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  • 06/04/13--07:36: Catch some Hay fever online
  • A selection of talks from the University of Cambridge’s series at this year’s Hay Festival, which ended on Sunday, are now available online.

    The collection can be found on iTunesU, or via Soundcloud by clicking here

    This was the fifth year that the University has run a series of talks at the famous literary festival as part of its public engagement work. Thousands of people attended the Cambridge series, which covered subjects as diverse as domestic service, women’s equality, US politics, nanotechnology, and smart drugs.

    Alumni including Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent, and Gaby Hinsliff, author of Half a Wife: The Working Family’s Guide to Getting a Life Back, also took part in discussions with Cambridge researchers. The Cambridge Alumni Relations Office meanwhile held an event which was addressed by Peter Florence, the Festival’s director and a Cambridge alumnus.

    Professor Martin Rees’ talk on a post-human future drew an audience of about 1,000 people, Professor Simon Blackburn ‘s discussion with Chris Blackhurst on the nature of declining trust in institutions pulled in about 750, and several other talks and sessions had to be moved to bigger venues because of their popularity among festival-goers.

    Dr Alex Jeffrey, who spoke on justice and recovery in Bosnia with Guardian journalist Ed Vulliamy, said: “It was superb! It was a welcome change from more scholarly styles of discussion and forced me to think differently about my work.”

    A total of 16 researchers from the University took part in the Festival’s Cambridge series and the full list of participants can be found at: Elsewhere, a further six Cambridge academics appeared as part of the broader Festival programme. 

    Nicola Buckley, Head of Public Engagement, said: "The audience reaction to the Cambridge series at this year's Hay Festival was fantastic, and the question and answer sessions were thought-provoking for speakers and audiences alike. We met a number of people at Hay who had chosen to go to several of the talks in the Cambridge series because they enjoyed them so much. We are grateful to Peter Florence and the team at Hay and all the speakers for taking part."

    Eight of the talks from the Cambridge Series from this year’s Hay Festival are now available for users to stream or download online.

    It was superb! It was a welcome change from more scholarly styles of discussion and forced me to think differently about my work.
    Alex Jeffrey
    Reading at the Hay Festival.

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    Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered that a single mutation in a leukemia-associated gene reduces the ability of blood stem cells to make more blood stem cells, but leaves their progeny daughter cells unaffected. Their findings have relevance to all cancers that are suspected to have a stem cell origin as they advance our understanding of how single stem cells are subverted to cause tumors.

    Published this week in PLOS Biology, the study by Professor Tony Green and his team at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR) is the first to isolate highly purified single stem cells and study their individual responses to a mutation that can predispose individuals to a human malignancy. This mutation is in a gene called JAK2, which is present in most patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs)—a group of bone marrow diseases that are characterized by the over-production of mature blood cells and by an increased risk of developing leukemia.

    Using a unique mathematical modeling approach, carried out in collaboration with Professor Ben Simons at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, in combination with experiments on single mouse stem cells, the researchers identified a distinct cellular mechanism that operates in stem cells but not in their daughter cells. 

    “This study is an excellent example of an inter-disciplinary collaboration pushing the field forward,” says lead author Dr David Kent. “Combining mathematical modeling with a large number of single stem cell assays allowed us to predict which cells lose their ability to expand. We were able to reinforce this prediction by testing the daughter cells of single stem cell divisions separately and showing that mutant stem cells more often undergo symmetric division to give rise to two non-stem cells.”

    Characterizing the mechanisms that link JAK2 mutations with this pattern of stem cell division—a pattern that eventually leads to the development of MPNs—will inform our understanding of the earliest stages of tumor establishment and of the competition between tumor stem cells, say the authors. The next step, currently underway at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, is to understand the effect that acquiring additional mutations has on blood stem cells, as these are  thought to drive the expansion of blood progenitor cells, leading to the eventual transformation to leukemia that occurs in patients with MPNs.

    Citation: Kent DG, Li J, Tanna H, Fink J, Kirschner K, et al. (2013) Self-Renewal of Single Mouse Hematopoietic Stem Cells Is Reduced by JAK2V617F Without
    Compromising Progenitor Cell Expansion. PLoS Biol 11(6): e1001576. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001576

    Press release provided by PLOS Biology.

    Study has relevance to all cancers that are suspected to have a stem cell origin

    A small colony of cells derived from a single blood stem cell. Hundreds of such colonies were assessed for their proliferation kinetics and blood cell types produced.

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    Dennis and his wife, Sally Tsui Wong-Avery, established the endowment which led to the creation of the CTC in 2007.

    The ceremony was attended by Sally and family members and friends, as well as the Vice-Chancellor of the University, the Master of Trinity Hall where Dennis studied Law as a postgraduate in 1980-81, and a number of faculty, staff and students from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics DAMTP).

    A plaque was unveiled honouring Dennis Avery including a quotation from him, describing how he had endowed the study of cosmology in Cambridge to grow “the appreciation of what the Universe is and is not”.

    CTC Director, Professor Paul Shellard, emphasised how significant the Avery family’s gift had been to research in DAMTP:

    “This cosmology centre, which Dennis and Sally have endowed, is uniquely situated in a mathematics department.

    “We believe we have the creativity and technical frameworks here to postulate what the universe is or might be, but at the same time we combine this with mathematical rigour to test and winnow these ideas to determine which of them are incorrect, and so we also learn what the universe is not. 

    “Dennis’ vision and generosity were extraordinary and we shall be forever grateful for them.”

    Dennis Avery was a great philanthropist who supported good causes worldwide, from AIDS orphanages in South Africa, to wheelchairs for remote villagers in Tibet.

    It was at the White House in 1998 that Professor Stephen Hawking first met Dennis and became aware of his enthusiasm about recent progress in cosmology.

    Dennis and Sally were enormously generous in supporting Stephen’s research and legacy in Cambridge, and through their generous gifts Stephen was able to found the CTC, creating a centre of excellence to support outstanding young researchers, and workshops on frontier areas in cosmology and gravitation.

    They always supported the CTC anonymously, never seeking recognition for themselves.

    The ceremony concluded with the planting of a dove tree in the grounds of the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, just outside the CTC pavilion.  The tree was dedicated by the Venerable John Beer, Archdeacon of Cambridge.

    Professor Hawking was not well enough to participate, but he composed a short tribute for the occasion:

    “It is with regret that I am unable to attend the DAMTP tree-planting ceremony in memory of Dennis. However, my thoughts are with Sally and all those gathered here today to honour Dennis as both a great friend and as a colleague.”


    A memorial tree-planting ceremony honouring the life and friendship of Dennis S. Avery, who died last year, was hosted by The Stephen Hawking Centre for Theoretical Cosmology (CTC) last weekend.

    Dennis’ vision and generosity were extraordinary and we shall be forever grateful for them
    Professor Paul Shellard

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    A new initiative to study the spread of avian flu by wild bird populations launched today at Ilia State University in Georgia. The three-year international collaboration will examine the ecology and evolution of avian influenza viruses in their natural hosts, waterfowl.

    Aquatic birds are the natural reservoir for influenza A viruses. However, these viruses can sometimes infect other animals such as pigs and humans, potentially resulting in an epidemic or even a pandemic because the new host species doesn’t have immunity to these avian flu viruses.

    This ever-present risk means it is important to understand what flu viruses circulate in wild birds, and what risk these viruses might pose to other animal species. In addition, occasionally when avian flu viruses infect poultry they can mutate into a more deadly form of flu. This highly pathogenic strain of avian flu is not only more deadly in birds than other avian flu viruses but is also more deadly than the common seasonal human flu if it infects people.

