Researchers develop infrared-based system to read body language

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 04/03/2018 - 11:28

A joint research team from the University of Cambridge and Dartmouth College has developed a system for using infrared light tags to monitor face-to-face interactions. The technique could lead to a more precise understanding of how individuals interact in social settings and can increase the effectiveness of communications coaching.

The system, named Protractor by the Cambridge-Dartmouth team, uses invisible light to record how people employ body language by measuring body angles and distances between individuals. 

Prior studies have revealed that body language can influence many aspects of everyday life including job interviews, doctor-patient conversations and team projects. Each Protractor setting includes a specific set of interaction details such as eye contact and hand gestures for which an accurate monitoring of distance and relative orientation is crucial. 

“The ability to use invisible light to determine someone’s role and attitude in social settings has powerful implications for individuals and organisations that are concerned about how they communicate,” said Professor Cecilia Mascolo from Cambridge's Department of Computer Science and Technology, who led the research. 

Body language is already commonly studied through video sessions, audio recordings and paper questionnaires. Compared to the new, light-based system, these approaches can require invasive cameras, necessitate complex infrastructure support, and impose high burdens on users. 

“Our system is a key departure from existing approaches,” said co-author Xia Zhou from Dartmouth. “The ability to sense both body distance and relative angle with fine accuracy using only infrared light offers huge advantages and can deepen the understanding of how body language plays a role in social interactions.” 

Protractor is a lightweight, wearable tag resembling an access badge worn with a lanyard or clip. The device measures non-verbal behaviour with fine granularity by using near-infrared light from photodiodes. The light technology operates at a wavelength commonly used in television remote controls. 

Before settling on infrared light for the unit, the research team also considered ultrasound and radio frequency. In addition to the overall accuracy, infrared was favourable because light cannot penetrate human bodies, ensuring the accurate sensing of face-to-face interaction. Near-infrared light is also imperceptible to human eyes and keeps the sensing unobtrusive.

Although well-suited for measuring body language, the research team needed to correct for when a user’s hand or clothing could temporarily block the light channel. They did so by designing algorithms that exploit inertial sensors to work around the absence of light tracking results. 

In demonstrating the system, the researchers also had to devise a way for the sensors to accurately identify participants and to limit power consumption. 

“By modulating the light from each Protractor tag to encode the tag ID, each tag can then figure out which individuals are participating. To increase energy efficiency, we also adapt the frequency of emitting light signals based on the specific context,” said co-author Zhao Tian, a PhD candidate at Dartmouth.  

To study the technique’s effectiveness, the team used the Protractor tags to track non-verbal behaviours during a problem-solving group task known as “The Marshmallow Challenge.” In this task, teams of four members were given 18 minutes to build a structure that could support a marshmallow using tape, string and a handful of spaghetti. 

“Beyond simply observing body language with the tags, we identified the task role each group member was performing and delineated each stage in the building process through the recorded body angle and distance measurements,” said Alessandro Montanari, a researcher at the University of Cambridge. 

In the study of 64 participants, Protractor achieved 1- to 2-inch mean error in estimating interaction distance and less than 6 degrees error 95 percent of the time for measuring relative body orientation. The system also allowed researchers to assess an individual’s task role within the challenge with close to 85 percent accuracy while identifying stages in the building process with over 93 percent accuracy. 

According to the research team, the system will not only support social research, but it can also potentially provide real-time feedback during interviews and other interactions. Trainers, supervisors and team facilitators can use these findings to better understand team dynamics and intervene during intense problem-focused discussions to achieve higher creativity.

Protractor can also help study the impact of culture on body language in light of research that shows that cultural backgrounds can impact the way people think, feel, and act while working with others – an important feature in today’s highly-internationalized workplaces. 

Researchers at Maastricht University and the University of Nottingham also contributed to this study.

The research was published in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies and will be presented during UbiComp’18.

Adapted from a Dartmouth press release

Infrared sensors and a marshmallow offer researchers a new way to monitor and assess social interaction.

The ability to use invisible light to determine someone’s role and attitude in social settings has powerful implications for individuals and organisations that are concerned about how they communicate.Cecilia MascoloPhoto by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Unique science for health policy think-tank joins University of Cambridge

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 08:00

The PHG Foundation, which has received major funding from the Hatton Trust for over ten years of its twenty-year history, will be hosted by the University’s School of Clinical Medicine. The Foundation already enjoys close links with other parts of the University, including the Centre for Law, Medicine and Society at the Faculty of Law, the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University Health Partners and Hughes Hall.

The think-tank will also be working with the Clinical School, the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) and the Cambridge Institute for Public Policy (CIPP) to create cross-cutting policy impact in the application of science to benefit health and society.

Commenting on the new association, the Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope said:

‘This initiative brings together the unique research strengths of both the PHG Foundation, which has led such exemplary thinking around how science can best work for health, and the University’s world-leading School of Clinical Medicine. It marks a new stage in a long association between our two organisations, and one which has great potential in working across disciplinary boundaries. I am enormously grateful to the Hatton Trust for making this possible, and look forward to the University and the Foundation jointly addressing some of the major health challenges facing society today.’

