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- 01/21/16--08:59: _How artisans used c...
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- 01/22/16--00:00: How to get teams to share information
- 01/25/16--03:50: Boat Race name reflects support for cancer research
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- 01/27/16--01:45: Google Street View comes to Cambridge University
- Cambridge University Botanic Garden
- Gonville & Caius College
- Great St Mary's Church
- Newnham College
- Queens' College
- St John's College
- Trinity Hall
- William Wordsworth’s life mask. The illustrious poet was a student at St John’s from 1787. This three-dimensional mould, capturing his likeness, was made by the artist Benjamin Robert Haydon in 1815. Wordsworth had to sit with his face covered with papier mâché, breathing through straws that had been stuck up his nose!
- A “rebus” – or an image, punning somebody’s name, belonging to Hugh Ashton. Ashton, who died in 1552, was a household officer of the College’s foundress, Lady Margaret Beaufort. If you can find his tomb, you should be able to spot a rebus based on his surname, which depicts an ash tree, and a barrel (or “tun” which is an old word for barrel or cask).
- A towel, in tribute to Douglas Adams. The author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was at St John’s in the early 1970s. Since the book contains the sage advice, “never go anywhere without your towel”, fans celebrate Adams’ life on May 25 every year by carrying towels. We left one hanging around somewhere, along with some of Adams’ books, when Google dropped by.
- Fred Hoyle’s telescope. Hoyle, a Fellow of St John’s, was the famous astronomer who inadvertently coined the phrase “Big Bang”, but his lasting legacy was in the field of stellar nucleosynthesis, in which he helped to unravel the process by which chemical elements are made inside stars. This telescope was given to him as a present when he was still a boy, and represents the start of a lifelong passion for astronomy.
- 01/28/16--00:00: Making operating systems safer and faster with ‘unikernels’
- 01/28/16--11:02: How 'more food per field' could help save our wild spaces
- 01/29/16--01:30: 10,000 higher flyers and counting
- 01/29/16--02:09: Graphene shown to safely interact with neurons in the brain
The fearsome dragon is dead, its body contorted and mouth hanging open. Above it, a triumphant St George sits astride a splendid horse. He wears full armour, his legs thrust forward, spurs glinting and lance held high. Atop his helmet, impossibly elaborate plumes and feathers cascade upwards and outwards. In the background, a city perches on a mountain top, silhouetted against a glowering sky.
This opulent image, worked in black and gold on a blue background, is one of the earliest European examples of colour printing used in fine art. It was created in 1507 by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) at the request of his patron, Friedrich III, Elector of Saxony. Artisans working for Cranach, whose initials are worked into the design, used two wood blocks (black and gold) to print his masterful design of a horse and rider on to paper pre-painted with indigo. The medieval imagery contrasts with the strikingly modern Renaissance technology.
Cranach’s print is one of 31 German Renaissance woodcuts and a single drawing currently on display at the British Museum in an exhibition of early colour printing. All come from the British Museum’s collection but few have been shown to the public before. Together, they chart the ways in which advances in early print technology opened up new avenues for artists in creating a sense of movement, depth and opulence not possible in black and white.
The exhibition German Renaissance Colour Woodcuts has been curated by Dr Elizabeth Savage (Faculty of English and Department of History of Art). Her pioneering research into archival collections in Germany and the UK, combined with her detailed grasp of the medium of woodblock printing, challenges accepted thinking about the use of colour in woodcuts, a craft-based technology associated almost exclusively with black-and-white or monochrome images.
When colour does appear in early woodcuts (for example St Dorothea and the Christ-Child, c.1450-1500) it has generally been applied by hand as a secondary process, often as a wash to draw attention to a significant aspect of the design. Given the considerable technical difficulties of colour printing using wood blocks, it was long assumed that colour printing did not develop on any significant scale until 1700, when Jakob Christoff Le Blon (1667-1741) invented a way to print all natural colours using only blue, red, yellow and black. His method became our CMYK: cyan, magenta, yellow, ‘key’ (black), following his order. Scholars thus assumed that early colour prints were extremely rare and judged them to be unrepresentative ‘outliers’.
Close analysis of colour images by Savage now reveals that, throughout the 1500s, thousands (and perhaps tens of thousands) of colour prints were in circulation in European countries. Furthermore, the range of colour woodblock prints in production varied from costly images, commissioned and collected by wealthy patrons, to more affordable ‘mass-produced’ prints designed to decorate the surfaces of furniture and the interiors of homes whose owners hankered after the latest styles of intarsia and marquetry – effects created by laborious and highly skilled inlay techniques.
One reason why so many colour prints have hidden in plain sight is that colour can be mistaken for paint. When the surfaces of prints are examined by an expert eye a different story may emerge. For instance, the pressure of the press often leaves tell-tale marks like indenting the design into the paper, forcing ‘ink squash’ into a raised outline, even giving the paper an almost sculptural relief. Savage collaborated with Gwen Riley Jones, a specialist in imaging gold at the University of Manchester, to document the surface texture of the portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1519) by Hans Weiditz (c.1500–c.1536). It can now be identified as the sixth image printed with gold in early modern Europe.
The development of colour printing may have been technology-led, emerging from the workshops in the German cities of Augsburg and Strasbourg, among others, where competitive, innovative printers developed new ways to make their books stand out. But, in order to flourish, these advances required the backing of rich and powerful individuals whose status was closely tied to the conspicuous (and competitive) consumption of the latest in luxury goods, from textiles to prints.
“The British Museum holds one of the world’s largest collections of colour prints, including unique examples from late medieval and early modern Germany. Early printers vied with each other to achieve stunning colouristic effects – 500 years before the advent of Photoshop,” says Savage. “We think of prints as being exactly repeatable black outlines on white paper, but some survive in many as 30 very different palettes. Their printers developed inks in royal blues, baby pinks, dusky oranges, lush greens, rich burgundies to create endless variety and unprecedented three-dimensional effects.”
Three prints, displayed side by side, illustrate how rivalry between members of the ruling elite stimulated important developments in colour printing. When in 1507 Friedrich III in Wittenberg sent images by Cranach of “knights printed from gold and silver” to his friend and competitor collector, the imperial advisor Konrad Peutinger in Augsburg, he created a friendly contest between two major artistic centres with artists and artisans stretching their skills to the limit in the quest for the most impressive image.
In response to the receipt of Cranach’s St George, Peutinger sent Friedrich a pair of larger colour woodcuts of St George and Maximillian I on horseback designed by Hans Burgkmair the Elder (1473–1531). With these woodcuts, Peutinger demonstrated that his Augsburg artists and craftsmen were able to outdo Frederick’s ostentatious effort. “Friedrich and Peutinger’s glittering exchange jump-started colour printing on a scale that we are only now beginning to appreciate,” said Savage. “It’s mind-boggling that one of Peutinger’s technicians corresponded directly with the Holy Roman Emperor about colour printing. Like Cranach’s nearly 24-karat gold printing ink on flimsy paper, it suggests the incredible value of these vivid breakthroughs.”
That extraordinary, short-lived, pre-Reformation heyday is thought to be the whole story, but Savage’s research recasts it as a short chapter. Dozens of colour impressions of German prints were known, by just a few artists, from the 1510s. This exhibition hints at the thousands of colour prints, circulating in perhaps tens of thousands of impressions, which were made and used across Germany. Rather than dying out before the Reformation, later European adaptions attest that the craft knowledge and market demand survived for generations and even spread abroad.
All prints are team efforts, with the artist normally considered the main producer. In the exhibition curated by Savage, the printer is the star player. Two colour impressions by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) and one by Hans Holbein (c.1497–1543) are on display, but neither ever designed a colour print. Instead, printers commissioned others to design and cut tone blocks to accompany the great masters’ ‘normal’ woodcuts. As a woodcut, Dürer’s portrait of Ulrich Varnbüler (1522) is a 16th-century German masterpiece; as a colour print, it’s a triumph of 17th-century Dutch marketing.
The exhibition’s focus on printers, not artists, expands an apparently small and sporadic fine art movement into an ever-growing wave. Savage said: “People prayed with them, collected them, learned from them, decorated with them, upgraded cheap wooden furniture with them. Few were as stunning as Cranach’s golden, saintly knight, which is precisely the point. We’ve forgotten that colour woodcuts were normal, not exceptional, in the ‘golden age’ of print.”
German Renaissance Colour Woodcuts is on display in Room 90 on the fourth floor of the British Museum until Wednesday, 27 January 2016.
Inset images: Dorothy 1895,0122.18 183700001 © The Trustees of the British Museum and courtesy of the Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care, University of Manchester; Weiditz Charles V 1862,0208.55 © The Trustees of the British Museum and courtesy of the Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care, University of Manchester; Durer Varnbuler 1857,0613.345 60889001 © The Trustees of the British Museum and courtesy of the Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care, University of Manchester.
An exhibition of early colour printing in Germany shines a light on the ways in which technology jump-started a revolution in image making. The British Museum show is curated by Dr Elizabeth Savage, whose research makes a radical contribution to an understanding of colour in woodcuts.
The study reveals that teams across the land are not playing nicely after all. In fact, there are many occasions when we choose not to share information with colleagues if we think it can harm our own prospects of success. And when that information determines, say, the level of funding passed down from a CEO, it can have a significant – and counter-productive – effect on the company as a whole.
“Most organisations must make decisions about where best to allocate resources,” said Nektarios (Aris) Oraiopoulos of Cambridge Judge Business School, whose study, published in the journal Management Science, examined how these issues play out in the pharmaceutical industry. “Pharmaceutical companies as a whole need to regularly reassess their research and development portfolios and decide which projects have the greatest potential; for example they might choose to improve an existing drug or develop a new one. Such decisions are often made by executives who rely on information provided by the project managers. But individual project managers do not necessarily give accurate information to the boss if they think it will cost them the resources that fund their projects.”
Oraiopoulos’s study, undertaken with Vincent Mak of Cambridge Judge Business School, and Professor Jochen Schlapp of Mannheim University, revealed managers’ likelihood to share information depended on whether there was an appropriate fit between the type of the project (e.g. a new project vs a ‘me-too’ project) and the incentives scheme in place.
“In small companies such as start-ups, there’s often such a strong culture of collective ambition and responsibility – and enhanced risk – that it’s hard to attribute success or failure individually,” said Oraiopoulos. “Therefore the most effective incentive rewards everyone on the basis of the collective success. But as the company grows, people inevitably assume singular responsibilities, the outcomes are less risky and, in the interests of the company, managers start following individual agendas – and management starts rewarding individual performance.”
Which is where the problems start. “If two project managers are offered a group incentive for success, individuals are more willing to be upfront about any failings. But when the two project managers compete for resources and rewards, as it often happens in a bigger organisation, project managers are less likely to step aside.”