    Since the emergence and westward spread of the highly pathogenic A/H5N1, one of the unanswered questions is what role wild birds, particularly long-distance migrants, play in the dissemination of influenza A viruses from Southeast Asia to other geographic regions. As Georgia bridges Western Asia and Eastern Europe and is home to wild water birds from many different parts of Eurasia during migration and winter, it is an ideal location to undertake the research.

    To find out more about how the viruses spread, the researchers will map circulating avian flu strains in birds in the region as well as studying the movements and population structure of the birds themselves as currently, very little is known about the migratory routes wild birds take to reach breeding and overwintering grounds.

    Dr Nicola Lewis, lead researcher on the project from the University of Cambridge, said: “Three migratory flyways converge in the Caucasus region so avian flu viruses that had been infecting birds in one part of Asia might get the opportunity to spread to birds flying in from other regions, and we think that this is most likely to happen in places such as Georgia, where birds from many different parts of Eurasia mix in large numbers during migration and during the winter.

    “Knowing where bird populations fly will ultimately allow us to assess what risk might be for an avian flu virus, particularly a deadly one, in one region being taken by a wild bird as it migrates to another region in Asia.”

    The Cambridge researchers will be working with leading Georgian scientists to address these key questions about avian flu viruses in wild water birds.

    Lewis added: “By understanding how these avian flu viruses evolve in wild birds and the risk wild birds might pose in spreading infectious diseases, this international scientific collaboration will inform both global animal and public health.”

    As well as improving avian influenza virus surveillance in the region, the project will also increase the diagnostic and scientific expertise in Georgia by training local Masters students, academics and laboratory staff to use state-of-the art infectious disease analyses. Integrating Georgia more fully into the international scientific influenza community will provide a much more comprehensive picture of the spread of avian flu.

    The collaboration includes the University of Cambridge, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories (AHVLA) in the UK, Ilia State University, the Georgian National Centre for Disease Control and Public Health, the Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia and the Richard G. Lugar Center for Research in Tbilisi, Georgia.

    Scientists focusing on the ecology and evolution of avian flu.

    Knowing where bird populations fly will ultimately allow us to assess what risk might be for an avian flu virus, particularly a deadly one, in one region being taken by a wild bird as it migrates to another region in Asia.
    Dr Nicola Lewis, lead researcher on the project from the University of Cambridge
    USFWS Pacific Southwest Region from Flickr

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    The bridge was designed by students from the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge in conjunction with Smith and Wallwork Ltd, a local structural engineering firm and constructed using sustainable materials to improve accessibility across a drainage channel which intersects the 17 acre wood, as well as improving the aesthetic appeal of the area.

    The bridge was created as part of a project to improve the appearance and accessibility of Cow Hollow Wood, thanks to a grant of £15,000 received from Waste Recycling Environmental Ltd (WREN). As well as the bridge, the visitor experience has been improved with the clearing and widening of rides, addition of new signage and seating.

    Ian Froggatt, Woodland Trust Site Manager, said: “Our aim is to manage woods for the benefit of people and wildlife. Thanks to the funding from WREN and the hard work to create this unique bridge we hope visitors to Cow Hollow Wood will find that their visit is more enjoyable.”
    Cow Hollow Wood was planted in the year 2000 to mark the turn of the millennium and has since become a well used local resource.

    For further information about Cow Hollow Wood visit or for information on over 80 publicly accessible woods across Cambridgeshire go to

    Woodland Trust Chair of Trustees Dr Nicola Nicholls and staff from the University of Cambridge will unveil a unique living willow bridge at the charity’s Cow Hollow Wood near Waterbeach on Friday 14 June

    Living bridge at Cow Hollow Wood

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    Combined government and business funding of £63 million has been announced today for the creation of a new centre at the Cavendish Laboratory on the West Cambridge site dedicated to world-class research in the physical sciences, and how it translates to industry.

    Leading scientists backing the centre believe it will bring forward the scale of industrial engagement in West Cambridge “by a decade” for the benefit of British industry, economy and “society in general”.

    The centre will build on the innovative activity currently supported by the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, where the focus has been on truly original, risk-taking science since its inception in March 2011, emphasising fundamental physics research relevant to areas such as renewable energy – including photovoltaics and electrical storage.

    The new facilities will see research scientists from industry occupying laboratory and desk space alongside the Cambridge research groups, with the aim of engendering a two-way flow of ideas and exposing the best early career researchers in academe and industry to scientific problem-solving that relates directly to industrial need.

    Funding for the project from the non-governmental sector was raised partly through philanthropic gifts from the Winton programme, Hitachi Ltd., Toshiba Ltd., the Wolfson Foundation, the Sackler Foundation and Tata Steel. These contributions were doubled by industrial contracts with a very wide range of industries, including those collaborating with cognate departments such as Materials Science and Chemistry. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is providing £21m to complement the non-governmental sources of funding for the programme.

    Construction work will begin shortly on the Maxwell Centre, provisionally named for the great physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who was appointed the first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge in 1871 and who discovered electromagnetism and founded statistical mechanics, among other insights of genius. The building is due to open its doors in the summer of 2015.

    “The Maxwell Centre will be the vehicle for translating ‘blue skies’ research into products of importance for the industrial sector,” said Professor Sir Richard Friend, Cavendish Professor of Physics, who will be the first Director of the Centre.

    “This will not be conventional research or ‘business as usual’, but a major effort to go beyond the boundaries of traditional physical science concepts. The key to innovation is an effective bottom-up approach to fundamental research. We will combine work on the specific challenges facing collaborators with research into areas at the edges of current conception – the ‘unknown unknowns’”.  

    Pioneering research from the Winton programme – established by a £20m donation from David Harding, founder of Winton Capital Management – will be able to flourish in the Maxwell Centre. This will include work on quantum-level modelling of biological systems such as avian navigation and photosynthesis in deep-sea bacteria to enhance energy efficiency, and the new physics of materials that could harness superconductivity to revolutionise battery life. 

    Many other aspects of fundamental physics will be fostered, including advanced scientific computing, the theory of condensed matter, advanced materials and the physics of biology and medicine. 

    This will be balanced with embedded industrial partners in the Centre and graduate programmes designed to prepare students for the challenges of research and development in industry, attracting increasing investment and creating “cohorts of graduate students prepared for employment in high-tech industries,” said Friend.

    “Many of the most exciting and unexpected research opportunities lie at the interface between academia and industry, it is genuinely a two-way process. Many innovations in science, designed to solve pure science problems, are applied in quite different areas - often those of greatest interest to industry.”

    George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: "By bringing together our Nobel Prize winning scientists, our world-class companies and our entrepreneurial start-ups, we can drive innovation and create the economic dynamism Britain needs, using public money to secure private investment so our world-class science also delivers jobs and growth.”

    David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said he believes this project will “not only deliver new knowledge and applications for industry, but will accelerate growth and foster innovation between the research base and business, keeping the UK ahead in the global race.”  

    Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: "The University has already invested very heavily to build up our research base on the West Cambridge science and technology campus, and through the Maxwell Centre, we will capitalise on this resource by embedding industrial engagement still further into the University.”

    “Links between new science and real applications are very well established in the Physical Sciences. This is evident from the very large and diverse set of industrial partners who are co-investors in the Maxwell Centre. We are determined that the Maxwell Centre will be the centrepiece for a very substantial growth in our industrial engagement in the Physical Sciences. This builds on real excellence in research, an outstanding student base and very strong and enthusiastic collaborations with a broad range of industries.”

