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- 06/10/16--08:39: Opinion: Women are far more anxious than men – here’s the science
- 06/10/16--14:32: Cambridge people named in the Queen's Birthday Honours list 2016
- 06/13/16--04:32: How to build a healthier city
- 06/13/16--08:00: Nano ‘hall of mirrors’ causes molecules to mix with light
- 06/15/16--01:21: Smarter than the average bird?
- 06/16/16--11:00: Carrots and sticks fail to change behaviour in cocaine addiction
- 06/16/16--11:10: Astronomers observe most distant oxygen ever
- 06/17/16--06:08: How does your smart city grow?
- 06/20/16--02:30: Students invent new technology to improve later life
- Dr Mari Jones (Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages)
- Dr Gilly Carr (Department of Archaeology and Anthropology)
- Professor Steve Jackson (Wellcome Trust/CRUK Gurdon Institute)
- Professor John Clarkson and Dr Nathan Crilly (Department of Engineering)
- Dr Nita Forouhi and Dr Fumiaki Imamura (MRC Epidemiology Unit)
- Dr Becky Inkster (Department of Psychiatry)
- Dr Paolo Bombelli (Department of Biochemistry)
- Dr Ruth Armstrong and Dr Amy Ludlow (Institute of Criminology and Faculty of Law)
- Dr Hazel Wilkinson (Department of English)
- Dr Paul Coxon (Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy)
- Mr Ian Hosking and Mr Bill Nicholl (Department of Engineering and Faculty of Education)
Anxiety disorders– defined by excessive fear, restlessness, and muscle tension – are debilitating, disabling, and can increase the risk for depression and suicide. They are some of the most common mental health conditions around the world, affecting around four out of every 100 people and costing the health care system and job employers over US$42 billion each year.
People with anxiety are more likely to miss days from work and are less productive. Young people with anxiety are also less likely to enter school and complete it – translating into fewer life chances. Even though this evidence points to anxiety disorders as being important mental health issues, insufficient attention is being given to them by researchers, clinicians, and policy makers.
Researchers and I at the University of Cambridge wanted to find out who is most affected by anxiety disorders. To do this, we conducted a systematic review of studies that reported on the proportion of people with anxiety in a variety of contexts around the world, and used rigorous methods to retain the highest quality studies. Our results showed that women are almost twice as likely to suffer from anxiety as men, and that people living in Europe and North America are disproportionately affected.
But why are women more likely to experience anxiety than men? It could be because of differences in brain chemistry and hormone fluctuations. Reproductive events across a woman’s life are associated with hormonal changes, which have been linked to anxiety. The surge in oestrogen and progesterone that occurs during pregnancy can increase the risk for obsessive compulsive disorder, characterised by disturbing and repetitive thoughts, impulses and obsessions that are distressing and debilitating.
But in addition to biological mechanisms, women and men seem to experience and react to events in their life differently. Women tend to be more prone to stress, which can increase their anxiety. Also, when faced with stressful situations, women and men tend to use different coping strategies.
Women faced with life stressors are more likely to ruminate about them, which can increase their anxiety, while men engage more in active, problem-focused coping. Other studies suggest that women are more likely to experience physical and mental abuse than men, and abuse has been linked to the development of anxiety disorders. Child abuse has been associated with changes in brain chemistry and structure, and according to previous research, women who have experienced sexual abuse may have abnormal blood flow in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in emotion processing.
The anxious West
Our review also showed that people from North America and Western Europe are more likely to be affected by anxiety than people living in other parts of the world. It is unclear what could be accounting for these differences. It could be that the criteria and instruments we are using to measure anxiety, which were largely developed on Western populations, might not be capturing cultural presentations of anxiety.
Anxiety might be manifested differently in non-Western cultures. For example, social anxiety in the West is typically manifested as an intense fear of social situations, high self-consciousness, and fear of being judged and criticised by others during interactions and performance situations.
However, in Asia, a closely related construct is taijin kyofusho, which manifests as persistent and irrational fears about causing offence and embarrassment to others, because of perceived personal inadequacies. In addition, people from other cultures might feel too embarrassed to disclose symptoms of anxiety that people in Western cultures are comfortable discussing – this would mean that the figures reported in studies on developing and underdeveloped parts of the world might be underestimates of the true proportions.
Most of the research on mental health has also been done in Europe and North America, and very few studies have examined anxiety in other parts of the world. There could indeed be large differences in the burden of anxiety between cultures, but further research using better anxiety assessment methods is needed on this.
Either way, we now know that anxiety disorders are common, costly, and associated with substantial human suffering. We also know that women and people living in developed countries seem to be most affected. This awareness of who is disproportionately affected by anxiety can help direct health service planning and provision, and treatment efforts.
What can be done?
Anxiety disorders tend to start early in life, are chronic, and more than a decade can elapse between the time when symptoms develop and help is first sought from the doctor. At this point, the anxiety has become quite severe and other mental health problems, such as depression, have developed. This makes successful treatment of any of the disorders much harder.
Early recognition of symptoms is important so that treatment can be administered. Many people have turned to cognitive behavioural therapy, which has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety. There is also medication, and there are lifestyle changes people can make to improve their mental health, such as engaging in regular physical activity, doing mindfulness meditation and yoga.
Knowing that anxiety is more prevalent among Western and female populations, however, is a valuable step forward.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not represent the views of the University of Cambridge.
Olivia Remes (Cambridge Institute of Public Health) discusses why women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men.
Polly Courtice becomes a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to sustainability leadership.
Founding Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Dame Polly has built and led a team which has over 25 years catalysed significant action towards more sustainable practice in business and government.
In response to the announcement Dame Polly said: “This is a wonderful recognition of the work of the Institute, its brilliant and dedicated staff and associates, and its global network of over 7,000 alumni. I’m delighted to be recognised for having built an institute that in many ways has pioneered leadership efforts to tackle global sustainability challenges.”
“In recent decades there has been an important shift in the way many businesses have come to view their impact on society and the environment and we are glad to have played a small part in that.
Professor Susan Gathercole, Director of the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the Medical Research Council is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Psychology and Education.
Gathercole is a cognitive psychologist with interests in memory and learning including the causes of specific learning difficulties in children and how they might be overcome. She has held academic posts at Lancaster, Bristol, Durham, and York. Since 2011 she has been Director of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge and holds a professorial chair at the University. Current projects examine the cognitive mechanisms of working memory and how they might be modified through training, and investigate through a new research clinic the dimensions of cognition and the brain that can be impaired in children with problems in attention, learning and memory. She is a Fellow of the British Academy.
Gathercole said: “I’m delighted and surprised in equal parts. It’s wonderful to receive this recognition of research that crosses the boundary between psychology and education. Engaging with education professionals who work on a daily basis with struggling learners has enriched the research of our excellent team immeasurably, and we will continue to build on this in coming years with the aim of improving children’s learning.”
Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College since 2002 and a Fellow of the College is also appointed OBE for services to archives and scholarship.
Packwood, who is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, was co-curator of 'Churchill and the Great Republic' at the Library of Congress and of 'Churchill: The Power of Words' at the Morgan Library in New York. He has lectured extensively on Churchill in the United Kingdom and the United States.
He said: “Like all recipients I feel honoured, delighted and surprised in equal measure. I would certainly not be receiving this award without the support of all my wonderful colleagues in the Archives Centre, College and University”.
Fiona Duncan, Departmental Administrator at the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience receives the British Empire Medal for services to higher education. Having worked in higher education since 1982, she has worked in the same department for 20 years, contributing to the merging of the Departments of Anatomy and Physiology to create the current structure.
Commenting on the award she said: “When I received the letter from the Cabinet Office I thought it was probably something about the Referendum, but I was delighted and surprised in equal measure to read its contents. This is an interesting and varied job. I am fortunate to work with academic and support staff, whom I like as people and respect as colleagues. They are committed to delivering world-class teaching and research.”
Raspberry Pi Founder Dr Eben Upton receives an OBE for services to business and education.
Several members of the University have been named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list announced today.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford,” said Samuel Johnson in the 18th century. For Johnson, the rich tapestry of London life and the myriad cultural assets clearly outweighed any downsides of city dwelling.
For others, though, city life is a grind. Public transport is overcrowded, house prices are soaring, traffic is at gridlock and diesel fumes hang almost perceptibly in the air. Little surprise, then, that people do become tired of London, even if not of life itself.
Even if issues such as air pollution are taken out of the equation, living in a city can be bad for your health, which is not good news considering that the World Health Organization estimates that by 2017 the majority of people will be living in urban areas.
A study published in 2014 by Dr Manjinder Sandhu from the Department of Medicine suggested that increasing urbanisation of rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa might lead to an explosion of the incidence of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Yes, moving to towns and cities provides better access to education, electricity and hospitals, but town and city dwellers become less active, their work becomes less physical and their diets worsen.
“If this pattern is repeated across the globe – which we think it will – then we could face an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other potentially preventable diseases,” says Sandhu. “Local and national governments need to take this into consideration when planning infrastructure to try and mitigate such negative effects.”
As far as ‘healthy’ cities go, Cambridge has a lot going for it. Its population has higher than average levels of education and is physically active: Cambridge has been nicknamed ‘the cycling capital of Britain’ – the sight of bicycles leaning against walls is as iconic as that of punts passing under the Bridge of Sighs. But as the city expands and house prices rocket, more and more people are living in neighbouring villages and towns, where cycling to work along winding, congested country lanes can be less appealing than driving.
In 2011, the world’s longest guided busway opened, connecting Cambridge with nearby Huntingdon and St Ives along a former railway line. An integral part of the busway was a cycle path along its route – and this appears to have helped nudge people in the right direction. A study led by Dr David Ogilvie from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit found that, among people who commuted into Cambridge from within a 30 km radius, those who lived closer to the busway were more likely to increase the amount of ‘active’ commuting they did, particularly cycling.
“Commuting is a part of everyday life where people could include a bit more physical activity without having to think about it very much or make time for it,” says Ogilvie. “When new infrastructure integrates opportunities for walking and cycling, we see people shifting their commuting behaviour.”
Ogilvie’s research is, he says, “contributing bricks of evidence to a wall that’s slowly being assembled from across the world of the health benefits of investing into this kind of infrastructure.” While such benefits are often alluded to in business cases, until now the evidence to support them has been limited.
There are ways to integrate more pedestrian-friendly environments in existing infrastructure, he says, citing examples such as those in the Netherlands – now being introduced in some areas of London – where traffic is slowed to walking pace and the divisions between pavement and road are deliberately blurred, cuing drivers to share the space.
