Articles on this Page
- 06/16/15--01:22: _Tool use is 'innate...
- 06/16/15--06:06: _A real piece of work
- 06/16/15--08:43: _Award-winning scien...
- 06/17/15--02:11: _Hope for first trea...
- 06/17/15--03:21: _Computer tutor
- 06/17/15--05:52: _C is for Chicken (a...
- 06/17/15--06:40: _Inspiring young peo...
- 06/18/15--02:40: _Preparing social sc...
- 06/18/15--03:43: _Last chance to see ...
- 06/18/15--06:32: _Cambridge gets REAL...
- 06/18/15--06:32: _GCSE students disco...
- 06/18/15--07:40: _Archive of Margaret...
- 06/18/15--07:56: _MRSA contamination ...
- 06/18/15--07:20: _Honorary Degrees 2015
- 06/19/15--03:54: _Novel Thoughts #4: ...
- 06/19/15--05:44: _Masters of the univ...
- 06/19/15--23:00: _Life in the snow fo...
- 06/21/15--16:03: _Silent flights: How...
- 06/22/15--01:29: _Novel Thoughts #5: ...
- 06/22/15--07:32: _New technique for ‘...
- 06/16/15--06:06: A real piece of work
- 06/16/15--08:43: Award-winning scientist speaks on HIV/AIDS in South Africa
- 06/17/15--03:21: Computer tutor
- 06/17/15--05:52: C is for Chicken (and Campylobacter)
- 06/17/15--06:40: Inspiring young people in care
- 06/18/15--02:40: Preparing social scientists for the world of big data
- 06/18/15--03:43: Last chance to see Kettle’s Yard for two years
- 06/18/15--06:32: Cambridge gets REAL about overcoming obstacles to global education
- 06/18/15--06:32: GCSE students discover the wonders of German
- 06/18/15--07:40: Archive of Margaret Thatcher acquired for the nation
- 06/18/15--07:56: MRSA contamination found in supermarket sausages and minced pork
- 06/18/15--07:20: Honorary Degrees 2015
- 06/19/15--03:54: Novel Thoughts #4: Simon Redfern on Chinghiz Aitmatov's Jamila
- 06/19/15--05:44: Masters of the universe
- 06/22/15--07:32: New technique for ‘seeing’ ions at work in a supercapacitor
Chimpanzees and bonobos are the two closest living relatives of the human species - the ultimate tool-using ape. Yet, despite being so closely related on the evolutionary tree, wild chimpanzees and bonobos differ hugely in the way they use tools.
Chimpanzees show the most diverse range of tool use outside of humans. For example, chimpanzees use sticks to 'fish' for ants and termites, stones to crack nuts, as well as tools for grooming and communication. Bonobos rarely use tools and never to forage for food.
The question of 'what makes a tool user?' is a key one in human evolution, says researcher Dr Kathelijne Koops, and the origins of human tool mastery could lie in the gulf between tool use in chimpanzees and bonobos.
Is it to do with the environment the apes live in and the surrounding opportunities for tool use? Or perhaps the opportunities to learn from other apes through social contact? Or something deep-rooted. Something intrinsic.
Koops, in collaboration with colleagues from Kyoto University, conducted painstaking research tracking communities of wild chimpanzees and bonobos in Uganda and Congo for months, cataloguing not just all tool use, but also all potential for tool use in terms of the different environments and social time spent.
They also investigated the innate propensity for object manipulation in young apes, regardless of whether said object was deployed as a 'tool' - the first wild inter-species comparison of its kind.
The researchers found that environmental opportunities did not explain the difference in tool use. From nut trees to ant nests, stones to shrubs, the bonobos had access to as many tools and promising foraging opportunities in their stomping ground as the chimpanzees.
Nor did social opportunities. In fact, young bonobos spent more time with their mothers, and had more individuals in close proximity for more time whilst feeding than young chimpanzees. Young bonobos also had more social partners than young chimpanzees.
However, immature chimpanzees manipulated and played a lot more with objects than bonobos, and played with objects on their own. This was a difference already visible in very young individuals, says Koops. In fact, she says this is the first evidence for a species difference in the innate predisposition for tool use in our closest evolutionary cousins.
"Chimpanzees are object-oriented, in a way that bonobos are not," said Koops, who conducted the work at Cambridge University's Division of Biological Anthropology and at Zurich University's Anthropological Institute and Museum.
"Given the close evolutionary relationship between these two species and humans, insights into the tool use difference between chimpanzees and bonobos can help us identify the conditions that drove the evolution of human technology.
"Our findings suggest that an innate predisposition, or intrinsic motivation, to manipulate objects was likely also selected for in the hominin lineage and played a key role in the evolution of technology in our own lineage," she said.
The research is published today in the journal Scientific Reports.
Inset image: Young Bonobos Engaged in Social Play. Credit: Kathelijne Koops
First evidence for a species difference in the innate predisposition for tool use in our closest evolutionary cousins could provide insight into how humans became the ultimate tool-using ape.
There comes a point when talking with Dr Leigh Shaw-Taylor at which it seems necessary to go over the facts again, if only to establish that he really does mean what he appears to have just said.
While many historians will spend their careers chipping away at the past with gentle care, 12 years into his research project, The Occupational Structure of Britain, 1379–1911, Shaw-Taylor seems to be calling for a wholesale rewrite. If his emerging results are correct, then they have the potential to transform not only the most important chapter in our social and economic history – the industrial revolution (so-called) – but with it the wellspring of much of our local and national identity.
So isn’t this a little drastic? “We’re talking about a fundamental change in what we understand about the past,” he says. “That is a fairly widespread view of our work. I’ve always felt that you can do more with historical research than people think, but I never thought that we could do this much. And it’s nothing compared with what we could achieve if we can keep the project going.”
The project, as its name suggests, is a hugely ambitious, wide-scale attempt to reconstruct the picture of how working life changed and developed in Britain from the late Middle Ages through to the early 20th century. Co-directed by Shaw-Taylor and his Cambridge colleague Professor Sir Tony Wrigley, the research team has spent years assembling information about matters such as population size, transport infrastructure and sector-by-sector employment, at different points in time.
It’s a complex job and, before this, nobody had really tried it. Much of what we know about social and economic history is based on records such as wills and parish registers, which are patchy, inconsistent or highly selective. As well as collating information, the team therefore had to develop a method of controlling for this lack of coherence, to avoid distorting the resulting picture of the past. “We had to develop a system of weighting the importance of the data when analysing it,” Shaw-Taylor explains. “We still can’t be sure that it’s right, but it puts a limit on the extent to which we can be wrong.”
Textbook orthodoxy says that, before the industrial revolution, most people in Britain worked in primary sector employment, overwhelmingly in agriculture. During the ‘revolutionary’ 80-year period starting in about 1760, this landscape was transformed as secondary industries – like processing and manufacturing – took off. Only in the 1950s did Britain supposedly begin to evolve into the tertiary, service-based economy that we have today.
On such things are national and local myths founded – tales of a green and pleasant land that rapidly became black with the smog of industry, for example, or of a country that used to make things, but doesn’t any more.
When Shaw-Taylor and colleagues looked at the data that they had assembled, however, they found that it didn’t fit the existing picture. Nationally, for example, secondary sector employment seems to have grown more between 1500 and 1750 than between 1750 and 1850. “We’ve always presumed that the major structural shift in employment from the primary to the secondary sector took place between 1750 and 1850,” he says. “Well, according to what we’ve found, that change took place about 100 years earlier than we thought.”
Similarly, the data transforms our picture of the evolution of tertiary, service-based industries in Britain. Rather than taking off in the mid-20th century, these seem to have been growing all the way through the 18th and 19th. By 1911, one man in 10 was, for example, working in transport – others were shopkeepers, merchants, clerks or professionals.
If this is true, it means an adjustment to our ‘island story’ that has some radical implications for the history of places far beyond these shores as well. For instance, it is often argued that Britain’s industrialisation was made possible thanks to the raw materials gathered by the slaves of Empire. If industrialisation began before the Empire existed, however, as these findings suggest, the story changes. “Moreover, for a small island off the coast of north-west Europe to start projecting its power around the world, something unusual must have happened internally before that, not after,” Shaw-Taylor points out.
Equally, if the shift to secondary sector employment happened before the dark, Satanic mills that populate the nation’s consciousness as temples of the industrial revolution even existed, then we need to modify our picture of what people were actually doing. If not farming, then what?