There are many reasons for this, said Oraiopoulos, not necessarily based in deception. “Pharmaceutical research includes many ‘true believers’ – researchers who have absolute faith in a new product, especially if it could cure an important disease. But that faith skews their judgment. They believe their breakthrough is just around the corner, even if all the existing evidence suggests otherwise.”
This is a difficult moral argument for any CEO to reject – a difficulty compounded by the lack of impartial information in such a knowledge-specific industry. “One project manager’s specialty might be cardiovascular, another’s oncology,” said Oraiopoulos. “No one knows the science and potential of their product better than they do. They can present an accurate case on why their project deserves resources – or, consciously or subconsciously, mask its failings because no-one has the expertise to challenge them. So how does the CEO tell the difference?”
The answer is trust and giving teams a compelling motivation to be honest. But a collective incentive has drawbacks. “If you’re leading one of five departments who are rewarded only for collective excellence,” said Oraiopoulos, “where’s your motivation? You might as well let the others carry you.”
And even financial incentive doesn’t necessarily work. “Many researchers’ greatest reward is completing their project,” said Oraiopoulos. “That means being consistently confident their boss supports their work.”
So what’s the solution? “Organisations are tackling it in different ways,” he said. “Some are creating smaller, individual units, for example, centres of excellence or turning departments into small start-ups, with defined budgets. Others are promoting more collaboration between departments.”
Swiss global healthcare company Roche did both. When it bought drug developer Genentech in 2009 it kept the two companies’ research and development sections separate, empowering its “late-stage development group” to pick the strongest project – and motivating the losing group by announcing it would develop its plans later. But while that worked with Alzheimer’s treatments, a more linked approach was required for fast-paced developments in cancer research. “The need to understand the biology and right therapeutic approach requires the best minds,” said Roche’s head of oncology Jason Coloma. “We needed to leverage the knowledge in these divisions and break down some of these firewalls.”
The company formed a cancer immunotherapy committee which, says Roche, “brings the leadership and senior scientific minds together to consider different areas of interest and unmet needs that can be fulfilled by looking at different combinations.”
Roche’s approach confirms Oraiopoulos’s findings that new products require a team strategy, while ‘me-too’ projects benefit from more individual approaches. But how to break down a colossal R&D function into start-up-style divisions?
GlaxoSmithKline replaced its research and development ‘pyramid’ with 12 centres of excellence. “We learned these centres must be built around two things,” its then CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier said later. “A specific mission – the most effective therapies for Alzheimer’s – and the stage of the R&D process required to perform that mission, for example choosing a target for attacking the disease. Anything not critical to the core R&D process must occur outside the centre. All other functions – toxicology, drug metabolism, formulation, had to become service units, delivering at the lowest possible cost.”
Simultaneously, GSK overhauled its incentives. “Pharmaceutical R&D typically pursues two objectives – to be first in class and to offer the best-in-class compound for attacking a disease. For too long the industry has tried to be a ballet dancer and a footballer at the same time.”
But he warned fragmenting a company needs commitment. “To operate in this fashion, companies must strengthen opportunities, negotiate deals and nurture external scientific ‘bets’ (work with outside experts). This means a cultural shift. It’s an enormous but necessary task.”
Oraiopoulos’s research suggests there are so many variables – different products, motivations, branches of medicine, organisational goals – each company must then find its own solution. Pfizer’s recent buy-out of Botox maker Allergan is expected to maintain separate divisions for innovative and established treatments, so how the company allocates its resources remains to be seen.
“You must strike a balance,” said Oraiopoulos, “between rewarding individual and group performance. It’s a spectrum and each company must find their place on it, for patients and for the advancement of treatments. Many companies are encountering this challenge. We’re only scratching the surface.”
Schlapp, Oraiopoulos, and Mak: 'Resource Allocation Under Imperfect Evaluation.' Management Science (2015). DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.2014.2083
Originally published on the Cambridge Judge Business School website.
Are you happy to share information with your colleagues? And do they share their valuable information with you? A number of companies have realised that withholding key information within organisational silos might happen more often that we might like to admit. Now a new study suggests how and when companies should restore meaningful communication across the organisation.
The research, carried out by two local scientists recently trained in next-generation genome sequencing techniques, will provide vital information about the virus that will help international scientists to identify the potential source of the infection.
The lab at the University of Makeni (UNIMAK) – a collaboration with the University of Cambridge supported by funding from the Wellcome Trust – will be officially opened today by Sierra Leonean Health Minister Dr Abu Bakarr Fofanah.
In the longer-term, the new facility will provide Sierra Leone with a greater ability to identify emerging infectious diseases in the earliest stages, increasing the country’s resilience to future epidemics. It is also expected to become a centre of excellence for research and teaching in the country, which has suffered more than 14,000 cases of the disease since the outbreak began.
The laboratory evolved from a temporary facility at the Mateneh Ebola Treatment Centre, set up in April 2015 by Professor Ian Goodfellow from the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge, who decided to apply his skills as an infectious disease researcher to the global response effort at the height of the Ebola outbreak.
With just a single sequencing machine, provided by Thermo Fisher Scientific and selected for its ability to function in a harsh environment of high temperatures, humidity and dust, the lab quickly began processing samples collected over the course of the epidemic to provide information about the evolution of the virus in real time. To date it has processed more than 1,200 clinical samples (including blood, semen and breastmilk), generating almost 600 full length Ebola virus genomes – the largest single dataset from any laboratory.
Now relocated to its permanent home in the university, with support from the UK Department for International Development, the UNIMAK Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory will provide a world-class environment for the training of local scientists and will bolster the in-country capacity for ongoing disease surveillance.
UNIMAK Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory (Credit: Ian Goodfellow)
In addition to Ebola, researchers will study other infectious diseases such as leptospirosis and Lassa Fever, as very little is known currently about these infections in the local population. The information they obtain will be made available to the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and local healthcare providers so that it may be used to devise better diagnostic and treatment strategies.
Professor Goodfellow said: “We initially set up our makeshift laboratory to provide temporary support during the emergency response to the Ebola epidemic. However, it soon became clear that there was a need to establish a more permanent facility within Sierra Leone to maintain these capabilities for the future.
“What started as little more than a sequencing machine in a tent has since blossomed into a fully functioning laboratory, where a new generation of scientists will train in the latest genome sequencing techniques to allow them to study infectious diseases in the local community.”
Professor Father Joe Turay, Vice Chancellor of UNIMAK, said: “As a university this laboratory will be part of our contribution to building a resilient health system in the country. Our partnership with Cambridge, along with other foundations and institutions, is about supporting UNIMAK in providing the training, research and community services that will strengthen our health infrastructure for post Ebola recovery in Sierra Leone.”
Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “The recently confirmed case of Ebola in Sierra Leone serves as poignant reminder of the need to remain vigilant, and the new facilities in Makeni are already playing an important role in this.
“Beyond Ebola, it’s critical that research capabilities are strengthened and maintained in the long-term to build a better picture of health and disease in the local population. Not only will this help to improve the way infections are diagnosed and treated, it will also increase the region’s ability to identify and respond quickly to new epidemic threats as they emerge.”
Adapted from a press release from the Wellcome Trust
Samples from the recently confirmed case of Ebola in Sierra Leone have been analysed at a new infectious diseases laboratory in the country, set up in partnership with the University of Cambridge in the wake of the epidemic.
It’s a risky business being a reed warbler. Not only do these tiny birds embark on an annual migration of some 5,000 km from their West African winter quarters to breeding grounds in the north, but they are also ‘hosts’ to the cuckoo, a species that lays its eggs in other birds’ nests and takes no further part in raising its offspring. When the cuckoo chick hatches, it pushes the reed warbler eggs and young out of the nest. As sole occupant, it tricks its warbler ‘parents’ into supplying its voracious appetite until it fledges.
Cuckoos are expert tricksters: their eggs mimic those of their hosts in pattern though they are a little bigger. If the reed warbler detects an alien egg in its nest, or spots a cuckoo nearby, it may eject the odd-looking egg. But cuckoos are so swift in laying their eggs (only one is laid per nest and the process is over in as little as 10 seconds), and so clever at disguising their eggs, that warblers are often uncertain whether an odd egg in the clutch is a cuckoo egg or one of their own.
Research into the relationship between cuckoos and reed warblers has to date concentrated on the behaviour of individual birds and their interactions with cuckoos, described as parasites. A new study published today (22 January 2016) in Scientific Reports looks at wider interactions between neighbouring communities of reed warblers, their strategies for coping with cuckoos, and, in particular, how warblers assess levels of risk by gathering information from a variety of sources.
After two years of observation of warblers that spend the breeding season at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, authors Rose Thorogood and Nicholas Davies (Department of Zoology) reveal that a kind of “neighbourhood watch” exists out in the reed beds, keeping birds up-to-date with the latest threats. Using a series of controlled experiments, involving model cuckoos and broadcasts of reed warbler alarm calls, the researchers revealed that reed warblers factored information gathered from close surveillance of the neighbourhood into their decision-making when assessing whether or not to eject an egg.
When reed warblers spot a cuckoo, they may mob it and emit alarm calls that carry up to 40 metres. These alarm calls attract neighbours, who come to investigate the cause of the commotion. But the sound of neighbourly mobbing of a cuckoo alone is insufficient to prompt warblers to eject a suspect egg from their own nests. They also need clues that suggest a more close-up and personal threat.
“We found that warbler pairs ejected an odd egg only when there was strong evidence that it might not be one of their own. For action to be taken, the clues had to add up. The warblers needed to be alerted by their neighbours’ behaviour that there was a cuckoo at large in the neighbourhood and they needed to be aware of a more local and imminent threat, by seeing a cuckoo near their own nest. ” said Thorogood.
“Neither personal encounters nor social encounters alone were sufficient to stimulate egg rejection. Instead, information was combined from both these sources. This is fascinating because we have assumed previously that animals favour one type of information over the other – for example, experiments show that some fish species will ignore where their shoal mates forage if they already have information about the location of food themselves, even when it is less profitable. Here we show that combining information is the best way to take the most appropriate course of action.”
The use of multiple sources of information has important consequences for cuckoos too. With their neighbourhood abuzz with information, cuckoos need to be wary of alarming potential hosts.
“Because the information warfare between cuckoos and their hosts extends well beyond individual interactions, there’s pressure on cuckoos to be increasingly secretive, not only to avoid alerting their target host pair, but also other host pairs in the local neighbourhood” said Thorogood.