With more thoughtful urban planning, Ogilvie says, it should be possible to design towns and cities as environments that promote not just physical activity, but improved health and wellbeing – “in short, a place where people want to live”.
“Sprawling cities with retail parks on the fringes are not conducive to doing your shopping on foot,” he says. “People are more likely to walk and cycle around their neighbourhood if it is safe, well connected and has good local amenities. And getting people out on the streets not only gets them active, it also increases social interactions and a sense that it’s safe to be on the streets.”
Dr Jamie Anderson from the Department of Architecture is also interested in the relationship between the built environment and our broader wellbeing. As part of his PhD project with Professor Koen Steemers (Architecture) and Professor Felicia Huppert (Department of Psychology), he did a study of another Cambridge initiative, the housing development known as Accordia.
Since the first residents moved into their homes in the mid-noughties, Accordia has won numerous prizes, including the Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize, for its innovative mixing of private and public spaces. Yet surprisingly, says Anderson, no one had done a detailed study of the impact on its residents.
One of the interesting approaches taken by Accordia was to focus on communal spaces rather than private gardens: only one in five homes has its own garden. Given the stereotype of the British as a very private people, how did people respond? Did people spend time chatting outdoors with their neighbours, or did they shut themselves away and draw the curtains?
The results, explains Anderson, were mixed. While one middle-aged couple missed having their own garden and were now on a long waiting list for a local allotment, one mother described the communal gardens as “crucially important”: she had suffered from postnatal depression and, with her husband away at work all day, she told Anderson that she “wouldn’t have got through her depression” without the interactions that the adjacent communal areas provided.
“In terms of behaviours that we associate with physical health and positive mental health – so people interacting with each other, children out playing, for example – we found clear positive associations with Accordia’s outdoor neighbourhood spaces,” he adds, “but when we looked at people’s subjective wellbeing, it wasn’t as clear cut.”
With Accordia, Anderson was evaluating an already established development, but he now has a chance to influence a project at the planning stage. Part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s vision of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ will see a £110 million culture venue in Manchester named The Factory after the eponymous record company behind such iconic bands as Joy Division and Happy Mondays.
Under a fellowship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Anderson, in collaboration with engineering firm BuroHappold, is carrying out a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of the proposed new site, looking at factors that might influence health and wellbeing, from the lighting in office spaces, through to educational opportunities for young people from deprived communities and the restaurants within the venue.
HIAs are currently voluntary, but are set to become mandatory for significant developments across the UK in 2017, and can help architects and designers improve their submissions for planning application. How effective they’ll be is unclear, warns Anderson. “You might have some really strong evidence, but the final decision is a blend of opinion from various stakeholders, so you could end up with a watered-down version of what’s needed.”
He remains optimistic, however: “We’re moving in the right direction. By building consideration of health and wellbeing into the planning process, it should raise the bar and hopefully we will see many more cycle lanes, more inviting and better options for active transport, and maybe fewer fast-food shops.”
“I don’t know what makes me stay / The city life just ain’t the same,” sang New Order, one of Factory Record’s best known signings, in 2001. Perhaps the work of Cambridge researchers will help make cities attractive – and healthy – places to stay.
Life in towns and cities can grind you down, but putting health and wellbeing at the centre of new housing and infrastructure developments could make for happier, healthier citizens.
When a molecule emits a blink of light, it doesn’t expect it to ever come back. However researchers have now managed to place single molecules in such a tiny optical cavity that emitted photons, or particles of light, return to the molecule before they have properly left. The energy oscillates back and forth between light and molecule, resulting in a complete mixing of the two.
Previous attempts to mix molecules with light have been complex to produce and only achievable at very low temperatures, but the researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, have developed a method to produce these ‘half-light’ molecules at room temperature.
These unusual interactions of molecules with light provide new ways to manipulate the physical and chemical properties of matter, and could be used to process quantum information, aid in the understanding of complex processes at work in photosynthesis, or even manipulate the chemical bonds between atoms. The results are reported in the journal Nature.
To use single molecules in this way, the researchers had to reliably construct cavities only a billionth of a metre (one nanometre) across in order to trap light. They used the tiny gap between a gold nanoparticle and a mirror, and placed a coloured dye molecule inside.
“It’s like a hall of mirrors for a molecule, only spaced a hundred thousand times thinner than a human hair,” said Professor Jeremy Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research.
In order to achieve the molecule-light mixing, the dye molecules needed to be correctly positioned in the tiny gap. “Our molecules like to lie down flat on the gold, and it was really hard to persuade them to stand up straight,” said Rohit Chikkaraddy, lead author of the study.
To solve this, the team joined with a team of chemists at Cambridge led by Professor Oren Scherman to encapsulate the dyes in hollow barrel-shaped molecular cages called cucurbiturils, which are able to hold the dye molecules in the desired upright position.
When assembled together correctly, the molecule scattering spectrum splits into two separated quantum states which is the signature of this ‘mixing’. This spacing in colour corresponds to photons taking less than a trillionth of a second to come back to the molecule.
A key advance was to show strong mixing of light and matter was possible for single molecules even with large absorption of light in the metal and at room temperature. “Finding single-molecule signatures took months of data collection,” said Chikkaraddy.
The researchers were also able to observe steps in the colour spacing of the states corresponding to whether one, two, or three molecules were in the gap.
The Cambridge team collaborated with theorists Professor Ortwin Hess at the Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London and Dr Edina Rosta at Kings College London to understand the confinement and interaction of light in such tiny gaps, matching experiments amazingly well.
The research is funded as part of a UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) investment in the Cambridge NanoPhotonics Centre, as well as the European Research Council (ERC), the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability and St John’s College.
Rohit Chikkaraddy et al. ‘Single-molecule strong coupling at room temperature in plasmonic nanocavities.’ Nature (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nature17974
Researchers have successfully used quantum states to mix a molecule with light at room temperature, which will aid in the exploration of quantum technologies and provide new ways to manipulate the physical and chemical properties of matter.
All animals live in a form of society, and the structures of these societies have been as important for the course of evolution as their physical environment because they steer the drive to reproduce, says Professor Tim Clutton-Brock, author of the first major synthesis of mammalian social behaviour.
While Darwin initially recognised the importance of social behaviour in his 1871 masterpiece The Descent of Man, biologists focused on anatomy rather than behaviour for many decades. In his new book Mammal Societies, Clutton-Brock argues that the “true century of Darwin was delayed for nearly 100 years” as a consequence.
Field studies of animal behaviour began with the ringing of birds in the 1930s. But it was the arrival of cheap air travel in the 1960s that fuelled behavioural fieldwork of mammals, says Clutton-Brock, as it enabled scientists to conduct long-term studies of natural populations of the larger, long-lived mammals in Africa and Asia – from gorillas to big cats.
Pioneers such as Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, both of whom studied at Cambridge under famed zoologist Robert Hinde (as did Clutton-Brock) set up primate field studies in the 1960s and 70s which continue today.
These researchers and others began to follow animal communities over entire lives and then generations, recording a detailed ‘life history’ of each animal. In doing so, they revealed how foraging strategies affect group dynamics, how reproductive behaviour creates breeding systems, and how these create networks of kinship and sociality.
This shifted how scientists viewed wild animals: as individuals with personality traits that hold positions – some fluid, some stable – in often complex hierarchies. These societies influence who gets to breed, who gets to survive, and consequently how animals evolve.
“Darwin’s message was that selection works through differences in breeding success between individuals, not between species or populations, and the success of individuals is determined by their position in the societies they live in,” says Clutton-Brock, one of the world’s leading behavioural ecologists from Cambridge’s Zoology Department.
“That’s why it is important to be able to recognise and follow individuals. If you see a field full of rabbits, for example, you can’t tell sex, age, kinship, dominance – all of which is crucial to understanding what they are doing. This only comes alive once you follow individuals over significant periods of their lives. Long-term studies can get at questions that nothing else can answer.”
Long-term studies also allowed the wider public to identify with individual animals. The killing of studied animals – such as Digit the gorilla from Fossey’s study, or the recent hunting of Cecil the lion – provoked outcry, which in turn raised awareness of the need for conservation.
Clutton-Brock has worked on Kalahari meerkats for the last twenty years, and the lives of his study animals were featured in the popular TV series ‘Meerkat Manor’. When a dominant female, Flower, succumbed to snakebite in 2007, fans of the show grieved publicly on internet forums. Clutton-Brock wrote a book that told the true story of Flower’s life from birth to death – the first complete biography of a wild animal.
Now, across twenty chapters in Mammal Societies, he brings together decades of accrued knowledge from observations and experiments on social behaviour right across the field, much of which is the result of the thousands of animal life histories collected from long-term studies over the last fifty years.
While there have been reviews of social organisation for birds and ants, this is the first synthesis of sociality across mammals. The new book is set to become a milestone in the literature of evolution, covering social behaviour from baboons to bears, zebra to squirrels, and ending in the most successful mammal society of all: ours.
For Clutton-Brock, part of the excitement of pulling back to view such an extraordinary sweep of social behaviour is the generalities that start to appear. For example, much of the book is divided between the sexes.
“When viewing the whole scope of behaviour, what emerges is that females are distributed in relation to food, which they process into offspring, and males are adapted to adjust themselves to the distribution of females – or, more precisely, to the distribution of unfertilised ova that they can turn into babies,” he says.
Behaviours examined in the book range from extremes of competition, such as infanticide committed by baboons to increase their own breeding prospects, and hyena cubs, born with a full set of sharp teeth, who will sometimes kill their own siblings. But also extremes of cooperation: female meerkats helping each other through birth; male chimpanzees caring for orphaned juveniles.
The final chapters focus on human social progress, from our hominin ancestors’ journey through the polygynous breeding societies still seen in the great apes, to the unique cooperation with strangers and kin alike that defines us as a species.
If you want to put human society and evolution in perspective, says Clutton-Brock, it is the other mammals which provide it, and generalisations drawn from across mammalian social behaviour feed into our understanding of humanity.
“Though modern humans are mostly monogamous, we carry the legacy of past polygyny, as our ancestors lived in societies where a single male dominates several females. In polygynous mammals such as red deer, males only breed for a short time, as competition is so fierce and often brutal. This may relate to the shorter lifespan and larger bodies we see in men,” he explains.
Clutton-Brock has led a study of red deer on the Isle of Rum for over forty years which often feature on the BBC’s Spring and AutumnWatch, as well as the famous meerkats, and his studies have trained large numbers of young biologists in fieldwork.
