnant mice. DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2014.287177

    Increased levels of stress hormones can lead pregnant mice to overeat, but affect growth of the foetus and, potentially, the long term health of the offspring, according to a study published today.

    The foetuses of the mice with raised levels of the stress hormone tended to be smaller, despite the mother overeating, suggesting that a mother’s stress levels may affect her child’s growth
    Owen Vaughan
    Pregnancy

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    The Cambridge MBA was also ranked in the world’s top 10 business schools in two key areas of the FT’s survey: 4th for aims achieved and 5th for value for money, based on feedback from alumni in response to the survey.

    The FT’s ranking of MBA programmes follows by one month the results of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), which rated nearly nine out of ten submissions from Cambridge Judge as “world leading” or “internationally excellent”.

    Dean of the School, Christoph Loch, said:

    “I am heartened and proud of the excellent result by Cambridge Judge in this major ranking by the Financial Times.

    “This ranking of the Cambridge MBA in the global top 15 builds on several years of solid results, and is complemented by our recent REF position and the rankings of our other programmes.

    “While these surveys are useful, they do not define our strategy and mission – which is to deliver a transformational experience to students of varied career aspirations, and to create a world leading research based business school that values excellence in teaching.”

    The annual Financial Times global MBA rankings, published today (26 January), place Cambridge Judge Business School 13th, up from 16th the previous year, holding its place as the top-ranked one-year MBA programme in the UK for the third consecutive year.

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    New and refurbished areas have provided Cambridge Veterinary School, with a new Clinical Skills Centre; nine new Consultation Rooms and an upgrade to include a Student Teaching Consultation Room; a new Pharmacy; relocation of accommodation for clinicians and veterinary interns; and relocation of the Clinical Pathology Laboratory and the University of Cambridge Veterinary School Trust Office to within the Hospital.

    Professor James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine,  says ‘This building project has enhanced both the teaching and the Hospital environment, and creates far better on site facilities for the education of student and the treatment of animals in our care. The new Clinical Skills Teaching Laboratory will provide our students with modern, state-of-the-art facilities to practise and improve their proficiencies in the wide range of practical skills needed by new graduates. The support of our benefactors and donors with this initiative is invaluable and is greatly appreciated by us all.’

    The Pauline Brown Clinical Skills Centre is a dedicated instructional room with dozens of interactive models and simulators for training and self-study. As such, it will play a crucial role in the students’ learning experience by allowing them to practise essential technical skills over a wide range of disciplines in a low-stress environment, and enable them to become proficient with procedures and equipment before using these on animal patients. Modern Clinical Skills Teaching Laboratories have a very positive effect on veterinary students’ clinical performance – including, on graduation, increased confidence and competence during their first few weeks and months in their new jobs.

    The Camvet Campaign
    It was thanks to two very generous bequests that the Trust and the Department of Veterinary Medicine already had substantial funding available for the building work, and so the focus of the Trust’s Camvet Campaign has been to raise the £330,000 needed to equip the Pauline Brown Clinical Skills Centre and kit out the new Consultation Rooms in the Marguerite Price Consulting Wing. The Trust has had a wonderful response from supporters and, with well over half the money raised so far, is taking great pleasure in ticking items off the equipment Wish List, but there is still a way to go.

    To donate to the Camvet Campaign or for more information call the Trust office on 01223 337630.

    Pictured  L - R are Head of Department Professor James Wood, The Chancellor and The Dean Professor Mike Herrtage with Veterinary Medicine students

    The Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, has officially opened an exciting new £3 million development at Cambridge Veterinary School.

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    Twilight at the Museums is an annual fixture for families highlighting the museums as places of entertainment and exploration and this year includes four non-university museums: Museum of Technology, Museum of Cambridge, Farmland Museum & Denny Abbey, and the Cambridge Science Centre.

    Visitors will be able dip into the depths of the ocean at The Polar Museum’s Deep Sea Darkness event; play Guess Who with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and step into the natural world of the Botanic Garden to journey through the glowing glasshouses.

    They can also gain some technical know-how with hands-on activities at the Museum of Technology, or take part in quizzes, torch-lit exploring, and book-making at the University Library, which joins the Twilight team for the first time.

    Visitors will also be able to enjoy an interactive light display illuminating the Fitzwilliam Museum and discover the historic streets of Cambridge in a torch-lit tour with the Cambridge Guides. 

    Gourmet burger van ‘Steak and Honour’ will be on hand to feed visitors to the Downing Site alongside Caffe Mobile’s hot drinks and cakes. More food and drink options will be available at the Fitzwilliam, Botanic Garden and Farmland Museum, and the Museum of Cambridge is running a special Twilight Tea Room (for workshop participants only).

    Anyone attending Twilight at the Museums can pick up or download a copy of the Twilight What’s On for their all-important Passport. Use it to collect a stamp at every venue you visit.

    www.cam.ac.uk/museums/twilight

    Museums and collections across the city are opening their doors after dark on February 18 (4.30pm-8.30pm) for an evening of nocturnal fun and adventure. Thirteen venues are taking part with free drop-in and bookable events.

    Visitors will be able dip into the depths of the ocean at The Polar Museum’s Deep Sea Darkness event.
    Twilight at the Museums

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    Lucy Cavendish College has launched Fifty Poems, an innovative online poetry resource.

    It captures 50 poems, written by 50 female poets and read by voices across the whole College community - including staff, students, fellows and alumnae.

    The project aims to encourage people to engage with poetry as a spoken form, as well as celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the foundation of Lucy Cavendish.

    Fifty Poems is the creation of three Lucy Cavendish English students Kassi Chalk, Charlotte Quinney and Hannah Schühle-Lewis.

    Visitors to the Fifty Poems area of the College website will discover recordings of an eclectic selection of poems, covering a wide range of topics. They encompass nature, faith, sex, death, family, race and gender. 

    New, unusual and unknown poems appear alongside familiar classics. The collection also includes work by three students and a member of staff.

    Dr Isobel Maddison, Vice-President of Lucy Cavendish and Director of Studies in English said: “Fifty Poems is a fine example of the creativity and collaboration that’s commonplace amongst our students. It’s an innovative resource that showcases an inspiring collection of work from female poets, as well as a fitting tribute to the achievements of the College during the past 50 years.”

    Fifty Poems can be accessed here: http://www.lucy-cav.cam.ac.uk/fiftypoems.

    Student-led poetry project which celebrates half-a-century of Lucy Cavendish College goes live.

    Fifty Poems is a fine example of the creativity and collaboration that’s commonplace amongst our students.
    Dr Isobel Maddison

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