Cuckoo numbers have declined by as much as 60% in the past 30 years for reasons that remain unclear. At Wicken Fen, where several hundred warblers arrive to breed each May, between 10% and 20% of reed warblers nests were used by cuckoos. Today only 2% of warbler nests at Wicken host cuckoos. This rapid drop in cuckoo numbers, which contrasts with a stable warbler population, has enabled Thorogood and Davies to track how the warblers have dropped their defences in concert with the dramatic decrease in cuckoo threat.
Davies has been researching cuckoos and their hosts at Wicken Fen since the 1980s. He said: “Reed warblers are much less likely to eject an egg from their nest today than they were in the 1980s. This makes complete sense. They have matched their behaviour to the changing level of risk. Most reed warblers have just one or two summers in which to breed. So every opportunity to mate, construct a nest and raise a clutch of eggs is precious. If a pair of warblers mistakenly identifies one of their own eggs as a cuckoo egg and chucks it out, or deserts the nest, the loss is great. Our work shows how they match their defences to the risk of parasitism.”
A study of reed warbler behaviour reveals for the first time that in assessing the risks posed by cuckoos the birds combine information from multiple sources. An ‘information highway’ provides one set of clues and personal encounters another. Only when both add up, do the birds take defensive action.
Measuring certain kinds of brain activity may help doctors track and predict how patients will react to anaesthesia before going under for surgery, our research has found.
Doctors currently have no perfectly reliable way of ensuring patients are adequately unconscious before an operation begins. Although rare, the uncertainty sometimes results in traumatic experiences of patients “waking up” during surgery.
Using a technique that measures electrical impulses in the brain of those in various states of sedation, we discovered network “signatures” that can indicate when loss of consciousness will occur.
Doctors can use similar techniques to accurately identify the concentration of drug needed for a patient to lose consciousness and maintain that loss throughout an operation.
Everyone is different
Every day in Australia, more than 6,000 people are anaesthetised for surgery. Doctors need to figure out exactly how much sedative to give them, and keep them unconscious throughout the operation.
Anaesthetists estimate the concentration of sedative required using calculations mainly based on a patient’s weight. As the patient “goes under”, their level of awareness is monitored by observing indirect – and somewhat crude – measures, such as blood pressure, heart rate or physical movement.
This method works well in most cases, but people’s susceptibility to anaesthesia varies. One to two in every 1,000 people report having some awareness or recall during surgery. This equates to 2,000 to 4,000 such cases each year in Australia.
Recollections include hearing people speaking during surgery, sensations of not being able to breathe, and experiencing pain.
Naturally, experiences such as these are emotionally traumatic. What’s more, many suffer mental distress long after the surgery, resulting in negative memories of their hospital experience. Some have even reported a reduction in their quality of life.
Figuring out the best way to sedate someone essentially comes down to understanding how the brain gains and loses consciousness; that is, the inner world of awareness, feelings and sensations. Although a challenging theme in neuroscience, rapid advances have been made in this area.
Some theories suggest that key networks of brain areas communicate with each other to integrate information processing and generate consciousness. This communication network gives off signals that indicate how conscious an individual is.
The networks come about from brain neurons firing simultaneously at a certain frequency. We can observe them by using a non-invasive technique called electroencephalogram (EEG), where sensors placed on the scalp record the neurons' electrical impulses. These recordings provide us with a brain “signature” indicative of awareness levels.
Brain monitoring such as this is not commonly used in the operating theatre today. One reason is that current devices are unable to deal with the considerable variability in how people respond to sedatives. But our study shows that devices calibrated for accurate monitoring based on the latest neuroscientific advances could help reduce the incidence of awareness during surgery.
We have previously shown that network signals of consciousness can also be seen in some people in a vegetative state.
This gave us an indication of the types of signals that could be seen in those who experience some awareness during surgery, but are unable to communicate. But we also needed to show that a similar brain-based measure worked well in cases where we could manipulate the level of consciousness.
Our latest study, published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, helped us better understand the transition to unconsciousness during sedation, and how this transition varies from person to person.
We gave a steadily increasing dose of a commonly used anaesthetic called propofol to 20 people. At the same time, we measured the brain networks known to be associated with consciousness using EEG. The drug was administered at different dosages, causing varying degrees of mild to moderate sedation across our participant group, rather than complete unconsciousness in all of them.
We also measured the behavioural responsiveness of the participants with a simple task. They were asked to press one button if they heard a “ping” and a different button if they heard a “pong”.
Alongside this, we recorded the concentration of the drug in their blood at different times. Altogether, we got the information needed to connect the activity of their brain networks to their individual drug responses.
The right measure
We found that the strength of a participant’s brain network was clearly linked to their behavioural responsiveness. In other words, as the brain network indicating consciousness weakened, behavioural evidence of awareness also diminished.
Interestingly, while some participants showed behavioural evidence of consciousness at moderate levels of the anaesthetic, others remained responsive.
We found that it was actually the strength of their brain networks before sedation that predicted why some eventually lost consciousness while others did not. In other words, people with weaker baseline networks of consciousness were able to lose it more quickly than those with stronger baselines.
Our current findings indicate the change in consciousness due to the sedative was clearly correlated with specific patterns of brain network activity. This gives us confidence in making the “reverse inference” that tracking this network activity can be used to infer the true level of consciousness in the absence of behaviour.
Further engineering and testing could help advance and adapt current brain monitoring technology for use in the operating theatre. It is clear that networks measured by an appropriate EEG can capture and explain why people respond differently to anaesthesia.
This monitoring can help doctors optimise the amount of drug needed for someone to become unconscious without increasing risk of complications or awareness during surgery.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not represent the views of the University of Cambridge.
Srivas Chennu (Department of Clinical Neurosciences) discusses how doctors could use brain waves to help predict how patients will respond to general anaesthetics.
The medicalisation of life’s beginnings and endings has not diminished the human need for ritual. Earlier this month a photograph of a newborn baby still attached to his mother’s placenta, with the umbilical cord arranged to spell the word ‘love’, was posted on the web. The image, by an Australian photographer, went viral. The online discussion drew attention to the age-old Maori tradition of returning the placenta to the land and to the many rituals still associated with childbirth around the world.
While many birthing traditions are passed on orally, others entered the realms of literature well before the advent of printing. One of the many treasures among the manuscripts belonging to Pembroke College, Cambridge is a compendium of medical and surgical knowledge written by Gilbertus Anglicus (Gilbert the Englishman) around the middle of the 13th century. The text is titled Compendium medicine and is written in a near contemporary hand in two columns, probably by a scribe from the south of France.
Later in the same century, this manuscript (now kept in Cambridge University Library) found its way to England. We know this because there are notes made by an owner writing in an English hand. The Latin text of Gilbertus’s Compendium medicine was the first great survey of medical knowledge to have been assembled after the arrival of Greek and Arabic texts in Western Europe, and was tremendously popular. It represents a key source for historians of medical knowledge in the Middle Ages.
Particularly fascinating for historians interested in the communication of practical medical knowledge are additions to the text written in the margins of the Pembroke manuscript (MS 169). Some of these “postscripts” are valuable evidence for how orally transmitted traditions gradually entered written records – and became embedded in later copies of medical texts.
At the bottom of a page of the manuscript is an empericum (remedy) neatly written in the margin, perhaps even by Gilbertus himself, soon after the original text was compiled. It sets out, in considerable detail, a prescription for the treatment of sterility that “never fails” (“qui numquam fallit”). This personal witness to the remedy’s success (“through this treatment by our hand many who were thought to be sterile conceived”) inspired someone to add the remedy in the margin of a manuscript written at some expense by a professional scribe.
Other entries in the margins of Compendium medicine credit remedies to “a soldier”, or “a Saracen”, but scholars don’t know who told Gilbertus this particular empericum.
To summarise the remedy: a man aged 20 years or more should, at a precisely designated hour and while reciting the Lord’s prayer, pull from the ground two plants (comfrey and daisy) and extract their juices. These juices should be used to inscribe the words of a well-known directive from Genesis (“The Lord said: Increase and multiply and fill the earth”), together with some magical names, on an amulet to be worn during sexual intercourse. If the verse is worn by the man, the union will produce a boy, if by the woman, a girl.
In subsequent copies of Gilbertus’s Compendium medicine, the same prescription appears in the main body of the author’s text, and so it found its way into print in the 16th century. Its later readers would have had no idea that this remedy was not part of the original version and may have first circulated by word of mouth.
In an article published in a special issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Peter Murray Jones and Lea Olsan (Department of History and Philosophy of Science) draw on dozens of examples from manuscripts circulating in England between 900 and 1500 to show how medieval men and women used performative rituals to negotiate the dangers and difficulties of conception and childbirth.
Charms, prayers, amulets and prayer-rolls played important roles within the sphere of human reproduction at a time when male impotence or infertility, and the perils of childbirth, were not just matters of personal anxiety but vitally affected the legality of marriage and the inheritance of land or noble status.
Jones and Olsan illustrate, through their analysis of surviving documentation, the ways in which performative rituals combine spoken words and actions which drew on Christian liturgy, the intercession of saints, as well as occult symbols and powers to protect mothers and children or to ensure fertility. Repeated use of the rituals added to their force. Some were extremely long-lived, but at different times might involve different actors – monks, priests, or friars as well as local healers, midwives, doctors or the lay owners of remedy books.
One of the earliest and most important of the sources for these rituals is the Trotula collection of texts – a compendium of women’s medicine dating from the 12th century when it was collated in Salerno (Italy), and later assumed to have been written by a female physician.
Drawing on a detailed study of this collection by historian Monica Green, Jones and Olsan cite three rituals to facilitate a delayed birth or expel a dead fetus. One such remedy, for difficult birth, requires the woman to eat the sator arepo tenet opera rotas palindrome (a phrase that could be written out as a magic square of letters) written in butter or cheese. A second specifies a string of letters, this time to be drunk with the milk of another woman. A third ritual employs the skin of a snake as a birthing girdle, to be tied around the mother-to-be.
This special issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine was edited by members of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge (Nick Hopwood, Peter Murray Jones, Lauren Kassell and Jim Secord).Their introduction explains how important the whole business of communication has been to the history of reproduction. The other articles in the issue explore communication and reproduction from a variety of angles and in different periods. See the Q&A at the JHU Press blog.
The special issue springs from a larger Cambridge project that looks at the long-term shifts in understandings and practices of reproduction. Funded by a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award, the historians involved in this ‘Generation to Reproduction’ programme are offering fresh perspectives on issues ranging from ancient fertility rites to IVF. They are thus reassessing the history of reproduction over the long term.
A study of one of the most important medieval texts devoted to women’s medicine has opened a window into the many rituals associated with conception and childbirth. Research into the shifting communication of knowledge contributes to a wider project looking at the history of reproduction from ‘magical’ practices right through to IVF.