The meerkat project has taken a dozen interns each year (“I don’t take anyone for less than a year”) for the last twenty years. Many go on to do PhDs, starting field studies of their own. Clutton-Brock admits he had to learn the hard way. “I did my PhD on forest monkeys – what a disaster. The animals were a hundred feet above you eating leaves, and urinated in your face as you watched them from below.”
Mammal Societies, a project that has taken some ten years to complete, ends with the mammal that has come to dominate the planet. Clutton-Brock offers suggestions to arguably the central question of human evolution: ‘Why us?’
“Many of the characteristics of higher primates may have facilitated the evolution of our own unusual traits,” he says. “They live in complex societies with many competitors and rely on support from other individuals to breed and protect their offspring. The difficult social decisions they have to take has probably played an important role in the evolution of our large brains and understanding of cause and effect.”
The book closes with a warning to our species: that controlling population growth and preventing environmental destruction requires cooperation on a global scale – a feat no animal has managed. “This would be a novel development in mammals, and it remains to be seen whether humans are able to meet this challenge.”
Inset images: babysitting meerkats, credit - Kalahari Meerkat Project. Red Deer, credit - Mick Lobb.
Over the last fifty years, long-term studies following individual animals over entire lifespans have allowed insight into the evolutionary influence of social behaviour – finally fulfilling the holistic approach to evolution first suggested by Darwin, argues the author of a new milestone work on mammal societies.
Understanding exactly how and why humans evolved is clearly one of the most important goals in science. But despite a significant amount of research to date, these questions have remained a bit of a mystery. Of course, there is no shortage of theories – it has even been suggested that humans are just visiting aliens. However, most of the credible models tend to take something that is unique to humans – such as language – and show how all the other bits of being human derive from that.
But focusing on one dramatic change as an evolutionary driver in this way may not be the best approach to understanding our past. The question was discussed in a series of papers in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Hunting is a good example, as it is often used to explain human evolution. We eat far more meat than other primates – most of them are in fact entirely vegetarian. It has therefore been argued that meat was the high quality resource that allowed humans to evolve large and complex brains.
What’s more, it takes communication, cooperation and technology (those stone tools came in handy) to acquire it, so hunting could also explain a number of other typically human traits. Eating large animals also could also taught humans to share, leading to social cohesion and interdependence. Hunting is just one of many models that have been proposed to explain human uniqueness and cultural complexity – language, fire, cooking and grandmothers, who enhanced human success by investing in their daughters children instead of having more themselves.
The problem with these theories is that they depend on evolution being a sort of one-step game, where one change produces a great leap forward, one from which other changes cascade. But the record does not support this. We split from our last common ancestor with the chimpanzees 5-6m years ago. But when we look at human ancestors between then and now, we do not find a single moment of dramatic change. Instead, it was cumulative – some 4m years ago we started walking upright on two legs, and about a million years later we started using stone tools. The size of our brains only started enlarging about 2m years ago.
Certainly there were periods that involved a more dynamic series of changes than others. For example, there was one at the beginning based on how hominins moved across the landscape, becoming bipedal and ranging over larger areas. Then about 2-3m years ago, there was another period of changes when brain size started to increase and childhood and adolescence periods started getting longer. This was coupled with boosts in technology and resource acquisition, such as hunting and gathering.
A final such period occurred in the last half million years, when cognitive changes associated with language, cooperation and cumulative culture – such as the development of more complex and composite technology, and the use of material culture for symbolic purposes – came to the fore. But even these periods, each lasting hundreds of thousands of years, were multi-event processes.
The big picture
As far as we can tell, human evolution is like a mosaic of change, made up of many small steps, each of which adds a piece to what it is to be human. Only at the end do we see the full configuration, but had we stopped the clock at any point along that continuum, we would have seen a different mosaic. Human evolution is not one great transition, therefore, but many smaller ones.
Part of the problem in trying to see the big pattern of human evolution is that we look at it through the lens of the present – how we are today is the guide to how we were in the past. But the past was different in so many ways, and our extinct relatives show some surprising departures from what we expect when we base those expectations on ourselves.
Take body size. In the developed world, we are big, and sadly getting bigger in unhealthy ways. Better nutrition has led to increased body mass in many populations across the world. We also associate being large with being human, as it was thought that our ultimate ancestors, the australopithecines (living in Africa between about 4m and 2m years ago) were small, and that our own genus, Homo, marked a substantial increase in body size.
But that may not have been the case. In fact, nearly all the early, extinct species and subspecies of Homo were small, if not very small. The global average human body weight (combined sexes) now is over 60kg. No fossil hominin until the Neanderthals and modern humans reached an average of 50 kg, and most were below 40 kg – half the size of the average American male. Pygmy populations in Africa and Asia also weigh about 40kg, which means that most early and extinct hominins were pygmy sized. There are many advantages to large body size – such as resisting predators, access to larger prey – and the fact that our earliest ancestors did not become large tells us a lot about the energetic constraints under which they lived and reproduced.
We may picture our ancestors as rugged versions of ourselves, tall and strong, but they were not. We need to start thinking of them as creatures that were as unique as ourselves, but in different ways.
Understanding more about human evolution will depend on finding more fossils and applying more and more powerful scientific techniques. Ancient DNA, for example, is revealing extraordinary new details about our recent past. As important, however, will be using our greater knowledge of the overall pattern of human evolution, its tempo and mode, to inform us about the cumulative processes by which we became human, rather than expecting that with one great evolutionary bound, our hero was free.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not represent the views of the University of Cambridge.
Robert Foley (Department of Archaeology and Anthropology) discusses the cumulative processes by which we became human.
New research shows that targeting each crime ‘hot spot’ in a city with 21 extra minutes of daily foot patrolling by Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) could save the justice system hundreds of thousands of pounds through prevented crime.
Working with Cambridgeshire Constabulary to conduct a year-long experiment in Peterborough, researchers from the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge randomly allocated 34 crime-prone areas to get 21 minutes of extra PCSO patrols a day.
They compared offences before and after the experiment between 38 hot spots with no increased patrol and the 34 with the increase using the Cambridge Crime Harm Index: a new tool that measures “harm caused to victims” by modelling severities in sentencing for different offences, rather than just totting up overall crime figures.
The research team calculated that targeted patrol time equal to two full-time PCSOs would prevent 86 assaults a year, or incidents of the equivalent crime ‘harm value’, saving potential costs to the public of eight years of imprisonment.
The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology, suggest that every £10 spent on targeted foot patrols prevents a further £56 in prison costs – a five-to-one return on investment.
While modern policing is characterised by a “reactive, fire-brigade” approach, usually vehicle-based, the researchers say their evidence strengthens support for the historic “bobbies on the beat” mode of policing focused on crime-prone areas.
“By working with us to conduct this experiment, Cambridgeshire Constabulary has set the standard for cost-effectiveness in policing,” said study co-author Professor Lawrence Sherman, Director of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology and its Jerry Lee Centre for Experimental Criminology.
“Any other investment in policing can now be challenged to match the benefits of foot patrols in preventing the equivalent of either 86 assaults, or six burglaries, or six sexual crimes.”
‘Hot spots’ are small urban areas, streets or intersections, where there is a concentration of crime – usually offences such as theft, burglary, violence and criminal damage.
During the experiment, 72 of Peterborough’s ‘hottest’ hot spots randomly received either standard patrols (the control) or an average extra 21 minutes PCSO foot patrol per day (the treatment) over the course of a year.
In the ‘treated’ hot spots, these additional patrols – combined with vehicle patrols by Police Constables (PCs) these areas already received – amounted to an average increase of 56% in daily patrol time.
GPS devices embedded in the radios of both PCs and PCSOs were used to track time spent in each location, a precise measure of the “treatment dosage” of police presence.
The researchers found that, on average per hot spot, 39% fewer crime incidents were reported by victims and 20% fewer 999 emergency calls to the police occurred in the 34 treated hot spots compared with the 38 control hot spots.
The extra 21 minutes of PCSO time per day for each of the hot spots amounts to 3,094 hours across all treatment areas, roughly equivalent to two fulltime PCSOs – no more than £50,000 on current salaries.
The Cambridge Crime Harm Index analysis suggests that, across all 34 treated hot spots, the equivalent of these two extra officers prevented crime amounting to 2,914 days – around eight years – of imprisonment, at a potential cost to the public of £280,000 under English sentencing guidelines.
“The use of the Cambridge Crime Harm Index and the Peterborough cost-effectiveness results provides a like-for-like metric to challenge those who demand more PC or PCSO time in patrolling schools, low-crime neighbourhoods, or traffic accident hot spots,” Sherman said.
“This study should give both Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables a benchmark for evaluating any other uses of police time other than hot spots patrols.”
PCSOs are civilian members of police staff, used to bolster police presence and support PCs. They have no power of arrest, and cannot investigate crimes, but have specific powers to deal with minor public order offices – what’s known as “soft policing”.
Budgetary constraints in British policing mean PCSOs are the only officers who now conduct proactive and visible foot patrols. During the experiment, the PCSOs were told to concentrate on being visible to the exclusion of any other task.
The researchers’ experimental evidence showed that every additional PCSO visit per day to the treatment hot spots decreased calls for service by approximately 34, with the number of crimes declining by around four.
“The experiment suggests that the number of visits to each hot spot may matter more than the total minutes – as if each time the police arrive they renew their deterrent effect on crime,” said Dr Barak Ariel of the Lee Centre of Experimental Criminology, who was lead researcher on the Peterborough experiment.
Sherman says the latest results show that, if deployed tactically and proactively, ‘soft’ policing can achieve comparable crime reductions to the ‘hard’ threat of immediate physical arrest.
“These findings suggest that the probability of encountering an officer is more important than the powers that officer has, and that the frequency and duration of proactive patrolling deserves far more attention,” said Sherman.
“More experiments like this one can produce an even more general estimate of the value of foot patrol activity, to make that value the ‘gold standard to beat’ in selecting cost-effective policing strategies,” he added.
Professor Lorraine Mazerolle of the University of Queensland and Editor of the Journal of Experimental Criminology said the Peterborough experiment showed that “the deterrent role of police and PCSOs patrolling crime-harm hotspots is now indisputable: the police can, and do, prevent crime, they just need to be appropriately deployed to crime-harm hotspots.”
Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hopkins said: “We’re pleased to have worked with the Cambridge Institute of Criminology to conduct this research and we welcome the outcomes.
“We’re keen to look at the findings in further detail and explore how they could help to influence our future policing plan.”
The results of a major criminology experiment in Peterborough suggest that investing in proactive PCSO foot patrols targeting crime ‘hot spots’ could yield a more than five-to-one return: with every £10 spent saving £56 in prison costs.