The Regius Professor of Physic and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine, Professor Sir Patrick Maxwell, said:

“As the world of medicine changes more rapidly than perhaps ever before, and the ethical and societal questions that we face become ever more complex, interdisciplinary collaboration will increasingly be the key to success. I am delighted that we will be working so closely with the PHG Foundation, an organisation which shares our unswerving commitment to excellence in healthcare and to ensuring that biomedical innovation can truly deliver better health for all.’

The Founder and Chair of Trustees of the PHG Foundation, Dr Ron Zimmern, said: “It has long been my vision that excellence in medicine should combine with that in law, ethics, philosophy and the humanities to consider both practical policy needs and wider societal implications posed by scientific innovations for health. I am delighted to see the work of the PHG Foundation over the last twenty years recognised by the University of Cambridge, and I am sure that the unique combination of a policy think-tank and Clinical School will be highly successful.”

PHG Foundation Director Dr Mark Kroese said: “We support policy development that accelerates the appropriate use of the very best new science in healthcare, offering better patient experiences and outcomes. The Clinical School is a world-leading source of medical excellence, research and leadership, and we are very much looking forward to working more closely with colleagues there as we continue to provide multidisciplinary perspectives on the policy issues around cutting-edge medical interventions and technologies.”

A leading multidisciplinary think tank, the PHG Foundation, will become part of the University of Cambridge from 1 April this year, with a focus on making science work for health. This has been made possible by a philanthropic gift from the Hong Kong-based Hatton Trust, which has recognised the University’s global eminence in science, medicine and the humanities alongside the pioneering policy development work of the Foundation.

As the world of medicine changes more rapidly than perhaps ever before, and the ethical and societal questions that we face become ever more complex, interdisciplinary collaboration will increasingly be the key to success.Patrick Maxwell

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Opinion: As institutions, we need to match the bravery of sexual misconduct victims with our own

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 14:40

Very soon after I was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of Cambridge in 2014, a student came to see me. She had never told anyone what she shared with me in our conversation. Months before, at a student society event, she had been raped. She had not wanted to report this to the police. She thought in my new role, I could do something about the incident.  She tasked me with taking action.

At the time, the only support I could offer her was emotional as well as sign-post her to student support services. Uncomfortably, her only hope for justice was to go to the police.  Guidance at the time stipulated that universities should not investigate sexual misconduct cases themselves, but had to refer them to the police.

We have come a long way from there, as is shown in today’s UUK report, Changing the culture: one year on – an assessment of strategies to tackle sexual misconduct, hate crime and harassment affecting university students. In the UK, it is now a sector standard to have a disciplinary procedure that refers to harassment or sexual misconduct for both staff and students. The student who came to see me was not alone. Thousands issued their own calls to action and their combined volume shifted sector thinking. The many students who were brave enough to speak up, to share their experiences, to challenge and to campaign for change have brought us here.

Evidence played a key part in forcing the change. With today’s UUK report highlighting that one-fifth of the providers in the sample have made very limited progress in addressing key issues around sexual misconduct, maintaining the status quo becomes uncomfortable.

Before mandatory frameworks were introduced, students created their own programmes to inform students about sexual misconduct. After national guidance was issued in 2016, universities were able to translate this momentum into policy supported by procedures and resources.

The uneven progress highlighted in today’s report brings to mind my own surprise at witnessing attitudes in higher education today that date back to the era before Ireland’s Say Something and the UK’s Hidden Marks reports revealed the scale of sexual misconduct on campus. A few colleagues at other universities have come up against a reluctance to expose the scale and nature of the problem on their campus.

Advocates trying to launch a campaign like It Stops Now or Cambridge’s Breaking the Silence have found roadblocks being thrown in the way. Opponents have spread confusion and delays saying - “But we don’t have that problem here”, “It will put students or staff off applying”, and, “Well, we don’t want to look like we’re conducting witch hunts”. Have those people ever had a student sit opposite them, disclosing a raw and immensely painful trauma, and yet they told them, “Sorry, we just can’t help you”?

I do not underestimate the courage it takes to tell another person about a deeply personal and distressing incident, not least because I have witnessed it first-hand. Nor do I forget the strength of those who choose not to report, but to work through their pain alone. But we as institutions need to match their bravery with our own. As the Director of the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre Norah Al-Ani, has said, ‘no discomfort we, as an institution, may experience in tackling sexual misconduct can come close to the suffering of a victim’.

At the end of last month, Cambridge announced that 173 anonymous reports of sexual misconduct had been made since May 2017. In weeks following that announcement, there were 76 more bringing the total to 249. Since the beginning of last term, six complaints have been made formally, with victims choosing to have those incidents investigated by the University. There has been much debate over the gap between those two figures.

Some people have chosen to see anonymous reporting as a tool institutions use to avoid tackling incidents. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does anonymous reporting give victims a greater choice in how they wish to start talking about what has happened to them, it creates a climate in which calling out sexual misconduct is the norm rather than the exception.

To place our own interpretation on why victims choose to report anonymously, and worse, put a lower value on this than on formal reporting, is wrong because it denies victims the right to make their own choices.