It seems likely that more early-modern Brits than we thought were carpenters, shoemakers, bakers, butchers, tailors and masons. This, in turn, raises puzzles about when and why agricultural and primary labour ceased to be dominant. The likelihood is that the evolution of more productive, less labour-intensive farming led to a decline in the relative importance of primary work. Over time, the children and grandchildren of agriculturalists would have been drawn to new opportunities in the secondary sector, or even tertiary, service industries.
Much remains to be done and there are still significant gaps in the research, most notably around the role of women in British employment history. Many historians associate the industrial revolution with new opportunities for female employment; others believe, just as fervently, that female employment collapsed. Only with more work and more funding will the team be able to establish exactly how women’s lives, and the family, changed during this period, and the consequences that this had for women’s social status.
What exists at the moment is, nevertheless, a compelling case for a data-led approach to writing the story of the past. “Methodologically, explaining why things happened in history is very difficult because it only happens once and you can’t run it under controlled conditions,” Shaw-Taylor observes. “Yet the processes historians are trying to describe are often vastly more complex than those described by science. Our approach has been to eschew questions of why until we have the data at our disposal. Until you have those patterns, you’re just trying to explain things that may or may not have happened, and that’s a waste of time.”
In 2003, researchers embarked on a project to piece together a picture of changes in British working life over the course of 600 years. The emerging results seem to demand a rewrite of the most important chapter in our social and economic history.
Professor Rees is a global expert on the topic and is the founder and Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI), which also serves as a WHO and UNAIDS Collaborating Centre.
She is also the latest recipient of the prestigious Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award and an Honorary Fellow of Murray Edwards College.
With a prevalence rate of nearly 1 in 5 in South Africa and over 35 million people living with the virus globally, the quest to identify a cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS is never far from the news.
The global impact of HIV/AIDS varies, but infection is concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and in working-age populations.
The virus hits families, women and gay/bisexual men disproportionately and understanding how to develop and implement effective preventative strategies has been key in efforts to manage the spread of the epidemic.
Professor Rees will discuss the work that has been undertaken, particularly the research aimed at documenting, understanding and preventing new HIV infections among young women.
She will also explore the policy environment which has shaped the response to the epidemic in South Africa.
The Story of an Epidemic: The Changing Face of HIV in South Africa takes place at 12noon this Friday (19th June) at the McGrath Centre, St. Catharine’s College. Click here to book a place.
People Matter Week is a programme of activities that highlights the services available that promote wellbeing and support all members of University community (both Staff and Students). Full programme information is available on the People Matter Week website.
Professor Helen Rees OBE will give this year’s People Matter Week Lecture on the evolving story of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.
Genetic evidence dating back to 2000, from research the BHF helped to fund, indicated that the absence or reduced activity of a particular protein, bone morophogenetic protein type II receptor (BMPR-II), leads to pulmonary arterial hypertension. BMPR-II is important to the normal function of the blood vessels of the lungs. Pulmonary arterial hypertension is thought to affect around 6,500 people in the UK.
In research published in Nature Medicine, BHF Professor of Cardiopulmonary Medicine Nick Morrell and colleagues report the first use a protein, called BMP9, to reverse the effects of reduced activity of BMPR-II and to reverse the disease itself. The study was conducted in mice and rats, but also using cells from patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a chronic and debilitating disease that affects the blood vessels in the lungs, leading to heart failure, and leaves sufferers feeling breathless and exhausted. Current treatments only target the symptoms and prognosis remains poor. The only effective cure is a lung, or heart and lung, transplant, which has associated risks and complications.
Once diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension, a person has a 30 per cent chance of dying within three years and the condition affects more women than men. Researchers speculate that this gender disparity is caused by pregnancy triggering the disease in genetically susceptible women or that oestrogen can affect the function of BMPR-II.
The Cambridge team, with contributions from researchers at the University of Lincoln, Switzerland and the US, searched for a BMP protein that could enhance the function of BMPR-II to target the condition. The researchers firstly trialled different BMP proteins on lung blood vessel cells grown in a dish. This process showed BMP9 to be most selective, and therefore less likely to have negative effects on other cells.
This study used the first animal model, a mouse, which closely mimics the human genetic form of the disease. Ultimately though, the team showed that BMP9 treatment reversed pulmonary arterial hypertension in three separate mouse and rat models. They found that the treatment works in mice with both the genetic from of the disease, and in acquired forms of pulmonary arterial hypertension, where the cause is unknown.
Professor Morrell, from the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge, and Director of the BHF Cambridge Centre for Cardiovascular Research Excellence, said: “The next step for our research is studies in people with pulmonary arterial hypertension – first, safety testing to ensure the compound can be given to people. But we’re confident of passing this phase because BMP9 exists naturally in the body. We’re just giving patients more of it.”
The study has been welcome by the BHF, which funded the research. Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associated Medical Director, said: “We’re very excited by these results. This condition is horrible and an effective treatment that prevents the need for a transplant would be a game-changer.
“Clinical trials of the treatment in patients are still needed but these findings, from years of research supported by the BHF, offer real promise of a cure.”
Kath Graham, 53 years old from Stevenage, was collapsing almost daily and confined to a wheelchair because of the severity of her pulmonary arterial hypertension and the treatments for it, until she had a heart and lung transplant in September 2013. Before her transplant, she needed to have a continuous infusion of intravenous (IV) medications.
“It meant having a small pump, which I carried around on an elastic waistband. I had to prepare an infusion in a sterile environment twice a day and put that into a syringe attached to the pump which then infused the drug continuously through a permanent line fitted by the hospital.
“I didn’t have a choice because at that stage I was collapsing every few days. Just climbing out of bed, I would collapse and pass out so I had a sort of love/hate relationship with it. I knew the IV drugs were helping to keep me well until I could get a transplant but they also made me quite sick.
“I’m so grateful for my transplant but, it would have been so much better if I could have taken a medicine that worked and didn’t have the same side effects. The research happening at Cambridge, supported by the BHF, gives me some hope for all my friends who have pulmonary arterial hypertension. A treatment can’t come soon enough.”
Adapted from a press release from the British Heart Foundation.
Lu Long et al. Selective enhancement of endothelial BMPR-II with BMP9 reverses pulmonary arterial hypertension. Nature Medicine; 15 June 2015
A protein that targets the effects of a faulty gene could offer the first treatment targeting the major genetic cause of pulmonary arterial hypertension, according to research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and carried out at the University of Cambridge.
“We arrived to our destination and we looked each other.”
To a native English speaker, the mistakes in this sentence are clear. But someone learning English would need a teacher to point them out, explain the correct use of prepositions and check later that they have improved. All of which takes time.
Now imagine the learner was able to submit a few paragraphs of text online and, in a matter of seconds, receive an accurate grade, sentence-by-sentence feedback on its linguistic quality and useful suggestions for improvement.
This is Cambridge English Write & Improve – an online learning system, or ‘computer tutor’, to help English language learners – and it’s built on information from almost 65 million words gathered over a 20-year period from tests taken by real exam candidates speaking 148 different languages living in 217 different countries or territories.
Built by Professor Ted Briscoe’s team in Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, it’s an example of a new kind of tool that uses natural language processing and machine learning to assess and give guidance on text it has never seen before, and to do this indistinguishably from a human examiner.
“About a billion people worldwide are studying English as a further language, with a projected peak in 2050 of about two billion,” says Briscoe. “There are 300 million people actively preparing for English exams at any one time. All of them will need multiple tests during this learning process.”
Language testing affects the lives of millions of people every year; a successful test result could open the door to jobs, further education and even countries.
But marking tests and giving individual feedback is one of the most time-consuming tasks that a teacher can face. Automating the process makes sense, says Dr Nick Saville, Director of Research and Validation at Cambridge Assessment.
“Humans are good teachers because they show understanding of people’s problems, but machines are good at dealing with routine things and large amounts of data, seeing patterns, and giving feedback that the teacher or the learner can use. These tools can free up the teacher’s time to focus on actual teaching.”
Cambridge Assessment, a not-for-profit part of the University, produces and marks English language tests taken by over five million people each year. Two years ago, they teamed up with Briscoe’s team and Professor Mark Gales in the Department of Engineering and Dr Paula Buttery in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics to launch the Automated Language Teaching and Assessment (ALTA) Institute, directed by Briscoe. Their aim is to create tools to support learners of both written and spoken English.
Underpinning Write & Improve is information gleaned from a vast dataset of quality-scored text – the Cambridge Learner Corpus. Built by Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment, this is the world’s largest collection of exam papers taken by English language learners around the world.