This new joint venture will support the translation of ground-breaking academic science from within these universities into innovative new medicines for a broad range of diseases.
Each of the three industry partner companies – AstraZeneca UK Limited, Glaxo Group Limited and Johnson & Johnson Innovation-JJDC, Inc. – will contribute £10 million over 6 years to the venture. The technology transfer offices of the three university partners – Imperial Innovations Group plc, Cambridge Enterprise Ltd and UCL Business plc – will each contribute a further £3.3 million.
The aim of Apollo is to advance academic pre-clinical research from these universities to a stage at which it can either be taken forward by one of the industry partners following an internal bidding process or be out-licensed. The three industry partners will also provide R&D expertise and additional resources to assist with the commercial evaluation and development of projects.
Drug development is extremely complex, costly and lengthy; currently only around 10 percent of therapies entering clinical trials reach patients as medicines. By combining funding for promising early-stage therapeutics from leading UK universities with a breadth of industry expertise, Apollo aims to share the risk and accelerate the development of important new treatments, while also reducing the cost.
Dr Ian Tomlinson, former Senior Vice President, Worldwide Business Development and Biopharmaceuticals R&D, for GSK and founder & Chief Scientific Officer of Domantis Limited, has been appointed Chairman of the Apollo Therapeutics Investment Committee (AIC). Comprising representatives from the six partners, the AIC will make all investment decisions.
The AIC will be advised by an independent Drug Discovery Team of ex-industry scientists who will be employed by Apollo to work with the universities and their technology transfer offices to identify and shape projects to bring forward for development. All therapy areas and modalities, including small molecules, peptides, proteins, antibodies, cell and gene therapies will be considered.
Apollo will be based at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst. Once funded, projects will be progressed by the Drug Discovery Team alongside the university investigators, with other external resources and also in-kind resources from the industry partners as appropriate. For successful projects, the originating university and technology transfer office will receive a percentage of future commercial revenues or out-licensing fees and the remainder will be divided amongst all the Apollo partners.
Dr Tomlinson said: “This is the first time that three global pharmaceutical companies and the technology transfer offices of three of the world’s top ten universities have come together to form a joint enterprise of this nature, making the Apollo Therapeutics Fund a truly innovative venture.
“Apollo provides an additional source of early stage funding that will allow more therapeutics projects within the three universities to realise their full potential. The active participation of the industry partners will also mean that projects will be shaped at a very early stage to optimise their suitability for further development.
"The Apollo Therapeutics Fund should benefit the UK economy by increasing the potential for academic research to be translated into new medicines for patients the world over.”
Iain Thomas, Head of Life Sciences at Cambridge Enterprise, added: “Efficiently bringing together drug discovery expertise, potential customers, funding and project management, along with rapid decision making and execution through the Apollo Therapeutics Fund is a unique and extraordinarily exciting and valuable proposition for any academic or company that wants to see early stage ground breaking therapeutic technology progress to the clinic for patient benefit and economic return.”
Adapted from a press release by Apollo Therapeutics.
Three global pharmaceutical companies and the technology transfer offices of three world-leading universities – Imperial College London, University College London and the University of Cambridge – have joined forces with a combined £40 million to create the Apollo Therapeutics Fund.
Resting out in the open on rocks can be a risky business for Aegean wall lizards. Out in these habitats they have nowhere to hide and their backs, which show varying shades of green and brown between individuals, are dangerously exposed to birds hunting in the skies above.
New research by Kate Marshall from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and Dr Martin Stevens from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, published today in Scientific Reports, shows that individual lizards are able to choose their resting spot wisely and select a rock in their natural environment that will make their backs less conspicuous to avian predators.
“This suggests that wild individual lizards can choose to rest on the rock they will most resemble, which enhances their own degree of camouflage against visually-oriented predatory birds,” says Marshall. “This is the first result of its kind in wild animals, and in lizards specifically.”
“One intriguing puzzle remains: how do the lizards ‘know’ how camouflaged their own backs are to a bird against a particular rock?” She adds.
Other types of lizard, such as chameleons and geckos, are able to rapidly change colour in a matter of seconds or minutes to better match their background environment and avoid being spotted by approaching predators. Aegean wall lizards, which are widespread across the South Balkans and many Greek islands, are unable to do this. Instead, this new research shows that they enhance their level of camouflage to hunting birds by choosing to rest on rocks that are more similar in colour to that of their own backs.
Birds see the world differently from you or I: for example, they are able to see ultraviolet light whereas we cannot, which means they perceive colour (and camouflage) in a very different way. Marshall and her colleagues used visual modelling to test how conspicuous individual lizards would be to a bird’s eye against the backgrounds they had chosen to sit on.
Marshall and her field assistant and co-author, Kate Philpot, found that on each island individuals showed better colour matching against their own chosen rock backgrounds than against other lizards’ rock backgrounds, as perceived by avian predators such as the crows and raptors abundant in their study sites.
“This strongly suggests that lizards rest on backgrounds that heighten their own camouflage to reduce the risk of being attacked by birds, and that individual behaviours have an important role in enhancing camouflage across different microhabitats,” says Marshall. “Our findings appear to be the first demonstration of this occurring in wild populations as viewed by likely predators.”
The researchers also found that lizards’ resting site choices that heightened individual camouflage were more evident on islands with higher numbers of predatory bird species, suggesting that this behavioural defence is more likely to evolve in riskier environments. It was also more apparent in female lizards, probably because males have a conflicting need to stand out against the rocks to attract mates.
“As for the puzzle over how the lizards ‘know’ how camouflaged their own backs are against a particular rock - one theory is that it is under genetic control, while another possibility is that it develops in early life through learning from other lizards and from experience,” says Marshall.
“Although we don’t know what the exact mechanism is yet, we hope to uncover some clues in future research. It would also be interesting to look at whether lizards can adjust their choice of rock not just for camouflage but also to aid thermoregulation (basking site choices) and sexual signalling,” she adds.
“Our study shows that there is much more to camouflage than just an animal’s appearance - how individuals behave and what backgrounds they choose to sit on can have a major bearing on how effective their camouflage will be. This is something that needs much more research in future,” says Stevens.
This research shows that individual animals’ behaviours can increase their chances of survival by allowing flexible, real-time adjustments to the many different microhabitats encountered in the wild. Marshall suggests that it also emphasises the importance of considering broader environmental contexts, such as predation risk, as well as the perceptual abilities of natural observers like predators in studies of animal behaviour.
Marshall, K et al. ‘Microhabitat choice in island lizards enhances camouflage against avian predators’ Scientific Reports 25 January 2016.
Inset images: Aegean wall lizards resting on rocks (Kate Marshall).
New research shows wild Aegean wall lizards found on Greek islands choose to sit on rocks that better match their individual colouring. This improves camouflage and so reduces the risk of being attacked by birds when they sit out in the open, raising the intriguing question of how the lizards know what colour they are.
In a world first, BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management, sponsors of The Boat Races, announced they are donating their title sponsorship of the annual challenge between Cambridge and Oxford Universities to Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the official charity partner.
The campaign will see Cancer Research UK receive substantial exposure throughout the Races, which will take place on the Championship Course on the River Thames between Putney and Mortlake on 27 March.
BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management will work together with Cancer Research UK to support their fundraising activities in the build up to The Boat Races and will also be implementing their own initiatives with all fundraising in aid of Cancer Research UK.
Cath Bishop, Chair of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club (CUWBC) said: “I know we are all really excited to be working closely alongside Newton Investment and Cancer Research UK as our Boat Race partners.
“Both organisations are dedicated to excellence, and CRUK is a cause close to all our hearts, so we are delighted that BNYM and Newton have decided to make their partnership with CRUK as close as it could be by donating the title rights to them.
“We will be proud to race with Cancer Research UK on our vests alongside the continuing fantastic support of BNYM and Newton who enabled equality to come to the Boat Races in 2015. CRUK's approach to scientific progress and medical breakthroughs is an inspiration to us. We are proud to be supported by them and hope that we can support the work they do as much as we can.”
CRUK and Cambridge have close links - The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (CRUK-CI), at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, aims to bring the scientific strengths of Cambridge to bear on practical questions of cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Curtis Arledge, Vice Chairman of BNY Mellon and CEO of Investment Management, commented: “We are committed to ensuring our sponsorship of The Boat Races reflects our focus on meaningful investments, especially when we can leverage our sponsorship to further effect change. We are proud to be working with CRUK, whose work touches the lives of so many.”
David Searle, Executive Director of The Boat Race Company Ltd said: “In BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management we knew we had sponsors who would do something out of the ordinary. After making history with the introduction of The Women's Boat Race to the Tideway in 2015, this amazing gesture is breaking new ground in sponsorship.
Sir Harpal S. Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “We are enormously grateful to BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management for their generous donation. Cancer Research UK’s work has fuelled the progress that has seen cancer survival rates double in the last 40 years. Today, two in four people survive cancer. Our ambition is to accelerate progress so that three in four people survive cancer by 2034 and this donation is a very welcome contribution to that aim.”
Earlier this month, Cancer Research UK launched The Great Row – a new fitness challenge, which is completed on indoor rowing machines and encourages the nation to dust off their trainers and take part to help beat cancer sooner. To take part in The Great Row, individuals and teams can choose from different challenge levels; with rowing distances starting from 2,000metres, going up to a full marathon. Participants can train for free at Fitness First gyms every Friday throughout January, February and March, with The Great Row's official fitness partner welcoming participants every day from 19th – 26th March to complete their challenge ahead of the official races.
The Cancer Research UK Boat Races will take place on Sunday 27th March 2016. The Cancer Research UK Women's Boat Race will take place at 3.10pm GMT and The Cancer Research UK Boat Race at 4.10pm GMT.
The Boat Races will now be known as The Cancer Research UK Boat Races.
About The Boat Races
The Boat Race is a major London event which takes place on the River Thames over 4¼ miles between Putney and Mortlake in the University Easter holidays. The first Race took place in 1829 and it has been held every year since 1856 with the exception of the two World Wars. The current score between the two men’s Clubs is Cambridge 81, Oxford 79 with one dead heat.
The first Women’s Boat Race took place in 1927 in the form of a time and style contest. Since then, the Oxford and Cambridge University Women’s Boat Clubs have competed annually. In 2015, following a decision by The Boat Race Company Ltd and with the invaluable help of BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management, it relocated to The Championship Course from Putney to Mortlake to compete on the same day as the men across the same course. The current score between the two women’s Clubs is Cambridge 41, Oxford 29.
About Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK was announced as the official charity partner of The Boat Races in October 2015
Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates (?) in the UK double in the last forty years.
Today, two in four people survive cancer. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that three in four people will survive cancer within the next 20 years.
Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured
Newton Investment Management is a London-based global investment management subsidiary of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation. With assets under management of £45.2 billion (as at September 30, 2015), including assets managed by Newton Investment Management Limited as dual officers of Newton Capital Management Limited and The Bank of New York Mellon, Newton's group of affiliated companies provides investment products and services to a wide range of clients, including pension funds, charities, corporations and (via BNY Mellon) individuals. News and other information about Newton are available at www.newton.co.uk and via Twitter: @NewtonIM.
BNY Mellon Investment Management is one of the world's leading investment management organisations and one of the top US wealth managers, with $1.6 trillion in assets under management. It encompasses BNY Mellon’s affiliated investment management firms, wealth management services and global distribution companies. More information can be found at www.bnymellon.com.
BNY Mellon is a global investments company dedicated to helping its clients manage and service their financial assets throughout the investment lifecycle. Whether providing financial services for institutions, corporations or individual investors, BNY Mellon delivers informed investment management and investment services in 35 countries and more than 100 markets. As of September 30, 2015, BNY Mellon had $28.5 trillion in assets under custody and/or administration, and $1.6 trillion in assets under management. BNY Mellon can act as a single
point of contact for clients looking to create, trade, hold, manage, service, distribute or restructure investments. BNY Mellon is the corporate brand of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (NYSE: BK). Additional information is available on www.bnymellon.com. Follow us on Twitter @BNYMellon or visit our newsroom at www.bnymellon.com/newsroom for the latest company news.
The University of Cambridge is enhancing its links with Mexican higher education institutions by signing an agreement with the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) for the establishment of an academic mobility programme in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
The purpose of the agreement, which is valid for five years in the first instance, is to create an annual Visiting Fellowship. The Cambridge-UDLAP Visiting Fellowship will allow two scholars from Cambridge and two scholars from UDLAP to spend between four and eight weeks at the partner institution. Supported by the UDLAP Foundation, it will serve to strengthen academic links and enhance the potential for research collaboration between the two universities.
This is the first agreement of its kind between the University of Cambridge and a Latin American higher education institution. The agreement was signed at the end of 2015, officially designated as the “Year of Mexico in the UK” and “Year of the UK in Mexico” as a way of strengthening ties and enhancing mutual understanding between both countries.
UDLAP was founded in 1940 as a private university, and is consistently ranked among the top Mexican universities. Its president, Luis Ernesto Derbez, was Mexico’s Minister for Foreign Affairs (2003-2006) and, before that, the country’s Finance Minister (2000-2003). The city of Puebla, where the university is located, is less than 70 miles from Mexico City. It was founded in 1531 and is world-known for its colonial architecture. It was selected as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1987.
The Cambridge-UDLAP Visiting Fellowship will be open to full-time research staff at both institutions in all areas of the arts, humanities and social sciences. In Cambridge, it will be managed by the Centre of Latin American Studies (CLAS), an interdisciplinary research and postgraduate teaching centre which acts as a hub for research on Latin America across the whole university.
Speaking after the signature of the agreement, Dr Joanna Page, Director of CLAS said: “The Cambridge-UDLAP Visiting Fellowship will help to strengthen the University of Cambridge’s expertise in the field of Mexican arts, humanities and social sciences. This is an exciting opportunity for researchers here to spend time in Mexico, consulting libraries and archives, collecting data, and exchanging ideas with experts in relevant fields. By welcoming scholars from UDLAP at Cambridge, we also hope to establish much closer links with one of Mexico’s most dynamic universities, and to lay the groundwork for mutually beneficial collaborations. Visiting Fellows from UDLAP will join the strong, interdisciplinary research community based at the Centre and I have no doubt that their visits will lead to many interesting conversations and open up opportunities for future research.”
On behalf of UDLAP, Chancellor Dr Luis Ernesto Derbez, added: “In the knowledge society, the future will be for those who dare to innovate, to think differently, and to believe in the transformational power of ideas. This agreement between UDLAP and Cambridge brings that future closer by offering an extraordinary opportunity for scholars at both institutions to know our countries and cultures better, and to develop cutting-edge research on the arts, humanities and social sciences. The current challenge, for our universities, is to engage in collaboration with the objective of producing original knowledge that could not have been created without this partnership. Cambridge scholars will find a vibrant community of students and faculty at UDLAP, while our researchers will surely take advantage of staying at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. We hope this will be the first step in a long and successful academic relationship.”
The first call for applications to the Cambridge-UDLAP Visiting Fellowship will be made in early 2016.
For further information, please contact the Centre of Latin American Studies, email@example.com
Picture credits: “A view of UDLAP campus” ©UDLAP
Annual visiting fellowship created with the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP).
An African revolution in computer science When he went to university in South Africa, Riaz Moola came face to face with the huge differences in educational opportunity in his country, particularly in his own subject, Computer Science.
Instead of just getting on with his course, Riaz - now a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge - devised a way of tackling the problem. Inspired by recent MOOC platforms such as Coursera, he created an online course platform adapted to Africa which paired tutors - typically Computer Science graduates - with students trying to learn programming through a low-bandwidth, text-based resource. The platform has now grown to the largest of its kind in Southern Africa, supporting over 8,500 students from six African countries. This platform is driven by Riaz's start-up - Hyperion Development.
In late 2015, Google selected Hyperion as the first South African organisation to lead a national initiative to revolutionise the fields of Computer Science and software development in South Africa. Hyperion will work with bodies such as Computing at School, the South African government and the Python Software Foundation to bring computing-related fields in South Africa up to international standards and to accelerate the training and development of a new generation of programmers in Africa.
There are many obstacles standing in the way of the growth of software development as a field in South Africa - a country where programming and Computer Science are still often labelled as ‘IT’. High dropout rates at schools and universities across the country have contributed to a decline in programming and Computer Science knowledge at a national level. The skills gap continues to impact industry as employers struggle to fill software development roles and align their technologies to international industry standards.
It’s something Riaz experienced personally when he went to the University of KwaZulu Natal to study for a degree in Computer Science. The vast majority of students doing the same degree as him dropped out after the first semester as a significant number had never used a computer before, but were expected to write code. In 2011 he transferred to the University of Edinburgh to study Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, a subject which is not available to undergraduates in South Africa. It made him think that people in his country should be able to take it and his experience studying in the UK made the contrast between educational opportunities in both countries clearer to him.
World of warcraft
The foundation for Hyperion's online course platform is the simple idea of using Dropbox to link students and tutors. It allows them to exchange text and programming code files without high data costs or reliable internet connectivity. The tutor base was sustained and grown through models borrowed from online communities popularised through massive multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft. Riaz says: “I thought if I could link Dropbox and the material I had learned at Edinburgh to a community that scales in the same way they do in these online games, we could build an unusual but effective way of tackling an endemic educational problem in the field."
Since these modest beginnings, Hyperion has grown from a group of student volunteers to a team of 10 employees hosted in offices in South Africa and The Social Incubator East programme in Cambridge. Hyperion has moved on to launch services that tackle wider issues in the field, such as the Hyperion Careers platform which links software developers to jobs across the country and the Hyperion Hub which hosts software development-related articles from an African perspective.
Riaz, who is doing an MPhil in Technology Policy, says: "Every aspiring programmer or computer scientist in South Africa - and Africa - should have access to internationally excellent educational opportunities. Our partnership with Google will allow us to do that and will help to establish the Computer Science Association of South Africa - the first professional body of its kind in the region. This will catalyse the improvement of Computer Science education on a national scale, from a primary school to industry level."
Riaz Moola is a Gates Cambridge Scholar doing a master's in Technology Policy, but he also runs a company which aims to revolutionise the study of Computer Science in South Africa.
The resulting tours, which are now available to explore online include:
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some suggestions:
The Cambridge University Botanic Garden
The Cambridge University Botanic Garden is a 40-acre oasis of gardens and glasshouses set in the heart of Cambridge. It is the home to the University’s living plant collection, beautifully displayed in a seamless patchwork of gardens and set within a wonderful collection of trees.
Over 8000 plant species from all over the world are displayed in the Garden. This unparalleled collection of plants is used today for research and teaching and has been a focus and stimulus for science and research in the University since it opened in 1846.
Gonville & Caius
Caius College Chapel
With the core of its walls dating from about 1390, Caius College Chapel has a claim to being the oldest purpose-built college chapel in Cambridge still in use, though every century since has contributed something to this beautiful building.
The original chapel was 68 feet long, but today the building stretches to over 100 feet. The first major extension took place in 1637 when the College’s reputation in medicine and atmosphere of religious tolerance saw it grow increasingly popular with scholars.
Visitors are able to visit the Chapel when the College is open each day from 9am-2pm (except for exam times in summer).
Caius College Library
The magnificent Library at Caius serves both the needs of the College community and the research interests of scholars from all over the world. Since 1996 it has been housed in the imposing Cockerell Building, a Grade 1 listed nineteenth-century building just across Senate House Passage from the College’s Old Courts.
Google recorded the Upper Library, which, with its high domed ceiling, columns and vast stained glass windows is often judged the most beautiful in Cambridge.
Last but not least, Caius’ spectacular panelled Hall was designed by Anthony Salvin in 1854. Used daily by students, Fellows and staff for lunch and dinner, its walls feature an array of paintings, including a portrait of the physicist professor Stephen Hawking, a Fellow of Caius for 51 years.
St John’s College
St John’s College Chapel
The Chapel was built in the 1860s by the famous architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The Old Library
The spectacular Old Library, which dates back to the 1620s and has featured in lists of the best university libraries in the world.
The working library
The working library is used by students every day and has space for 120,000 open access books.
To make things a bit more interesting St John’s College also made sure that there were a few items from the College’s 505-year history around during the photo shoot. If you are planning on taking a virtual tour on Google Maps, see if you can spot the following:
If you would like to pay a real visit to St John’s, you can find opening times and visitor information here, and download or browse the visitor guide here. Prospective undergraduate students are always welcome to contact the admissions team, and details about how and where to find them can be found here.
Newnham College Library is one of the best-stocked college libraries in Cambridge, as when the College was founded women were not allowed to use the main University Library. Now it is home to a collection of some 90,000 volumes including approximately 6,000 rare books.
The stunning Grade II* listed Victorian Yates Thompson Library with its impressive ornamented ceiling is now complemented by the award-winning 2004 Horner Markwick extension.
Known as one of Cambridge’s ‘best kept secrets’, Newnham’s 18 acres of gardens were not initially planned, they grew as the College expanded. The founders of the College wanted students to have easy access to fresh air and exercise.
Now there is a sunken garden with a formal pool, a main lawn, tennis courts, herbaceous borders, a wild meadow and a stunning collection of Newnham Irises. And unlike at many Cambridge colleges, students can walk on the grass!