The cornerstone to all of our work on tackling sexual misconduct is building trust with our staff and students; so that, where issues arise, they feel safe in using our full range of support services and reporting processes.

At Cambridge, this work is far from over. And in the wider sector, there is still much to be done. A recent EU study found that policies regarding gender-related violence towards young people in Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK varied and many were in urgent need of review.

Across Europe, policies remain centred on violence between students, and some critics have argues that students who are victimised by staff do not enjoy the same level of support.

Cambridge has a staff student relationship policy that can be accessed on the Breaking the Silence website ( With it, clear lines can be drawn between consensual relationships and abuses of power that we will meet with zero tolerance.

When you begin to draw lines, clarify what sexual misconduct means and what the consequences for perpetrators will be, a rise in reports is an inevitable and important result of increased confidence in how they will be handled. See this as a positive, and you have taken a huge step in understanding, and then acting on, issues that are affecting members of your community in ways that can be devastating.

There is still much to fight for. Where barriers put up within our communities, or the wider society, are preventing victims from speaking up, we must break them down. At Cambridge, 26% of people who reported anonymously chose not to formally report because they were worried about the reactions of their friends. We all have a part to play in ensuring those around us feel safe to disclose, knowing we will believe and support them. And it is up to the institution to respond to the finding that 35% of people who reported anonymously chose not to formally report because they were worried about being considered a trouble maker.  Harassment, hate crime or sexual misconduct is never the fault of the victim.

As our community’s understanding of sexual misconduct and power dynamics deepens, we must re-evaluate our definitions and policies. 

This is an issue that affects the community as a whole and we must work together to remain agile in our response, to keep listening and acting.

One year on from the publication of landmark sexual misconduct guidance that empowered universities to investigate cases, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of Cambridge, Professor Graham Virgo, looks at what more needs to be done

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

City council elections on 3 May - register to vote by 17 April

Cambridge Council Feed - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 12:06

ELECTIONS are taking place across the city on Thursday 3 May this year to elect councillors to 15 of the 42 seats on Cambridge City Council.

If residents wish to vote at these elections they must be registered by 11.59pm on Tuesday 17 April.

Residents already on the electoral register do not need to take any action and will automatically receive a poll card by 10 April.

Residents aged 18 or over on polling day can vote in these elections if they are a British, Irish, qualifying Commonwealth, or European Union citizen and have registered to vote in Cambridge.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

UK's best cyber defenders battle for chance to compete with best of the USA

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 03/27/2018 - 15:48

The victorious team from the University of Edinburgh won the top prize of £6,000, with second place going to the University of Southampton and Imperial College London taking home bronze.

The winners will now compete with the best of the USA at C2C –‘Cambridge2Cambridge’, a transatlantic contest jointly organised by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Cambridge to be held between the 29th of June and 1st of July 2018 at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Now in its third year, Inter-ACE was established to help resolve the vast and growing cyber security skills gap, with an estimated shortfall of 1.8 million workers worldwide by 2022. Inter-ACE aims to inspire young tech enthusiasts into the cyber security sector, while also honing the skills of those who already have a strong aptitude for ethical hacking and helping them meet like-minded individuals and potential employers.

Professor Frank Stajano, Founder of Inter-ACE and Professor of Security and Privacy at the University of Cambridge, said: “It’s no secret that the cybersecurity industry is suffering from a large and growing skills gap. We must do more to attract a more diverse pool of talent into the field. This is about demonstrating that careers in cybersecurity not only help to keep your country, your friends and your family safe, but are varied, valued and most of all fun.

“There is still much more to be achieved, but I have been delighted over the last three years to be welcoming a growing number of female participants and contestants from increasingly diverse backgrounds to the two-day competition. We had 18 women competing this year, as opposed to just two when we started! It's working. There is no set profile for a cybersecurity professional and Inter-ACE contributes to reaching more people with that important message.” 

Nick L, a student from the winning team at the University of Edinburgh said “For people out there thinking about getting into cybersecurity and sitting on the fence, get yourself into a cybersecurity competition. Chances are the first one might not go so great, but you’ll get there and learn a lot. That’s exactly how we started out.”

Inter-ACE 2018 involved a number of different scenarios, including preventing a hack on a UK city’s infrastructure and a tap on an undersea communications cable. Connected devices such as a children’s toy were also used to demonstrate the impact of hacking techniques. The two-day event featured over 20 challenges in total, set by experts from the University of Cambridge and sponsors including Context IS and Palo Alto Networks.

Established through the UK’s National Cyber Security Strategy and supported by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, Inter-ACE is sponsored by Microsoft, BT, Palo Alto and Context IS.

The 18 universities that participated in this year’s Inter-ACE were Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Birmingham, the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, De Montfort University, the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Imperial College London, the University of Kent, Lancaster University,  Newcastle University, the University of Oxford, Royal Holloway University of London, the University of Southampton, the University of Surrey, University College London, the University of Warwick and the University of York.