Each test has been transcribed and information gathered about the learner’s age, language and grade achieved. Crucially, all errors (grammar, spelling, misuse, word sequences, and so on) have been annotated so that a computer can process the natural language used by the learner.
Write & Improve works by supervised machine learning – having learnt from the Corpus of errors, it can make inferences about new unannotated data. Since its launch as a beta version in March 2014, the program has attracted over 20,000 repeat users. And each new piece of text it receives continues this process of learning and improving its accuracy, which is already running at almost equal to the most experienced human markers.
Briscoe believes that this sort of technology has the potential to change the landscape of teaching and assessment practices: “Textbooks are rapidly morphing into courseware where people can test their understanding as they go along. This fits with pedagogical frameworks in which the emphasis is on individual profiling of students and giving them tailored advice on what they can most usefully move onto next.”
He regards the set-up of ALTA as the “best type” of technology transfer: “We do applied research and have a pipeline for transferring this to products. But that pipeline also produces data that feeds back into research.”
The complex algorithms that underpin Write & Improve are being further developed and customised by iLexIR, a company Briscoe and others set up to convert university research into practical applications; and a new company, English Language iTutoring, has been created to deliver Write & Improve and similar web-based products via the cloud and to capture the data that will feed back into the R&D effort to improve the tutoring products.
Now, the researchers are looking beyond text to speech. Assessing spoken English brings a set of very different challenges to assessing written English. The technology needs to be able to cope with the complexities of the human voice: the rhythm, stress and intonation of speech, the uhms and ahhs, the pauses.
“The fact that you can get speech recognition on your phone tends to imply in some people’s minds that speech recognition is solved,” says Gales, Professor of Information Engineering. “But the technology still struggles with second language speech. We need to be able to assess the richness in people’s spoken responses, including whether it’s the correct expression of emotion or the development of an argument.” Gales is developing new forms of machine learning, again using databases of examples of spoken English.
“The data-driven approach is the only way to create tools like these,” adds Briscoe. “Building automated tests that use multiple choice is easy. The stuff we are doing is messy, and it’s ever- changing. We’ve shown that if you train a system to this year’s exam on data from 10 years ago the system is less accurate than if you train it on data from last year.”
This is why, says Briscoe, it’s unimaginable to reach a point where the machines have learned enough to understand and predict almost all of the typical mistakes learners make: “Language is a moving target. English is constantly being globalised; vocabulary changes; grammar evolves; and methods of assessment change as progress in pedagogy happen. I don’t think there will ever be a point when we can say ‘we are done now’.”
Inset image: Professor Ted Briscoe (University of Cambridge).
Millions of English language tests are taken each year by non-native English speakers. Researchers at Cambridge’s ALTA Institute are building ‘computer tutors’ to help learners prepare for the exam that could change their lives.
Poultry is an important source of protein; almost half the meat we eat in the UK is chicken. And the popularity of chicken is rising: it’s convenient, tasty and cheap. On average we eat around 190g per person per week. Poultry, however, harbours a hidden problem. Around two-thirds of raw chicken sold by British retailers is infected with bacteria called Campylobacter.
Campylobacter is ubiquitous in the environment. All chicken flocks, large or small, factory-farmed or free range, are susceptible to infection. The bacteria have the ability to survive the production chain from farm to fork.
Adequate cooking, however, kills the bacteria and makes chicken safe to eat. Consumers are advised not to wash chicken before cooking and to follow basic hygiene rules when handling raw chicken.
If Campylobacter is ingested by humans, it can lead to diarrhoea. Four out of five cases of food poisoning in the UK can be traced to poultry; sickness from Campylobacter costs the economy an estimated £900 million each year. Recovery can take a week or more, and infection with the bacteria is also associated with serious complications – including reactive arthritis and Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
These facts are the driving force behind research being undertaken by microbiologists Dr Andrew Grant, Professor Duncan Maskell and their groups at the Department of Veterinary Medicine. “Campylobacter is the leading source of bacterial gastroenteritis, affecting half a million people and killing an estimated 100 people each year in the UK,” says Grant. “This is why it’s a major target for research efforts.”
Poultry is big business. Production units supplying the major supermarkets can house 50,000 birds or more. Even when stringent biosecurity measures are taken, incursions occur when barriers are broken. “It takes just a couple of bacteria, or perhaps even one, entering a unit for a flock of thousands of birds to be infected in less than a week,” says Grant. “The chicken gut is the ideal vessel for Campylobacter to flourish. Transmission is guaranteed by a continual process of consumption and excretion known as coprophagy.”
There are no vaccines – either for poultry or humans – to protect against Campylobacter. The ubiquity and resilience of Campylobacter jejuni (the strain that colonises poultry and causes most gastroenteritis in humans) have prompted a government-led push to reduce the level of infection by developing ways in which to contain, and ultimately eliminate, its presence in the nation’s most popular meat.
“We need to look at the problem both on an industry-wide scale and on a microbial scale. The first approach involves working hand-in-hand with producers and processors and the second working in the lab to understand the structure and behaviour of Campylobacter,” says Grant.
“Working with the industry, we’re building a picture of the highly dynamic process of transmission from one bird to another and also at the ways in which Campylobacter is spread during slaughtering and processing. In the lab we’re looking at how we can manipulate Campylobacter so that it can’t spread – essentially we’re trying to identify and target its Achilles heel.”
One avenue being explored is the identification of the Campylobacter genes required for chicken colonisation, which could make good targets for therapeutic intervention. Another approach is to disarm Campylobacter by altering its characteristic shape from spiral to rod-shaped. Once rod shaped it loses its ability to colonise chickens and cause disease in humans.
Scientists working on Campylobacter face formidable challenges. Highly successful in the environments where it thrives best, the bug is difficult to culture in the lab where scientists need to work with live bacteria.
In the food production and retailing sectors, a reluctance to take ownership of the problem has led to lack of investment in measures to address an issue that each sector sees as the other’s problem. The profit margins made by farmers are tiny – as low as one or two pence per bird produced. The onus therefore is seen to lie with processors and retailers to invest in intervention and control strategies.
There is a mounting sense of urgency in the drive to eliminate Campylobacter from the nation’s food chain. Incidents of Campylobacter food poisoning are continuing to rise. Around 75,000 cases per year are ‘culture confirmed’ and, due to under-reporting, the true total is estimated to be equivalent to at least 460,000, and possibly 750,000, cases.
“Campylobacter found in raw chicken sold to consumers is generally on the surface of the birds, which means that adequate cooking quickly destroys the bacteria. But we now think that it might be entering chickens’ muscle tissue and internal organs,” says Grant.
“Infection by Campylobacter is considered to be the most prevalent cause of bacterial diarrhoeal disease worldwide. Compared to many other pathogens we know comparatively little about the bacteria and there are still many more questions than answers. There is a need for alternative strategies to reduce Campylobacter in chickens and Campylobacter-induced disease burden in humans.”
Next in the Cambridge Animal Alphabet: D is for a creature that prowls the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, confronts students in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, and was a fertile symbol for medieval poets.
Inset images: Raw chicken in a pot (eltpics); Campylobacter jejuni (Andrew Grant).
The Cambridge Animal Alphabet series celebrates Cambridge's connections with animals through literature, art, science and society. Here, C is for Chicken – a popular source of protein that carries a hidden hazard in the form of Campylobacter.
Will Lyon Tupman, a first-year theology and religious studies student at Girton college, is just over half way through his exams and is feeling quietly confident about those he still has to sit. Taking a day off from his revision, Will has joined a team of student ambassadors involved in Realise, a University of Cambridge Widening Participation programme which encourages young people in care to consider higher education.
As a teenager, Will attended two Realise events himself, travelling from his home in North Yorkshire to discover what university could offer him. As Will recalls, those visits left a big impression
“My foster parents said I should take a photo of Cambridge and pin it on my bedroom wall as something to aim for. I did and with lots of support from them, and hard work, I got my place. I’m very happy to be here. Everyone has been so welcoming and I’ve made so many great friends.”
Will speaks passionately about his course, his Christian faith and his extra-curricular activities which include singing in the college choir, cross-country running and photography. This is the third Realise event that Will has helped run and he is determined to carry on.
“It’s just very rewarding to know that you’ve played a positive part in someone’s life”, he says.
In the morning, Will leads a group of 11-14 year-olds from Hackney, Manchester and Suffolk on a trivia trail around Cambridge. “Above the Great Gate of Trinity College, what is Henry VIII holding in his right hand?” he asks. A table leg, it turns out. “What sports are being played on Jesus Green?” Rowing, tennis, Frisbee, football and … Quidditch, everyone observes in amazement. Cambridge, it appears, is a place full of unusual opportunities.