Clough Hall was designed by Basil Champneys and completed in 1887. It was named in honour of Anne Jemima Clough, Newnham's first Principal.
The exterior of the Hall epitomises the ‘Queen Anne’ style of Newnham, with its red brick, white-painted sash windows and curving bay windows.
The interior of the hall is open and airy as a result of these large windows. Like the library, Clough Hall has a wagon roof, with elaborate plasterwork which Champneys insisted was included.
Formal Halls for Newnham students and their guests take place regularly during term-time, and the space is regularly hired for weddings and other events.
Queens’ College Old Hall
The Hall was erected in 1449, as part of the original College. Through the centuries, the Hall was renovated, ebbing with the tastes of the time.
Floreat Domus can be read, the College motto, meaning ‘May this House Flourish’; as can William Morris tiles above the fireplace, depicting Labours of the Month, the two patron saints, and two angels, as well as Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville (the College Patronesses). The Hall was formerly used as the main dining hall, however, it ceased being used on a daily basis from 1978, with the opening of the new dining hall and kitchens in Cripps Court (also seen in Google Street View). Now, the Old Hall is used for feasts, special functions, recitals, and receptions.
Trinity Hall was founded by Bishop Bateman of Norwich in 1350, making it the fifth oldest Cambridge College. The buildings of Front Court, including the Chapel, the Hall and the Master’s Lodge originate from the late 14th century and the current appearance of Front Court dates from the 18th century. The medieval windows and arches which remain in North Court give a glimpse of how the College may have looked in the 15th century.
Trinity Hall enjoys sweeping grounds leading down to a riverside terrace and views across the historic River Cam. Author Henry James wrote of Trinity Hall: “If I were called upon to mention the prettiest corner of the world, I should draw a thoughtful sigh and point the way to the gardens of Trinity Hall.” (1878)
Many Colleges and museums across the City allow public access throughout the year with a variety of opening hours and charges. We have produced a guide for your information: www.cam.ac.uk/visitors.
For one special weekend in September, Cambridge welcomes you through the doors of some of its most beautiful and intriguing places. This year over eighty events, ranging from College gardens to the Fire Station and museums to the Mosque, explore the heritage, architecture and culture of this historic City.
If you would like to be added to our mailing list to receive updates and information about our work please email firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow us on twitter @OpenCambridgeUK.
Google Street View’s Special Collections team visited Cambridge University last year to photograph a number of locations, both inside and out.
This new funding follows another successful year highlighted by the exit of X01 Limited, the developer of ichorcumab, an anticoagulant antibody with the potential to save millions of lives that was sold to Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. During this period, the University received £3.7 million from realised investments.
The investment funds will move forward the progress of PhoreMost, a new-model drug discovery company that aims to develop drugs against targets previously thought to be ‘undruggable,’ Z-factor Limited, a drug discovery company created to identify and develop therapeutic agents to treat alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (one common manifestation of which is emphysema), Quethera, a gene therapy start-up developing a treatment for glaucoma that could prevent associated blindness, Cytora, a pioneer in the field of risk analysis technology and Reduse, whose cutting-edge ‘unprinter’ technology removes print from paper, dramatically cutting C02 emissions compared to recycling by reducing the need for pulping, heating and chemicals.
“This record year for the University of Cambridge Seed Funds is particularly pleasing since it underscores the immense emphasis that the University places on innovation for the benefit of society across a wide range of scientific and technical endeavours,” said Professor Nigel Slater, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Regional Affairs.
Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm, which is this year celebrating its 21st anniversary of University investment, manages two evergreen seed funds on the University’s behalf. Cambridge Enterprise also advises the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund (UCEF), a combined Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) fund, which enables alumni and friends of the University to support Cambridge spin-outs while benefitting from generous tax incentives.
This was the fourth year of operation for the Enterprise Fund, which was announced as part of the SEIS programme in the government’s 2012 budget, established to stimulate economic growth. UCEF III has invested £1.7 million across eight companies in a period of 18 months. The University is raising its fourth Enterprise Fund in February.
In addition to the Enterprise Fund, the University has approximately £16 million in seed funds available for investment. Through Cambridge Enterprise, the funds can provide pre-seed or seed funding.
Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds provides links to management and sources of further funding. University portfolio companies have gone on to raise more than £1.4 billion in follow-on funding.
For the third consecutive year, the University of Cambridge has broken its early stage investment record, approving 13 seed fund investments for a total of £3.8 million, an increase on the £3.2 million invested in 2013-14.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame recently confirmed that he will seek a third term in 2017 after more than 98% of Rwandans voted in a referendum to lift the presidential term limit.
Kagame’s decision not to step down has prompted a barrage of criticism. Western governments, media outlets and human rights groups have painted him with the same brush as other central African “strongmen”.
But Rwanda’s situation is unique. Unlike the third-term fever afflicting other countries in the region, Rwanda is not mired in corruption and economic stagnation.
During the past decade its economic growth has averaged around 7% per year, maternal and child mortality has fallen by more than 60% and near universal health insurance has been achieved. The country is also now considered one of the safest and least corrupt in sub-Saharan Africa. And in just the past three years, the percentage of people living in poverty has dropped from 44.9% in 2011 to 39.1% in 2014.
This remarkable list of achievements is attributed to the leadership of Kagame, who assumed the presidency in 2000.
Despite these accolades, Kagame is frequently criticised by human rights group over Rwanda’s tightly controlled political space.
He has sought to place a strong emphasis on developing a new Rwandan national identity. He has done this in an attempt to sever connections to the primordial categories of ethnic identification that provoked the tragic events of 1994. Ethnic politics and discrimination have thus been outlawed in the country.
With the genocide against the Tutsi still in recent memory, Kagame has committed to power-sharing only among parties that are firmly aligned against a revival of ethnic sectarianism. Within this political settlement, it is the pursuit of development — not negotiation — that is seen as the principal path to national reconciliation.
Understandably, this strategy is based on the fear that a more adversarial style of policy-making and debate — one that could fulfil the West’s more exacting standards of democratic participation — would give voice to extremists.
This foremost includes the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the eastern Congo-based rebel group led by former genocidaires. Indeed, it was largely multilateral Western agencies that thrust multiparty democratic institutions onto Rwanda in the early 1990s. This, it could be argued, provided a platform for extremist views held in the country.
Kagame has always claimed that Rwandans would decide on what they want to become. Not the UK, US or any other nation. Many Rwandans were fearful and anxious about what might happen after 2017. For them, Kagame is seen as a stabilising force for the country and its best chance for continued socio-economic progress.
His supporters have embraced his third term to ensure he is able to finish some important projects, recognising that such a capable leader is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They see Rwanda as following the lead of successful late industrialisers like Singapore, where significant socio-economic progress was achieved under the long-term leadership of Lee Kuan Yew.
Why striking a balance is important
Where a society is ethnically divided, it is difficult to ignore the need to strike a balance between the protection of the wider minority interests and the power of the central state authority.
It is clear that Rwandans require a constitution that can accommodate their fears of ethnic divisions, persecution and impunity. They also require one that would consolidate the socio-economic gains made thus far. Certainly, a path Rwanda would not want to follow is that of Kenya, where an ethnopolitical calculus plays out each election cycle and reinforces deep ethnic divisions.
For Kagame’s supporters, the controversy over a third term is a preoccupation of Western observers, not Rwandans. The terms of the debate, they argue, should instead focus on what the leader has already achieved for the country — the evidence of which is unequivocal for Kagame — and what his vision is for the future.
It takes time for any society to recover from conflict, especially a genocide. Two decades ago, Rwanda was a failed state. Kagame himself commanded the rebel force that ended the genocide. But the violence had decimated people and infrastructure.
Kagame then placed national reconciliation at the top of the political agenda, instead of ethnic exclusion. Under his stewardship, Rwandans have been given a taste of what peace, stability and development feel like - regardless of ethnicity.
For the people of Rwanda, Kagame’s record inspires trust in an otherwise uncertain future. For this reason, he may be the only person who can hold the country together. His vision to turn Rwanda into a middle-income country is on track. And it is a boat that most Rwandans do not want to rock.
Given the contextual and developmental realities faced by Rwanda, Western concerns over two, three, four, or more presidential terms appear obtuse. What matters for Rwandans is progress, stability, quality of life, good governance, and capable leadership. In short, when it comes to Rwanda, the West may not know best.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not represent the views of the University of Cambridge.
Thomas Stubbs (Centre for Business Research) discusses why, when it comes to Rwanda, the West may not know best.
In research carried out at the University of Cambridge, a team developed a computer program that can answer this mind-bending puzzle: Imagine that you have 128 soft spheres, a bit like tennis balls. You can pack them together in any number of ways. How many different arrangements are possible?
The answer, it turns out, is something like 10250 (1 followed by 250 zeros). The number, also referred to as ten unquadragintilliard, is so huge that it vastly exceeds the total number of particles in the universe.
Far more important than the solution, however, is the fact that the researchers were able to answer the question at all. The method that they came up with can help scientists to calculate something called configurational entropy – a term used to describe how structurally disordered the particles in a physical system are.
Being able to calculate configurational entropy would, in theory, eventually enable us to answer a host of seemingly impossible problems – such as predicting the movement of avalanches, or anticipating how the shifting sand dunes in a desert will reshape themselves over time.
These questions belong to a field called granular physics, which deals with the behaviour of materials such as snow, soil or sand. Different versions of the same problem, however, exist in numerous other fields, such as string theory, cosmology, machine learning, and various branches of mathematics. The research shows how questions across all of those disciplines might one day be addressed.
Stefano Martiniani, a Gates Scholar at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, who carried out the study with colleagues in the Department of Chemistry, explained: “The problem is completely general. Granular materials themselves are the second most processed kind of material in the world after water and even the shape of the surface of the Earth is defined by how they behave.”
“Obviously being able to predict how avalanches move or deserts may change is a long, long way off, but one day we would like to be able to solve such problems. This research performs the sort of calculation we would need in order to be able to do that.”
At the heart of these problems is the idea of entropy – a term which describes how disordered the particles in a system are. In physics, a “system” refers to any collection of particles that we want to study, so for example it could mean all the water in a lake, or all the water molecules in a single ice cube.
When a system changes, for example because of a shift in temperature, the arrangement of these particles also changes. For example, if an ice cube is heated until it becomes a pool of water, its molecules become more disordered. Therefore, the ice cube, which has a tighter structure, is said to have lower entropy than the more disordered pool of water.
At a molecular level, where everything is constantly vibrating, it is often possible to observe and measure this quite clearly. In fact, many molecular processes involve a spontaneous increase in entropy until they reach a steady equilibrium.