More than 130 students representing 18 of the UK’s top cybersecurity universities battled it out at the Inter-ACE 2018 cybersecurity challenge, hosted by the University of Cambridge last weekend. The competition, supported by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, and designed to attract the next generation of cybersecurity talent took place over two days on the 16th and 17th of March 2018.

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge and Nanjing launch strategic collaboration

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 03/27/2018 - 09:00

Professor Stephen Toope, the University of Cambridge’s Vice-Chancellor, today signed an agreement to formalise a strategic partnership with the Nanjing Municipal Government.

The creation of the Cambridge University-Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation will entail the establishment of a joint research centre and the sharing of revenue derived from the commercialisation of intellectual property. It is the University’s first overseas enterprise at this scale.

Funded by Nanjing Municipality for five years in the first instance, the project will have its own dedicated building in Nanjing’s Jiangbei New Area – a pilot urban development based on high levels of technological innovation.

At the heart of the new Centre’s activities will be research into technologies that support a modern 21st century city with integrated IT, health care and building management. Innovations emerging from the Centre will enable the development of 'smart' cities in which sensors – applied at the individual level and all the way through to the level of large infrastructure – will enable sustainable lifestyles.

As well as supporting health and wellbeing in new cities, the new Centre will help deliver efficient energy use through its academic and entrepreneurial activities.

The agreement will fund positions in Nanjing, both academic and management, and will allow Cambridge-based academics to engage with specific, long-term projects in Nanjing. It will also support the establishment of a professorship, based in Cambridge, with responsibility as the Centre’s Academic Director.

The project has been driven by Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, although it is hoped that there will be opportunities to widen participation to other departments and Schools. IP generated by research funded through the Centre will be licensed for commercialisation by the University’s innovation branch, Cambridge Enterprise.

Speaking just before the official signing of the agreement, held at the British embassy in Beijing, Professor Toope said: “This is only the most recent example of our collaboration with Chinese partners – but it is by far the most ambitious to date. And it is very exciting indeed.”

“We see it as an essential part of Cambridge’s contribution to society to tackle some of the great world problems. But we cannot do this on our own. There is a proverb: ‘You cannot clap with just one hand’. To me this means that we can only accomplish great things by working together – which is what we will be doing with Nanjing.”

Mr. Luo Qun, a member of the Standing Committee of Nanjing's Municipal Party Committee, and Deputy Party Secretary of the Party Committee of Jiangbei New Area, added: "We sincerely hope that both sides will rely on this new Centre to push the world's technological frontiers and to promote the integration of science, technology, industry and financial innovation."

The Vice-Chancellor was joined by Professor Sir Mark Welland, Head of the University's Electrical Engineering Division and Master of St Catherine's College. The signing of the agreement was witnessed by H.E. Dame Barbara Woodward, the United Kingdom's ambassador to China.

Knowledge and development

The launch of the Cambridge University-Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation came only a few days after the Vice-Chancellor addressed the annual China Development Forum, in Beijing.

Speaking on the subject of 'Knowledge Capital and development for all', Professor Toope said: "Of all the intangible assets that underpin our knowledge capital, the most precious is people. It is people who generate the new ideas; it is people who ask the searching questions, and collect the relevant data to answer them; it is people who make the discoveries; it is people who bring those discoveries to the market, and create the intellectual property. The conclusion I draw from this is that, for countries and institutions wishing to expand their knowledge capital, the single most important investment is in their human capital."

He singled out equality and diversity as essential to the sustainability of knowledge-based capital, before concluding: “'Knowledge itself is power' is a famous line attributed to one of Cambridge’s most famous graduates – 17th century philosopher Francis Bacon. The question before us – particularly those of us in universities – is how we build and deploy and share all that knowledge for the greater good."

The new joint centre will support innovative research into smart cities and fully integrated urban environments.

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Awards celebrate the best building designs and most considerate contractors

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 22:10

THE BEST new construction projects, and the companies that have worked to keep the impact of their building work to a minimum, were among those honoured at an awards ceremony today (26 March).

The Cambridge Design and Construction Awards and the Considerate Contractor Scheme Awards, hosted by the Cambridge Forum for the Construction Industry(CFCI) and co-sponsored by CFCI, Cambridge City Council and Cambridge News, were held at the McGrath Centre, St Catharine’s College.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Egg-stra recycling call for Easter bin collections

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 17:08

Chocolate lovers in South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge are being reminded to think green and recycle extra aluminium foil, plastic and cardboard this Easter.

Easter is the biggest chocolate-selling period of the year after Christmas. Around 80 million chocolate eggs are sold in the UK, generating almost 5,000 tonnes of foil, plastic and card.

This can all be recycled by residents in their blue bins.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

New community hub in Trumpington opens its doors on 4 April

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 14:54

THE CLAY Farm Centre opens its doors to the public on Wednesday 4 April at 9am.

The new community building in Hobson Square, Trumpington, will be managed by Cambridge City Council in partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council, Trumpington Medical Practice and BPHA housing association.

It has been built in the heart of the new southern fringe development in Trumpington to serve the existing and new communities in the area.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Residents invited to shape plans for new community centre

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 12:17

RESIDENTS are being invited to attend drop-in sessions to discuss draft plans for replacing Cambridge City Council’s community centre at 82 Akeman Street in Arbury, as part of a wider redevelopment scheme.