After a tour of the fittingly Hogwartsian Magdalene (est.1428) and a much-needed lunch break, everyone heads to Cripps Court, home to the college’s 21st Century undergraduate accommodation and conference facilities.
Will gets things underway with a fifteen minute talk offering his personal perspective on making the journey from care to university. Everyone in the audience is given post-it notes so they can write down their questions and have them answered anonymously.
Will says “The young people usually ask me about what life is like here, what lectures are like, whether we have to cook for ourselves and whether it’s hard living away from home. Their guardians are very keen to know exactly what support, emotional and financial, is available, both from the University and local authorities. There is a really strong network of support here which includes bursaries, college and student-led welfare systems, counselling services and academic support.”
After Will’s talk, everyone heads upstairs to explore the Science Carousel, six interactive demonstrations overseen by expert volunteers, most of whom are Cambridge PhD students. One table brims with animal skeletons which Laura, a PhD criminologist and biology enthusiast, uses to discuss evolution, habitat and animal behaviour. Opposite, Surangi from the Physiology department, is setting off mini-explosions using lemon juice and sodium bicarbonate to discuss chemical reactions. Nearby, Sarah from Physiology, Development & Neuroscience, is using food colouring to explain interactions between different blood types. Meanwhile, Holly, a post-grad chemist, is unravelling the mysteries of fluorescence using a UV light, highlighter pens, sun tan lotion, a £5 note and a bottle of tonic water.
At the end of an action-packed day, Will joins project coordinator, Claire Gardner, in a wrapping-up session and encourages everyone to stay in touch.
Realise events run throughout the year and the University’s Widening Participation team is always available to offer advice and support to care leavers interested in applying to Cambridge, as well as their teachers, support workers, carers or guardians.
To find out more visit www.cam.ac.uk/care-events
A Cambridge undergraduate who grew up in care is inspiring others to aim high and realise their potential.
This month sees the first cohort of students completing their courses and starting work placements with the Cambridge Undergraduate Quantitative Methods Centre (CUQM). Established last year in the Department of Sociology, the Centre is dedicated to improving the provision of quantitative methods training to social science and humanities undergraduates in Cambridge.
“The UK is already way ahead of many other countries in the availability of large datasets that can be used to inform both policy and social science research,” says Burchell. “Over the next few decades – the career span of current undergraduates – we are likely to see huge advances in the use of quantitative data including datasets that can only by analysed with big data techniques.”
The increasing ubiquity of big data in the social sciences stems not just from the increasing use of massive datasets in areas such as education and economics, but also to a rise in the use of ‘messier’ data – anything from the way that people engage with Twitter and Facebook, to the public records held by government agencies across Europe – which often require data ‘cleaning’ before statistical analysis can be carried out.
According to Burchell, big data is providing a huge resource that is currently underutilised, which is one of the motivations for establishing the Centre.
“We now have access to a lot of large datasets collected either at a British or a European level, but we lack people with the skills to make use of it. It’s been a bigger problem in the UK than in other countries because a lot of our school kids specialise and give up doing maths at a younger age, and there’s this idea that if you were good at numbers you’d end up doing physics or natural sciences and if you weren’t good at numbers you’d end up doing social science,” Burchell explains.
“But even if you don’t end up doing statistical analyses yourself, it’s important to understand how they’re relevant – where numbers are useful and where they can be misleading,” he adds.
Rather than increasing the basic statistical skills of all students in certain disciplines – which has been tried before in many universities – the Centre has focused on providing more advanced expertise to a proportion of undergraduates across many social science disciplines.
Some subjects, such as Psychology and Economics, already have all students graduating with good levels of quantitative skills. CUQM aims to increase the proportion of graduates leaving Cambridge with these advanced skills in the other social sciences, better preparing them to work with large datasets themelves or to understand how others draw conclusions from them.
“These skills will become increasingly vital for careers in social science research, but they will also make students much more employable in most other sectors as well,” says Burchell. The Centre also works to find placements for students with organisations like YouGov, so that they can experience how statistics skills will be relevant in the workplace.
The first year’s activities have been open to students of archaeology, biological anthropology, education, history, land economy, linguistics, politics, social anthropology and sociology. In the coming year, the Centre will extend the exposure to statistics in the social science courses at Cambridge, as well as introducing more examples of quantitative methods into the teaching of these disciplines. CUQM also aims to provide optional vacation courses to those students who currently don’t have a quantitative data analysis component to their degree, thus preparing more social scientists to engage with the world of big data.
CUQM is part of a wider initiative to train social scientists in research methods at the University of Cambridge. The Social Science Research Methods Centre, for instance, complements the work of CUQM by teaching quantitative methods to graduate students, post-docs and lecturers.
The UK lags behind other countries in preparing social scientists for the world of big data, says Dr Brendan Burchell, Director of a new centre set up to teach undergraduates the advanced quantitative skills they will need to work with massive datasets.
As well as a last chance to see critically acclaimed exhibition New Rhythms, visitors will also be able to talk to the archivist in the house and artist Whitney McVeigh in St Peter’s Church next door. Kettle’s Yard’s youngest visitors have been submitting drawings of dancers inspired by New Rhythms and these drawings will be on display in the learning studio where visitors on the day can also take part.
The house and gallery will then be closed from 22 June for a major redevelopment that will provide a new Education Wing, improvements to the exhibition galleries, and a café for visitors.
The weekend’s events at Kettle’s Yard are also part of Castle Hill Open Day, which is returning for its fourth year. A host of free events are taking place indoors and out exploring the history, heritage and art of Castle Hill.
Venues on Castle Hill will open their doors for free for the day and there will be tours, talks, creative family activities and more with historians, artists and archaeologists. There will be tours of the Nuclear Bunker, Castle Mound and Roman Cambridge; the opportunity to make your own mini summer garden with the Museum of Cambridge; and CAMRA will once again be running their historic pub trail.
New for this year will be pop-up dances performed by North Cambridge Academy students, and tours of the beautiful gardens and the New Hall Art Collection at Murray Edwards College. The collection has over 400 works of art by women artists and is regarded as the most significant collection of its kind in Europe.
Another new feature is the Cabinet of Curiosities, a visual and audio collection of wondrous things created by artist Jane Watt with the help of over 500 people from North West Cambridge. Those who visited Jane’s bright blue touring studio in autumn 2014 brought along objects and were able to watch as they were recorded as a cyanotype, one of the oldest forms of photography. Visitors will be able to see an exhibition of original cyanotypes and a short film about the project.
Refreshments will be available throughout the day and across the sites including Steak and Honour’s locally sourced burgers, freshly brewed coffee from Beanissimo and the Vintage Cafe at the Museum of Cambridge.
Inset images: visitors enjoying Castle Hill Open Day (Josh Murfitt).
Special events on 20 June mark the last weekend that Kettle’s Yard will be open before closing for a major redevelopment.
A new centre that will focus on understanding the barriers to education among disadvantaged children, and on identifying solutions to overcome those barriers, was officially launched in Cambridge on Tuesday 16 June.
The Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, based within the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education, aims to promote education as an engine for sustainable development, and to pioneer research into overcoming obstacles to education including poverty, gender, ethnicity, language and disability.
The launch event at Corpus Christi College’s McCrum Lecture Theatre brought together speakers including Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and current Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, and Dr Hans Brattskar, State Secretary of Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss the subject of “Achieving social transformation through education”.
Welcoming the keynote speakers, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, said: “The launch of the REAL centre is an opportunity to celebrate education, and girls’ education in particular, and to underline the importance of education as a key to social transformation.”
He reminded the audience that “the REAL centre builds on the Faculty of Education’s strong expertise in research of the highest quality that aims to address real problems and influence policy on the ground. It will focus on the challenges of the most marginalised –including girls from poor households, or those with disabilities—in the poorest countries, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.”
Addressing a packed auditorium, Julia Gillard spoke of the 121 million children of primary and lower-secondary school age who are not in school –at least 60 million of whom are girls. At current rates of enrolment, she said, it will be at least another century before the gap in learning outcomes is bridged between developed and developing countries. “Unsurprisingly,” she noted, “girls will get there last.”
The benefits of all girls in developing countries being educated to secondary level would be immediate and long-lasting –a significant decrease in child marriages and a fall in child deaths being only two of the most obvious. “The education of girls is transformative. It is a moral duty and also an economic imperative. Business as usual is nowhere near good enough. By not acting we fail the children and deny ourselves the best possible future.”