In granular physics, however, which tends to involve materials large enough to be seen with the naked eye, change does not happen in the same way. A sand dune in the desert will not spontaneously change the arrangement of its particles (the grains of sand). It needs an external factor, like the wind, for this to happen.
This means that while we can predict what will happen in many molecular processes, we cannot easily make equivalent predictions about how systems will behave in granular physics. Doing so would require us to be able to measure changes in the structural disorder of all of the particles in a system - its configurational entropy.
To do that, however, scientists need to know how many different ways a system can be structured in the first place. The calculations involved in this are so complicated that they have been dismissed as hopeless for any system involving more than about 20 particles. Yet the Cambridge study defied this by carrying out exactly this type of calculation for a system, modelled on a computer, in which the particles were 128 soft spheres, like tennis balls.
“The brute force way of doing this would be to keep changing the system and recording the configurations,” Martiniani said. “Unfortunately, it would take many lifetimes before you could record it all. Also, you couldn’t store the configurations, because there isn’t enough matter in the universe with which to do it.”
Instead, the researchers created a solution which involved taking a small sample of all possible configurations and working out the probability of them occurring, or the number of arrangements that would lead to those particular configurations appearing.
Based on these samples, it was possible to extrapolate not only in how many ways the entire system could therefore be arranged, but also how ordered one state was compared with the next – in other words, its overall configurational entropy.
Martiniani added that the team’s problem-solving technique could be used to address all sorts of problems in physics and maths. He himself is, for example, currently carrying out research into machine learning, where one of the problems is knowing how many different ways a system can be wired to process information efficiently.
“Because our indirect approach relies on the observation of a small sample of all possible configurations, the answers it finds are only ever approximate, but the estimate is a very good one,” he said. “By answering the problem we are opening up uncharted territory. This methodology could be used anywhere that people are trying to work out how many possible solutions to a problem you can find.”
The paper, Turning intractable counting into sampling: computing the configurational entropy of three-dimensional jammed packings, is published in the journal, Physical Review E.
Stefano Martiniani is a St John’s Benefactor Scholar and Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge.
A bewildering physics problem has apparently been solved by researchers, in a study which provides a mathematical basis for understanding issues ranging from predicting the formation of deserts, to making artificial intelligence more efficient.
Specialised computer software components to improve the security, speed and scale of data processing in cloud computing are being developed by a University of Cambridge spin-out company. The company, Unikernel Systems, which was formed by staff and postdoctoral researchers at the University Computer Laboratory, has recently been acquired by San-Francisco based software company Docker Inc.
Unikernels are small, potentially transient computer modules specialised to undertake a single task at the point in time when it is needed. Because of their reduced size, they are far more secure than traditional operating systems, and can be started up and shut down quickly and cheaply, providing flexibility and further security.
They are likely to become increasingly used in applications where security and efficiency are vital, such as systems storing personal data and applications for the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) – internet-connected appliances and consumer products.
“Unikernels provide the means to run the same application code on radically different environments from the public cloud to IoT devices,” said Dr Richard Mortier of the Computer Laboratory, one of the company’s advisors. “This allows decisions about where to run things to be revisited in the light of experience - providing greater flexibility and resilience. It also means software on those IoT devices is going to be a lot more reliable."
Recent years have seen a huge increase in the amount of data that is collected, stored and processed, a trend that will only continue as increasing numbers of devices are connected to the internet. Most commercial data storage and processing now takes place within huge datacentres run by specialist providers, rather than on individual machines and company servers; the individual elements of this system are obscured to end users within the ‘cloud’. One of the technologies that has been instrumental in making this happen is virtual machines.
Normally, a virtual machine (VM) runs just like a real computer, with its own virtual operating system – just as your desktop computer might run Windows. However, a single real machine can run many VMs concurrently. VMs are general purpose, able to handle a wide range of jobs from different types of user, and capable of being moved across real machines within datacentres in response to overall user demand. The University’s Computer Laboratory started research on virtualisation in 1999, and the Xen virtual machine monitor that resulted now provides the basis for much of the present-day cloud.
Although VMs have driven the development of the cloud (and greatly reduced energy consumption), their inherent flexibility can come at a cost if their virtual operating systems are the generic Linux or Windows systems. These operating systems are large and complex, they have significant memory footprints, and they take time to start up each time they are required. Security is also an issue, because of their relatively large ‘attack surface’.
Given that many VMs are actually used to undertake a single function, (e.g. acting as a company database), recent research has shifted to minimising complexity and improving security by taking advantage of the narrow functionality. And this is where unikernels come in.
Researchers at the Computer Laboratory started restructuring VMs into flexible modular components in 2009, as part of the RCUK-funded MirageOS project. These specialised modules – or unikernels - are in effect the opposite of generic VMs. Each one is designed to undertake a single task; they are small, simple and quick, using just enough code to enable the relevant application or process to run (about 4% of a traditional operating system according to one estimate).
The small size of unikernels also lends considerable security advantages, as they present a much smaller ‘surface’ to malicious attack, and also enable companies to separate out different data processing tasks in order to limit the effects of any security breach that does occur. Given that resource use within the cloud is metered and charged, they also provide considerable cost savings to end users.
By the end of last year, the unikernel technology arising from MirageOS was sufficiently advanced that the team, led by Dr. Anil Madhavapeddy, decided to found a start-up company. The company, Unikernel Systems, was recently acquired by San Francisco-based Docker Inc. to accelerate the development and broad adoption of the technology, now envisaged as a critical element in the future of the Internet of Things.
“This brings together one of the most significant developments in operating systems technology of recent years, with one of the most dynamic startups that has already revolutionised the way we use cloud computing. This link-up will truly allow us all to “rethink cloud infrastructure”, said Balraj Singh, co-founder and CEO of Unikernel Systems.
“This acquisition shows that the Computer Laboratory continues to produce innovations that find their way into mainstream developments. It also shows the power of open source development to have impact and to be commercially successful”, said Professor Andy Hopper, Head of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.
Technology to improve the security, speed and scale of data processing in age of the Internet of Things is being developed by a Cambridge spin-out company.
Agricultural expansion is a leading cause of wild species loss and greenhouse gas emissions. However, as farming practices and technologies continue to be refined, more food can be produced per unit of land – meaning less area is needed for agriculture and more land can be 'spared' for natural habitats.
While this may sound like good news for nature, conservation scientists warn that, without the right policies, higher farm yields could be used to maximise short-term profits and stimulate greater demand, resulting in less wilderness and more unnecessary consumption and waste.
Now, leading conservationists writing in the journal Scienceare calling on policymakers to harness the potential of higher-yield farming to spare land for conservation, instead of solely producing more food and profit. By minimising the footprint of farming in this way, vital land could be spared for maintaining and restoring the rapidly dwindling natural world.
The authors describe a series of "land-sparing mechanisms" that link yield increases with habitat protection, such as land-use zoning and smart subsidy schemes, along with real-world examples that show how they can work – from India to Latin America.
They write that replicating these mechanisms elsewhere depends on "the political will to deliver strong environmental governance".
"Reconciling agriculture and conservation is one of this century's greatest challenges," said Dr Ben Phalan from Cambridge University's Department of Zoology.
"To help meet that challenge, we need to move on from thinking about higher yields simply as a means to produce more food, and to use them to free up land for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services," said Phalan, who authored the policy paper with colleagues from Cambridge, the RSPB and Brazil.
Previous research from Cambridge and elsewhere has shown sparing land for nature by producing more food per field is the "least worst option" for both biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions, says co-author Andrew Balmford, Cambridge professor of conservation science.
"Sparing tracts of land as natural habitat is much better for the vast majority of species than a halfway house of lower-yielding but 'wildlife-friendly' farming, and we have recently shown that in the UK land spared through high-yield farming could even sequester enough greenhouse gases to mitigate the UK's agricultural emissions," said Balmford.
However, Phalan says that policies to encourage higher farm yields need to avoid the 'rebound effect'. First identified by William Jevons in 1865 – when he noticed more efficient engines increased rather than reduced coal use, as engines were put into more widespread use – the rebound effect for higher yields could see food prices drop, encouraging greater consumption, more food waste and even more conversion of habitats to farmland.
Higher yields may also increase the cost of conservation if they allow farmers to earn more per field. "If a hectare of farmland is producing higher profits, farmers will charge more to give it up for conservation," said Phalan. He says that conservation efforts can be undermined by unintended consequences. "Halting agricultural intensification or expansion in one area may just shift pressure to farm in others. Increasing farm yields can help counter this 'leakage'."
The land-sparing approaches advocated by the researchers are designed to address both rebound effects and leakage. Examples from around the world show how these approaches can work, although researchers caution that further work is needed to improve and test each of them.
Designating "land-use zones" for both conservation and farming would safeguard habitats, while incentivising higher yields to compensate for limits on the extent of farmland. Researchers say that restrictions should target export commodities rather than staple foods.
In Costa Rica, for example, the clearance rate of mature forests halved after the government zoned forests as off-limits for agricultural expansion. Food production for export shifted from cattle farming toward high-yielding pineapple and banana crops.
Economic incentives can be tailored to increase yields and prevent destruction of wildlife, with payments conditional on conservation. Himalayan herders are rewarded for setting aside pastures for wild sheep – a food source for snow leopards – and insuring against loss of their livestock. This has dramatically improved yields and eliminated killing of the endangered cats for livestock protection.
To encourage land sparing in developing countries, help with enhancing yields should focus on smallholder farmers growing staple crops. Researchers say that technical advice on water management and multiple cropping should be balanced with advice on reducing any side-effects: by using natural pest control and other agro-ecological methods, for example, instead of pesticides.
Policies and practices to minimise pollution are essential. "If yields are increased using large quantities of fertilisers and pesticides, they can pollute the air and rivers. It is even possible that the effects of this pollution could cancel out the benefits of sparing natural habitats," said Phalan.
Improved farming practices can have a knock-on economic as well as environmental impact. In the Philippines, introducing irrigation helped lowland rice farmers produce two crops per year rather than one. The higher labour demands were met by employing upland farmers, who invested their new income in fertiliser, boosting their own yields and reducing farmland expansion.
Deforestation rates in the uplands halved, while larger and poorer households were those most likely to benefit.
Combinations of these mechanisms and more will make saving land from agriculture and sparing it for nature more likely, write the researchers. They point to Brazil as an example of multiple policy interventions working together:
"Zoning of protected areas and forest conservation on private land, combined with subsidising farmers to increase yields on degraded pastures rather than create new ones, has seen deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon decline steeply since 2004 – although it's too early to say if this success will be sustained," said co-author Dr Bernardo Strassburg of Brazil's International Institute for Sustainability.
Phalan says that, while these examples show land sparing can be achieved, making sure that higher-yield farming benefits nature at scales that matter will require commitment from senior levels of government.
"Making space for nature is largely a question of societal and political priorities," said Phalan. "The challenge is less whether it's possible to reconcile farming and conservation, than whether those with power are willing to make it a priority."
Increased farm yields could help to spare land from agriculture for natural habitats that benefit wildlife and store greenhouse gases, but only if the right policies are in place. Conservation scientists call on policymakers to learn from working examples across the globe and find better ways to protect habitats while producing food on less land.
Alternative approaches are therefore needed to tackle the continuing rise of costly emergency admissions, conclude researchers from the Health Research Board Centre for Primary Care Research at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in collaboration with the University of Cambridge.
Recently introduced changes to GPs’ pay mean that they are now incentivised to identify people in their practice thought to be at high-risk of future emergency admission and offer extra support in the form of ‘case-management’, including personalised care plans. However, the researchers show that emergency admission is a difficult outcome to predict reliably. Electronic tools have been developed to identify people at high-risk but these tools will, at best, only identify a minority of people who will actually be admitted to hospital. In addition, the researchers found that there is currently little evidence that implementing case management for people identified as high-risk actually reduces the risk of future emergency admission.
The authors suggest alternative options that may have more impact on the use of hospital beds for patients following an emergency admission, based on the research evidence in this area.
One recommendation is to focus on reducing the length of time that patients are in hospital – though this depends on resources being available in the community to support patients when they are discharged. Second, a significant proportion of all emergency admissions are re-admissions to hospital following discharge and research evidence supports interventions to reduce some of these admissions, especially when several members of the healthcare team (e.g. doctor, nurse, social worker, case manager) are involved in helping patients manage the transition from hospital to home.
A third option is to focus on certain medical conditions, such as pneumonia, known to cause avoidable emergency admissions and more likely to respond to interventions in primary care. Finally, the authors suggest that policy efforts should be concentrated in more deprived areas where people are more likely to suffer with multiple chronic medical conditions and are more likely to be admitted to hospital.
Lead author and Health Research Board Research Fellow Dr Emma Wallace from the RCSI said: “Reducing emergency admissions is a popular target when trying to curtail spiralling healthcare costs. However, only a proportion of all emergency admissions are actually avoidable and it’s important that policy efforts to reduce emergency admissions are directed where they are most likely to succeed.
“Our analysis indicates that current UK healthcare policy targeting people identified as high risk in primary care for case management is unlikely to be effective and alternative options need to be considered.”
Professor Martin Roland, senior author and Professor of Health Services Research at the University of Cambridge, added: “Too often government policy is based on wishful thinking rather than on hard evidence on what is actually likely to work, and new interventions often aren’t given enough time to bed in to know whether they’re really working.
“Reducing the number of people who are readmitted to hospital, and reducing the length of time that people stay in hospital are both likely to have a bigger effect on hospital bed use than trying to predict admission in the population. Both of these need close working between primary and secondary care and between health and social care.”
Wallace, E et al. Reducing emergency admissions through community-based interventions: are uncertainties in the evidence reflected in health policy? BMJ; 28 Jan 2016
Recent changes to UK healthcare policy intended to reduce the number of emergency hospital admissions are unlikely to be effective, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.
The University of Cambridge’s HE Plus programme has just registered its 10,000th participant, the culmination of five years of work with state schools and sixth form colleges across the UK.
Established in 2010, HE Plus encourages and prepares academically high-achieving state school students to make competitive applications to top universities, including Cambridge.
The programme sees the University and its Colleges working with groups of state schools and colleges in fourteen regions to engage their best students in a sustained year-long programme. This includes academic extension classes, subject masterclasses, university information / application sessions, and visits to Cambridge.
In the 2015-16 academic year, 3,000 Year 12 students in over 80 schools and colleges are participating in the initiative. And since 2010, thousands of HE Plus participants have gone on to study at top universities.
To build on the programme’s success, the University has shared a raft of new online learning resources which are freely available to anyone aiming to make a competitive application to university, as well as those seeking to support them. The website myheplus.com currently offers fifty resources covering twelve subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, English, Geography, History, Law, Mathematics, Medicine, Modern Languages, Physics and Religious Studies.
Devised by a diverse team of Cambridge academics drawing on their own cutting-edge research, these resources offer a taste of university–style learning which is designed to stretch and inspire. Further resources will be released on a regular basis, with two more subject areas (Psychology and Sociology) already in the pipeline.
Current contributions include a legal masterclass from Cambridge’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo; and zoologist Dr Jamie Gundry’s fascinating resource about haplodiploidy (a sex determination system) in ants, which features his own expert photography.
For English, Dr Fred Parker, Director of Studies at Clare College, has devised an inspiring resource about the responsibility of poetry with reference to Seamus Heaney and William Wordsworth. For Medicine, Dr Sarah Fawcett has written resources on Mycology and the importance of keeping up with current affairs in medicine.
Five Years of HE Plus from the viewpoint of teachers
Richard Hurrell, Director of Tutorial at Wilberforce Sixth Form College in Hull, and lead teacher for the HE Plus consortium in the area, said
“HE Plus helps to equip students with those transferable academic skills which the university is looking for. Staying at a Cambridge College greatly motivates our students but also helps to dispel the distracting media myths which still pervade. HE Plus is more than a recruitment exercise, it’s a genuine attempt to improve social mobility.”
And Rachel Hopwood, Assistant Headteacher and Head of Sixth Form at The Kings of Wessex Academy in Cheddar, Somerset said
“Students do not always aim high and those that do, often don’t know how to achieve their goals. HE Plus is inspirational and provides valuable advice on activities to undertake and making applications. HE Plus also encourages intellectual conversation among students which helps them to advance their understanding. Residential opportunities and contact with academics not only inspire but also make being at a top university something realistic to aim for. HE Plus students are positive about every aspect of their involvement and the University's financial support enables schools to fully support their students.”
The view of a Cambridge student
Fiona Shuttleworth, a first year Veterinary Medicine student at Christ’s College, took part in HE Plus as a student at Olchfa Comprehensive School in Swansea. Fiona recalls
“It was a great insight into studying and life at Cambridge, and made the whole process of applying so much more appealing by totally removing all the stereotypes. It definitely made me less scared to first arrive and start studying because I had been to my College before, and I knew how friendly it was. It was a really helpful transition programme from A-levels into university life.”
“I love the people here, everyone is really friendly, like-minded and it helps that everyone is in the same boat. We all have loads of work to do and the intensity of it brings people together so you have friends who all support each other.”
The University is committed to widening participation both at Cambridge and in higher education more generally. The collegiate University runs about 4,000 access events each year, leading to around 200,000 interactions with school learners and teachers. For more information, visit www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk
Cambridge access project celebrates student milestone and launches new learning resource
Researchers have successfully demonstrated how it is possible to interface graphene – a two-dimensional form of carbon – with neurons, or nerve cells, while maintaining the integrity of these vital cells. The work may be used to build graphene-based electrodes that can safely be implanted in the brain, offering promise for the restoration of sensory functions for amputee or paralysed patients, or for individuals with motor disorders such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease.
The research, published in the journal ACS Nano, was an interdisciplinary collaboration coordinated by the University of Trieste in Italy and the Cambridge Graphene Centre.
Previously, other groups had shown that it is possible to use treated graphene to interact with neurons. However the signal to noise ratio from this interface was very low. By developing methods of working with untreated graphene, the researchers retained the material’s electrical conductivity, making it a significantly better electrode.
“For the first time we interfaced graphene to neurons directly,” said Professor Laura Ballerini of the University of Trieste in Italy. “We then tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities, and found that the neurons retained their neuronal signalling properties unaltered. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene based materials.”
Our understanding of the brain has increased to such a degree that by interfacing directly between the brain and the outside world we can now harness and control some of its functions. For instance, by measuring the brain's electrical impulses, sensory functions can be recovered. This can be used to control robotic arms for amputee patients or any number of basic processes for paralysed patients – from speech to movement of objects in the world around them. Alternatively, by interfering with these electrical impulses, motor disorders (such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s) can start to be controlled.
Scientists have made this possible by developing electrodes that can be placed deep within the brain. These electrodes connect directly to neurons and transmit their electrical signals away from the body, allowing their meaning to be decoded.
However, the interface between neurons and electrodes has often been problematic: not only do the electrodes need to be highly sensitive to electrical impulses, but they need to be stable in the body without altering the tissue they measure.
Too often the modern electrodes used for this interface (based on tungsten or silicon) suffer from partial or complete loss of signal over time. This is often caused by the formation of scar tissue from the electrode insertion, which prevents the electrode from moving with the natural movements of the brain due to its rigid nature.
Graphene has been shown to be a promising material to solve these problems, because of its excellent conductivity, flexibility, biocompatibility and stability within the body.
Based on experiments conducted in rat brain cell cultures, the researchers found that untreated graphene electrodes interfaced well with neurons. By studying the neurons with electron microscopy and immunofluorescence the researchers found that they remained healthy, transmitting normal electric impulses and, importantly, none of the adverse reactions which lead to the damaging scar tissue were seen.
According to the researchers, this is the first step towards using pristine graphene-based materials as an electrode for a neuro-interface. In future, the researchers will investigate how different forms of graphene, from multiple layers to monolayers, are able to affect neurons, and whether tuning the material properties of graphene might alter the synapses and neuronal excitability in new and unique ways. “Hopefully this will pave the way for better deep brain implants to both harness and control the brain, with higher sensitivity and fewer unwanted side effects,” said Ballerini.
“We are currently involved in frontline research in graphene technology towards biomedical applications,” said Professor Maurizio Prato from the University of Trieste. “In this scenario, the development and translation in neurology of graphene-based high-performance biodevices requires the exploration of the interactions between graphene nano- and micro-sheets with the sophisticated signalling machinery of nerve cells. Our work is only a first step in that direction.”
“These initial results show how we are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of graphene and related materials in bio-applications and medicine,” said Professor Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre. “The expertise developed at the Cambridge Graphene Centre allows us to produce large quantities of pristine material in solution, and this study proves the compatibility of our process with neuro-interfaces.”
The research was funded by the Graphene Flagship, a European initiative which promotes a collaborative approach to research with an aim of helping to translate graphene out of the academic laboratory, through local industry and into society.
Fabbro A., et. al. ‘Graphene-Based Interfaces do not Alter Target Nerve Cells.’ ACS Nano (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b05647
Researchers have shown that graphene can be used to make electrodes that can be implanted in the brain, which could potentially be used to restore sensory functions for amputee or paralysed patients, or for individuals with motor disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.