Investors who buy stocks of Real Estate Investment Trusts in search of a “defensive security” should be careful to check those firms’ levels of debt before they commit, a new study suggests.
Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REITs, are publically listed companies that generate income by owning and operating large property portfolios. By purchasing stocks in these companies, investors can share in that income and any capital appreciation, without having to buy the capital-intensive properties themselves.
These stocks are often considered to be low-risk, because they typically generate high dividends for investors and used to be only moderately affected during periods of economic turmoil. As a result, they are often also attractive to the managers of pension and endowment funds looking for high, reliable long-term returns, and are often referred to as “defensive” stocks.
In the new study, however, two researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Sydney point out that the performance of individual REIT stocks is not always as consistent as this suggests. Instead, they argue that investors should look carefully at certain characteristics within the specific firms.
In particular, they warn that investors should examine these firms’ overall leverage, or the amount of debt that they use to finance their assets. The more indebted the firm is, they suggest, the less robust these so-called defensive stocks are likely to prove, in particular during periods of economic downturn.
The study was co-authored by Dr Eva Steiner, a Fellow and Director of Studies in Land Economy at St John’s College at the University of Cambridge, UK, and Dr Jamie Alcock, from the University of Sydney Business School.
“Investors sometimes think that because stock is generally classified as defensive, not much is going to happen to it in a downturn, but that may not be the case,” Dr Steiner said. “The sensitivity of any stock to variation in the broader market environment will fluctuate over time and investors need to know more about the drivers of this sensitivity so that they can make sensible choices. We found that this depends, among other factors, on the overall financial position of the firm.”
The idea that firm characteristics can be used to predict the overall sensitivity of its stock to market downturns has not been extensively investigated empirically until now. Most research has looked at the impact of broader, macro-economic trends, such as real and monetary conditions, on returns from real estate stocks, and this data suggests that they are, on average, quite resilient.
The new study, however, shows that the state of a specific REIT can offer investors a more nuanced and accurate picture. Steiner and Alcock looked at a large sample of historical data about the returns and overall characteristics of numerous REIT firms in the United States, covering a 20-year period from 1993 to 2013. On average, they examined data for 55 firms during each quarter over the course of the two decades.
Unlike any previous study, they found that leverage was one of the sharpest means of predicting the likely stability of stocks in these companies – especially during downturns. The more debt a firm had, the more its stock proved sensitive to periods of recession – without any additional gains on the upside. The impact of this relationship seemed to be particularly pronounced during periods of extreme difficulty, such as the 2007/8 sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Other company characteristics also proved important predictors of stock sensitivity. For example, more defensive, lower-risk stocks were consistently associated with small, high-growth firms that were less intensively traded.
Similarly, the researchers found that companies which demonstrated strong growth opportunities were less sensitive to such change. This pattern, they suggest, may recur because such opportunities were often circumstantial, one-off prospects specific to those companies alone, meaning that they would not be affected by broader market fluctuations – making an investment in them more secure.
Although the findings could help investors to construct more robust portfolios capable of weathering an economic storm, the researchers point out that they could also offer guidelines for managers within REITs themselves.
“There are implications for investors at two levels – the ones who buy the stock, who need to know that they are making sensible choices, but also the REIT managers, for whom this has implications regarding the risk management of their firms,” Steiner said. “These results could help guide decisions about the investment risk of their firm, for example by choosing the appropriate level of leverage.”
The research was funded by the Real Estate Research Institute. The paper, Fundamental Drivers of Dependence in REIT Returns, is published in The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics.
Retail and institutional investors alike often buy stocks in Real Estate Investment Trusts, because they are known as defensive stocks, able to withstand periods of economic downturn, but a new study explains why some of these companies could prove a much safer bet than others.
Have humans underestimated the intelligence of birds? A new study suggests one species of bird - the great-tailed grackle - may be able to learn to adapt its behaviour when faced by new challenges.
The research, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal today, is the first to test the cognitive abilities of great-tailed grackles which are native to the Americas. In Colombia, the great-tailed grackle is the official bird of Cartagena de Indias and many Colombian monuments and artistic works have been created there in honour of its intelligence and adaptability.
Researcher Corina Logan, a Gates Cambridge Scholar who is now a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, has been fascinated by the species for a long time. Before she started her PhD in Experimental Psychology in 2008, she spent time in Costa Rica where she observed the behaviour of great-tailed grackles and was struck by their apparent intelligence.
Dr Logan obtained funding from the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Programme and the SAGE Centre for the Study of the Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara in 2012 to set up a field site in Santa Barbara to study cognition in the great-tailed grackle and to do comparative tests with New Caledonian crows. Relatively few studies have been done on this species up until now, and none on their cognitive abilities.
The research Dr Logan conducted has resulted in three peer-reviewed papers, two of which have now been published. The latest, published by the Royal Society Open Science, is out today.
Its focus is the great-tailed grackle’s behavioural flexibility, its ability to learn to adapt to changed circumstances, and whether behaviourally flexible individuals can invent new behaviors to solve novel problems. The tests showed they didn’t, which Dr Logan says suggests that behavioural flexibility and innovation do not measure the same thing, contrary to common assumptions. What they could do was adapt their behaviour to attain certain goals.
In two of the tests she conducted, grackles showed they were able to problem solve. One, the colour association task, involved an ability to discriminate between different colours of tubes. A gold and a silver tube were placed on a table at the same time, with one of the tubes containing hidden food. Once birds learned that the food was always in the gold tube, the food was then switched to the silver tube.
All the grackles were able to quickly change their behaviour to primarily choose the silver tube. Most other species were also able to switch colour cues, but the majority took longer to do so.
The second, more complex challenge, was a problem-solving test called Aesop’s Fable. It involved food floating in a partially filled water tube. The birds had to work out that they could raise the water level and bring the food within reach by inserting objects into the tube. All of the grackles solved the problem, but only two changed their preferences in a follow-up test, thus exhibiting behavioural flexibility.
Dr Logan says that the speed at which the grackles solved problems was not a predictor of their behavioural flexibility. Moreover, different grackles seemed more flexible than others on different tasks.
Her third paper which will be out later in the summer will investigate the possible reasons for this.
She is now applying for grants to investigate this variation between grackle populations across their range in North and Central America. She is interested to find out if certain circumstances, such as length of stay in one particular area, how well fed they are or genetics play any part in determining which populations are best able to adapt to new challenges. She is also interested to see if grackles are more flexible in particular contexts. “I want to understand how behavioural flexibility works and why it differs according to the type of problem being solved,” she says.
*See Corina's experiments in action: https://youtu.be/_PQEaYxw0fw
For an overview of her research, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtanQqoISCs
Behind the scenes with Tequila: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_Xl8cK5LLk
Corina Logan's research investigates behavioural flexibility in the great-tailed grackle.
With blue walls and bright yellow floor-to-ceiling metal sculpted lines, and not a desk or chair in sight, ‘Motion Tracks’ is not a traditional looking classroom. Shelving, drawing boards and hooks hang between the poles, allowing students to use the classroom to display work and have debates. Grey carpet tiles and pin boards have been replaced with bright blue flooring and display boards, and chairs have been swapped for blue cushions and benches.
The ‘alternative classroom’ is a public art partnership project between North Cambridge Academy, Kettle’s Yard and artist Johann Arens. On 24 June (3–6pm), the public are invited to see the room at the school in Cambridge, as well as meet the artist, take part in artist-led workshops and see students’ artwork. It will also be a chance to see the North Cambridge Academy, which opened its new building in February 2016.
Throughout Arens’ year-long artist residency at the school, the alternative classroom space will be used by students for discussions and display, as well as creative workshops. Meanwhile, the Kettle’s Yard learning team will be running activities from the classroom every Monday, providing the opportunity for every student at North Cambridge Academy to take part.
“It’s a brand new school so it’s important for students to be able to make their mark there and show their aspirations for learning,” says Jonathan Stanley, Curriculum Leader at the Academy. “It’s a unique opportunity for them to work alongside artists and expand their ideas about what creative practice can be.”
Lucy Wheeler, Learning Associate at Kettle’s Yard, adds: “It was great to finally reveal the new classroom to the students for the first time, after a month of keeping it under wraps while it was being transformed. The students’ ideas for the room have been made into reality with the help of artist Johann Arens. We’re looking forward to getting creative in the alternative classroom over the next year.”
The classroom has been well-received by the students: “When I first came into this room it looked like a playground,” says Baipor. “I like it! I feel very comfortable in this room.”
Like North Cambridge Academy, Kettles’ Yard has been undergoing major building works. As one of Britain’s best galleries, the beautiful and unique house with its distinctive modern art collection also has an established learning programme, archive and programme of concerts. It closed in June 2015 for a major redevelopment to improve facilities for visitors, artists, children and young people, and is due to re-open in late 2017.
The partnership between Kettle’s Yard and the school will be long-lasting, says Wheeler: “We want to build a strategic relationship with North Cambridge Academy and to work collaboratively to engage young people with contemporary arts practice. There will be a lasting legacy through the public artworks at the school and we plan to continue to provide opportunities for students to participate at Kettle’s Yard once we reopen.”
Throughout 2016, Arens will work closely with students at North Cambridge Academy gaining insights into their aspirations for learning and their community. The project will culminate in new artworks being created in the school building.
Arens uses installation and video to survey the documentary properties of public interiors. After graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, he received a stipend by the Netherlands Foundation of Visual Arts to complete his MFA in Fine Arts at Goldsmith, University of London. Since then he has worked on public commissions assigned by Arnolfini/Art and the Public Realm, Bristol, Letchworth Heritage Foundation and Jerwood Foundation London. He was awarded the Rome Fellowship in Contemporary Art by the British Academy and has been resident at Fondazione Antonio Ratti and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam.
The ‘Motion Tracks’ alternative classroom will be open 3–6pm on 24 June 2016 at North Cambridge Academy, Arbury Rd, Cambridge CB4 2JF.
An art partnership project between Kettle’s Yard, one of Britain’s best art galleries, and North Cambridge Academy opens its doors to the public on 24 June 2016.
Seven distinguished individuals were given Honorary Degrees, the highest honour that the University can bestow, by the Chancellor at a special ceremony in the Senate House today.
Leaders in fields from sport to computer design were awarded honorary degrees today by The Chancellor, Lord Sainsbury.
A Doctor of Law was conferred on Baroness 'Tanni' Grey-Thompson, president of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, for her unrivaled Paralympic achievements and continuing work for UK sport. In the Oration during today's ceremony at Senate House, she was referred to as "a shining example of the Paralympic aim to inspire and excite the world. It could have been she of whom Pindar said, ‘She is unrivalled in speed, with hand and heart to match.’"