    Subject to planning permission, the Maxwell Centre will be located between the Physics of Medicine building and the William Gates building – home of the Computer Laboratory – on the 20-acre West Cambridge site, and will house around 230 people in the first instance, with research laboratories complemented by seminar rooms, interactive spaces and dedicated hubs for industrial partners. This new building is part of the Cavendish Laboratory’s long-term development programme.

    Professor Malcolm Longair, former Head of the Cavendish and its current Development Director, added that he hopes to confirm the Centre’s name soon as a fitting tribute to Clerk Maxell, the physicist of “outstanding genius who was the essential bridge between Newton and Einstein.”

    “Maxwell was a truly great figure, and his approach to theoretical and experimental science mirrors exactly what we want to achieve in this new building.”

    A centrepiece building for exploratory ‘blue skies’ research and industrial partnerships in the physical sciences will be created at the University of Cambridge to investigate new approaches to fundamental science and to solving global challenges, such as natural resource demand.

    This will not be conventional research or ‘business as usual’, but a major effort to go beyond the boundaries of traditional physical science concepts
    Richard Friend
    Architect’s impression of the new Maxwell Centre for physical science research, due to open in summer 2015.

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    Chiefs and Governors: Art and Power in Fiji is the first major exhibition of Fijian art in the UK, and will be on display in MAA’s Li Ka Shing Gallery from June 7, 2013 to April 2014.

    It will showcase MAA’s considerable Fijian collection which includes whale ivory ornaments, wooden figures, and richly patterned barkcloths (masi). The astonishing range of material is a testament to the creativity and expertise of its makers, and some of the objects on display rank among the greatest masterpieces of Polynesian art.

    The exhibition gets its name from, and primarily tells the story of, the relationship between Fijian Chiefs and British Governors in the late 19th century. Many of the objects on display were given as gifts and are highly-valued objects which figured prominently in Fijian social life.

    Finely crafted items, such as whale ivory breastplates and neck ornaments also show us how specialist knowledge and skills moved in Western Polynesia from the late 18th century. Materials originating from the sea such as whale’s teeth carried high status and were exchanged between competing chiefs or to mark births, deaths, and the settlement of grievances.

    This collection is particularly special to the museum as it formed the core of MAA’s founding ethnological collections when it first opened in 1884. The museum’s first curator Baron Anatole von Hügel convinced the Governor of Fiji, Sir Arthur Hamilton-Gordon, to donate Fijian material collected by government officials and guests to the University in 1883.

    One of the central displays in the exhibition is a large symmetric arrangement of wooden clubs and paddles. It was recreated from a photo from 1875 of the back wall of the dining room at Government House, the seat of British government in Fiji. The display was a special blend of Victorian and local aesthetics of the time, using weapons to signal status as well as to create artistic patterns.

    Dr Anita Herle, co-curator of the exhibition and senior curator for anthropology at MAA, said: “These exquisite objects have many stories to tell, and throughout the exhibition we are trying to explore the power of Fijian art in the past and present.

    “The exhibition is part of a collaborative three-year research project called the Fijian Art Research Project, which aims to catalogue and learn more about the collections of Fijian Art held in museums around the world.”

    The opening of Chiefs and Governors marks the centenary of MAA in its current purpose-built museum building on Downing Street.

    Chiefs & Governors is one of the outcomes of the AHRC-funded Fijian Art research project (2011-14), a collaborative project with numerous museum partners, including the Fiji Museum, and the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

    For more information please visit the Facebook page, and the project website

    The most historically significant collection of Fijian objects in the world outside of Fiji will go on display from today (June 7) at Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA).

    These exquisite objects have many stories to tell, and throughout the exhibition we are trying to explore the power of Fijian art in the past and present.
    Anita Herle
    Human-shaped figures and pendants of whale ivory strung on fine plaited coir cords. Probably presented to Lady Gordon, 1875-80, Fiji.

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    10am - 12noon

    Saturday 14 September

    Meet outside the Guildhall, Market Square, CB2 3QJ

    Bring your own bicycle and join us on tour around historical sites in Cambridge from Roman times until the present day. Using a 1575 map to guide us, we will look at buildings, streets, meadows, the Backs and some modern architecture. This 10 mile route will use as many off road paths as possible and should take about two hours. The tour is designed for those new to, or not familiar with, Cambridge.

    Bookings open Monday 19 August 2013.

    This tour will use a 1575 map to guide us to historical sites around Cambridge, from Roman times until the present day.

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  • 06/07/13--02:36: Very Good, Sir!
  • 11.30am - 12.30pm

    Saturday 14 September 2013

    The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, CB2 1RP

    The demand for butlers has doubled in the last year as a result of the portrayal of serving staff in films and television programs. Richard Hein takes us into the Butler’s Pantry and talks of the history of the butler profession, the Downton Abbey effect, butlers’ traditions in Cambridge, table manners, the butler’s code and a few more interesting facts.

    Bookings open Monday 19 August 2013.

    Richard Hein, Head Butler at Peterhouse, unlocks the history of the butler profession.

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  • 06/07/13--02:38: Mosque Open Day
  • 10am - 5pm, Saturday 14 September

    Abu Bakr Mosque, 1A Mawson Road, Cambridge CB1 2AS

    Come along to the Cambridge Mosque's open day for guided tours, open question & answer sessions, refreshments, free Islamic literature to take away, a chance to see how Muslims pray, and much more. All welcome, booking not required.

    Come along to the Cambridge Mosque's open day.

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  • 06/07/13--03:36: Democratising design
  • The simulator, developed by researchers at Cambridge’s Engineering Design Centre, allows designers and software engineers to see a site through the eyes of people with a wide range of abilities, and adapt their design accordingly. It can also be used to customise the way in which a site displays according to an individual’s specific needs and can be integrated into other electronic devices.

    Web design has become more responsive to the requirements of its users, especially as the way we consume information online changes: for example, many websites will render differently whether a user is viewing it on a desktop, tablet or mobile. When done well, this type of responsive design results in sites which are uncluttered, easy to navigate and easy to read.

    But for users with physical, motor or cognitive impairments, interacting with websites, even well-designed websites, is challenging. Simply clicking on a link, an action which most users can complete in a fraction of a second, can be difficult. For example, a user with Parkinson’s disease will often take much longer to land a cursor on the correct item in a drop-down menu, and if the links are quite close together, the wrong link altogether could be clicked. This makes for a frustrating experience, and can prevent many people from accessing information online.

    According to the World Bank, between 10 and 12 per cent of the worldwide population have a condition which restricts their use of standard computer systems.

    “Lack of knowledge about the problems of disabled and elderly users has often led designers to build non-inclusive systems,” says Dr Pradipta Biswas of the Engineering Design Centre. “At the same time, research around making these systems accessible often focuses on making tailor-made solutions for different impairments, which is inefficient and expensive, rather than making adaptable solutions which can be used across a range of different platforms.”

    Existing design practices often isolate elderly or disabled people by treating them as users with special needs. “Considering any part of society as ‘special’ can never solve the accessibility problems of many interactive systems,” says Dr Biswas. “Designers should consider users’ range of abilities early in the design process, so that any application they develop can be adapted for people with a wide range of abilities.”

    In collaboration with researchers at the University Computer Laboratory, Dr Biswas has designed a system to help designers develop inclusive systems by simulating the way in which people with a range of abilities will interact with a site.

    There are currently several sets of guidelines which spell out the basics of inclusive design to software engineers. However, most of these guidelines do not adequately analyse the effects of impairment on interaction with electronic devices. Additionally, the simulator designed by Dr Biswas is far more comprehensive, as it covers a wide range of impairments.

    Using a series of algorithms based on extensive user testing, the simulator predicts the eye movements and cursor paths for a range of users trying to perform a certain action – choosing an item in a drop-down menu, for example. A line on the screen will show which path the user took to get the cursor to the correct item on the drop-down menu, and how long the task took them to complete.