She called for “more research, more resources and more innovation” to ensure that all countries are committed to inclusive and equitable quality education. “It is a mammoth undertaking”, she said, before adding: “The need for the REAL centre is pressing. It will make a difference in helping us to understand what works to make education more equitable. It will generate much light to educate every child, including every girl. The REAL centre will be one of real achievement.”
Speaking about Norway’s efforts to ensure global equality of education, ahead of the Oslo Summit for Education and Development in July, Dr Hans Brattskar said: “Equality of education means education for all, including children with disabilities. It also means ensuring education for the 36% of children currently living in areas of armed conflict or caught in humanitarian crises.” To provide equitable education “we have to ensure research is applied in a way that leads to concrete policy and learning”, he said. “REAL will be key to strengthening this evidence-base.”.
Professor Pauline Rose, director of the REAL, spoke about the new centre on a panel following the keynote presentations: “The three words that describe REAL are rigour, partnership and impact. We have to deliver high-quality research that is accessible to policy-makers. We can’t do this on our own, and so partnerships are essential.”
She announced a new partnership with the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), the Cambridge-based international non-profit organisation that aims to tackle poverty and inequality by supporting girls to go to school and develop leadership qualities across countries in sub-Saharan Africa. “It is difficult to find evidence for what works in education,” Professor Rose said. “Camfed’s work is an important exception. We look forward to working together with Camfed, drawing on their experience on the ground, and working together to provide a strong evidence-base on girls’ education.”
Sharing the panel with her was Camfed’s Chief Executive Officer, Lucy Lake, who remarked: “We have to be insistent on girls’ rights to education. That has to be our starting point. But we must go beyond and make explicit the link between girls’ education and economic opportunity. That’s where evidence-based research is essential.”
Also on the panel was Fiona Mavhinga, a founding member of the CAMA, the pan-African network of young women leaders for girls’ education supported by Camfed, who spoke movingly about her own experience of achieving education despite challenging circumstances. “I am sitting her today as a lawyer because of the support I got from Camfed. I was a seventeen-year old girl from a disadvantaged Zimbabwean family and they encouraged me to study law.”
Today, Ms Mavhinga supports young women engaging with government authorities to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination. The child-protection guidance she developed has been recognised as best practice and adopted by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative.
Earlier in the day, Professor Rose, Julia Gillard and Fiona Mavhinga had joined the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, at the Mulberry School in London for the announcement of a new UK-US initiative to promote access to education for girls worldwide, in which REAL will be a partner alongside Camfed, the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), USAID, and Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
The Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre aims to promote education as an engine for sustainable development.
This goes down well with the assembled crowd, 115 GCSE and A-level students, accompanied by 37 teachers, representing 30 schools from across the UK.
The event (held on 13 June at Murray Edwards College) is part of the Cambridge Online German for Schools (COGS) programme run by the University’s Department of German and Dutch.
Other highlights of the day include a talk by Mike Mitchell, an award-winning translator of German literature into English; workshops and a panel discussion on the merits of translation.
Among the distinguished panelists is Dr Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and himself a translator of German poetry. Dr Williams describes growing up in a bilingual household and how this continues to inform his love of and respect for translation. Yet more inspiration comes from Duncan Large, Director of the British Centre of Literary Translation, Paul Kaye from the European Commission and Fiona Rintoul, a writer and translator.
During the course of the day, speakers, students and teachers exchange views about the joys and frustrations of translation, but are unanimous about the cultural importance of learning languages.
The day ends with Cambridge’s Dr John Guthrie giving a talk to launch 'Germans in Britain', a touring exhibition currently on display at Murray Edwards College, followed by a Q&A about studying German at the University today.
The event was generously supported by the Schröder Fund, Cambridge.
The Cambridge German Network is part of the wider Think German Network initiative across the UK. The aim of the network is to support the teaching and learning of the German language, to facilitate contacts between institutions interested in German culture and to promote the collaboration of academic and business partners.
COGS is a forum developed by the Department of German and Dutch at the University of Cambridge for teachers of German at all levels to share user-reviewed classroom materials.
“A human translator will beat any machine any day” proclaims Klaus Fritz, the translator of the Harry Potter books into German.
Written over Easter 1983, almost exactly a year after the Argentine invasion, the handwritten memoir gives profound insights into her handling of the war, particularly her relationships with colleagues and allies including the United States. Probably the single most significant historical document Thatcher ever wrote, her emotional reaction to events is also powerfully present.
The memoir, along with other personal papers, now complement and complete the rich materials already gifted to the Nation and held at the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.
Centre Director Allen Packwood said: “The Churchill Archives Centre is delighted that this important material has been secured in perpetuity, and that it will form part of Lady Thatcher’s personal archive, sitting alongside the papers that she donated during her lifetime. As the reaction to this news shows, there is huge research interest in her as a political figure and in the events of her life and premiership, and the material accepted today will inform further study, discussion and debate. It is an important part of the story of our recent past.”
The papers accepted complement and complete the rich materials already gifted to the Nation. In 1997, just over six years after leaving office, Baroness Thatcher generously gifted the bulk of her personal and political files to the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust, stressing that she had always wanted her archive to stay in the United Kingdom and to be a resource for students and scholars.
The collection deposited in Cambridge contains material from her earliest life right the way through her time as an MP (1959-92), Conservative party leader (1975-90), Prime Minister (1979-90), and beyond. She kept possession of some key personal papers and of much post 1990 material which is now accepted in lieu and which completes the archive.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair, Arts Council England, said: "Whatever our politics we have to recognise Margaret Thatcher as a major historical figure. Her papers will now join those of Churchill and be available to scholars of the 20th century."
The collection accepted in lieu of tax contains her most personal papers relating to crucial episodes in her time as Prime Minister and include:A second previously unpublished memoir gives her personal account of the Fontainebleau European summit in June 1984 which finally settled the five year battle to reform the EC budget and “get her money back”.
A third memoir tells of her visit to Moscow for the funeral of Soviet President Chernenko in March 1985, where she renewed her acquaintance with his successor - Mikhail Gorbachev.
Other significant items include:
The final draft of her remarks in Downing Street when she became Prime Minister in May 1979 – it seems she had planned to talk of the ‘song’ of St. Francis, perhaps because she herself was uneasy with the idea of a prayer.
The text from which she delivered her ‘Not for turning’ speech at the Oct 1980 Conservative Party Conference.
Many other personal papers on the Falklands, most of which have already been released within the archive – including Lord Carrington’s letter explaining his decision to resign as Foreign Secretary; her handwritten notes on conversations with Harold Macmillan, US Secretary of State Al Haig; reports from the Chief Whip on Conservative backbench doubts about the war.
Her engagement diaries for 1952-59, 1961-62 & 1964. In addition there is a quantity of personal and political papers she collected between 1979 and 1990.
Access to the papers accepted will follow existing arrangements for the core collection of Thatcher papers held by the Churchill Archives Centre. The papers already donated by Margaret Thatcher are generally being opened in parallel with official material held at the UK’s National Archives. Currently the majority of papers up to the end of 1984 are available, subject only to occasional closures recommended by the Cabinet Secretary for sensitive official material and any closures necessary to comply with the Data Protection Act.
Certain papers accepted (generally those dated before 1985) are already available at the Archives Centre and online at the Thatcher Foundation’s website. Further materials will continue to be added to the website on their release.
Later materials accepted are still being sorted and catalogued but include significant materials relating to the 1990 Conservative Leadership election.
The Churchill Archives Centre is open to researchers five days a week for about fifty weeks each year. The Centre provides free access for all potential visitors, subject only to prior booking of a space in its reading room.
The acceptance of Margaret Thatcher’s papers settled £1,013,250 of tax.
The relevant papers will be freely available at Churchill Archives Centre with selections online at www.margaretthatcher.org, the website of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.
Margaret Thatcher’s previously unpublished memoir of the Falklands War has been acquired for the nation - after Arts Council England today announced the acceptance in lieu of inheritance tax of papers from the estate of the former Prime Minister.
In February, a team of researchers funded primarily by the Medical Research Council bought and analysed a total of 103 (52 pork and 51 chicken) pre-packaged fresh meat products, labelled as being of UK farm origin, from supermarkets in five different locations across in England.
All of the meat products were frozen at -20 °C and sent to the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge for testing. After thawing, researchers disinfected the exterior packaging before removing the meat. They then tested a 10g sample of meat from each packet and screened for MRSA. Two of the pork samples – one from sausages, one from minced pork – tested positive for MRSA; the sausage sample contained two strains of the bacteria.
In collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute an analysis of the genetic make-up of the bacteria and confirmed the presence of antibiotic resistant genes. The analysis showed that the bacteria belonged to a type of MRSA known as LA-MRSA CC398, which has emerged over the last few years in continental Europe, particularly in pigs and poultry, but was not previously believed to be widely distributed in the UK.
In many countries, LA-MRSA CC398 represents an occupational risk for those in close contact with livestock, particularly pigs and veal calves. Humans in contact with pigs (farm workers, abattoir workers and veterinarians, etc.) have significantly higher rates of the bacteria in their nasal carriage, according to epidemiological studies, for example. Other studies have revealed an association between clinical disease resulting from LA-MRSA CC398 infection and recent contact with pigs or pig farms. As with other MRSA, this type may be responsible for serious illness following wound or surgery site infections, although many people will carry MRSA on their skin or in their noses without showing signs of disease.
The researchers stress that adequate cooking (heating above 71°C) and hygienic precautions during food preparation should minimise the likelihood of transmission to humans via contaminated pork. However, they argue that the discovery of MRSA in pork identifies a potential way that the bacteria can spread from farms to the wider population.
While human contamination of carcasses or meat products in the abattoir or at the meat packing plant may occur, there is good evidence that these isolates are of animal origin – possibly through the use of antibiotics to treat or control infection in livestock.
As the tests use a highly sensitive method of detection of bacterial contamination, the numbers of MRSA bacteria present may be low. The researchers say that as the two infected samples contained processed pork (sausages and minced pork), they cannot rule out that the meat packing plants from which the MRSA from this study originated also handle imported meat. If this were the case, it is conceivable that cross-contamination might have occurred between non-UK to UK sourced meat.
Dr Mark Holmes from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge says: “This is the first time that MRSA has been detected in retail meat products in the UK. The public should not be overly worried by this as sensible food precautions and good hygiene should prevent its spread. It’s also usually pretty harmless and only causes health problems if it infects someone in poor health or gets into a wound.
“However, this does suggest that MRSA is established in our pig farms and provides a possible route of transmission from livestock, through those in direct contact with pigs, into the wider population.”
Dr Des Walsh, Head of Infections and Immunity at the MRC, added: “Studies like this are crucial not just to reveal concerns to human health through contaminated livestock, but to show resistance to antibiotics is a problem growing far beyond just humans. To win the fight against antimicrobial resistance, we need an all hands on deck approach, and that’s why we’ve teamed up with leading experts in biological, social and others sciences in a joint initiative designed to find new solutions, fast.”
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, with additional support from the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics. The results of the study are published in the online journal Eurosurveillance.
Dr Holmes was recently awarded a further £1.58 million from the MRC to look into the effects of antibiotic use on the entire population of animal gut flora, not just the disease causing bacteria. His work, using research in pigs, will help scientists understand the evolution of antibiotic resistance and help to make better choices about how to reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance on farms.
Hadjirin, NF et al. Detection of livestock-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus CC398 in retail pork, United Kingdom, February 2015. Eurosurveillance
A survey carried out earlier this year has found the first evidence of the ‘superbug’ bacteria Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) in sausages and minced pork obtained from supermarkets in the UK. However, researchers stress that this does not pose a significant immediate risk to the public.
Pictured Back Row L - R: Michael Rawlins, Hisashi Owada, John Gardner, James Mirrlees, Julia Neuberger, Neil MacGregor
Front Row L - R: Paula Rego, The Chancellor, The Vice-Chancellor, Judith Thomson
Rabbi Baroness Neuberger
Rabbi Baroness Neuberger, DBE, Senior Rabbi of the West London Synagogue since 2011, read oriental studies at Newnham College (Associate 1983–96) and completed a Rabbinic Diploma at Leo Baeck College, London (Lecturer and Associate Fellow 1979–97). Rabbi of the South London Liberal Synagogue 1977–89, she has chaired an NHS Trust, the Patients Association, the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity and the Review of the Liverpool Care Pathway for Dying Patients, been Prime Minister’s Champion for Volunteering and a Civil Service Commissioner, and was Chief Executive of the King’s Fund 1997–2004.She was Chancellor of the University of Ulster 1994–2000 and Bloomberg Professor of Divinity at Harvard in 2006, Julia Neuberger writes and broadcasts regularly on social, ethical and religious issues. She was appointed DBE in 2004, she was created a Life Peer in the same year.
Judge Hisashi Owada
An international legal scholar and diplomat and a Judge of the International Court of Justice since 2003 (President 2009–12), Judge Professor Hisashi Owada took his BA at the University of Tokyo before coming to Trinity College, of which he is now an Honorary Fellow, to complete an LLB. In the field of foreign affairs, he has been Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Japan and to the OECD and the UN, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, and Senior Adviser to the President of the World Bank. In academia he has held numerous professorial appointments in Japan and abroad and membership of the Institut de Droit International since 2001 (President 2011–13). Hisashi Owada was appointed an Officier of the Légion d’honneur of France and has received the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of Germany for his distinguished contribution to Japan–European relations.
Professor Sir James Mirrlees
James Mirrlees read mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and then mathematics at Trinity College, before gaining his Cambridge PhD in 1963 with a thesis on optimal economic planning. First elected a Fellow of Trinity in that year, he then held teaching posts at both Cambridge and Oxford before returning to Cambridge in 1995 as Professor of Political Economy (now emeritus). A Distinguished Professor-at-Large and the Founding Master of Morningside College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1984 and received the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2009. James Mirrlees was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, conjointly with William Vickrey, in 1996. He was knighted in 1998.
Professor Sir Michael Rawlins
A physician and pharmacologist, Michael Rawlins trained in general medicine and then in clinical pharmacology at the St Thomas’ and Hammersmith Hospitals, London and at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. Professor of Clinical Pharmacology (now emeritus) at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and a Consultant Physician at the Newcastle NHS Hospitals 1973–2006, he is an Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Currently Chair of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and of UK Biobank, from 1999–2013 he was the first Chair of what is now the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. He delivered the 2008 Harveian Oration to the Royal College of Physicians, received the Galen Medal from the Society of Apothecaries in 2010, and was President of the Royal Society of Medicine 2012–14. Michael Rawlins was knighted in 1999.
Mr Neil MacGregor
The art historian and museum director Neil MacGregor read French and German at New College, Oxford and studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He then took an LLB at the University of Edinburgh and was called to the Scottish Bar before deciding to study seventeenth and nineteenth century art at the Courtauld Institute in London. After a lectureship at the University of Reading, he became Editor of The Burlington Magazine in 1981 and was subsequently Director of the National Gallery 1987–2002. Director of the British Museum since 2002, Neil MacGregor was appointed to the Order of Merit in 2010 and made an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia in 2013.
Dame Paula Rego
Painter and printmaker Paula Rego has been an Honorary Fellow of Murray Edwards College since 2013. Born in Lisbon, she studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London 1952–56, and her work is now represented in collections worldwide. A Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art since 1989 (and later Honorary Doctor), she was the first National Gallery Associate Artist in 1990. She received the Grã Cruz da Ordem de Sant'Iago da Espada from the President of Portugal in 2004, a museum of her work, the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, opened at Cascais in 2009, and there have been major retrospective exhibitions both in Britain and abroad. Winner of the MAPFRE Foundation Drawing Prize in Madrid in 2010, Paula Rego was appointed DBE in the same year.
Professor Judith Jarvis Thomson
Philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson took her BA degree at Barnard College before coming to Cambridge in 1950, to read philosophy at Newnham College, and later obtained her PhD at Columbia in 1959. After appointments at Barnard and at Boston University, she joined MIT in 1964, became a full Professor in 1969, and is currently Professor of Philosophy Emerita and former Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1989, she gave the Tanner Lectures on Human Values under the title ‘Goodness and Advice’ at Princeton in 1999. President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 1992, Judith Jarvis Thomson was awarded the Quinn Prize by the Association in 2012, for her lifetime contribution to philosophy.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
John Eliot Gardiner read history at King’s College, of which he is an Honorary Fellow, he was a Visiting Fellow of Peterhouse and is President of the Bach-Archiv in Leipzig. After studying music and musicology in London and Paris, he was soon in demand as a freelance orchestral conductor. He is widely acknowledged as a key figure in the early music revival, founding and continuing to direct the English Baroque Soloists, the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. An Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and of King’s College London, he has also become a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur and has received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Appointed CBE in 1990, John Eliot Gardiner was knighted in 1998.
Eight distinguished individuals were awarded Honorary Degrees today by The Chancellor, Lord Sainsbury.