Business leader and gender champion Helena Morrissey was awarded an honorary doctorate in law. A Fitzwilliam College alumna, Morrissey is CEO of Newton Investment Management and founder and chair of the 30% Club, a cross-business initiative aimed at achieving at least a 30% representation of women on UK corporate boards.
Physician and immunologist Professor Sir Keith Peters was awarded a doctorate in Medical Science for his work in medical education and research. The Honorary Fellow of Christ's College and Clare Hall and Cambridge's Regius Professor of Physic Emeritus was instrumental in transforming the University of Cambridge's Clinical School into a world-class centre for clinical research and teaching, as well as planning London's soon-to-be-opened Francis Crick Institute.
The man credited with introducing elegance, purity and beauty to the design of personal computers as Apple's chief designer was also honoured. A Doctor of Science was conferred on Sir Jonathan Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple, in recognition of his impact on the world of computing and in making technology approachable through design.
A Doctor of Letters was conferred on former director of the National Theatre Sir Nicholas Hytner. The honour was in recognition of his distinguished career in theatre, film and opera. Sir Nicholas, who produced a repertoire of 20 productions a year, including War Horse and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, and introduced NT Live cinema broadcasts around the world, is also an Honorary Fellow of Trinity Hall.
Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota, Honorary Fellow of Christ's College, was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters in recognition of his achievements in the fields of art, architecture and sport. In addition to overseeing the opening of Tate St Ives in 1993 and Tate Modern in 2000 and the Millbank building’s transformation into Tate Britain the same year, Sir Nicholas was also a Board member of the Olympic Delivery Authority, responsible for building the Olympic Park for the London Olympics in 2012.
A Doctor of Music was conferred on Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music Professor Joanna MacGregor. The pianist, conductor, and composer was already an Honorary Fellow of Murray Edwards College in addition to being awarded an OBE in 2012. A regular performer at the BBC Proms, she has made more than 40 solo recordings, founded her own record label and directed festivals including the Bath International Music Festival and the Royal Opera House's Deloitte Ignite Festival.
Seven distinguished individuals were given Honorary Degrees, the highest honour that the University can bestow, by the Chancellor at a special ceremony in the Senate House today.
Tanni, Baroness Grey-Thompson
‘Tanni’ Grey-Thompson read Politics and Social Administration at Loughborough University, before going on to represent Great Britain in athletics from 1988 to 2004 and breaking 30 world records during this time. Born with spina bifida, Tanni Grey-Thompson is one of Britain’s foremost Paralympic athletes, having been awarded eleven gold medals, four silver and one bronze over 16 years and at five Paralympic Games. After retiring in 2007, she became Director of UK Athletics and a Board Member of the London Marathon (she had won the wheelchair race six times). In addition to being President of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, she currently sits on the panel for the London Legacy Development Corporation as well as chairing the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport for the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation. Tanni Grey-Thompson has been Chancellor of Northumbria University since 2015 and is also a Deputy Lieutenant for North Yorkshire. Appointed MBE in 1993, promoted OBE in 2000 and then DBE in 2005, Tanni Grey-Thompson was created a life peer in 2010.
Helena Morrissey read philosophy at Fitzwilliam College before pursuing a career in finance. Beginning her career with Schroders in New York, she joined Newton in 1994 as a fixed income fund manager and was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 2001. Newton manages around £50bn for pension funds, charities and through funds available to individuals. Chair of the Investment Association since June 2014 (the UK’s industry trade body, whose members manage £5trn) more recently she was appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the UK’s Financial Services Trade and Investment
Board. In 2010, Helena Morrissey founded the 30% Club, a cross-business initiative aimed at achieving at least a 30% representation of women on UK corporate boards. Voted one of the 50 Most Influential People in Finance globally by Bloomberg Markets in 2013 and 2014, she has been named one of Fortune Magazine’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. Helena Morrissey was appointed CBE in 2012.
Keith Peters is a former Fellow and now Honorary Fellow of Christ’s College and also an Honorary Fellow of Clare Hall. He was born the son of a steelworker in Neath, South Wales and was the first in his family to go to university. A physician and immunologist, after graduating in medicine at Cardiff in 1961 and research in Birmingham and at Mill Hill, he joined the Department of Medicine at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, becoming Professor and Director of the Department in 1977. A pioneer of medical education and research, Keith Peters was Regius Professor of Physic in Cambridge 1987-2005 (now Professor Emeritus) and was instrumental in transforming the Clinical School into a world-class centre for clinical research and teaching. As
Interim Director of the National Institute for Medical Research (2006-08) he later initiated the planning of the Francis Crick Institute, soon to be opened in London. A Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and of the Royal Society, he is also a Fellow and Past President of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Keith Peters was knighted in 1993.
Jonathan Ive read Industrial Design at Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic, now Northumbria University. Shortly after graduating in 1989, he co-founded the London-based design consultancy Tangerine, but in 1992 moved to the United States and joined Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, where founder Steve Jobs subsequently referred to him as ‘his creative partner’.
Now Apple’s Chief Design Officer, he leads the team credited with introducing elegance, purity and beauty to the design of personal computers. Designers of the iMac, PowerBook, iBook, iPod, iPhone, iPad, AppleWatch and MacBook, his team has created products that have transformed the industry and have helped make technology approachable through design.
The most feted industrial designer in his field and beyond, Jonathan Ive’s work has earned many plaudits and six of his products appear in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Design Museum in London named him Designer of the Year in 2003, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2012, and a year later the BBC’s Blue Peter accorded him a Gold Badge. Winner of the Inaugural Medal for Design Achievement in 1999 and then in 2004 the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the Royal Society of Arts, he is a Royal Designer for Industry and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Jonathan Ive was appointed CBE in 2006 and promoted KBE in 2012.
Nicholas Hytner read English at Trinity Hall, of which he is now an Honorary Fellow. Director of the National Theatre 2003-15, he directed plays by Alan Bennett (The Madness of George III, The History Boys, The Habit of Art); Shakespeare (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Timon of Athens, Othello); plays from the classical repertoire (The Alchemist, Phèdre, London Assurance); and a wide range of new plays. He produced a repertoire of 20 productions a year, including War Horse and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, and introduced NT Live cinema broadcasts around the world. Nicholas Hytner has worked widely in opera - in London, Paris, Munich and New York; and in film (The Lady In The Van and The Madness of King George). Theatrical accolades include three Olivier, five Evening Standard and three Tony awards. His recently formed London Theatre Company will open a new theatre at Tower Bridge in 2017. Nicholas Hytner was knighted in 2010.
Nicholas Serota read Economics then History of Art at Christ’s College, of which he is now an Honorary Fellow, and later completed an MA at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Most of his practice as a curator has been in twentieth-century and contemporary art, including the recent Gerhard Richter and Matisse Cut Outs exhibitions at Tate Modern, and the Howard Hodgkin show at Tate Britain. Director of the Tate since 1988, Nicholas Serota has overseen the opening of Tate St Ives (1993) and Tate Modern (2000) and the Millbank building’s transformation into Tate Britain (2000). He has been a member of the Visual Arts Advisory Committee of the British Council and a Commissioner for Architecture and the Built Environment and he was also a Board member of the Olympic Delivery Authority, responsible for building the Olympic Park for the London Olympics in 2012. Nicholas Serota was appointed an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2003 and received the Legion d’Honneur in 2012. Knighted in 1999, he was made a Companion of Honour in 2013.
Joanna MacGregor read music at New Hall, now Murray Edwards College, of which she is an Honorary Fellow. A concert pianist, conductor, and composer who has performed in more than 70 countries, Joanna MacGregor is Professor of the University of London and Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music and Artistic Director of the Dartington International Summer School & Festival. As a soloist she has appeared with the London and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, the Chicago, Melbourne and Oslo Philharmonic, the Berlin Symphonic and the Salzburg Camerata. A regular performer at the BBC Proms, she has made more than 40 solo recordings, founding her own record label in 1998. Professor MacGregor was Artistic Director of the Bath International Music Festival 2006-12 and curated the multi-arts Deloitte Ignite Festival at the Royal Opera House in 2010, as well as Aventures, an orchestral series for Luxembourg Philharmonie in 2012-13. A Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and of Trinity College of Music, she is a Visiting Musician at Oriel College, Oxford. Joanna Macgregor was appointed OBE in 2012.
In a study published today in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods to look at the brain structure of male adolescents and young adults who had been diagnosed with conduct disorder – persistent behavioural problems including aggressive and destructive behaviour, lying and stealing, and for older children, weapon use or staying out all night.
In particular, the researchers looked at the coordinated development of different brain regions by studying whether they were similar or different in terms of thickness. Regions that develop at similar rates would be expected to show similar patterns of cortical thickness, for example.
“There’s evidence already of differences in the brains of individuals with serious behavioural problems, but this is often simplistic and only focused on regions such as the amygdala, which we know is important for emotional behaviour,” explains Dr Luca Passamonti from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge. “But conduct disorder is a complex behavioural disorder, so likewise we would expect the changes to be more complex in nature and to potentially involve other brain regions.”
In a study funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, researchers at the University of Cambridge recruited 58 male adolescents and young adults with conduct disorder and 25 typically-developing controls, all aged between 16 and 21 years. The researchers divided the individuals with conduct disorder according to whether they displayed childhood-onset conduct disorder or adolescent-onset conduct disorder.
The team found that youths with childhood-onset conduct disorder (sometimes termed ‘early-starters’) showed a strikingly higher number of significant correlations in thickness between regions relative to the controls. They believe this may reflect disruptions in the normal pattern of brain development in childhood or adolescence.
On the other hand, youths with adolescent-onset conduct disorder (‘late starters’) displayed fewer such correlations than the healthy individuals. The researchers believe this may reflect specific disruptions in the development of the brain during adolescence, for example to the ‘pruning’ of nerve cells or the connections (synapses) between them.
As the findings were particularly striking, the researchers sought to replicate their findings in an independent sample of 37 individuals with conduct disorder and 32 healthy controls, all male and aged 13-18 years, recruited at the University of Southampton; they were able to confirm their findings, adding to the robustness of the study.
“The differences that we see between healthy teenagers and those with both forms of conduct disorders show that most of the brain is involved, but particularly the frontal and temporal regions of the brain,” says Dr Graeme Fairchild, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Southampton. “This provides extremely compelling evidence that conduct disorder is a real psychiatric disorder and not, as some experts maintain, just an exaggerated form of teenage rebellion.