    The simulator allows designers to choose different levels of impairment, or the effects of a particular disease, such as Parkinson’s or age-related macular degeneration, or how the site will behave on a certain type of device, in order to visualise how the site appears to people with a range of abilities and adapt the design accordingly.

    For example, a common problem which people with motor impairment have is stopping the cursor movement: once their hand has started moving, it is difficult to make it stop, especially on a specific point. The cursor movement of a motor-impaired user is characterised by many random movements at the beginning and at the end of the action.

    There are several ways for a designer to adapt the site for a user with this type of impairment. One is simply to increase the size of the buttons or links on the page, or to increase the space between them. Another option would be to use a “gravity well”, meaning that the cursor is drawn towards the centre of the button – so even if a user only clicks near the edge of their target, the action will be completed.

    In addition to the simulator, Dr Biswas’ algorithms can be added to a site in progress to test a site’s usability, or added to a live site, allowing users to set up profiles. Once the user has set up a profile, the page will render differently according to their needs, whether that is making the fonts bigger, changing the background colours, or spacing buttons and links farther apart.

    “This adds another degree of personalisation to the web browsing experience,” says Dr Biswas. “Many sites allow users to create profiles according to their interests; which is of course a useful tool for advertisers. Adding an inclusive design element to a site, however, will allow that site to be usable for much more of the population.”

    Dr Biswas’ technology is one of this term’s i-Teams projects, a University programme combining multi-disciplinary teams of students with industry mentors and Cambridge inventions to assess the commercial viability of new technologies and product designs. Dr Biswas has published two books on inclusive user modelling and multimodal adaptation of user interfaces, and has contributed towards developing international standards on user modelling and accessibility through the European Commission and International Telecommunication Union (ITU-T).

    For more information, please contact

    A new simulator could help the elderly or disabled users engage more effectively with electronic devices, including websites, smartphones and digital television.

    Considering any part of society as ‘special’ can never solve the accessibility problems of many interactive systems
    Pradipta Biswas
    Detail: hand & computer

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  • 06/10/13--00:00: How to care for carers
  • It is well established that most people would prefer to die at home rather than in hospital. The family members or friends who make this possible (carers) play a vital role in sharing care with the health care professionals involved.  Just as the patient has complex and immediate needs, so does the carer. The carer provides the support needed to help someone close to them spend the last stage of their life in the familiar surroundings of their own home, within their own community.

    Caring for people who are dying is stressful on multiple levels. Many carers are elderly or infirm and find themselves in situations for which they have had little preparation. Others have to juggle conflicting roles within families – for example as care-givers to relatives and as parents to young children – as well as fitting care around paid work. Pioneering research into the day-to-day experiences of a range of people who have recently provided this kind of support to family or friends has led to the development of an accessible but comprehensive tool for assessing the support needs of carers – and thus providing a point of reference for putting that support into place. 

    The Carer Support Needs Assessment Tool (CSNAT) has been developed by Dr Gail Ewing, a senior researcher at the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, in partnership with Professor Gunn Grande at the University of Manchester. Both have long experience of palliative and end of life care research, particularly with carers.Their work was carried out in collaboration with the National Association for Hospice at Home.

    The CSNAT is based on findings from a study of 75 recently bereaved carers who had cared for a relative or friend at the end of life. Participants shared their experiences with researchers in interviews and focus groups which explored carers’ support needs, particularly in the last two to three months of the life of the person they were caring for. Carers were asked about support needs that were met and input from services that was perceived to be helpful, but also shortfalls in provision where needs had not been met. This enabled the researchers to identify key support domains (areas) for carers at the end of life.

    One of the support domains is the matter of knowing who to contact about concerns. “We found that carers often had little knowledge of healthcare systems and who they should contact for help. What appeared to make a real difference was whether the carer had a main contact for support. This was not just a telephone number, but it was a person: someone who they could contact who knew their situation – who could be reached both in the daytime and out of hours.  Carers did not necessarily make use of named contacts a great deal but reported reassurance from knowing that there was a person they could call if needed,” said Dr Ewing.

    “Our study with bereaved carers showed us that the needs of carers fell into two groupings: support to enable them to care for their relative/friend, but also more direct support for themselves, arising from the impact of their caring role. We built the tool around that understanding.”

    Seven of the 14 domains on the tool ask the carer about the support he or she needs in order to fulfil the role of carer to a dying relative or friend, such as ‘do you need more support with managing your relative’s symptoms, including giving medicines?’  The second set of domains asks the carer about the support they need for themselves, such as ‘do you need more support with dealing with your feelings and worries?’

    The CSNAT was designed as a screening tool to identify which of the 14 areas of support needs require further detailed assessment, thus enabling it to be short but comprehensive in approach. “The intention is to use it to use it to open up a conversation between practitioners and carers to explore, from the carers’ perspective, what their support needs are and what it most important to them,” explained Dr Ewing.

    In 2009-2010 the tool was validated when 225 adult carers were surveyed twice – a baseline survey was followed by a second survey four weeks later where carers completed the CSNAT along with standard measures of the impact of caregiving, preparedness to care and carer health.

    Carers’ needs may change over time due to shifts in the situation and the burden of continuing, often escalating, practical and emotional demands. Study findings suggested that the assessment tool was relevant and covered all the main support domains; feedback indicated that that the CSNAT was quick and easy to use. It was also seen as giving carers a voice: one former carer remarked that she felt she “could be heard through this”.

    The study found that most carers wanted more support with knowing what to expect in the future and dealing with their feelings and worries. “In end-of-life care, carers often find themselves entering a world they are unfamiliar with – and find themselves coping with medications and equipment they know little about. They may need information about the drugs, or instruction about the equipment and devices they are handling,” said Dr Ewing.

    “The assessment tool allows them to voice their worries about aspects of the care they are providing. Just as importantly it offers a framework that recognises the important role they play and legitimises their own needs. The way in which professional support is offered is vital. Sometimes it can be something very simple:  carers may just want to be included in aspects of the care of a loved one or even just to have acknowledgement of role they are playing.”

    If you would like further information about the CSNAT, please contact Dr Gail Ewing

    Carers’ week (10-16 June) will focus on the 6.5 million people who are carers. Many are providing palliative care for a relative or friend at home. A new tool has been developed to identify carers’ needs during end-of-life care at home and enable them to work more smoothly with healthcare professionals. 

    In end-of-life care, carers often find themselves entering a world they are unfamiliar with – and find themselves coping with medications and equipment they know little about.
    Dr Gail Ewing

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    From the mouth to the small intestine, the digestive system presents a series of challenges designed to protect us by killing ingested bacteria. If a microbe survives the digestive enzymes in saliva and the corrosive acid of the stomach, the toxic fat-emulsifying bile acids in the small intestine will probably kill it. As a first line of defence against disease and infection, the digestive system is an extremely efficient bactericide.

    However, not all bacteria are pathogenic invaders intent on wreaking havoc. For ‘friendly’ bacteria – such as those used in oral vaccines or as probiotics – keeping them alive long enough to exert their benefits poses a significant challenge to biotechnologists.

    Now, a new technology that can safely deliver friendly bacteria to the gut is under development by an academic–industry collaboration as an oral vaccine, and Phase I clinical trials are planned. Developed by Alexander Edwards, Krishnaa Mahbubani and Professor Nigel Slater in the University of Cambridge Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, the technology has been licensed by biotechnology company Prokarium through Cambridge Enterprise Ltd, the University’s commercialisation arm.