The drop-ins have been arranged at 82 Akeman Street, CB4 3HG on:

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge celebrates 10th anniversary at Hay Festival

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:00

Twenty-four academics from across the disciplines will take part in this year’s Cambridge Series of talks at the Hay Festival, one of the most prestigious literary festivals in the world.

The Series celebrates its 10th anniversary at the Festival in 2018. This year it features a range of speakers, with experts on everything from conspiracy theories, digital fakery and the history of islands to the future of MRI, human-like robots and how plants can think without a brain.

The Series is part of the University of Cambridge’s commitment to public engagement. The Festival runs from 24th May to 3rd June and is now open for bookings.

This year's line-up includes from the Arts and Humanities and Social Science: Hugo Drochon on conspiracy theories; Ella McPherson on digital fakery and human rights reporting; Professor Jaideep Prabhu on frugal innovation and how entrepreneurs are learning to do more - and better - with less; Sarah Nouwen on how international law addresses the tensions between the need for peace and the desire for justice in the aftermath of civil wars; Professor Diane Coyle on GDP and how countries can tell if we are getting richer or not; Sujit Sivasundaram on the history of islands and their impact on the modern world; Shruti Kapila on the origins of modern anti-terror legislation in India's struggle for independence and reverberations today; Lucy Delap on men and feminism; Dacia Viejo on the politics of reconstructing cultural heritage; and Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett on the menace of monolingualism.

From the world of science speakers include Ferdia Gallagher on the future of MRI scans​; Professor Ottoline Leyser on how plants 'think' without a brain; and Hatice Gunes on how social robots can contribute to the public good. Lucy van de Wiel will speak about egg freezing and how reproductive technology is changing in the 21st century.

In addition, there will be discussions on automatic translation and on making art from science: Helena Sanson, Marcus Tomalin and Professor Bill Byrne will debate how automatic translation works and whether machines will ever be able to replace a ‘human’ translator while Professor Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins, artist-in-residence at the University's Psychology Department, will explore the subjective experience of thinking and the fundamental role that storytelling plays in understanding our past and determining our futures. Their discussion will be based around  “The Moustachio Quartet”, in particular “Eissenstrom”, the last in the series of novels published this year, which deals specifically with memory and perception.

Several of the speakers have new books out - Helen Castor will talk about her new book, Elizabeth I: a study in insecurity, and will explore how England's iconic queen was shaped by profound and enduring insecurity; Terri Apter's book, Passing Judgment: praise and blame in everyday life, shows how the way we praise and blame our children, our colleagues, our friends and our partners may sustain or break our relationships with them; and Cecilia Brassett, Emily Evans and Isla Fay will speak about their book, The Secret Language of Anatomy, which describes the fascinating origins of the words we use to describe our anatomy.

Charlie Gilderdale, NRICH Project Secondary Coordinator, will hold six interactive Thinking Mathematically workshops with Alison Eves of the Royal Institution. Also taking part in the Festival from the University of Cambridge are Professor Diane Reay from the Faculty of Education and neuroscientist Professor Ed Bullmore.

Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival, said: "Cambridge University nurtures and challenges the world's greatest minds, and offers the deepest understanding of the most intractable problems and the most thrilling opportunities. Every Hay Festival week for the past 10 years they have brought that thinking to a field in Wales to share it with everyone. What a wonderful gift."

Ariel Retik, who oversees the Cambridge Series, said: “We are proud to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Cambridge Series this year. It is a fantastic way to share fascinating research from the University with the public. The Hay Festival draws an international cross-section of people, from policy makers to prospective university students. We have found that Hay audiences are highly interested in the diversity of Cambridge speakers, and ask some great questions. We look forward to another wonderful series of speakers, with talks and debates covering so many areas of research and key ideas emerging from Cambridge, relevant to key issues faced globally today."

*To book tickets, click here. For the full line-up of the Cambridge Series and times, click here. Picture credit: Marsha Arnold.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Cambridge Series at the Hay Festival, with academics from across disciplines speaking about their research.

We are proud to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Cambridge Series this year. It is a fantastic way to share fascinating research from the University with the public.Ariel RetikMarsha ArnoldHay Festival, Wales, by Marsha Arnold

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YesLicense type: AttributionRelated Links: 2018 Cambridge Series at Hay
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge City Council implements new minimum wage for staff of £10 per hour

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 13:16

FROM 1 APRIL all staff at Cambridge City Council will be paid a minimum of £10 per hour.

The new minimum pay was agreed as part of the council’s budget and pay policy which was approved at a meeting of Full Council on 22 February.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Citizen science experiment predicts massive toll of flu pandemic on the UK

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 16:03

The numbers are frightening, but even more daunting is the very real danger of a major flu pandemic emerging at any moment. Experts around the world agree that it’s a question of when not if the next deadly pandemic will strike, making it number one on the government civilian risk register in the UK.