“These findings also show that there are important differences in the brain between those who develop problems early in childhood compared with those who only show behavioural problems in their teenage years. More research is now needed to investigate how to use these results to help these young people clinically and to examine the factors leading to this abnormal pattern of brain development, such as exposure to early adversity.”
“There’s never been any doubt that conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease are diseases of the brain because imaging allows us to see clearly how it eats away at the brain,” adds Professor Nicola Toschi from the University “Tor Vergata” of Rome, “but until now we haven’t been able to see the clear – and widespread – structural differences in the brains of youths with conduct disorder.”
Although the findings point to the importance of the brain in explaining the development of conduct disorder, it is not clear how the structural differences arise and whether, for example, it is a mixture of an individual’s genetic make-up and the environment in which they are raised that causes the changes. However, the researchers say their findings may make it possible to monitor objectively the effectiveness of interventions.
“Now that we have a way of imaging the whole brain and providing a ‘map’ of conduct disorder, we may in future be able to see whether the changes we have observed in this study are reversible if early interventions or psychological therapies are provided,” says Professor Ian Goodyer from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.
Fairchild, G et al. Mapping the structural organization of the brain in conduct disorder: replication of findings in two independent samples. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry; 16 June 2016 DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12581
The brains of teenagers with serious antisocial behaviour problems differ significantly in structure to those of their peers, providing the clearest evidence to date that their behaviour stems from changes in brain development in early life, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” in Italy.
“Addiction does not happen overnight but develops from behaviour that has been repeated over and over again until individuals lose control,” said Dr Karen Ersche from the Department of Psychiatry, who led the research.
In a study reported today in the journal Science, Dr Ersche and colleagues tested 125 participants, of whom 72 were addicted to cocaine and 53 had no history of drug addiction, on their inclination to develop habits. They found that people with cocaine addiction were much more likely than healthy participants to make responses in an automatic fashion, but only if they had previously been rewarded for responding in the same way. The addicted individuals simply continued repeating the same responses they had previously learned, regardless of whether their actions made sense or not.
In a different context, however, where participants had to perform an action to avoid electrical shocks, people with cocaine addiction did not develop habits. In fact, they were much less inclined than the control participants to make an effort to avoid the electric shock in the first place.
“Our experiments highlight the particular difficulties faced when it comes to changing behaviour in people with cocaine addiction: they are highly responsive if their behaviour is rewarded – for example a ‘high’ from drug use – but then quickly switch to autopilot, becoming unable to change that behaviour in light of different consequences,” said Dr Ersche. “By contrast, when cocaine users are facing adversity, they are less inclined than healthy people to do something about it.
“These findings have significant implications for the treatment of people with cocaine addiction. Clearly punitive approaches are ineffective, as the prospect of something bad happening to them won’t make cocaine users more likely to change their behaviour. Interventions that build on their particular strength in developing habits, by training the implementation of more desirable habits to replace drug-taking habits, are likely to be more effective. Our findings also suggest that cocaine users would need to be actively protected from – rather than simply warned about – adverse consequences, because they will likely fail to avoid them if left to their own devices.”
There is currently no medical treatment for cocaine addiction – most individuals are treated with talking or cognitive therapy. According to Dr Ersche, the results show that a different approach to treating cocaine addiction might be of enhanced benefit to cocaine users. The researchers are now aiming to better understand the brain systems underlying cocaine users’ proneness to habits and their lack of avoidance, and to use this knowledge to develop more effective treatments for cocaine addiction.
In the first experiment conducted by Ersche and her colleagues, participants were asked to learn the relationship between pictures, and a correct response was rewarded with points. After a long training period, participants were informed that some pictures were no longer worth any points. Participants with cocaine addiction were less likely to take on board the information about the change in reward, and were also more likely to continue responding in an automatic way, regardless of whether they were rewarded or not.
In a second experiment, the same participants were shown two different pictures on a screen, which they learned to associate with receiving an electric shock. Participants were then taught a strategy on how they could avoid the shocks by pressing a foot pedal. Those participants with cocaine addiction were less good at avoiding the electric shocks in the first place, possibly due to learning and/or motivational impairment, and subsequently did not develop avoidance habits.
The work was funded by the Medical Research Council and was conducted at the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute.
Ersche, KD et al. Carrots and sticks fail to change behavior in cocaine addiction. Science; 17 Jun 2016; DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf3700
People who are addicted to cocaine are particularly prone to developing habits that render their behaviour resistant to change, regardless of the potentially devastating consequences, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge. The findings may have important implications for the treatment of cocaine addiction as they help explain why such individuals take drugs even when they are aware of the negative consequences, and why they find their behaviour so difficult to change.
Astronomers from Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe one of the most distant galaxies known. SXDF-NB1006-2 lies at a redshift of 7.2, meaning that we see it only 700 million years after the Big Bang.
The team was hoping to find out about the chemical elements present in the galaxy, as they can tell us about the level of star formation, and provide clues about the period in the history of the Universe known as cosmic reionisation. Their results are reported today in the journal Science.
“Seeking heavy elements in the early Universe is an essential approach to explore the star formation activity in that period,” said Akio Inoue of Osaka Sangyo University, Japan, the paper’s lead author. “Studying heavy elements also gives us a hint to understand how the galaxies were formed and what caused the cosmic reionisation.”
Click image to enlarge.
In the time before objects formed, the Universe was filled with electrically neutral gas. But when the first objects began to shine, a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, they emitted powerful radiation that started to break up those neutral atoms, ionising the gas. During this phase — known as cosmic reionisation — the whole Universe changed dramatically. But there is much debate about exactly what kind of objects caused the reionisation. Studying the conditions in very distant galaxies can help to answer this question.
Before observing the distant galaxy, the researchers performed computer simulations to predict how easily they could expect to see evidence of ionised oxygen with ALMA. They also considered observations of similar galaxies that are much closer to Earth, and concluded that the oxygen emission should be detectable, even at vast distances.
They then carried out high-sensitivity observations with ALMA and found light from ionised oxygen in SXDF-NB1006-2, making this the most distant unambiguous detection of oxygen ever obtained. It is firm evidence for the presence of oxygen in the early Universe, only 700 million years after the Big Bang.
“Many astronomers have believed that ionised carbon emits the strongest light from very distant galaxies in the far infrared range and tried to detect them in the carbon emission using ALMA,” said co-author Dr Kazuaki Ota from the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. “Most of such attempts have failed. However, this study has solely predicted that ionized oxygen emits the strongest light and even detected it from one of the most distant galaxies known. We believe that oxygen could be used as a powerful probe for very distant galaxies.”
Oxygen in SXDF-NB1006-2 was found to be ten times less abundant than it is in the Sun. “The small abundance is expected because the Universe was still young and had a short history of star formation at that time,” said co-author Naoki Yoshida at the University of Tokyo. “Our simulation actually predicted an abundance ten times smaller than the Sun. But we have another, unexpected, result: a very small amount of dust.”
The team was unable to detect any emission from carbon in the galaxy, suggesting that this young galaxy contains very little un-ionised hydrogen gas, and also found that it contains only a small amount of dust, which is made up of heavy elements. “Something unusual may be happening in this galaxy,” said Inoue. “I suspect that almost all the gas is highly ionised.”
The detection of ionised oxygen indicates that many very brilliant stars, several dozen times more massive than the Sun, have formed in the galaxy and are emitting the intense ultraviolet light needed to ionise the oxygen atoms.
The lack of dust in the galaxy allows the intense ultraviolet light to escape and ionise vast amounts of gas outside the galaxy. “SXDF-NB1006-2 would be a prototype of the light sources responsible for the cosmic reionisation,” said Inoue.
“This is an important step towards understanding what kind of objects caused cosmic reionisation,” explained Yoichi Tamura of the University of Tokyo. “Our next observations with ALMA have already started. Higher resolution observations will allow us to see the distribution and motion of ionised oxygen in the galaxy and provide vital information to help us understand the properties of the galaxy.”
Inoue et al. “Detection of an oxygen emission line from a high redshift galaxy in the reionization epoch.” Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf0714
Adapted from a press release by NAOJ/ESO
An international team of astronomers have detected glowing oxygen in a distant galaxy seen just 700 million years after the Big Bang. This is the most distant galaxy in which oxygen has ever been unambiguously detected, and it is most likely being ionised by powerful radiation from young giant stars. This galaxy could be an example of one type of source responsible for cosmic reionisation in the early history of the Universe.
It can be tough getting people excited about infrastructure because we often don’t notice it until something goes wrong. We expect to turn on the tap and have clean, drinkable water come out. We expect the underground to work. We expect to flick a switch and have the lights come on.
But just think how different expectations were for people living in Victorian London. The ‘Great Stink’ in 1858, caused by untreated human and industrial waste flowing directly into the Thames, led to near-constant cholera outbreaks. Eventually, the smell in the Houses of Parliament became so bad that the windows had to be covered with heavy curtains, which goaded the politicians of the day into action. Engineer Joseph Bazalgette came to the rescue by creating a sewer network for central London, which relieved the city from cholera epidemics.
Fast-forward 150 years, and London, and the rest of the UK, is generally in fairly decent shape infrastructure-wise. However, literal and figurative cracks are rapidly appearing. The London Infrastructure Plan 2050, launched in 2014, states that the capital should be able to accommodate its growth, at least until 2025, within existing boundaries, but estimates that £1.3 trillion will need to be invested in the city’s infrastructure between 2014 and 2050, an amount more than half of the UK’s current GDP.
“Infrastructure, both existing and future, is of paramount importance for supporting economic growth and productivity – and so we must anticipate and plan effectively for the changing needs of society,” says Professor Lord Robert Mair of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.
“We can’t just build our way out of this – we simply don’t have enough space,” adds Dr Jennifer Schooling, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC). “We have to use the existing infrastructure we’ve got and get more and more out of it, and when it’s appropriate, we can build new infrastructure alongside that.”
CSIC, an Innovation and Knowledge Centre jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Innovate UK, works to bridge the gap between University research and industry in the area of ‘smart’ infrastructure.
Thanks to technological advances over the past two decades, sensors can now be embedded directly into the fabric of our cities, providing valuable information about the ‘health’ of a particular road, tunnel, bridge, building, or any other piece of infrastructure. This information can help identify problems before they become serious, and help get the most out of existing infrastructure, which is particularly important in a small, crowded country like the UK.
CSIC works with different companies and organisations throughout the complex infrastructure supply chain: from owners and operators, designers and builders, to contractors and maintenance personnel, helping them maximise the potential of sensing technology and, by extension, that of the infrastructure we rely on every day.