As a mineral scientist, Professor Simon Redfern from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences travels widely, and likes his visits to be about more than just the rocks. A recent trip to Kazakhstan was enlivened by reading Jamila by Chinghiz Aitmatov, a novella set in post-war Soviet Kyrgyzstan, on the borders of Kazakhstan.
Here he talks about this favourite book as part of ‘Novel Thoughts’, a series exploring the literary reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists. From illustrated children’s books to Thomas Hardy, from Star Wars to Middlemarch, we find out what fiction has meant to each of the scientists and peek inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.
‘Novel Thoughts’ was inspired by research at the University of St Andrews by Dr Sarah Dillon (now a lecturer in the Faculty of English at Cambridge) who interviewed 20 scientists for the ‘What Scientists Read’ project. She found that reading fiction can help scientists to see the bigger picture and be reminded of the complex richness of human experience. Novels can show the real stories behind the science, or trigger a desire in a young reader to change lives through scientific discovery. They can open up new worlds, or encourage a different approach to familiar tasks.
View the whole series: Novel Thoughts: What Cambridge scientists read.
Is there a novel that has inspired you? Let us know! #novelthoughts
New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives. In the fourth film, Professor Simon Redfern talks about how Jamila by Chinghiz Aitmatov made his recent trip to Kazakhstan about more than just rocks.
Imagine having to design a completely automated system that could take all of the live video from all of the hundreds of thousands of cameras monitoring London, and automatically dispatch an ambulance any time any person falls and hurts themselves, anywhere in the city, without any human intervention whatsoever. That is the scale of the problem facing the team designing the software and computing behind the world’s largest radio telescope.
When it becomes operational in 2023, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will probe the origins, evolution and expansion of our universe; test one of the world’s most famous scientific theories; and perhaps even answer the greatest mystery of all — are we alone?
Construction on the massive international project, which involves and is funded by 11 different countries and 100 organisations, will start in 2018. When complete, it will be able to map the sky in unprecedented detail — 10,000 times faster and 50 times more sensitively than any existing radio telescope — and detect extremely weak extraterrestrial signals, greatly expanding our ability to search for planets capable of supporting life.
The SKA will be co-located in South Africa and Australia, where radio interference is least and views of our galaxy are best. The instrument itself will be made up of thousands of dishes that can operate as one gigantic telescope or multiple smaller telescopes — a phenomenon known as astronomical interferometery, which was developed in Cambridge by Sir Martin Ryle almost 70 years ago.
“The SKA is one of the major big data challenges in science,” explains Professor Paul Alexander, who leads the Science Data Processor (SDP) consortium, which is responsible for designing all of the software and computing for the telescope. In 2013, the University’s High Performance Computing Service unveiled ‘Wilkes’ — one of the world’s greenest supercomputers with the computing power of 4,000 desktop machines running at once, and a key test-bed for the development of the SKA computing platform.
During its projected 50-year lifespan, the SKA will carry out several experiments to study the nature of the universe. Cambridge researchers will focus on two of these, the first of which will follow hydrogen through billions of years of cosmic time.
“Hydrogen is the raw material from which everything in the universe developed,” says Alexander. “Everything we can see in the universe and everything that we’re made from started out in the form of hydrogen and a small amount of helium. What we want to do is to figure out how that happened.”
The second of the two experiments will look at pulsars — spinning neutron stars that emit short, quick pulses of radiation. Since the radiation is emitted at regular intervals, pulsars also turn out to be extremely accurate natural clocks, and can be used to test our understanding of space, time and gravity, as proposed by Einstein in his general theory of relativity.
By tracking a pulsar as it orbits a black hole, the telescope will be able to examine general relativity to its absolute limits. As the pulsar moves around the black hole, the SKA will follow how the clock behaves in the very strong gravitational field.
“General relativity tells us that massive objects like black holes warp the space–time around them, and what we call gravity is the effect of that warp,” says Alexander. “This experiment will enable us to test our theory of gravity with much greater precision than ever before, and perhaps even show that our current theories need to be changed.”
Although the SKA experiments will tell us much more than we currently know about the nature of the universe, they also present a massive computing challenge. At any one time, the amount of data gathered from the telescope will be equivalent to five times the global internet traffic, and the SKA’s software must process that vast stream of data quickly enough to keep up with what the telescope is doing.
Moreover, the software also needs to grow and adapt along with the project. The first phase of the SKA will be just 10% of the telescope’s total area. Each time the number of dishes on the ground doubles, the computing load will be increased by more than the square of that, meaning that the computing power required for the completed telescope will be more than 100 times what is required for phase one.
“You can always solve a problem by throwing more and more money and computing power at it,” says Alexander. “We have to make it work sensibly as a single system that is completely automated and capable of learning over time what the best way of getting rid of bad data is. At the moment, scientists tend to look at data but we can’t do that with the SKA, because the volumes are just too large.”
The challenges faced by the SKA team echo those faced in many different fields, and so Alexander’s group is working closely with industrial partners such as Intel and NVIDIA, as well as with academic and funding partners including the Universities of Manchester and Oxford, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The big data solutions developed by the SKA partners to solve the challenges faced by a massive radio telescope can then be applied across a range of industries.
One of these challenges is how to process data efficiently and affordably, and convert it into images of the sky. The target for the first phase of the project is a 300 ‘petaflop’ computer that uses no more than eight megawatts of power: more than 10 times the performance of the world’s current fastest supercomputer, for the same amount of energy. ‘Flops’ (floating point operations per second) are a standard measure of computing performance, and one petaflop is equivalent to a million billion calculations per second.
“The investment in the software behind the SKA is as much as €50 million,” adds Alexander. “And if our system isn’t able to grow and adapt, we’d be throwing that investment away, which is the same problem as anyone in this area faces. We want the solutions we’re developing for understanding the most massive objects in the universe to be applied to any number of the big data challenges that society will face in the years to come.”
Inset images: Artist's impression of the SKA, which will be made up of thousands of dishes that operate as one gigantic telescope (SKA Organisation); Professor Paul Alexander (University of Cambridge).
The ‘world’s largest IT project’ — a system with the power of one hundred million home computers — may help to unravel many of the mysteries of our universe: how it began, how it developed and whether humanity is alone in the cosmos.
Previously unseen photographs showing life in a remote corner of the world a hundred years ago will be displayed for the first time as part of River Stars Reindeer at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The photographs document the indigenous Evenki and Orochen communities and were made by Russian ethnographer Sergei Shirokogoroff and his wife Elizabeth between 1912-1917, and by Cambridge graduate Ethel Lindgren and her husband, Oscar Mamen, between 1929-1932.
The exhibition, which opens on June 23, is the culmination of a painstaking curatorial process, which involved choosing 70 images from more than 26,000 photographs; a process further complicated by the research team coming from ten different institutes located in three different countries.
One of the exhibitions curators, Jocelyne Dudding, said: “This is a unique opportunity to see the very best of their images together for the very first time. The photographs are not only a wonderful record of the ways of life for Evenki and Orochen, but they also speak of the more personal stories behind every image.
“Each photograph tells many, many different stories about the lives of the people, the clothes they wore, the animals they raised and the places they called home.
“These stories continue still as members of the community recognise the names or faces of family and friends that they had not seen for decades, or had never seen, as was the case of Anta Bu and her father.”
The conversations Dudding and her fellow researchers from Aberdeen, St Petersburg and Hohhot had with the indigenous communities directly influenced the selection process for the exhibition. As the project developed and word spread, more and more communities from other areas came forward and asked to be included.
“River Stars Reindeer comes about from a digital sharing project to reunite Evenki and Orochen communities with their photographs, and thereby their histories and their cultural heritage,” added Dudding. “We are now in the process of digitally sharing our photographs with them - having spent the last 18 months digitising 16,000 images so far.
“The response of the Evenki and Orochen to seeing these photographs has been very humbling and we are excited at the prospect of displaying these pictures and telling these stories for the first time here in Cambridge.”
The exhibition title River Stars Reindeer speaks of the cosmologies and realities of the lives of Evenkis and Orochens in an area known as the three rivers region.
River Stars Reindeer runs from June 23 to September 27, 2015 at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Indigenous people from the snow forests of Inner Mongolia and Siberia have been reunited with century-old photographs of their family and communities as part of a research project and exhibition at the University of Cambridge.
An investigation into how owls fly and hunt in silence has enabled researchers to develop a prototype coating for wind turbine blades that could significantly reduce the amount of noise they make.