When it happens the pandemic will almost certainly reach the UK and the government will be faced with a series of life-saving decisions. Should we close schools or public transport? Who should be given priority when the first doses of vaccine become available? How will we cope if there is a high mortality rate? Having the right answers to these and many other crucial pandemic response questions depends on mathematical models.

The model behind the results, designed by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is based on data from nearly 30,000 volunteers and represents the largest and most comprehensive dataset of its kind. The results will be broadcast on Contagion! The BBC Four Pandemic, tonight (22 March) at 9pm on BBC Four, presented by Dr Hannah Fry and Dr Javid Abdelmoneim. The results are also published in the journal Epidemics.

“The value of predictions hinges completely on the quality of the model,” said Professor Julia Gog from Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who heads the disease dynamics group. “Up to now, the picture of how the population in the UK move around has been surprisingly limited, and existing studies use relatively small samples of the population. Getting a handle on how people move and interact day to day is vital to understanding how a virus will actually spread from person to person and place to place. The BBC Pandemic project has aimed to address this gap, with volunteers using an app to track movements and record who they encounter day to day, creating the biggest dataset for UK pandemic research ever collected.”

“BBC Pandemic experiment has been hugely successful in recruiting study participants,” said Dr Petra Klepac, the lead author of the paper. “The resulting dataset is incredibly rich and will become a new gold standard in modelling contact and movement patterns that shape the spread of infectious diseases. For the programme, we were able to create a detailed UK model based on data from almost 30,000 users.”

The BBC Four programme will show how a pandemic might spread in the UK, starting from Haslemere in Surrey, where the team modelled in detail an introduction starting from a hypothetical patient zero.

“We don’t know of any studies that join up the movement and survey data so comprehensively,” said Gog. “And this experiment is just huge already, an order of magnitude bigger than anything even similar. The BBC Pandemic experiment sets a new benchmark for other future studies around the world.”

The study remains open during all of 2018, and anyone in the UK can volunteer by using the app (available via App Store or Google Play). Once the project is complete, the anonymised dataset will be made available to all researchers, enabling more accurate prediction in future. “Our focus so far has been on a prospective influenza pandemic, but this dataset will be valuable in our efforts to understand and control a variety of infectious diseases, both in the UK and in extrapolating to other countries,” said Gog.

“While these preliminary results are eye-opening there’s a lot more this data can be used for,” said programme host Dr Hannah Fry. “Scientists around the country will be using it for years to come.”

The BBC Pandemic app was launched in September 2017. Once downloaded, app users enter some basic anonymous demographic information about themselves such as age and gender, and then are asked to be tracked via the GPS on their phone once an hour for 24 hours. The app also records the people they come into close contact with. This is the first time tracking, demographic and contact data have been combined, making it an unrivalled tool for pandemic research.

The headline results of the simulation shown in the programme are based on a moderately transmissible influenza pandemic virus with a high fatality rate, in accordance with a ‘reasonable worst case’. The details of assumptions and limitations are discussed in detail in the paper.

Petra Klepac, Stephen Kissler and Julia Gog. ‘Contagion! The BBC Four Pandemic – the model behind the documentary.’ Epidemics (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.epidem.2018.03.003


How fast could a new flu epidemic spread? The results of the UK’s largest citizen science project of its kind ever attempted, carried out by thousands of volunteers, predict that 43 million people in the UK could be infected in an influenza pandemic, and with up to 886,000 of those infected expected to be fatalities. 

We don’t know of any studies that join up the movement and survey data so comprehensively.Julia GogGeographic patterns of spread of influenza pandemic

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Web consultancy commits to the Real Living Wage

Cambridge Council Feed - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 14:15

A CAMBRIDGE-based web consultancy has joined the growing Living Wage movement in the city by becoming accredited with the Living Wage Foundation.

HiTeam Ltd (also with the trading name of Web Works Well) became accredited with support from Cambridge City Council.

The company is the 57th Cambridge employer to become Living Wage accredited, demonstrating their belief that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Potassium gives perovskite-based solar cells an efficiency boost

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 18:00

An international team of researchers led by the University of Cambridge found that the addition of potassium iodide ‘healed’ the defects and immobilised ion movement, which to date have limited the efficiency of cheap perovskite solar cells. These next-generation solar cells could be used as an efficiency-boosting layer on top of existing silicon-based solar cells, or be made into stand-alone solar cells or coloured LEDs. The results are reported in the journal Nature.

The solar cells in the study are based on metal halide perovskites – a promising group of ionic semiconductor materials that in just a few short years of development now rival commercial thin film photovoltaic technologies in terms of their efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity. Perovskites are cheap and easy to produce at low temperatures, which makes them attractive for next-generation solar cells and lighting.

Despite the potential of perovskites, some limitations have hampered their efficiency and consistency. Tiny defects in the crystalline structure of perovskites, called traps, can cause electrons to get ‘stuck’ before their energy can be harnessed. The easier that electrons can move around in a solar cell material, the more efficient that material will be at converting photons, particles of light, into electricity. Another issue is that ions can move around in the solar cell when illuminated, which can cause a change in the bandgap – the colour of light the material absorbs.  