Since it was founded in 2011, CSIC has built up a network of more than 40 industry partners, including some of the biggest companies in the construction industry, including Laing O’Rourke, Arup and Atkins. It has also worked on some of the largest infrastructure projects in the UK, such as Crossrail and the National Grid power tunnels.
“Because the construction industry is judged on reliability and safety, it is a conservative one, and so we have to really demonstrate our technologies and approaches, to show that they work,” says Schooling. “A conservative industry finds it difficult to grab hold of complex projects, and so we’ve worked really hard to develop consistent methodologies so that we can train industry to use the technologies we’ve developed.”
One of CSIC’s major industry partners, the construction and development company Skanska, has recently established their own company that will make CSIC-developed technology available commercially, after having successfully used it on a project they recently undertook in London. The company was demolishing a 12-storey building to replace it with a 16-storey building in central London, on top of a complex subterranean web of tunnels, transport, foundations, sewers and more.
Skanska worked with CSIC to embed fibre optics in the building pile foundations before it was demolished to determine whether the existing piles could be used again or had to be completely replaced to support the new building. The fibre optic data showed that the foundations did not have to be completely replaced, as is common practice, which not only saved the company £6 million and six months in added project time, but also won the company a sustainability prize for avoiding pouring the massive amounts of concrete required for completely new piled foundations.
Another CSIC project maximising the value of existing infrastructure is one that is looking to extract the heat from the London Underground to heat and cool the buildings above it. Researchers in Dr Ruchi Choudhary’s group in the Department of Engineering are modelling the amount of heat that can be extracted from the Tube, how many buildings can be heated or cooled, and how that might be affected by future climate change. These geothermal systems offer a potential energy-efficient cooling solution compared with energy-intensive conventional cooling.
“A city’s infrastructure generates many waste streams: the heat generated in the London Underground is a classic example, leading to severely overheated Tube stations,” says Choudhary. “Simulation models allow us to quantify the waste energy that can be usefully harnessed through geothermal boreholes, which makes it possible to demonstrate feasibility and the benefits of operating our infrastructure in more synergistic ways.”
“If there’s one thing we really excel at in this country, it’s making our Victorian infrastructure – such as that designed by Joseph Bazalgette – work well,” adds Schooling. “We need to think about the value that infrastructure brings to our cities, which will help us figure out where and when we should be making new investments, and what impact that will have on a city. If we really understand our infrastructure through data, there’s a huge opportunity to really make a difference to how our cities perform in the future.”
Adds Mair: “Our cities will define the future of society, and smart city infrastructure equipped with modern sensors is essential to achieve the required transformational impact.”
Inset image: geothermal modelling; credit: Ruchi Choudhary.
The Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction is building on advances in sensing technology to learn everything possible about a city’s infrastructure – its tunnels, roads, bridges, sewers and power supplies – in order to maintain it and optimise its use for the future.
When King’s College was bequeathed a library of some 4,000 books by George Thackeray, who was its Provost from 1814 to 1850, the gift arrived as a mixed blessing. Right up until the 1830s, the College library had been held in the side chapels of its world-famous chapel and there was nowhere suitable to house this large influx of volumes. Eventually bookcases were made for an outstanding collection of rare and precious books ranging in date of publication from the 1470s to 1850.
The Thackeray Collection came to King’s in two instalments – a first donation on Thackeray’s death in 1850 and a second larger gift on the death of his daughter, Mary Ann, in 1879. Its contents reflect Thackeray’s interests in divinity, natural history, poetry and literature as well as travel and sport. The piecemeal nature of the donation, the wide range of books it encompasses and the lack of resources to organise it meant that a comprehensive and accurate catalogue of the collection in its entirety was never made.
Despite the lukewarm response to its arrival, and the absence of detailed descriptions of its contents, Thackeray’s library is now fully appreciated as one of the three most important gifts of books to King’s College in its long history, ranking alongside collections given by the scholar Jacob Bryant (1715-1804) and the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946).
Last month King’s was awarded a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund that will enable its librarians to catalogue and conserve around 1,600 of the volumes bequeathed by the Thackerays in a project titled ‘Shakespeare and Austen at Cambridge: Celebrating their Centenaries in 2016 and 2017’. Funding is earmarked for the 1,000 or so works of English literature in the collection, which includes titles by some of the foremost names in literary history, among them John Milton, John Donne, Edmund Spenser and Ben Jonson.
The variety of subject matter covered by his books reveals Thackeray to be something of a polymath. He bought items that interested him personally and he purchased both antiquarian and contemporary titles. Among the works of literature, of particular note on the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death is a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, collated and published in 1623.
The First Folio is one of 233 known surviving copies (only about 45 of which are in the UK). Also in the collection are the Second (1632) and Fourth Folios (1685) of Shakespeare’s plays. The front cover of the Fourth Folio is detached and cannot currently be used in exhibitions. One of the first tasks will be to repair this book so it can feature in the forthcoming outreach activities marking Shakespeare’s death.
Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen: Thackeray’s collection includes a complete set of Austen’s works. Highlights in the Austen collection include rare first editions of her novels Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion along with early editions of Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice.
The creation of a comprehensive catalogue of the novels, poetry and plays acquired by Thackeray will entail producing detailed online catalogue records for each book that include full publication details, physical descriptions, collation, description of marginalia, illustrations of rare and historic bindings, Library of Congress Subject Headings, provenance information, and bibliographic references.
Once complete this catalogue will be made available online, allowing scholars worldwide to search the contents of the collection and to consult items in the Library’s established reading rooms or request copies through its imaging services. Outreach is a key aspect of the award: planned is a series of exhibitions, talks, open days and workshops for the public. An appeal for volunteers to help with the organisation of outreach projects has met with an enthusiastic response.
“Many of these books are in need of conservation and cannot be consulted by users or used in exhibitions because of the risk that handling them may cause further damage: covers are detached; spines damaged; fragile items need to be placed in bespoke archival boxes, and so on. The risk is that further deterioration to the books will occur if we do not act now,” said King’s College Librarian, Dr James Clements.
An intriguing and tragic personal story underlies the Thackeray collection. George Thackeray was born into a wealthy family and was a cousin of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, best known for his novel Vanity Fair. George Thackeray attended Eton College and then King’s, where he took a BA followed by an MA. He returned to Eton as a teacher and then became private chaplain to George III and three successive monarchs. In 1814 he was elected Provost of King’s. A preferred candidate had been deemed too young. Thackeray, whose health was known to be poor, was seen as a convenient stopgap.
Thackeray remained stubbornly alive for a further 36 years – and shortly before his death was reported by Makepeace Thackeray to be looking “perfectly healthy, handsome, stupid and happy”. But Thackeray’s life was marked by loss. His first wife died shortly after their marriage. When his second wife went into labour with the couple’s first child, the physician attending her had been badly affected by the death of a previous patient, the Princess Charlotte. When Mrs Thackeray showed similar symptoms, the doctor shot himself. Mrs Thackeray died five days later.
It’s thought that Thackeray never recovered from this terrible blow and that his book collecting may have offered solace for his grief. His obituary notes that “there was not a vendor of literary curiosities in London who had not some reason for knowing the provost of King’s”. The tribute continues: “He was an erudite classic, and an eminent naturalist; and his collection and library, in connection with his study, are reputed (as private ones) to rank among, even if they are not the best in England.” Many of the volumes he purchased were sumptuously and expensively rebound in leather. All were identified by the addition of a bookplate featuring the Thackeray coat of arms.
As Provost of King’s, Thackeray steadfastly resisted change and dealt with miscreants with “an almost Roman firmness”. He was, however, outstandingly generous both to individual King’s scholars and to the college itself – though he could be acerbic and crabby. He blocked reform to an antiquated system whereby students at King’s were exempt from University examinations – and it was only after this death that the College was able to phase out this privilege.
The writer of his obituary comes to a blunt conclusion: “Many men have been more widely popular.” But Thackeray’s alleged grumpiness was accompanied by huge generosity of spirit – and, thanks to a generous award , scholars worldwide will soon have increased access to an important collection of rare books.
A generous award will allow King’s College to catalogue and conserve an important part of an outstanding collection of rare books given to the College by George Thackeray, a former Provost. Behind the Thackeray Collection lies an intriguing and tragic personal story.
Researchers are calling for the end to an era of confusion and alarm about children's heart surgery statistics by launching an innovative communication tool that will help people make sense of published survival data about children’s heart surgery in the UK and Ireland.
The website, Understanding Children’s Heart Surgery Outcomes, which launches today, shows decision makers and parents that hospitals should not be ranked by their survival rates, because hospitals treat different patients — high performing hospitals can have lower survival rates simply because they are taking on the most complex cases. An individual hospital’s actual survival rate should only be compared to its own predicted range, which is determined by the complexity of the procedures it undertakes, among other factors. The website also sets out why if a hospital's survival rate is below its predicted range, it need not indicate alarm, but rather serves as a trigger for further investigation.
The website was developed by Christina Pagel from University College London and Sir David Spiegelhalter from the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the charity Sense about Science and experimental psychologist Tim Rakow from King’s College London. It explains a risk adjustment method known as PRAiS (Partial Risk Adjustment in Surgery).
“This website draws a line under an era of poor risk communication of hospital surgery statistics,” said Tracey Brown, director of Sense about Science. “In 2013 over-interpretation of faulty data resulted in temporary hospital closure of Leeds General Infirmary's paediatric heart unit. Parents and children were faced with all the additional stress, risks and costs of travelling further for operations, and for others the horrendous unnecessary guilt as they wondered if their child’s outcome would have been better at another unit. There could not be a stronger case for professionals and decision makers using the risk adjustment model and communicating it well.”
Each hospital that performs children’s heart surgery in the UK and Ireland has had its overall survival rates published by the National Congenital Heart Disease Audit (NCHDA) since 2013. The researchers used PRAiS to calculate a predicted range of survival for each specific hospital, taking into account the complexity of each individual child’s medical condition and surgery. No hospital will have exactly the same predicted range of survival as another hospital, because each hospital treated different children.
However, the report the NCHDA publishes is lengthy, hard to find and hard to understand without expert knowledge. Sense about Science ran user-testing workshops to involve the public, patients’ families and medical charities in co-designing the website with Pagel and Spiegelhalter, a first in this area.
“There is an understandable urge to put hospitals in a league table when comparing survival rates,” said Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge. “But rather than try and directly compare hospitals with each other, we need to compare a hospital’s survival rate with what we would predict it to be, taking into account how severe their cases are. This is a tricky idea but, with the help of many families, I think we have made it clear.”