Early tests of the material, which mimics the intricate structure of an owl’s wing, have demonstrated that it could significantly reduce the amount of noise produced by wind turbines and other types of fan blades, such as those in computers or planes. Since wind turbines are heavily braked in order to minimise noise, the addition of this new surface would mean that they could be run at much higher speeds – producing more energy while making less noise. For an average-sized wind farm, this could mean several additional megawatts worth of electricity.
The surface has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with researchers at three institutions in the USA. Their results will be presented today (22 June) at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aeroacoustics Conference in Dallas.
“Many owls – primarily large owls like barn owls or great grey owls – can hunt by stealth, swooping down and capturing their prey undetected,” said Professor Nigel Peake of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who led the research. “While we’ve known this for centuries, what hasn’t been known is how or why owls are able to fly in silence.”
Peake and his collaborators at Virginia Tech, Lehigh and Florida Atlantic Universities used high resolution microscopy to examine owl feathers in fine detail. They observed that the flight feathers on an owl’s wing have a downy covering, which resembles a forest canopy when viewed from above. In addition to this fluffy canopy, owl wings also have a flexible comb of evenly-spaced bristles along their leading edge, and a porous and elastic fringe on the trailing edge.
“No other bird has this sort of intricate wing structure,” said Peake. “Much of the noise caused by a wing – whether it’s attached to a bird, a plane or a fan – originates at the trailing edge where the air passing over the wing surface is turbulent. The structure of an owl’s wing serves to reduce noise by smoothing the passage of air as it passes over the wing – scattering the sound so their prey can’t hear them coming.”
In order to replicate the structure, the researchers looked to design a covering that would ‘scatter’ the sound generated by a turbine blade in the same way. Early experiments included covering a blade with material similar to that used for wedding veils, which despite its open structure, reduced the roughness of the underlying surface, lowering surface noise by as much as 30dB.
While the ‘wedding veil’ worked remarkably well, it is not suitable to apply to a wind turbine or aeroplane. Using a similar design, the researchers then developed a prototype material made of 3D-printed plastic and tested it on a full-sized segment of a wind turbine blade. In wind tunnel tests, the treatment reduced the noise generated by a wind turbine blade by 10dB, without any appreciable impact on aerodynamics.
While the coating still needs to be optimised, and incorporating it onto an aeroplane would be far more complicated than a wind turbine, it could be used on a range of different types of wings and blades. The next step is to test the coating on a functioning wind turbine. According to the researchers, a significant reduction in the noise generated by a wind turbine could allow them to be spun faster without any additional noise, which for an average-sized wind farm, could mean several additional megawatts worth of electricity.
The research was funded by the US National Science Foundation and the US Office of Naval Research.
Inset image: Close-up view of a flight feather of a Great Grey Owl. Credit: J. Jaworski.
Homepage image: Owl, by Mirko Zammarchi via Creative Commons
A newly-designed material, which mimics the wing structure of owls, could help make wind turbines, computer fans and even planes much quieter. Early wind tunnel tests of the coating have shown a substantial reduction in noise without any noticeable effect on aerodynamics.
Dr Juliet Foster’s ongoing fascination with the portrayal of mental illness in literature was triggered by reading The Madness of a Seduced Woman by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. Today she carries out research in Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.
Here she talks about this favourite book as part of ‘Novel Thoughts’, a series exploring the literary reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists. From illustrated children’s books to Thomas Hardy, from Star Wars to Middlemarch, we find out what fiction has meant to each of the scientists and peek inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives.
‘Novel Thoughts’ was inspired by research at the University of St Andrews by Dr Sarah Dillon (now a lecturer in the Faculty of English at Cambridge) who interviewed 20 scientists for the ‘What Scientists Read’ project. She found that reading fiction can help scientists to see the bigger picture and be reminded of the complex richness of human experience. Novels can show the real stories behind the science, or trigger a desire in a young reader to change lives through scientific discovery. They can open up new worlds, or encourage a different approach to familiar tasks.
View the whole series: Novel Thoughts: What Cambridge scientists read.
Is there a novel that has inspired you? Let us know! #novelthoughts
New film series Novel Thoughts reveals the reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists and peeks inside the covers of the books that have played a major role in their lives. In the fifth film, Dr Juliet Foster talks about how reading The Madness of a Seduced Woman by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer started an ongoing fascination with the portrayal of mental illness.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge, together with French collaborators based in Toulouse, have developed a new method to see inside battery-like devices known as supercapacitors at the atomic level. The new method could be used in order to optimise and improve the devices for real-world applications, including electric cars, where they can be used alongside batteries to enhance a vehicle’s performance.
By using a combination of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and tiny scales sensitive enough to detect changes in mass of a millionth of a gram, the researchers were able to visualise how ions move around in a supercapacitor. They found that while charging, different processes are at work in the two identical pieces of carbon ‘sponge’ which function as the electrodes in these devices, in contrast to earlier computer simulations. The results are published today (22 June) in the journal Nature Materials.
Supercapacitors are used in applications where quick charging and power delivery are important, such as regenerative braking in trains and buses, elevators and cranes. They are also used in flashes in mobile phones and as a complementary technology to batteries in order to boost performance. For example, when placed alongside a battery in an electric car, a supercapacitor is useful when a short burst of power is required, such as when overtaking another car, with the battery providing the steady power for highway driving.
“Supercapacitors perform a similar function to batteries but at a much higher power – they charge and discharge very quickly,” said Dr John Griffin, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemistry, and the paper’s lead author. “They’re much better at absorbing charge than batteries, but since they have much lower density, they hold far less of that charge, so they’re not yet a viable alternative for many applications. Being able to see what’s going on inside these devices will help us to control their properties, which could help to make them smaller and cheaper, and that might make them a high-power alternative to batteries.”
At its most basic level, a battery is made of two metal electrodes (an anode and a cathode) with some sort of solution between them (electrolyte). When the battery is charged, electrolyte ions are stored in the anode. As the battery discharges, electrolyte ions leave the anode and move across the battery to chemically react with the cathode. The electrons necessary for this reaction travel through the external circuit, generating an electric current.
A supercapacitor is similar to a battery in that it can generate and store electric current, but unlike a battery, the storage and release of energy does not involve chemical reactions: instead, positive and negative electrolyte ions simply ‘stick’ to the surfaces of the electrodes when the supercapacitor is being charged. When a supercapacitor is being discharged to power a device, the ions can easily ‘hop’ off the surface and move back into the electrolyte.
The reason why supercapacitors charge and discharge so much faster is that the ‘sticking’ and ‘hopping’ processes happen much faster than the chemical reactions at work in a battery.
“To increase the area for ions to stick to, we fill the carbon electrode with tiny holes, like a carbon sponge,” said Griffin. “But it’s hard to know what the ions are doing inside the holes within the electrode – we don’t know exactly what happens when they interact with the surface.”
In the new study, the researchers used NMR to look inside functioning supercapacitor devices to see how they charge and store energy. They also used a type of tiny weighing scale called an electrochemical quartz crystal microbalance (EQCM) to measure changes in mass as little as a millionth of a gram.
By taking the two sets of information and putting them together, the researchers were able to build a precise picture of what happens inside a supercapacitor while it charges.
“In a battery, the two electrodes are different materials, so different processes are at work,” said Griffin. “In a supercapacitor, the two electrodes are made of the same porous carbon sponge, so you’d think the same process would take place at both – but it turns out the charge storage process in real devices is more complicated than we previously thought. Previous theories had been made by computer simulations – no-one’s observed this in ‘real life’ before.”
What the experiments showed is that the two electrodes behave differently. In the negative electrode, there is the expected ‘sticking’ process and the positive ions are attracted to the surface as the supercapacitor charges. But in the positive electrode, an ion ‘exchange’ happens, as negative ions are attracted to the surface, while at the same time, positive ions are repelled away from the surface.
Additionally, the EQCM was used to detect tiny changes in the weight of the electrode as ions enter and leave. This enabled the researchers to show that solvent molecules also accompany the ions into the electrode as it charges.
“We can now accurately count the number of ions involved in the charge storage process and see in detail exactly how the energy is stored,” said Griffin. “In the future we can look at how changing the size of the holes in the electrode and the ion properties changes the charging mechanism. This way, we can tailor the properties of both components to maximise the amount of energy that is stored.”
The next step, said Professor Clare P. Grey, the senior author on the paper, “is to use this new approach to understand why different ions behave differently on charging, an ultimately design systems with much higher capacitances.”
Funding for the project was provided by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council.
A new technique which enables researchers to visualise the activity of individual ions inside battery-like devices called supercapacitors, could enable greater control over their properties and improve their performance in high-power applications.