    The oral vaccine is based on inactivated Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi – the pathogen responsible for typhoid fever – which has been engineered to carry proteins from the bacterium that causes traveller’s diarrhoea. When the body makes a strong protective immune response to Salmonella, it does so also to its hitchhiker, making it a powerful vaccine delivery platform for this and potentially any other disease-causing pathogen.

    Salmonella is better able to survive the digestive system compared with other microbes and stimulates a strong immune response. This approach also reduces the cost and time of vaccine production, compared with the traditional methods of purifying vaccine proteins from cultured cells.

    Mahbubani and Slater particularly wanted to create a vaccine that did not require injection. “Oral vaccines are part of a new generation of needle-free vaccination strategies,” explained Mahbubani. “These strategies are especially suited for use in developing countries, where needle-based vaccination can pose logistical challenges due to the lack of a cold supply chain, hindering the roll out of vaccination programmes.”

    Formulating the vaccine for ease of distribution and administration required the production of dried bacteria. However, simply administering dried microbes isn’t the answer. “Protection from saliva can be achieved by swallowing the dried bacteria in the form of a pill or capsule, and the digestive effects of the stomach can be protected against by using an enteric coating that dissolves once the capsule has moved out of the stomach into the more-alkaline small intestine,” said Mahbubani. “In the assault course of the digestive system, the finish line for oral vaccines is the small intestine, where they must survive the detrimental effects of bile. After drying, bacteria lose their natural tolerance to bile. We needed to find a way of stabilising the bacterium in a dried from so that it could be brought back to life before the bile destroys it.”

    Once rehydrated, and after the bacterium has reached the lining of the small intestine, it is intercepted by the immune system, eliciting a strong response to the multiplying pathogen. The next time the immune system encounters the same material, usually in the form of the disease-causing pathogen itself, it can react quickly to clear the invader.

    The answer to overcoming the encounter with bile came when Edwards made a surprising discovery, as Slater explained: “Drying did not affect the bacteria permanently. On rehydration, they regain their natural protection to bile.

    “When we started the project, this wasn’t known. But the finding opened a door to how we could create an oral vaccine that could survive in the digestive system and didn’t require cold storage. We realised that we needed a technology that would allow the bacteria to rehydrate before the bile reaches it.” The solution lay in a novel adaptation of a material called bile-acid adsorbing resins (BARs). Developed in the 1960s to lower cholesterol levels, BARs such as cholestyramine have a long track record of safe oral administration to patients.

    The scientists reasoned that if the capsule contained dried bacteria mixed with BAR then, when the enteric coating dissolves and water and bile enter freely, the movement of bile would be held back by the resin long enough for water to rehydrate the bacteria, before the capsule finally breaks open. When she tested the theory, Mahbubani found that this adsorption concept works, even at progressively smaller and smaller capsule sizes.

    With funding from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Cambridge scientists have been working with BioPharma Technology Ltd, Microbial Developments Ltd, Cobra Biologics Ltd, and now Prokarium Ltd, as well as Professor Simon Cutting at Royal Holloway College.

    Now, as plans are put together for a Phase I clinical trial, work is ongoing to define the precise formulation of bile-adsorbing materials and dried bacterial vaccine, as well as to design the capsule that goes into the trial.

    “It’s been very important during the development process that we’ve had the support of the TSB and BBSRC to progress the invention to the stage we’ve now reached,” explained Dr Rocky Cranenburgh, Prokarium’s Chief Scientific Officer. “The combination of BAR technology with the Salmonella vector will allow us to develop an advanced oral delivery platform that gives us the potential to revolutionise vaccinations.

    “We are focusing on the development of a dual oral vaccine against typhoid and enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) – a major cause of diarrhoea – for travellers and developing country markets. There are 22 million cases of typhoid every year resulting in 200,000 deaths, so an effective oral vaccine could have a significant impact. Currently there is no dedicated vaccine against ETEC, considered responsible for 300,000–500,000 deaths per year, mostly of young children.”

    “This is a great example of the University working with industry, interpreting needs to create a viable product using real science,” added Slater. “We think this formulation has the potential to be distributed to the four corners of the earth irrespective of supply chain considerations.”

    A new technology under development by an academic–industry partnership protects oral vaccines from destruction by the digestive system.

    This is a great example of the University working with industry
    Nigel Slater
    As intestinal fluid hydrates the capsule, both bile (brown) and water (blue) enter; bile-acid adsorbing resins (BARs, white) hold back the progress of the bile long enough for the water to rehydrate the bacteria (green)

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    A clinical trial is underway for a potential new treatment for type 1 diabetes that could eventually mean patients are able to reduce insulin treatment from several times a day to only once or twice a week. The new treatment is a direct result of research to understand the genetics of the disease.

    Type 1 diabetes is the most common severe chronic autoimmune disease worldwide and the incidence of the disease is rising rapidly. It causes the immune system to mistake cells in the pancreas as harmful and attack them. When these cells are damaged the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, which plays an essential role in transferring glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells to be converted into energy. The management of type 1 diabetes usually involves measuring the amount of glucose in the blood and injecting artificial insulin to make up for the insulin the pancreas is not producing.

    Type 1 diabetes is known to be a genetically complex disease – there is no single gene that causes the disease, but rather dozens of genes that increase the risk of developing the disease. However, genetic studies have identified variants of one particular gene – known as interleukin-2, or IL2 – which appears to play a prominent role. IL-2 is important in helping regulate the immune system.

    Now, for the first time, researchers at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Wellcome Trust funded Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR) at the University of Cambridge are investigating whether interleukin-2 in the form of a drug called aldesleukin (Proleukin) could be used to halt the damage to the pancreas in people with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes and, if so, what dose of the drug is required for the best results.

    Professor John Todd, FRS from the JDRF/Wellcome Trust Diabetes and Inflammation Laboratory, University of Cambridge says: “Studying the genetics of type 1 diabetes has proved essential to help us understand what is happening in the disease at a cellular and molecular level. This type of research takes time, but we are now beginning to test its true potential for improving the lives of patients in our innovative translational medicine programme.”

    The clinical trial is being led by Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch from the University of Cambridge and is coordinated by the Cambridge Clinical Trials Unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Dr Waldron-Lynch adds: “Type 1 diabetes is a potentially very serious disease that requires lifelong treatment and regular insulin injections throughout the day. Our aim is to use aldesleukin to rebalance the immune system so that patients can significantly reduce the number of insulin injections needed to just once or twice a week by slowing the progression of the disease.”

    The first two participants have been enrolled onto the trial and have received treatment. At the moment, the trial is to help gauge the necessary dose in adults, beginning with very low doses; ultimately, the researchers hope to be able to use this treatment in children.

    Dr Waldron-Lynch says that so far the results have been very positive, even on a very low dose, with no detectable side effects. However, they are looking to recruit more participants to the “aDaptive study of IL-2 dose on regulatory T cells in type 1 Diabetes” (DILT1D) to help them determine with confidence whether the drug is effective and at what dose.

    The trial is being funded by the Wellcome Trust and JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity,  combined with funding from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), a UK government body that coordinates and funds research for the National Health Service.

    Dr Michael Dunn, Head of Molecular and Physiological Sciences at the Wellcome Trust, says: “We have invested heavily in genetics over the past few decades to understand the biological causes of diseases. At the same time as showing us how complex diseases are, it has also provided tantalising clues as to how they may be treated. This is the first time that ‘immunotherapy’– in other words, trying to rebalance the immune system – has been trialled in the UK as a way of tackling type 1 diabetes and it would not have been possible without the strong foundation of genetics and immunology research that underpins it.”

    Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF, said: “Across the UK, hundreds of thousands of people with type 1 diabetes suffer the disruption of insulin injections several times every day. These injections interrupt their work, their play, their time with family and sometimes their sleep. We must continue to support crucial research such as this which focuses on better treatment for those living with the condition.”

    Professor Gillian Griffiths, FRS, Director of the CIMR at the University of Cambridge says: “I am delighted that the Diabetes and Inflammation Laboratory are rolling out this important translational medicine programme based on the cutting-edge basic biomedical research which they have carried out within the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research”

    To register interest to take part in the trial, please contact Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch and team on 01233 762327, or email, or text DILT1D to 82727. Participants should be aged between18-50 and been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the past two years. Further details of the DILT1D trial are available at

    Story adapted from Wellcome Trust press release.

    New treatment could reduce insulin injections to just once or twice a week.

    Our aim is to use aldesleukin to rebalance the immune system so that patients can significantly reduce the number of insulin injections needed to just once or twice a week by slowing the progression of the disease.
    Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch from the University of Cambridge

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    Despite bacterial colonies always forming circular shapes as they grow, their cells form internal divisions which are highly asymmetrical and branched. These fractal (self-similar) patterns are due to the  physical forces and local instabilities that are a natural part of bacterial cell growth, a new study reveals. The research, published in the scientific journal ACS Synthetic Biology, has important implications for the emerging field of synthetic biology.

    Using a combination of genetic, microscopy and computational tools, Cambridge scientists created a system for examining the development of multicellular bacterial populations. After marking bacteria by inserting genes for different coloured proteins, the researchers used high resolution microscopes to examine the growth of bacterial populations in detail. They discovered that as bacteria grow the cell populations naturally form striking and unexpected branching patterns called fractals. The scientists then used large-scale computer models to explore the patterning process.

    They showed that as each bacterium grows in a single direction, lines or files of cells are formed, but these files are unstable to small disturbances. As large numbers of cells push and shove against each other, mechanical instability leads to buckling and folding of cell files. This is repeated as the cells continue to grow and divide, leading to the formation of rafts of aligned cells arranged in self-similar branching patterns, or fractals.

    These microscopic fractal patterns emerge spontaneously from physical interactions between the large number of cells within the population. This was tested by looking at the interactions between twin cell populations and a mutant bacterium that has a round shape (where this behaviour is not observed).

    Dr Jim Haseloff, from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the study, said: “Vivid biological patterns emerge from even subtle interactions. Similar phenomena are seen in the emergence of order in economic, social and political systems.

    “The behaviour of large populations can be hard to predict, but the work has resulted in the validation of fast and accurate computer models that provide a test bed for reprogramming of multicellular systems.”

    Synthetic Biology is a new field that brings engineering principles to biology to reprogram living systems using DNA. It is has the potential to create a new generation of sustainable technologies, with the prospect of new forms of materials and energy produced by biological feedstocks and recycling of waste. As synthetic biologists are starting to reprogram the behaviour of large populations of cells in order to explore new forms of self-organisation and function, this study will have important implications for their research.

    Dr Haseloff added: “This is an experimental system that can capture the physics, cellularity and genetics of growth in a simple system - and which allows a new type of ‘emergence in a test-tube’ approach.

    “Also, it provides a new insight into the way cell populations may interact during the early formation of medically important bacterial populations or biofilms, and produce irregular boundaries for invasive growth and increased surface contact. This could have important implications for understanding the formation of these biofilms, and for engineering new biofilms in biotechnology.”

    Scientists discover highly asymmetric and branched patterns are the result of  physical forces and local instabilities; research has important implications for understanding biofilms and multicellular systems.

    Vivid biological patterns emerge from even subtle interactions. Similar phenomena are seen in the emergence of order in economic, social and political systems.
    Dr Jim Haseloff, from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge

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    A landmark energy-efficiency initiative which aims to reduce the carbon emissions from buildings in Cambridge by 30% before 2050 through a massive, city-wide retrofit scheme, has been launched.

    The Cambridge Retrofit Project will function partly as a social enterprise, and partly as a professional delivery service, and is being run by representatives from organisations and businesses across the East Anglian city.

    It has set itself the formidable task of supporting the retrofits of approximately 20,000 private homes, and another 20,000 non-residential properties, before the mid-way point of the 21st century. These will include Victorian terraces, modern shopping centres, and the medieval college buildings of the city’s 804-year-old University.

    The aim is to make a decisive contribution to the UK’s carbon reduction target of 80% by 2050 in a single move focused on the energy-efficiency of buildings. In the process, the project will also seek to make Cambridge the first city to hit that national objective. From today, businesses and residents are being urged to sign up through a newly-launched website,, where a full list of the many organisations already involved can also be found.

    “Retrofitting” essentially means adding new technologies and features to a building to increase its energy-efficiency and reduce its energy consumption. In practice, that can involve the introduction of measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation, enhanced window glazing, draught-proofing, energy-efficient lighting and improved boilers. The result is reduced energy consumption and carbon emissions, but the programme also aims to build up local businesses, create warmer homes and increase the value of properties.

    Making those improvements throughout an entire city – especially one which, like Cambridge, has a daunting range of buildings dating back to the Middle Ages – will require a huge community effort that cuts across public and private sectors.

    The total cost of retrofits over the course of the programme is expected to be £1billion. The project team calculate, however, that the energy-savings that result will be worth £1.5billion. The environmental payoff will be even greater, – the city’s carbon footprint, currently 830,000 tons of CO2 a year is expected to decrease at a rate of about 1% a year, eventually falling to about 500,000 tons of CO2 per annum as a result of the retrofit programme.

    Since 2012, organisations from across Cambridge have been drawing up plans which will enable the project’s leaders to stimulate demand for retrofits, and then bring that together with financial support and delivery services. The process has involved local planners, building firms, property managers, housing associations, lawyers, engineers, architects and researchers, as well as national government offices and English Heritage.

    The project will be handled by a Programme Management Unit, which breaks down into three sub-groups. A “Project Support and Aggregation” arm, run by the energy solutions firm, Day One Energy Services, will oversee the practical business of delivering and financing retrofits. The online consultation service, Consense, will lead the process of mobilising businesses and residents. Finally, supporting research and monitoring will be undertaken by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research and its academic partners.

    Overseeing this will be a group of 30 public and private sector partners, chaired by the former leader of Cambridge City Council, Sian Reid. This group will be responsible for monitoring the Unit’s performance and ensuring that it is acting in the best interests of the community.

    Professor Douglas Crawford-Brown, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, said:  “It’s a huge challenge, but if we are going to achieve the ambitious carbon reduction targets that the UK has set, then we are going to have to learn how to run projects of this scale.”

    “Crucially, our plan is to ensure that the business of retrofitting Cambridge’s buildings is demand-driven. Other attempts at initiatives like this have tended to work on the assumption that if a programme to make large-scale changes like this is created, people will use it. Our view is that you don’t start supplying until you’ve got the demand. Our first objective is to get big estate-holders involved.”

    Residents, companies and public organisations alike can add their details to the website. Using this, retrofits will be co-ordinated by the Programme Management Unit to keep the costs as low as possible, and to ensure that local businesses and innovators form the project’s principal supply chain.

    The initial focus will be on the non-residential sector – the estates of the City and County Councils, property firms, schools, universities and the University of Cambridge Colleges. These organisations are considered prime targets for retrofits because of the cost-saving benefits. “Our approach is that we’re not here to save your soul and we don’t care why you’re doing it, so long as you’re doing what needs to be done,” Crawford-Brown added.

    Over time, the project will focus increasingly on the residential sector, working alongside local councils and other organisations to help reduce energy costs in homes.