“So far, we haven’t been able to make these materials stable with the bandgap we need, so we’ve been trying to immobilise the ion movement by tweaking the chemical composition of the perovskite layers,” said Dr Sam Stranks from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research. “This would enable perovskites to be used as versatile solar cells or as coloured LEDs, which are essentially solar cells run in reverse.”

In the study, the researchers altered the chemical composition of the perovskite layers by adding potassium iodide to perovskite inks, which then self-assemble into thin films. The technique is compatible with roll-to-roll processes, which means it is scalable and inexpensive. The potassium iodide formed a ‘decorative’ layer on top of the perovskite which had the effect of ‘healing’ the traps so that the electrons could move more freely, as well as immobilising the ion movement, which makes the material more stable at the desired bandgap.

The researchers demonstrated promising performance with the perovskite bandgaps ideal for layering on top of a silicon solar cell or with another perovskite layer – so-called tandem solar cells. Silicon tandem solar cells are the most likely first widespread application of perovskites. By adding a perovskite layer, light can be more efficiently harvested from a wider range of the solar spectrum.

“Potassium stabilises the perovskite bandgaps we want for tandem solar cells and makes them more luminescent, which means more efficient solar cells,” said Stranks, whose research is funded by the European Union and the European Research Council’s Horizon 2020 Programme. “It almost entirely manages the ions and defects in perovskites.”

“We’ve found that perovskites are very tolerant to additives – you can add new components and they’ll perform better,” said first author Mojtaba Abdi-Jalebi, a PhD candidate at the Cavendish Laboratory who is funded by Nava Technology Limited. “Unlike other photovoltaic technologies, we don’t need to add an additional layer to improve performance, the additive is simply mixed in with the perovskite ink.”

The perovskite and potassium devices showed good stability in tests, and were 21.5% efficient at converting light into electricity, which is similar to the best perovskite-based solar cells and not far below the practical efficiency limit of silicon-based solar cells, which is (29%). Tandem cells made of two perovskite layers with ideal bandgaps have a theoretical efficiency limit of 45% and a practical limit of 35% - both of which are higher than the current practical efficiency limits for silicon. “You get more power for your money,” said Stranks.

The research has also been supported in part by the Royal Society and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The international team included researchers from Cambridge, Sheffield University, Uppsala University in Sweden and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Mojtaba Abdi-Jalebi et al. ‘Maximising and Stabilising Luminescence from Halide Perovskites with Potassium Passivation.’ Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/nature25989

A simple potassium solution could boost the efficiency of next-generation solar cells, by enabling them to convert more sunlight into electricity. 

Perovskites are very tolerant to additives – you can add new components and they’ll perform better. Mojtaba Abdi-JalebiMatt KlugAtomic scale view of perovskite crystal formation

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

The body in miniature

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:22

In Cambridge alone, there are groups growing mini-livers, mini-brains, mini-oesophaguses,mini-bile ducts, mini-lungs, mini-intestines, mini-wombs, mini-pancreases… Almost the whole body in miniature, it seems.

Read more about how these remarkable 'organoids' are helping transform biomedical research - including helping reduce the number of animals used in research.

The past few years has seen an explosion in the number of studies using organoids – so-called ‘mini organs’. While they can help scientists understand human biology and disease, some in the field have questioned their usefulness. But as the field matures, we could see their increasing use in personalised and regenerative medicine.

David TurnerConfocal microscope image of gastruloid

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Council sets out 10 year vision for Hobson's Brook corridor

Cambridge Council Feed - Tue, 03/20/2018 - 09:18

THE future of a historic Cambridge waterway is set to be boosted by a new 10-year plan from Cambridge City Council, which will help to conserve and enhance its heritage, environmental and amenity value.

Hobson’s Brook runs from Nine Wells Local Nature Reserve, near Addenbrooke’s Hospital, into the city centre. As it nears the city centre, the brook flows partially along Hobson’s Conduit, the drain built in 1614 to transport clean water to the city.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Date set for High Court unauthorised punting injunction hearing

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 03/19/2018 - 15:23

A HIGH COURT hearing on Cambridge City Council’s application for an injunction to ban unauthorised punt businesses from using all Cambridge City Council owned land to access the River Cam will take place in May.

The council is committed to improving the quality of the city centre experience for residents and visitors.

This includes reducing the levels of nuisance related to the activities of city centre unauthorised punt operator businesses, as they seek to attract customers.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Volcanic eruption influenced Iceland’s conversion to Christianity

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 03/19/2018 - 00:48

A team of scientists and medieval historians, led by the University of Cambridge, has used information contained within ice cores and tree rings to accurately date a massive volcanic eruption, which took place soon after the island was first settled.

Having dated the eruption, the researchers found that Iceland’s most celebrated medieval poem, which describes the end of the pagan gods and the coming of a new, singular god, describes the eruption and uses memories of it to stimulate the Christianisation of Iceland. The results are reported in the journal Climatic Change.

The eruption of the Eldgjá in the tenth century is known as a lava flood: a rare type of prolonged volcanic eruption in which huge flows of lava engulf the landscape, accompanied by a haze of sulphurous gases. Iceland specialises in this type of eruption – the last example occurred in 2015, and it affected air quality 1400 kilometres away in Ireland.