“Because different hospitals treat different children and some children can have more complex medical problems than others, it is not valid to directly compare survival rates between hospitals,” said Pagel, Reader in Operational Research at UCL, who helped develop the formula the NHS uses to evaluate hospital survival rates. “We involved families from the beginning of the project and throughout to help us researchers communicate these complicated concepts clearly. I definitely learned that incorporating their feedback was absolutely crucial to building something useful. An accountable NHS is one where we can all understand how it is doing- and for this you need to listen to patients and families.”
Spiegelhalter and Pagel are calling for other researchers, companies and government to make health statistics accessible to patients and families by making them understandable. Transparency without accessibility is not enough; improved understanding by decision makers, health care professionals, patients and families can prevent misuse, confusion and unfounded anxiety.
Transparency without accessibility is not enough: stats must be put in context, say researchers.
The ‘roadmap’ released by Vote Leave last week claims that triggering Article 50, the formal mechanism for leaving the EU, would not be the only legal option in the event of a Brexit vote, citing alternatives of the ‘Greenland example’ or use of international law.
An analysis of the roadmap by Kenneth Armstrong, Cambridge Professor of European Law, questions the credibility of these claims, which he describes as either “legally implausible” or “politically less attractive” than Article 50.
He also argues that Vote Leave’s proposed legislation to diminish EU laws within the UK during withdrawal negotiations may actually weaken the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament, as it would provoke direct constitutional challenges from the UK’s devolved governments as well as UK courts.
Under Article 50, as set out in the Lisbon Treaty, the UK would remain an EU member state for two years while negotiations take place. There is a possibility for the timescale for negotiations to be extended, says Armstrong, but any EU state could veto any extension forcing the UK into a take-it or leave-it dilemma as the clock runs down.
Vote Leave argue that Brexit could utilise alternative legal procedures to extricate the UK from the EU, citing the example of Greenland’s EU withdrawal, or using the Vienna Convention of international treaty law.
However, both of these supposed options predate Article 50, which would now override them, says Armstrong. In addition, the Greenland example doesn’t hold up, as it was not a Member State in its own right, but a ‘constituent territory’ of Denmark. It would also mean invoking Article 48, which would require the unanimous agreement of every member state (unlike Article 50), and so create veto opportunities.
“It is simply not obvious why Vote Leave would consider this to be a viable or useful alternative to the Article 50 process itself,” said Armstrong.
The 1969 Vienna Convention of international law sets out a framework for negotiation and termination of treaties across the globe, and Vote Leave argue that this earlier international agreement also makes it possible to leave the EU.
However, the Vienna Convention only applies to treaties of other international organisations, such as the EU, “without prejudice to any relevant rules of the organisation”, such as Article 50.
“There is simply no way that the European Court of Justice would permit the autonomous legal order of the EU and its established mechanism of Article 50 to bend to international law in this manner,” said Armstrong.
“The clear conclusion is that Article 50 is the correct legal basis for the conduct of a withdrawal process. Neither the experience of Greenland nor the Vienna Convention casts any doubt on that conclusion,” he said.
Vote Leave’s roadmap also includes a proposed Bill to deviate from EU laws during withdrawal negotiations, to be enacted by 2020. The proposed Bill includes the power to remove EU citizens deemed to be “not conducive to the public good”, and a reigning in of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: the section of EU law that concerns human rights.
Armstrong points out that any proposal to introduce a version of this Bill in the current parliamentary session would not just encounter significant obstacles in both the Commons and the Lords, but, if enacted, would create constitutional conflicts between the devolved governments of the UK and the Westminster Parliament.
“It is at least arguable - and one would expect the Scottish government, for example, to argue - that any attempt to limit the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights would require the consent of the devolved parliaments, as otherwise possible legal action against ministers in devolved governments could occur for acting in breach of EU law,” said Armstrong.
He also points out that, while the UK remains an EU member state, which it will do for at least two years following Brexit, the UK courts will be bound by EU laws. Any amendment to the European Communities Act, which establishes the supremacy of EU law, would bring UK courts into a constitutional conflict between obligations under EU law with those under domestic law.
“It is simply not obvious how any given judge, or any given court, would seek to resolve that conflict. Either way, it would antagonise and politicise the judiciary in a manner that many would find unacceptable and could, paradoxically, give rise to judicial challenges to parliamentary sovereignty,” said Armstrong.
“Far from restoring the sovereignty of parliament, its sovereignty could be brought into direct constitutional challenge.”
More videos featuring experts from the Cambridge Centre for European Legal Studies on key EU Referendum questions can be viewed here.
Cambridge law professor says Article 50 is the only legal mechanism for Brexit, countering assertions by Vote Leave ‘roadmap’ that Article 50 is “not the sole lawful means”. He says the roadmap’s proposals for ‘emergency’ legislation during exit negotiations could actually diminish rather than restore Westminster’s sovereignty.
On Monday 20 June, the Vice-Chancellor and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research presented two sets of inaugural awards; the Impact Awards run by the Research Strategy Office, and the Public Engagement with Research Awards run by the Public Engagement team in the Office of External Affairs and Communications.
Research at the University of Cambridge has had profound effects on society – it is a formal part of the University’s mission.
The Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards have been established to recognise and reward those whose research has led to excellent impact beyond academia, whether on the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life.
In this, its inaugural year, there were 71 nominations across all Schools. Nominations were initially judged by School, with one overall best entry selected by external advisor Schlumberger. A prize of £1,000 was awarded to the best impact in each School, with the prize for the overall winner increased to £2,000.
The winners were announced at an award ceremony on 20 June 2016, hosted by Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz. These winners, although very diverse, illustrate only a small part of the wide range of impact that Cambridge's research has had.
This year’s winners were:
Norman French has been spoken in Jersey for over 1,000 years. Today, however, this language (Jèrriais to its speakers) is obsolescent: spoken by some 1% of the population. The research of Mari Jones has sought to preserve Jèrriais and has helped raise the profile of the language within Jersey and beyond, with impacts on local and national media, language policy and education, and cultural identity and development.
The Channel Islands have long had great difficulty in coming to terms with the darker side of the German occupation. The aim of Gilly Carr’s research is to increase awareness of Channel Islander victims of Nazi persecution through creation of a plural ‘heritage landscape’ and via education. The creation of this heritage is a major achievement and will be of significant impact for the Channel Islands.
Olaparib is an innovative targeted therapy for cancer developed by Steve Jackson. In 2014 Olaparib was licensed for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer by the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency. The following year, NICE made the drug available on the NHS in England for specific ovarian cancer patients. 2015 saw promising findings from a clinical trial in prostate cancer and Olaparib received Breakthrough Therapy Designation earlier this year. Olaparib is currently in clinical trials for a wide range of other cancer types.
It is normal to be different. The demographics of the world are changing, with longer life expectancies and a reduced birth rate resulting in an increased proportion of older people. Yet with increasing age comes a general decline in capability, challenging the way people are able to interact with the ‘designed’ world around them. The Cambridge Engineering Design Centre has worked with the Royal College of Art to address this ‘design challenge’. They developed a design toolkit and realised what was by now obvious, that inclusive design was simply better design.
Identifying modifiable risk factors is an important step in helping reduce the health burden of poor diet. Forouhi and Imamura have advanced our understanding of the health impacts of sugars, fats and foods, through both scale and depth of investigation of self-reported information and nutritional biomarkers. They have engaged at an international level with policy and guidance bodies, and have used the media to improve public understanding with the potential for a direct impact on people’s health.
In 2015, the University of Cambridge received a one-year £65k Catalyst Seed Fund grant from Research Councils UK to embed high quality public engagement with research and bring about culture change at an institutional level.
The Public Engagement with Research Awards were set up to recognise and reward those who undertake quality engagement with research. 69 nominations were received from across all Schools.
This year’s winners were:
Dr Inkster’s work work explores the intersection of art and science through the prism of mental health research. Dr Inkster has successfully collaborated with The Scarabeus Theatre in a performance called Depths of My Mind and founded the website HipHopPsych, showcasing the latest psychiatry research through hip hop lyrics. Her approach has allowed her to engage with hard-to-reach teenage audiences, encouraging them to reflect on their own mental health. Beyond this work she has explored the use of social media to diagnose mental illness, and has gathered patient perspectives on ethics, privacy and data sharing in preparation for research publication.
Dr Bombelli’s research looks to utilise the photosynthetic chemistry of plants to create biophotovoltaic devices, a sustainable source of solar power. For over five years, he has been taking his research out of the lab to science festivals, schools and design fairs; tailoring his approach to a wider variety of audiences. Through his engagement, he has reached thousands of people, in multiple countries, and is currently developing an educational toolkit to further engage school students with advances in biophotovoltaic technology. Dr Bombelli’s public engagement work has also advanced his research, namely through a transition from using algae to moss in live demonstrations.
Dr Armstrong and Dr Ludlow have collaborated on a research project addressing the delivery of education in the prison sector. Their project, Learning Together, pioneered a new approach to prison education where the end-users, the prisoners, are directly engaged with the design, delivery and evaluation of the research intervention. Adopting this shared dialogue approach has yielded positive results in terms of prisoners’ learning outcomes and has gathered praise from prison staff and government policy makers. Through continued engagement and partnership working, Armstrong and Ludlow have managed to expand their initiative across a broad range of sites and institutional contexts.
Dr Wilkinson is investigating the history of reading and writing habits in the eighteenth century. In collaboration with Dr Will Bowers at the University of Oxford, she has developed an online public platform, journallists.org, which allows readers to engage with installments of periodicals, diaries, letters, and novels, on the anniversaries of the day on which they were originally published, written, or set. Her approach has allowed members of the public to actively participate in research. She has also inspired thousands of readers to engage with under-read eighteenth and nineteenth century texts, often for the very first time.
Over the last ten years Dr Coxon has endeavored to engage with audiences often overlooked by traditional public engagement channels. He has given talks in venues as varied as bingo halls, working men’s social clubs and steam fairs to showcase his passion for solar research, steering clear of the “flashes and bangs” approach often associated with Chemistry. He has also designed a Fruit Solar Cell Starter Kit, used in fifty low-income catchment schools across the UK.
Ian Hosking and Bill Nicholl are cofounders of Designing Our Tomorrow, a platform for transforming D&T education in schools. Their public engagement initiative began in 2009 and brought together research around inclusive design and creativity in education. Through production of their DOT box, Hosking and Nicholl have taken active research questions into the classroom and given students control of designing technological solutions. Engagement with teachers, students and policymakers is integral to the success of their initiative and has resulted in engineering design being included in the national curriculum and GSCE qualifications.
Researchers from across the University have been recognised for the impact of their work on society, and engagement with research in the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards and Public Engagement with Research Awards.