    The Programme Management Unit will also offer all participants optional support through which they can negotiate the cost of retrofitting their properties. For example, in some cases, the Unit will take out an initial, low-cost loan to pay for the retrofit up front, then gradually pay this back by taking a cut of the profit made through energy-savings over time.

    Several inaugural “beacon” projects are now being prepared by the project team, with a view to giving the scheme some initial momentum. They will include at least one college building, one commercial building, a local authority office and a University of Cambridge building.

    Sian Reid, chair of the project’s oversight group, said: “It is wonderful to see that many Cambridge organisations have already signed up to Cambridge Retrofit. Getting people involved early, and then constantly broadcasting the successes that are happening in Cambridge, is crucial to the success of Cambridge Retrofit. There is a real opportunity here to create nationwide awareness of how retrofits can work for building owners, occupiers and communities. To do that, we have to make Cambridge a living example of best practice.”

    Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, said: “Cambridge Retrofit has the exciting possibility of allowing everyone in Cambridge to benefit from more energy-efficient buildings, saving money and helping to protect the environment. I am pleased that so many people and organisations are coming together to make this happen.”

    For more information about this story, please contact: Tom Kirk, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge. Tel: +44 (0)1223 332300; Email:

    A new network of public and private sector organisations aims to carry out retrofits across Cambridge, bringing down carbon emissions, cutting energy costs, and helping to make it the first city to meet the UK Climate Change Act carbon reduction target of 80% by 2050.

    "We’re not here to save your soul and we don’t care why you’re doing it, so long as you’re doing what needs to be done"
    Douglas Crawford-Brown
    The wide range of building types in Cambridge, ranging from modern structures to medieval college buildings, make it a natural community in which to test the feasibility of city-wide retrofits to cut carbon emissions.

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    The app is designed to provide more information on the fascinating ‘Cambridge Wall’ of local artefacts – a display of nearly 160 objects within three superimposed layers representing the Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval periods – overlaid on a map of the area, showing where they were discovered.

    The Cambridge Wall display is part of a new gallery on the archaeology of Cambridge created when the museum – a finalist for the prestigious Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2013 – reopened after extensive redevelopment in May 2012. The innovative three-dimensional display generates substantial interest among museum visitors, whose feedback has highlighted the desire for more information about particular artefacts.

    With support from the Arts Council England, the Museum has launched the first phase of an iPad app that replicates the Cambridge Wall. At a tap of the screen, users can delve more deeply into the display to discover information on the uses of each artefact, where it was found and the date that it was added to the collection. Visitors can contribute to the development of the app by trialling it on an iPad borrowed from the Museum’s Information Desk. Their use of the app will be recorded, and will shape the next stage of the app’s development – in time, the plan is to let people download the app onto their own devices.

    Dr Chris Wingfield, Senior Curator (Archaeology) at the Museum, said: “This app allows our visitors to become the archaeologists, looking at where things from different periods have been found, and thinking about how their location relates to other features, such as the River Cam, or the Roman Road which still forms the backbone of Cambridge’s road system. Users can excavate through layers of material from different time periods, digitally digging back through the archaeology of the Cambridge region, as one might excavate the accumulated layers on an archaeological site.”

    Details revealed by the Cambridge Wall app include an ancient necklace made from fossilised sponges, found in Chesterton, and a beautiful glass jar, found in Petty Cury.

    Starting from a complete representation of the cabinet, the app enables visitors to add or remove layers showing material from the Medieval, Roman and Prehistoric period, as well as a contemporary street plan of Cambridge. Users can interact with the app by pinching and tapping the screen to zoom and select objects to display further information.

    “The intention is to lead the visitor on a short journey from the real world in the museum to the virtual world of the app,” said Billy Gibson of Atlas Live, developers of the app.  Atlas Live believe the application can easily be configured for a wide range of gallery displays, pairing the ancient and the cutting-edge.

    The app was commissioned in collaboration with Caper as part of Culture Hack East, a digital development programme for arts and culture that enables the creation of innovative digital prototypes and creates new working relationships across the arts, technology and the creative industries.

    It has been developed as part of a wider project exploring the use of apps at the University’s museums. University of Cambridge Museums Officer, Dr Liz Hide, said: “This project addresses two of the key priorities of the University of Cambridge Museums Connecting Collections programme, funded by the Arts Council England’s Major Partner Museum programme: to bring the museums, their collections and their research to new and more diverse audiences, and to develop digital capacity across the eight museums. This is one of a number of apps and other digital innovations planned during the coming two years.”

    An app that helps users delve through thousands of years of local history is being trialled at Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

    Users can excavate through layers of material from different time periods, digitally digging back through the archaeology of the Cambridge region, as one might excavate the accumulated layers on an archaeological site
    Chris Wingfield
    Using the app

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    New research shows that exposing polymer molecular sieve membranes to ultraviolet (UV) irradiation in the presence of oxygen produces highly permeable and selective membranes for more efficient molecular-level separation, an essential process in everything from water purification to controlling gas emissions.

    Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study finds that short-wavelength UV exposure of the sponge-like polymer membranes in the presence of oxygen allows the formation of ozone within the polymer matrix. The ozone induces oxidation of the polymer and chops longer polymer chains into much shorter segments, increasing the density of its surface.

    By controlling this ‘densification’, resulting in smaller cavities on the membrane surface, scientists have found they are able to create a greatly enhanced ‘sieve’ for molecular-level separation - as these ‘micro-cavities’ improve the ability of the membrane to selectively separate, to a significant degree, molecules with various sizes, remaining highly permeable for small molecules while effectively blocking larger ones.

    The research from the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory partly mirrors nature, as our planet’s ozone layer is created from oxygen hit by ultraviolet light irradiated from the sun.

    Researchers have now demonstrated that the ‘selectivity’ of these newly modified membranes could be enhanced to a remarkable level for practical applications, with the permeability potentially increasing between anywhere from a hundred to a thousand times greater than the current commercially-used polymer membranes.

    Scientists believe such research is an important step towards more energy efficient and environmentally friendly gas-separation applications in major global energy processes - ranging from purification of natural gases and hydrogen for sustainable energy production, the production of enriched oxygen from air for cleaner combustion of fossil fuels and more-efficient power generation, and the capture of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases.

    “Our discoveries lead to better understandings of physics of the novel materials, so we will be able to develop better membranes in the future" said Qilei Song, a researcher in Dr Easan Sivaniah’s group and the paper's lead author.

    In collaboration with groups at the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy (Professor Tony Cheetham), University of Cambridge, and at the Chemical Engineering department of Qatar University (Prof. Shaheen Al-Muhtaseb), the researchers confirmed that the size and distribution of free volume accessible to gas molecules within these porous polymeric molecular sieves could be tuned by controlling the kinetics of the ultraviolet light-driven reactions.

    Conventional separation technologies, such as cryogenic distillation and amine absorption, are significantly energy-intensive processes. Membrane separation technology is highly attractive to industry, as it has the potential to replace conventional technologies with higher energy efficiency and lower environmental impacts.

    But gas separation performance of current commercially-available polymer membranes are subject to what scientists describe as “a poor trade-off” between low permeability levels and high degree of selective molecular separation. The next generation membranes – such as polymers of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) - being studied at the Cavendish are based on tuning the pore size and interaction with specific molecules to achieve both high permeability and, critically, high selectivity.

    Currently, these flat-sheet membranes show great separation performance and are mechanically robust for clean cylinder gases. “We are working on ways to further improve these membranes and our next step is to develop large scale and more practical industrial modules such as thin film composite membranes or hollow fibers with selective layer as thin as possible,” said Dr Easan Sivaniah.

    “We are also exploring many other applications of these fascinating polymer materials, such as liquid and vapour separation, water treatment by desalination, sensor devices and photolithography technology, and energy storage applications".

    Latest research uses membrane technology for ‘energy efficient’ gas separation - a crucial part of many major industrial processes and important focus for increased sustainability in global energy production.

    Our next step is to develop large scale and more practical industrial modules
    Easan Sivaniah
    Image shows fluorescence of solution (left) and membrane (right) made of a polymer of intrinsic microporosity (PIM-1) under irradiation of ultraviolet (UV) light. The ultraviolet irradiation induces oxidation and surface densification of the polymeric m

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    The University of Cambridge has been recognized as an “Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research” (ACE-CSR) by the UK Government.

    The status is further acknowledgement of Cambridge’s long-standing record of world-class research in the field of cybersecurity, in particular within its Computer Laboratory, where there is a well-respected security research group.

    In the broadest sense, “cybersecurity” is about protecting activity, assets and services on digital devices and networks from unauthorized interference or attack. In practice, it can mean anything from improving chip-and-pin technology in order to stop banking fraud, to securing government computer networks to prevent hostile attacks from other countries or criminal organisations.

    The national scheme to identify British centres of excellence dedicated to cybersecurity is administered jointly by EPSRC (the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) and BIS (the Government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills). Its aim is to strengthen the links between institutions that are carrying out vital research in this field, and organisations - such as businesses, or the Government itself - that could benefit directly from it.

    The initiative also aims to identify technical gaps in UK cybersecurity research, so that they can be addressed by future projects.

    Cambridge itself has been responsible for world-leading work on cybersecurity since before the word (or even the Internet) existed: It was at Cambridge, for example, that the use of a one-way function to protect the password file was first conceived and deployed in 1966.

    The University’s current work touches on areas of great impact for society such as securing global infrastructure (banking security, smart card security, satellite navigation security, civil infrastructure security) and securing the building blocks of the digital world (operating system security, secure computer architectures, network protocol security, security of mobile devices). Other research addresses the fundamental problem of the interaction between people and computers – the intersection of security and psychology, overcoming the usability and security flaws of password authentication, modelling frauds and scams, protecting location privacy and privacy in social networks, and fighting online censorship.

    Much of the University’s work in security research is carried out in close collaboration with commercial and industrial bodies, both in the UK and abroad, with a view to tackling real-life problems. Recent projects have, for example, focused on how to identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the computer systems that control major power plants; or on the protection of sensor networks that monitor potential damage to vital infrastructure like bridges and tunnels.

    The entrepreneurial spirit of Cambridge academics and graduates has created hundreds of start-up companies, of which several deal with security. Xensource, founded by former Computer Lab staff, and whose Xen hypervisor now runs Amazon’s EC2 cloud (the world’s largest), was acquired by Citrix for $500m in 2007, while nCipher, a maker of cryptographic accelerators founded by a Computer Lab graduate, was bought by Thales for $100m in 2008. Cronto, co-founded by a Cambridge staff member, currently licenses its secure online banking device to major banks in Germany, Switzerland and Chile.

    Faculty member Dr Frank Stajano, head of the Cambridge ACE-CSR and an expert in security and privacy based at the Computer Lab, said: “We believe cybersecurity is inherently a systems problem and must be addressed as such.”

    “Our strongest asset as a cybersecurity research institution is our unique combination of depth and breadth. We offer a core of systems security expertise at the Computer Laboratory. Through the rest of the University,  we have ready access to world-class domain experts from other disciplines. We are therefore uniquely placed to critically analyse and contribute to all aspects of the cybersecurity problem.”

    “No other academic institution in the whole of Europe has the mix of skills, knowledge and creative people to do this as effectively as the University of Cambridge. We are committed to researching long-term solutions to the fundamental cybersecurity problems that will affect the society of tomorrow.”

    Further information about Security Research within the Computer Laboratory at Cambridge can be found at:

    For more information about this story, please contact: Tom Kirk, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge. Tel: +44 (0)1223 332300; Email:

    Cambridge formally recognised as centre of excellence for cybsersecurity research.

    No other academic institution in the whole of Europe has the mix of skills, knowledge and creative people to do this as effectively.
    Frank Stajano

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    Pro-market policies for developing countries have long been based on the belief that increasing average income is key to improving public health and societal well-being.  

    But new research on India published in the journal Social Science and Medicine shows that literacy - a non-income good - has a greater impact on public health in India. 

    While the researchers, based at Cambridge’s Department of Sociology, accept it is broadly true that “wealthier is healthier” across the roughly 500 districts in India’s ‘major states’, accounting for 95% of the total population, they find that poverty and, crucially, illiteracy are much stronger predictors of poor public health than low average income.  

    A poor district can nonetheless enjoy relatively good public health if it has a high literacy rate, say researchers. Literacy acts as a base, enabling populations to understand medicine labeling, access healthcare, and engage with public health programmes.

    Using data on income, education, and under-five and infant mortality, the researchers suggest that policymakers concerned with public health should focus on literacy levels rather than average income.* 

    Models estimate that for the ‘typical’ Indian district in the early 2000s, the  poverty gap would have had to be reduced by 25% to save one child per thousand live births, whereas a mere 4% increase in literacy rate would have had the same effect.+ 

    And at the level of India’s 35 states and Union Territories, literacy is the only significant predictor of public health – even poverty gap is not a reliable predictor.

    “Economic policies narrowly focused on growth are insufficient when it comes to public health in less developed countries,” said Lawrence King, Professor of Sociology and Political Economy and co-author of the study with Cambridge colleagues Keertichandra Rajan and Jonathan Kennedy.

    “Higher average income is a statistical red herring: it contributes to better public health mainly to the extent that it reflects high literacy and low poverty.”

    The researchers also found that although income inequality does not affect under-five and infant mortality rates in India, it does affect other measures of poor societal well-being such as self-reported ailment.

    Even after they accounted for differences in individual education and income, along with average district income, people – especially women – living in districts with high levels of income inequality were significantly more likely to report an ailment than those in more equal districts.

    A one-unit increase in the Gini co-efficient - the standard measure of inequality - of the ‘typical’ district makes people living in that district 83% more likely to report an ailment. This is despite the common belief among public health analysts that such effects of inequality are felt only in developed countries with high average incomes. 

    “Since our models account for differences in individual income and district average income, this is tentative evidence for the psychological and social effects of inequality in a poor country,” said Rajan.

    “Even if inequality does not lead to more children dying in India, it may generate individual stress and fray social bonds enough to undermine societal well-being.”

    Overall, researchers feel the study provides support for what its authors call the ‘pro-poor position’: while economic growth is certainly important, a focus on the most deprived in terms of income as well as other factors such as literacy, may be more effective than improving the average.

    “Standard policy prescriptions need revision.  Even in developing countries, they must be more subtle. First, non-income goods like literacy may make an important contribution to public health. Second, alleviating poverty may be more effective than raising average income levels. And third, policy should be based on a broader understanding of societal well-being and the factors that promote it.”

    New research suggests public health in developing countries may be better improved by reducing illiteracy rather than raising average income.

    Economic policies narrowly focused on growth are insufficient when it comes to public health in less developed countries
    Lawrence King
    Promoting reading
    *Data sources

    1. Survey data from National Sample Survey of India’s 60th round (2004) on healthcare and morbidity: monthly consumption expenditure per capita, individual education, self-reported ailment.
    2. Rajan, S. I., Nair, P. M., Sheela, K., L., Jagatdeb, L., Mishra, N. R., (2008). Infant and child mortality in India: district level estimates. New Delhi: Population Foundation of India.
    +The ‘typical’ district is that with sample average values for all independent variables.

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