The Eldgjá lava flood affected southern Iceland within a century of the island’s settlement by Vikings and Celts around 874, but until now the date of the eruption has been uncertain, hindering investigation of its likely impacts. It was a colossal event with around 20 cubic kilometres of lava erupted – enough to cover all of England up to the ankles.

The Cambridge-led team pinpointed the date of the eruption using ice core records from Greenland that preserve the volcanic fallout from Eldgjá. Using the clues contained within the ice cores, the researchers found that the eruption began around the spring of 939 and continued at least through the autumn of 940.

“This places the eruption squarely within the experience of the first two or three generations of Iceland’s settlers,” said first author Dr Clive Oppenheimer of Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “Some of the first wave of migrants to Iceland, brought over as children, may well have witnessed the eruption.”

Once they had a date for the Eldgjá eruption, the team then investigated its consequences. First, a haze of sulphurous dust spread across Europe, recorded as sightings of an exceptionally blood-red and weakened Sun in Irish, German and Italian chronicles from the same period.

Then the climate cooled as the dust layer reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the surface, which is evident from tree rings from across the Northern Hemisphere. The evidence contained in the tree rings suggests the eruption triggered one of the coolest summers of the last 1500 years. “In 940, summer cooling was most pronounced in Central Europe, Scandinavia, the Canadian Rockies, Alaska and Central Asia, with summer average temperatures 2°C lower,” said co-author Professor Markus Stoffel from the University of Geneva’s Department of Earth Sciences.

The team then looked at medieval chronicles to see how the cooling climate impacted society. “It was a massive eruption, but we were still amazed just how abundant the historical evidence is for the eruption’s consequences,” said co-author Dr Tim Newfield, from Georgetown University’s Departments of History and Biology. “Human suffering in the wake of Eldgjá was widespread. From northern Europe to northern China, people experienced long, hard winters and severe spring-summer drought. Locust infestations and livestock mortalities occurred. Famine did not set in everywhere, but in the early 940s we read of starvation and vast mortality in parts of Germany, Iraq and China.”

“The effects of the Eldgjá eruption must have been devastating for the young colony on Iceland – very likely, land was abandoned and famine severe,” said co-author Professor Andy Orchard from the University of Oxford’s Faculty of English. “However, there are no surviving texts from Iceland itself during this time that provide us with direct accounts of the eruption.”

But Iceland’s most celebrated medieval poem, Vǫluspá (‘The prophecy of the seeress’) does appear to give an impression of what the eruption was like. The poem, which can be dated as far back as 961, foretells the end of Iceland’s pagan gods and the coming of a new, singular god: in other words, the conversion of Iceland to Christianity, which was formalised around the turn of the eleventh century.

Part of the poem describes a terrible eruption with fiery explosions lighting up the sky, and the Sun obscured by thick clouds of ash and steam:

                “The sun starts to turn black, land sinks into sea; the bright stars scatter from the sky.
                Steam spurts up with what nourishes life, flame flies high against heaven itself.”

The poem also depicts cold summers that would be expected after a massive eruption, and the researchers link these descriptions to the spectacle and impacts of the Eldgjá eruption, the largest in Iceland since its settlement.

The poem’s apocalyptic imagery marks the fiery end to the world of the old gods. The researchers suggest that these lines in the poem may have been intended to rekindle harrowing memories of the eruption to stimulate the massive religious and cultural shift taking place in Iceland in the last decades of the tenth century.

“With a firm date for the eruption, many entries in medieval chronicles snap into place as likely consequences – sightings in Europe of an extraordinary atmospheric haze; severe winters; and cold summers, poor harvests; and food shortages,” said Oppenheimer. “But most striking is the almost eyewitness style in which the eruption is depicted in Vǫluspá. The poem’s interpretation as a prophecy of the end of the pagan gods and their replacement by the one, singular god, suggests that memories of this terrible volcanic eruption were purposefully provoked to stimulate the Christianisation of Iceland.”

Clive Oppenheimer et al “The Eldgjá eruption: timing, long-range impacts and influence on the Christianisation of Iceland.” Climatic Change (2018). DOI: 10.1007/s10584-018-2171-9

Inset image: Codex Regius, which contains a version of the Vǫluspá.

Memories of the largest lava flood in the history of Iceland, recorded in an apocalyptic medieval poem, were used to drive the island’s conversion to Christianity, new research suggests. 

With a firm date for the eruption, many entries in medieval chronicles snap into place as likely consequences.Clive OppenheimerClive OppenheimerEldgjá fissure in southern Iceland

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

New money for initiatives to tackle poverty

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 14:21

Cambridge city councillors have given the green light to £305,000 funding for eight projects aimed at improving the lives of Cambridge residents who are hardest hit by the high cost of living.

The money is being allocated to the eight schemes from the council’s Sharing Prosperity Fund, which was set up to pay for initiatives that fall within the scope of its Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Since 2014, a total of £1,329,000 has been allocated to 25 projects aimed at tackling poverty in Cambridge as part of the strategy.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire