Scientists write ‘traps’ for light with tiny ink droplets

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 00:13

The printing-based approach, jointly developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory, combines high-resolution inkjet printing with nanophotonics – the study and harnessing of light on the scale of a billionth of a metre – the first time that this combination has been successfully demonstrated. The results are reported in the journal Advanced Materials.

Over the last decade, inkjet printing – the same basic technology that many of us have in our homes – has advanced to the point where it can be used to print very small devices, using a range of printable materials, including living cells, as ‘ink’. This approach is both simple and low-cost, and it is widely used in electronics and biotechnology.

“Most inkjet printers push the ink through the nozzle by heating or applying pressure, producing ink droplets about the size of the diameter of a human hair,” said the paper’s co-first author Dr Vincenzo Pecunia, a former PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, and now visiting researcher, at the University’s Cavendish Laboratory.

Pecunia’s research focuses on printable optoelectronic materials for a range of applications, and his group recently obtained a printer based on electrohydrodynamic jets: a long word that essentially means a printer capable of ultra-high resolution printing. Instead of relying on pressure or heat, this type of printer applies a voltage to the ink, providing enough force to push it through a much smaller nozzle, producing ultra-small ink droplets – ten to a hundred times smaller than those produced by conventional printers.

Thanks to a chance meeting between Pecunia and co-first author Dr Frederic Brossard from the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory, the researchers found that the new printer could print structures small enough to be used in nanophotonics, which is Brossard’s area of research.

“Previous efforts to combine these two areas had bumped into the limitations of conventional inkjet printing technology, which cannot directly deposit anything small enough to be comparable to the wavelength of light,” said Pecunia. “But through electrodynamic inkjet printing we’ve been able to move beyond these limitations.”

The researchers were able to deposit ultra-small ink droplets onto photonic crystals. The ink droplets are small enough that they can be ‘drawn’ on the crystals on demand as if from a very fine pen, and locally change the properties of the crystals so that light could be trapped. This technique enables the creation of many types of patterns onto the photonic crystals, at high speed and over a large area. Additionally, the patterns can be made of all sorts of printable materials, and the method is scalable, low-cost, and the photonic crystal is reusable since the ink can be simply washed away.

“This fabrication technique opens the door for diverse opportunities in fundamental and applied sciences,” said Brossard. “A potential direction is the creation of a high density of highly sensitive sensors to detect minute amounts of biomolecules such as viruses or cancer cells. This could also be a very useful tool to study some fundamental phenomena requiring very strong interaction between light and matter in new materials and create lasers on demand. Finally, this technology could also enable the creation of highly compact optical circuits which would guide the light and which could be modified by inkjet printing using the photonic crystal template.”

The research was funded in part by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Frederic S.F. Brossard et al. ‘Inkjet printed nanocavities on a photonic crystal template.’ Advanced Materials (2017). DOI: 10.1002/adma.201704425


A microscopic ‘pen’ that is able to write structures small enough to trap and harness light using a commercially available printing technique could be used for sensing, biotechnology, lasers, and studying the interaction between light and matter.

Previous efforts to combine these two areas had bumped into the limitations of conventional inkjet printing technology.Vincenzo PecuniaLight trapped by a tiny droplet on a photonic crystal surface.

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Running on autopilot: scientists find important new role for ‘daydreaming’ network

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 20:00

When we are performing tasks, specific regions of the brain become more active – for example, if we are moving, the motor cortex is engaged, while if we are looking at a picture, the visual cortex will be active. But what happens when we are apparently doing nothing?

In 2001, scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine found that a collection of brain regions appeared to be more active during such states of rest. This network was named the ‘default mode network’ (DMN). While it has since been linked to, among other things, daydreaming, thinking about the past, planning for the future, and creativity, its precise function is unclear.

Abnormal activity in the DMN has been linked to an array of disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and disorders of consciousness. However, scientists have been unable to show a definitive role in human cognition.

Now, in research published today in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the University of Cambridge have shown that the DMN plays an important role in allowing us to switch to ‘autopilot’ once we are familiar with a task.

In the study, 28 volunteers took part in a task while lying inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Functional MRI (fMRI) measures changes in brain oxygen levels as a proxy for neural activity.

In the task, participants were shown four cards and asked to match a target card (for example, two red diamonds) to one of these cards. There were three possible rules – matching by colour, shape or number. Volunteers were not told the rule, but rather had to work it out for themselves through trial and error.

The most interesting differences in brain activity occurred when comparing the two stages of the task – acquisition (where the participants were learning the rules by trial and error) and application (where the participants had learned the rule and were now applying it). During the acquisition stage, the dorsal attention network, which has been associated with the processing of attention-demanding information, was more active.  However, in the application stage, where participants utilised learned rules from memory, the DMN was more active.

Crucially, during the application stage, the stronger the relationship between activity in the DMN and in regions of the brain associated with memory, such as the hippocampus, the faster and more accurately the volunteer was able to perform the task. This suggested that during the application stage, the participants could efficiently respond to the task using the rule from memory.

“Rather than waiting passively for things to happen to us, we are constantly trying to predict the environment around us,” says Dr Deniz Vatansever, who carried out the study as part of his PhD at the University of Cambridge and who is now based at the University of York.

“Our evidence suggests it is the default mode network that enables us do this. It is essentially like an autopilot that helps us make fast decisions when we know what the rules of the environment are. So for example, when you’re driving to work in the morning along a familiar route, the default mode network will be active, enabling us to perform our task without having to invest lots of time and energy into every decision.”

“The old way of interpreting what’s happening in these tasks was that because we know the rules, we can daydream about what we’re going to have for dinner later and the DMN kicks in,” adds senior author Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis from the Division of Anaesthesia at the University Of Cambridge. “In fact, we showed that the DMN is not a bystander in these tasks: it plays an integral role in helping us perform them.”

This new study supports an idea expounded upon by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics laureate 2002, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, that there are two systems that help us make decisions: a rational system that helps us reach calculated decisions, and a fast system that allows us to make intuitive decisions – the new research suggests this latter system may be linked with the DMN.

The researchers believe their findings have relevance to brain injury, particularly following traumatic brain injury, where problems with memory and impulsivity can substantially compromise social reintegration. They say the findings may also have relevance for mental health disorders, such as addiction, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, where particular thought patterns drive repeated behaviours, and the mechanisms of anaesthetic agents and other drugs on the brain.

This research was carried out in the general context of understanding conscious processing in the human brain. The Division of Anaesthesia, headed by Professor David Menon, NIHR Senior Investigator, has a programme of research aiming to further elucidate the neural basis of consciousness and cognition in health and disease.

The research was supported by the Yousef Jameel Academic Program, The Stephen Erskine Fellowship from Queens’ College Cambridge, and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Resource Centre.

Vatansever, D, Menon, DK, Stamatakis, EA. Default Mode Contributions to Automated Information Processing. PNAS; 23 Oct 2017; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1710521114

A brain network previously associated with daydreaming has been found to play an important role in allowing us to perform tasks on autopilot. Scientists at the University of Cambridge showed that far from being just ‘background activity’, the so-called ‘default mode network’ may be essential to helping us perform routine tasks.

The default mode network is essentially like an autopilot that helps us make fast decisions when we know what the rules of the environment areDeniz VatanseverErik StarckDriving a car

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Major study of genetics of breast cancer provides clues to mechanisms behind the disease

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 16:39

Of these variants, reported today in the journals Nature and Nature Genetics, 65 are common variants that predispose to breast cancer and a further seven predispose specifically to oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer – the subset of cases that do not respond to hormonal therapies, such as the drug tamoxifen.

Breast cancer is caused by complex interactions between a large number of genetic variants and our environment. The inherited component of breast cancer risk is due to a combination of rare variants in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 that confer a high risk of the disease, and many commoner genetic variants that each confer only a small risk. The newly identified risk regions nearly double the number that are already known, thereby bringing the number of known common variants associated with breast cancer to around 180.

The findings are the result of work by the OncoArray Consortium, a huge endeavour involving 550 researchers from around 300 different institutions in six continents. In total, they analysed genetic data from 275,000 women, of whom 146,000 had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Professor Doug Easton from the Centre for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology and a Fellow at Homerton College, the University of Cambridge, one of the lead investigators on the study, says: “These findings add significantly to our understanding of the inherited basis of breast cancer. As well as identifying new genetic variants, we have also confirmed many that we had previously suspected. There are some clear patterns in the genetic variants that should help us understand why some women are predisposed to breast cancer, and which genes and mechanisms are involved.”

By combining epidemiological data with other data from breast tissue, the researchers were able to make plausible predictions of the target genes in the large majority of cases. In addition, they showed for the first time that these genes are often the same as those that are altered in breast tumours – when a tumour develops, the DNA within the cancer cells themselves mutates.

Most of the variants found by OncoArray were not found within genes, but rather within regions of the genome that regulate the activity of nearby genes. When the researchers looked at the pattern of these genetic regions, they discovered that this differed from that of those regions involved in predisposition to other common diseases.

Professor Peter Kraft at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, USA, says: “Given the size of these studies, we expected that we would find a lot of new breast cancer risk variants, but the studies tells us a lot more about which genes are involved, revealing many previously unsuspected genes and genetic mechanisms underlying breast carcinogenesis. This should provide guidance for a lot of future research.”

Around 70% of all cases of breast cancer are oestrogen-receptor positive, meaning that the cancer cells have a particular protein (known as a receptor) that responds to the female sex hormone oestrogen, enabling the tumour to grow. However, not all cancer cells carry this receptor – these are known as oestrogen-receptor negative. The studies identified genetic regions specifically associated with either oestrogen-receptor positive or oestrogen receptor negative breast cancer, underscoring the fact that these are biologically distinct cancers that develop differently.

“These findings may inform improved risk prediction, both for the general population and BRCA1 mutation carriers,” says Associate Professor Roger Milne at Cancer Council Victoria in Melbourne. “A better understanding of the biological basis of oestrogen receptor negative breast cancer may lead to more effective preventive interventions and treatments.”

The risk variants identified in the two studies are common: while some are carried by one woman in a hundred, others are carried by more half of all women. Individually, the risks conferred by each variant are modest; however, because they are common and their effects multiply together, the combined effect is considerable. For example, the researchers estimated that one percent of women have a risk of breast cancer that is more than 3 times greater than the population at large. Larger differences in risk can be found if the genetic variants are combined with other hormonal and lifestyle factors that influence breast cancer risk.

The researchers believe these differences may be sufficient to change practice, such as in how women at different risks are screened. In many countries, women are offered screening by mammography from age 50; women at increased risk because of a family history can be offered screening earlier, and those at particularly high risk can be offered screening by MRI, which is more sensitive.

“Using data from genomic studies, combined with information on other known risk factors, will allow better breast cancer risk assessment, therefore helping to identify a small but meaningful proportion of women at high risk of breast cancer,” says Professor Jacques Simard at Université Laval, Quebec city, Canada.

“These women may benefit from more intensive screening, starting at a younger age, or using more sensitive screening techniques, allowing early detection and prevention of the disease. At the same time, this personalised information will also be useful to adapt screening modalities for women at substantially lower risk.”

Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, said: “This study is a great example of how international collaboration can help improve the understanding of cancer. The results, gathered from around the world, help pinpoint the genetic changes linked to a women’s risk of breast cancer. Learning which women are at higher risk of breast cancer could help identify who may benefit from earlier screening, and spare women at a lower risk from having to attend screening if it’s unlikely to benefit them.”

Michailidou, K et al. Association analysis identifies 65 new breast cancer risk loci. Nature; 23 Oct 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nature24284

Milne, RL et al. Identification of ten variants associated with risk of estrogen receptor negative breast cancer. Nature Genetics; 23 Oct 2017; DOI: 10.1038/ng.3785

Genotyping of the OncoArray was principally funded from three sources: the Personalised Risk Stratification for Early Detection and Prevention of Breast Cancer (PERSPECTIVE) project, funded by the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the ‘Ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation du Québec’ through Genome Québec, and the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation; the NCI Genetic Associations and Mechanisms in Oncology (GAME-ON) initiative and Discovery, Biology and Risk of Inherited Variants in Breast Cancer (DRIVE) project; and Cancer Research UK. BCAC is funded by Cancer Research UK and the European Union Horizon 2020 programme (BRIDGES and B-CAST).

Seventy-two new genetic variants that contribute to the risk of developing breast cancer have been identified by a major international collaboration involving hundreds of researchers worldwide. 

There are some clear patterns in the genetic variants that should help us understand why some women are predisposed to breast cancer, and which genes and mechanisms are involvedDoug Easton

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Opinion: UK research in troubled political times

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 12:39

The clock is ticking for the UK in terms of research funding from the EU.

Horizon 2020, the current framework programme, has provided an increasingly important source of funds for universities in the UK. Until recently, despite the uncertainties surrounding the UK’s preparations to withdraw from the EU, UK-based researchers were still being encouraged to apply for H2020 funding. But earlier this month an explicit warning shot was fired across the researchers’ bows. Now, although UK-based researchers are still able to apply, there is the qualification that “the eligibility criteria must be complied with for the entire duration of the grant.” As things stand, the key eligibility criterion that is likely to fail to be met after the 29th March 2019 concerns researchers’ mobility.

No one should be in any doubt that the EU is prepared to enforce this ruling. It did it before when Switzerland’s own referendum meant that workers from Croatia were not freely able to enter the country, and it took quite a lot of fudging to resolve that. Switzerland, like the UK, is one of the most successful of countries when it comes to EU science funding. The country was really keen to find a work-around to enable them to be fully eligible for Horizon 2020 funding, and the issue was resolved relatively swiftly. It would be nice to think that a similar degree of pragmatism might apply to save the UK’s scientific research bacon, but it isn’t clear that this will happen.

Whether the UK can retain access to the Horizon2020 programme –and if so, on what terms— is just one tiny part of the intricate Brexit negotiations. The importance of EU funding for research does appear to have impinged on some ministers’ minds. It does get talked about. But mobility of researchers is a tricky problem, because worker mobility was such a central plank in the referendum campaigns.

Immigration is an emotive subject, and it is hard to envisage a scheme that enabled scientists to travel across EU borders freely while preventing other workers from sharing that luxury.  It isn’t at all clear that mobility restricted to researchers would be sufficient to satisfy the EU, and thus ensure that the UK was still eligible.

As a member of the European Research Council’s Scientific Council I am very aware of the importance of ERC funding (a key part of the Horizon 2020 programme). The University of Cambridge hosts more ERC grants than any other university in Europe. It currently manages 209 grants, representing a substantial slice of the total research funding the University receives.

It isn’t only the pure financial worth that matters, but also the prestige associated with winning such funding. Those who believe that all will be resolved if the UK government can find some funding to plug the gap in science research budgets if/when the UK is excluded from the programme, ignore this crucial point. (‘Science’ in this case should be recognized as encompassing not just the natural sciences and engineering, but also the social sciences and arts and humanities). No existing national scheme within the UK confers equivalent prestige – at promotions and appointments committees for instance – as an ERC grant. It is hard to see a purely national scheme ever doing so.

Of course, the consequences of Brexit do not simply relate to money. There are huge implications for the people whose futures will be immediately and directly affected through their specific status as citizens. The uncertainty, and accompanying anxiety, is huge.  Individuals and families from other EU states do not know what their rights will be. Some are walking away already, not applying from the mainland continent as jobs open up in the UK, or choosing not to stay at the end of one contract even if opportunities are open to them.

As the deadline of March 2019 approaches, we do not know how individuals will weigh up the pros and cons of staying in the UK in what may feel like an increasingly hostile environment. Nor do we know how they will feel about not knowing what steps they might have to take to enable them to continue to live here— regardless of how long they have already been resident. Individual decisions will no doubt be decided by individual circumstances; some may feel it preferable to stay (or to come) as it is the best short-term way of meeting their career aspirations.

But science thrives on easy mobility, the exchange of ideas facilitated by the exchange of people, specific technical skills transmitted by the hands that practise them. It has to be expected that the UK’s leading role in science, where we punch far above our weight, is likely to be significantly and negatively impacted by the loss of easy researcher mobility.

Finally, there is the question of what happens to student numbers. Calculations suggest some universities, including Cambridge, are not likely to see a dip in income from student fees even though it is expected that the numbers of EU students will drop substantially.

One of the ironies in this process is that, had the Home Office been willing to remove international students from the immigration figures before the referendum, the result may well have gone the other way: with students excluded, official “immigration” numbers would have appeared lower. Even now, there remains an official determination to retain students in the immigration figures –despite it being so hard to find anyone (from any party) exhibiting much enthusiasm for doing so.

All in all, universities are facing uncertain times. As a member of a sector that has brought much wealth and prestige to the UK, and attracted students and researchers from around the world to enjoy our first class labs, libraries and lectures, it is deeply depressing to watch our strengths being challenged in ways it is not easy to address.

Cambridge has for decades been a truly international university and we will no doubt continue to thrive as such, however much the composition of its membership may change. But to see our funding, our staff and students being so immediately affected by political decisions taken elsewhere is a major concern.

*Professor Dame Athene Donald is Master of Churchill College.This text is based on her Sir Hermann Bondi Lecture, delivered on 23 October as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.


As Brexit negotiations appear to stall, Professor Dame Athene Donald considers the effect of the UK’s withdrawal from EU research schemes.

It would be nice to think that, as with Switzerland, pragmatism might save the UK’s research bacon, but it isn’t clear this will happen.Professor Athene Donald

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Machine learning used to predict earthquakes in a lab setting

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 01:28

The team, from the University of Cambridge, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Boston University, identified a hidden signal leading up to earthquakes and used this ‘fingerprint’ to train a machine learning algorithm to predict future earthquakes. Their results, which could also be applied to avalanches, landslides and more, are reported in the journal Geophysical Review Letters.

For geoscientists, predicting the timing and magnitude of an earthquake is a fundamental goal. Generally speaking, pinpointing where an earthquake will occur is fairly straightforward: if an earthquake has struck a particular place before, the chances are it will strike there again. The questions that have challenged scientists for decades are how to pinpoint when an earthquake will occur, and how severe it will be. Over the past 15 years, advances in instrument precision have been made, but a reliable earthquake prediction technique has not yet been developed.

As part of a project searching for ways to use machine learning techniques to make gallium nitride (GaN) LEDs more efficient, the study’s first author, Bertrand Rouet-Leduc, who was then a PhD student at Cambridge, moved to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to start a collaboration on machine learning in materials science between Cambridge University and Los Alamos. From there the team started helping the Los Alamos Geophysics group on machine learning questions.

The team at Los Alamos, led by Paul Johnson, studies the interactions among earthquakes, precursor quakes (often very small earth movements) and faults, with the hope of developing a method to predict earthquakes. Using a lab-based system that mimics real earthquakes, the researchers used machine learning techniques to analyse the acoustic signals coming from the ‘fault’ as it moved and search for patterns.

The laboratory apparatus uses steel blocks to closely mimic the physical forces at work in a real earthquake, and also records the seismic signals and sounds that are emitted. Machine learning is then used to find the relationship between the acoustic signal coming from the fault and how close it is to failing.

The machine learning algorithm was able to identify a particular pattern in the sound, previously thought to be nothing more than noise, which occurs long before an earthquake. The characteristics of this sound pattern can be used to give a precise estimate (within a few percent) of the stress on the fault (that is, how much force is it under) and to estimate the time remaining before failure, which gets more and more precise as failure approaches. The team now thinks that this sound pattern is a direct measure of the elastic energy that is in the system at a given time.

“This is the first time that machine learning has been used to analyse acoustic data to predict when an earthquake will occur, long before it does, so that plenty of warning time can be given – it’s incredible what machine learning can do,” said co-author Professor Sir Colin Humphreys of Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, whose main area of research is energy-efficient and cost-effective LEDs. Humphreys was Rouet-Leduc’s supervisor when he was a PhD student at Cambridge.

“Machine learning enables the analysis of datasets too large to handle manually and looks at data in an unbiased way that enables discoveries to be made,” said Rouet-Leduc.

Although the researchers caution that there are multiple differences between a lab-based experiment and a real earthquake, they hope to progressively scale up their approach by applying it to real systems which most resemble their lab system. One such site is in California along the San Andreas Fault, where characteristic small repeating earthquakes are similar to those in the lab-based earthquake simulator. Progress is also being made on the Cascadia fault in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and British Columbia, Canada, where repeating slow earthquakes that occur over weeks or months are also very similar to laboratory earthquakes.

“We’re at a point where huge advances in instrumentation, machine learning, faster computers and our ability to handle massive data sets could bring about huge advances in earthquake science,” said Rouet-Leduc.

Bertrand Rouet-Leduc et al. ‘Machine Learning Predicts Laboratory Earthquakes.’ Geophysical Research Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1002/2017GL074677


A group of researchers from the UK and the US have used machine learning techniques to successfully predict earthquakes. Although their work was performed in a laboratory setting, the experiment closely mimics real-life conditions, and the results could be used to predict the timing of a real earthquake. 

This is the first time that machine learning has been used to analyse acoustic data to predict when an earthquake will occur.Colin HumphreysUnited Nations Development ProgrammeHaiti Earthquake

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Step inside the mind of the young Stephen Hawking as his PhD thesis goes online for first time

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 00:01

The 1966 doctoral thesis by the world’s most recognisable scientist is the most requested item in Apollo with the catalogue record alone attracting hundreds of views per month. In just the past few months, the University has received hundreds of requests from readers wishing to download Professor Hawking’s thesis in full.

To celebrate Open Access Week 2017, Cambridge University Library’s Office of Scholarly Communication has today announced Professor Hawking’s permission to make his thesis freely available and Open Access in Apollo. By making his PhD thesis Open Access, anyone can now freely download and read this historic and compelling research by the then little-known 24-year-old Cambridge postgraduate.

Professor Hawking said: “By making my PhD thesis Open Access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and to try and make sense of the cosmos. Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.

“Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them, just as I did as a young PhD student in Cambridge, inspired by the work of Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein. It’s wonderful to hear how many people have already shown an interest in downloading my thesis – hopefully they won’t be disappointed now that they finally have access to it!”


Dr Arthur Smith, Deputy Head of Scholarly Communication, said: “Open Access enables research. By eliminating the barriers between people and knowledge we can realise new breakthroughs in all areas of science, medicine and technology. It is especially important for disseminating the knowledge acquired during doctoral research studies. PhD theses contain a vast trove of untapped and unique information just waiting to be used, but which is often locked away from view and scrutiny.

“From October 2017 onwards, all PhD students graduating from the University of Cambridge will be required to deposit an electronic copy of their doctoral work for future preservation. And like Professor Hawking, we hope that many students will also take the opportunity to freely distribute their work online by making their thesis Open Access. We would also invite former University alumni to consider making their theses Open Access, too.”

While the University is committed to archiving all theses it is often a struggle gaining permission to open up historic theses. With the online publication of Professor Hawking’s thesis, Cambridge now hopes to encourage its former academics – which includes 98 Nobel Affiliates – to make their work freely available to all.

To make more of the University’s theses Open Access in Apollo, the Office of Scholarly Communication and Cambridge University Library will digitise the theses of any alumni who wish to make their dissertation Open Access. Interested alumni should contact

At a recent event to celebrate the 1,000th research dataset in Apollo, Dr Jessica Gardner, Director of Library Services, said: “Cambridge University Library has a 600-year-old history we are very proud of. It is home to the physical papers of such greats as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Their research data was on paper and we have preserved that with great care and share it openly on line through our digital library.

“But our responsibility now is today’s researcher and today’s scientists and people working across all disciplines across our great university. Our preservation stewardship of that research data from the digital humanities across the biomedical and that is a core part of what we now do.”

Apollo is home to over 200,000 digital objects including 15,000 research articles, 10,000 images, 2,400 theses and 1,000 datasets. The items made available in Apollo have been accessed from nearly every country in the world and in 2017 have collectively received over one million downloads.

Professor Hawking’s 1966 doctoral thesis ‘Properties of expanding universes’ is available in Apollo at or in high resolution on Cambridge Digital Library at

For further information about Open Access Week, visit:

Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis, Properties of expanding universes’, has been made freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world after being made accessible via the University of Cambridge’s Open Access repository, Apollo.

Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.Stephen Hawking

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Council Benefits team recognised with national award

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 15:40

CAMBRIDGE City Council’s Benefits team has been named as Welfare Benefits Team of the Year 2017 by the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation.

The Institute awarded the Cambridge team with the prestigious title at its annual conference earlier this month.

The awards judging panel were looking for organisations to demonstrate they were raising standards of service to achieve high levels of performance, customer satisfaction and effective administrative procedures in all aspects of welfare benefits.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

'Selfish brain' wins out when competing with muscle power, study finds

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 12:51

Human brains are expensive – metabolically speaking. It takes lot of energy to run our sophisticated grey matter, and that comes at an evolutionary cost.

Now, a new investigation into the immediate trade-off that occurs inside us when we have to think fast and work hard at the same time is the first to demonstrate that – while both are impaired – our mental ability is less affected than our physical capacity.

Researchers say that the findings suggest a "preferential allocation of glucose to the brain", which they argue is likely to be an evolved trait – as prioritising quick thinking over fast moving, for example, may have helped our species survive and thrive.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge's PAVE (Phenotypic Adaptability, Variation and Evolution) research group tested 62 male students drawn from the University's elite rowing crews. The participants had an average age of 21.

The rowers performed two separate tasks: one memory, a three minute word recall test, and one physical, a three minute power test on a rowing machine.

They then performed both tasks at once, with individual scores compared to those from previous tests. As expected, the challenge of rowing and remembering at the same time reduced both physical and mental performance.

However, the research team found that change in recall was significantly less than the change in power output.

During the simultaneous challenge, recall fell by an average of 9.7%, while power fell by an average of 12.6%. Across all participants the drop in physical power was on average 29.8% greater than drop in cognitive function.

The team say the results of their new study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, add evidence to the 'selfish brain' hypothesis: that the brain has evolved to prioritise its own energy needs over those of peripheral organs, such as skeletal muscle.

"A well-fuelled brain may have offered us better survival odds than well-fuelled muscles when facing an environmental challenge," said Dr Danny Longman, the study's lead author from the PAVE team in Cambridge's Department of Archaeology.

"The development of an enlarged and elaborated brain is considered a defining characteristic of human evolution, but one that has come as a result of trade-offs.

"At the evolutionary level, our brains have arguably cost us decreased investment in muscle as well as a shrunken digestive system.

"Developmentally, human babies have more stored fat than other mammals, acting as an energy buffer that feeds our high cerebral requirements.

"On an acute level, we have now demonstrated that when humans simultaneously experience extremes of physical and mental exertion, our internal trade-off preserves cognitive function as the body's priority."

The adult brain derives its energy almost exclusively from the metabolism of glucose. Yet skeletal muscle mass is also energetically expensive tissue, accounting for 20% of the human male 'basal metabolic rate' – the energy used when doing nothing.

Longman says a limited supply of blood glucose and oxygen means that, when active, skeletal muscle becomes a "powerful competitor" to the brain. "This is the potential mechanism for the fast-acting trade-off in brain and muscle function we see in just a three minute window."

"Trade-offs between organs and tissues allow many organisms to endure conditions of energy deficit through internal prioritising. However, this comes at a cost," said Longman.

He points to examples of this trade-off in humans benefiting the brain. "The selfish nature of the brain has been observed in the unique preservation of brain mass as bodies waste away in people suffering from long-term malnutrition or starvation, as well as in children born with growth restriction."

New research on our internal trade-off when physical and mental performance are put in direct competition has found that cognition takes less of a hit, suggesting more energy is diverted to the brain than body muscle. Researchers say the findings support the ‘selfish brain’ theory of human evolution.

A well-fuelled brain may have offered us better survival odds than well-fuelled muscles when facing an environmental challengeDanny LongmanDanny LongmanLead researcher Dr Danny Longman rowing with the Cambridge University Boat Club. This is an example of the type and standard of the sample population used in the study.The study

Protocol A – isolated power test: 
Participants rowed at maximal effort for 3 minutes, and their average Wattage was recorded.

Protocol B – isolated recall test: 
Participants performed a free recall word task in which they were shown 75 words from the Toronto Word Pool for a 3 minute period. They then had 5 minutes to recall and write as many words as possible. The number of words correctly recalled during a given time period was recorded.

Protocol C – combined 'trade-off' test: 
Participants did both (but with a different word set), and their average Wattage and number of words correctly recalled was recorded. Researchers used 'paired samples t-tests' to compare power output between Protocols A and C, and for comparing free recall in Protocols B and C. They then compared the two differences, and found that the percentage change in free recall was significantly less than the percentage change in power output – an average of 29.8%.

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Exhibition highlights the untold story of Nazi victims in the Channel Islands

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 12:18

On British Soil: Victims of Nazi Persecution in the Channel Islands, opens today at the Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust and Genocide, London, and seeks to highlight the stories often omitted from the British narrative of ‘standing alone’ against Nazism and celebrations of the British victory over the Germans.

The exhibition draws upon the Library’s wealth of archival material, recently-released files from the National Archives, personal items belonging to the victims themselves and current research from Dr Carr.

“For anyone who wants to come and learn about the last untold story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands, this is the exhibition to visit,” said Carr, a senior lecturer in archaeology at St Catherine’s College and the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE).

“The Islands were the only part of British territory to be occupied and the victims of Nazism are almost entirely overlooked by those who prefer (incorrectly) to see the islands as a hotbed of collaboration. There are so many heart-breaking stories. We think of the Holocaust or Nazi persecution as something that happened only on the continent – but it happened on British soil. British citizens experienced the most horrific concentration camps, and Jews were deported from British territory to Auschwitz.”

From the experiences of a young Jewish woman living quietly on a farm in Guernsey and later deported to Auschwitz and murdered, to those of a Spanish forced labourer in Alderney, and the story of a man from Guernsey whose death in a German prison camp remained unknown to his family for over 70 years, the exhibition highlights the lives of the persecuted, and the post-war struggle to obtain recognition of their suffering.

Other exhibits going on display in London include a Christmas card made by a little girl and given to Frank Tuck from Guernsey as he suffered in Neuoffingen hard labour camp and a key of a prison cell from the notorious Cherche-Midi prison in Paris, belonging to Henry Marquand, deported for his role in sheltering two British commandos to Guernsey.

“The search for these unknown stories continues,” added Carr. “The exhibition coincides with the launching of a new website which is dedicated to finding and reconstructing the full journey of all deported Channel Islanders through various Nazi prisons and concentration camps. Theirs is the last untold story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands.”

Frank Falla, the Guernseyman after whom the archive is named, was a former prisoner and survivor of Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim and Naumburg (Saale) prisons. In the mid-1960s, Frank took it upon himself to help his fellow former political prisoners in the Channel Islands get compensation for their suffering in Nazi prisons and camps.

In 2010, Frank’s daughter gave Gilly her father’s extensive archives – the most important resistance archives to ever come out of the Channel Islands – and the project was born. Falla’s briefcase, used to collect the testimony of those persecuted by the Nazis is also on display in London from today.

“I’ve been writing the background stories for the website of islanders deported to Nazi prison, concentration and labour camps,” added Carr. “So far I’ve written 75 out of 200 plus. Every story is a labour of love. I see each as a form of ‘rescue’. While I can never go back and rescue any of these people from their camps and prisons, I can rescue their story and experiences for their families and for the Channel Islands.”

Carr says the experience of researching these stories brings about a strangely bonding experience with her subject matter as she becomes a co-witness to the horrors they faced – and responsible for making their stories more widely known.

“Each person whose story I trace becomes a kind of ‘friend’ in a strange way. You get to know them so well and I have been lucky enough to meet many families of those deported. I feel I can be a link between the living and the dead and tell the living what the dead were never able to.

 “I’m interested in hearing from anyone in the Channel Islands or further afield who had a family member sent to a Nazi prison or concentration camp from the Channel Islands to help supplement the journeys we have reconstructed from archival materials. Please contact me via the website with photos, documents and stories. I'd love to hear from you.”

On British Soil: Victims of Nazi Persecution in the Channel Islands until 9 February 2018, has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The untold stories of slave labourers, political prisoners and Jews who were persecuted during the German occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War will be revealed from today at a new exhibition co-curated by Cambridge’s Dr Gilly Carr.

Each person whose story I trace becomes a kind of ‘friend’ in a strange way. You get to know them so well.GIlly CarrMarianne Grunfeld was born in Poland to a German-Jewish family before taking a farm job in Guernsey in 1939. She was deported in 1942 and was murdered in Auschwitz

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Boy or girl? Law, gender and being born intersex

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 09:15

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the birth of a child must, by law, be registered within 42 days of the baby being born. To register the birth, the parents (or parent) must provide various pieces of information including the sex of the baby. But what happens if the child has been born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t match the typical definitions of female or male?

Since 2013, it has been possible for children born in Germany to be legally recorded on their birth certificate (and later in life) as ‘indeterminate’. While this remains controversial, especially among intersex groups who see it adding to stigmatisation, it creates a legal gender status other than male or female.

Worldwide, a very small percentage of babies are born intersex – an umbrella term that covers a range of genetic variations that may be apparent at birth or emerge later in an individual’s development. But, argues lawyer Dr Jens Scherpe, their relatively low number doesn’t make these individuals any less important than those judged by society as ‘normal’ in terms of their physiology.

Scherpe carries out research within one of the most controversial and sensitive areas of family law – jurisprudence and gender. His introduction to the topic came when he was working at the Max Planck Institute in his native Germany and was asked to carry out research into nationality and change of legal gender for a case heard by the Constitutional Court. He began talking to transgender people and learning about their experiences.

“Once you meet people directly affected by laws which discriminate against them, you begin to feel differently and I’ve become a passionate advocate for change in the law in this area. I began to question the way in which we seek to categorise people and apply labels. What right does the state have to classify people as male or female in official documents such as birth certificates and passports – and do we actually need gender categories?”

After completing a comparative project on the legal status of transgender people, Scherpe focused attention on the law as it relates to intersex people, a group whose voices are beginning to be heard more forcefully. Because intersex people are a minority and frequently face discrimination, they are often bracketed together with other groups as LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and intersex). Each of these groups, however, is differently affected by the law as it applies to sex and gender. With funding from the DAAD-University of Cambridge Research Hub for German Studies (see panel), Scherpe organised a workshop in 2016 on ‘The Legal Status of Intersex Persons’ as a forum to discuss some of the most pressing issues. It brought together participants from ten jurisdictions, including Germany which, as part of a wide-reaching human rights agenda, is making growing provision in the law for people who do not wish to be identified by the binary categories of male or female.

Germany has not been alone in making changes to the ways in which gender is recorded. Changes to the law have been mooted in several countries, including India and Nepal. In 2015, Malta took a lead in passing legislation allowing people to determine their own gender – and for parents, in certain cases, to postpone the marking of gender on a baby’s birth certificate until the child’s gender identity is confirmed.

While welcoming these changes, Scherpe says there is much more to be done to ensure that intersex individuals have the same rights, and are accorded the same respect, as the majority of the population.

One of the themes to emerge from the workshop is a growing concern that cosmetic (rather than medically necessary) surgery is carried out almost routinely. Intersex pressure groups argue that the medicalisation of intersex leads to violations of human rights and that corrective surgery can have devastating consequences.

“Most people strongly condemn the practice of female genital mutilation,” says Scherpe. “But children born with genitalia that don’t match what society regards to be male or female are routinely ‘corrected’ by invasive surgery, agreed by parents who fear the stigma attached to having a different child and who believe that their child will be seriously disadvantaged. Would we operate on a child who had red hair because we’d prefer them to have brown or fair hair – or change a child’s eye colour from brown to blue?”

At the core of this debate is the view, still held by many medical professionals, that intersex is a ‘disorder’ rather than a ‘difference’. Much of the argument surrounding intersex, and the issues it raises in a gendered world, centres on the use of language and how we choose to define ourselves. There is, for example, widespread debate about the definitions of the terms sex and gender in the highly competitive environment of world athletics.

“Because they’re so intertwined with sense of self, and can appear so threatening to our boy/girl view of the world, these questions are understandably super-sensitive. Even the terminology used will be perceived as discriminatory by some. And you can be certain of abuse from those who disagree with you for even investigating the issues concerned. But neither of those things should deter us from seeking to improve the law,” says Scherpe.

Not being part of the communities he writes about may be seen to add credibility to his work; he has no self-interest in pursuing changes in the law relating to any of the groups he works with. On the other hand, his lack of personal experience of the extra challenges faced by minority communities means that he needs to listen to a great many people to find out how their lives intersect with the law.

He adds: “What matters to me is that as a society we have a duty to ensure that all our members are provided with a legal framework, free from discrimination and stigmatisation, within which they can live happy and healthy lives.”

Boy or girl? This is one of the first questions all new parents are asked. In a small percentage of cases, the answer isn’t straightforward: the child is intersex. In a highly gendered society, how does the law apply to people whose physiology doesn’t fit the binary categories of male and female? 

What right does the state have to classify people as male or female in official documents such as birth certificates and passports – and do we actually need gender categories?Jens ScherpeJack WrightGirl, boyStudying Germany

Jens Scherpe’s work is one of over 30 projects that were funded last year through a research Hub in Cambridge which focuses on Germany.

Historian Dr Hanna Weibe and theologian Dr Ruth Jackson are fascinated by how politics and religion worked together in Germany after the political upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars; Dr Simon Stoddart is interested in urbanism in Iron Age Germany; Dr David Trippett in how Wagner arrived at his theory of melody as a means of communication; and Dr Ksenia Gerasimova in why Germany chooses organic agriculture.

These and over 30 other projects have been supported through the €1m DAAD-University of Cambridge Research Hub for German Studies, with funds from the Foreign Ministry of the Federal Republic. “This money was given in recognition of the fact that Cambridge arguably now has the largest number of scholars working on Germany and German culture in the world outside Germany itself,” says Professor Chris Young, who co-leads the Hub with Professor Chris Clark.

“Why study Germany?” asks Young. “Germany is widely regarded as a model economy that appears to be working when others are struggling. Understanding the country’s economic and political importance, especially given the implications and impact of Brexit, is a golden opportunity for us and for Europe. How, for instance, has Germany coped with immigration or austerity? What facets of its history, culture, politics and theology have influenced the way that Germany is today?”

Through the breadth and depth of the research it supports, the Hub hopes to create a German-focused interface between the University and governmental bodies, both in the UK and in Germany, and be a nexus for the Anglo-German relationship.

“Germany has shaped the world in which we live and influenced the ways in which we think about, experience and seek to change it,” adds Neil MacGregor, former Director of the British Museum, and patron of the Hub. “The gains in knowledge that [the Hub] will bring can only enrich and strengthen the ties that bind Germany and the world.”

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Petals produce a 'blue halo' to help bees find flowers

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 10:54

Latest research has found that several common flower species have nanoscale ridges on the surface of their petals that meddle with light when viewed from certain angles.

These nanostructures scatter light particles in the blue to ultraviolet colour spectrum, generating a subtle effect that scientists have christened the ‘blue halo’.

By manufacturing artificial surfaces that replicated ‘blue halos’, scientists were able to test the effect on pollinators, in this case foraging bumblebees. They found that bees can see the blue halo, and use it as a signal to locate flowers more efficiently.

While the ridges and grooves on a petal surface line up next to each other “like a packet of dry spaghetti”, when analysing different flower species the researchers discovered these striations vary greatly in height, width and spacing – yet all produce a similar ‘blue halo’ effect.

In fact, even on a single petal these light-manipulating structures were found to be surprisingly irregular. This is a phenomenon physicists describe as ‘disorder’.

The researchers conclude that these “messy” petal nanostructures likely evolved independently many times across flowering plants, but reached the same luminous outcome that increases visibility to pollinators – an example of what’s known as ‘convergent evolution’.

The study was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Cambridge’s departments of plant sciences, chemistry and physics along with colleagues from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Adolphe Merkele Institute in Switzerland.

The findings are published today in the journal Nature

“We had always assumed that the disorder we saw in our petal surfaces was just an accidental by-product of life – that flowers couldn’t do any better,” said senior author Prof Beverley Glover, plant scientist and director of Cambridge’s Botanic Garden. 

“It came as a real surprise to discover that the disorder itself is what generates the important optical signal that allows bees to find the flowers more effectively.”

“As a biologist, I sometimes find myself apologising to physicist colleagues for the disorder in living organisms – how generally messy their development and body structures can seem.”

“However, the disorder we see in petal nanostructures appears to have been harnessed by evolution and ends up aiding floral communication with bees,” Glover said.

All flowering plants belong to the ‘angiosperm’ lineage. Researchers analysed some of the earliest diverging plants from this group, and found no halo-producing petal ridges.

However, they found several examples of halo-producing petals among the two major flower groups (monocots and eudicots) that emerged during the Cretaceous period over 100 million years ago – coinciding with the early evolution of flower-visiting insects, in particular nectar-sucking bees.

“Our findings suggest the petal ridges that produce ‘blue halos’ evolved many times across different flower lineages, all converging on this optical signal for pollinators,” said Glover. 

Species which the team found to have halo-producing petals included Oenothera stricta (a type of Evening Primrose), Ursinia speciosa (a member of the Daisy family) and Hibiscus trionum (known as ‘Flower-of-the-hour’).

All the analysed flowers revealed significant levels of apparent ‘disorder’ in the dimensions and spacing of their petal nanostructures. 

“The huge variety of petal anatomies, combined with the disordered nanostructures, would suggest that different flowers should have different optical properties,” said Dr Silvia Vignolini, from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, who led the study’s physics team.

“However, we observed that all these petal structures produce a similar visual effect in the blue-to-ultraviolet wavelength region of the spectrum – the blue halo.”

Previous studies have shown that many species of bee have an innate preference for colours in the violet-blue range. However, plants do not always have the means to produce blue pigments.

“Many flowers lack the genetic and biochemical capability to manipulate pigment chemistry in the blue to ultraviolet spectrum,” said Vignolini. “The presence of these disordered photonic structures on their petals provides an alternative way to produce signals that attract insects.”  

The researchers artificially recreated ‘blue halo’ nanostructures and used them as surfaces for artificial flowers. In a “flight arena” in a Cambridge lab, they tested how bumblebees responded to surfaces with and without halos.

Their experiments showed that bees can perceive the difference, finding the surfaces with halos more quickly – even when both types of surfaces were coloured with the same black or yellow pigment.

Using rewarding sugar solution in one type of artificial flower, and bitter quinine solution in the other, the scientists found that bees could use the blue halo to learn which type of surface had the reward.    

“Insect visual systems are different to human ones,” explains Edwige Moyroud, from Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences and the study’s lead author. “Unlike us, bees have enhanced photoreceptor activity in the blue-UV parts of the spectrum.”

“Humans can identify some blue halos – those emanating from darkly pigmented flowers. For example the ‘black’ tulip cultivar, known as ‘Queen of the night’.”

“However, we can’t distinguish between a yellow flower with a blue halo and one without – but our study found that bumblebees can,” she said.

The team say the findings open up new opportunities for the development of surfaces that are highly visible to pollinators, as well as exploring just how living plants control the levels of disorder on their petal surfaces. “The developmental biology of these structures is a real mystery,” added Glover.  

New study finds “messy” microscopic structures on petals of some flowers manipulate light to produce a blue colour effect that is easily seen by bee pollinators. Researchers say these petal grooves evolved independently multiple times across flowering plants, but produce the same result: a floral halo of blue-to-ultraviolet light.

The disorder we see in petal nanostructures appears to have been harnessed by evolution and ends up aiding floral communication with beesBeverley GloverTobias Wenzel/ Edwige MoyroudTop: petals of Ursinia speciosa, a daisy, contain a dark pigment that appears blue due to 'disordered' striations. Bottom: close-up top and side view of microscopic striations.

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Living in a material world: why 'things' matter

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 09:00

From the tools we work with to the eyeglasses and dental implants that improve us, our bodies are shaped by the things we use. We express and understand our identities through clothing, cars and hobbies. We create daily routines and relate to each other through houses and workplaces. We imagine place, history and political regimens through sculptures and paintings.

Even when we think we are dealing with abstract information, the form it takes makes a huge difference. When printing liberated the written word from the limited circulation of handwritten manuscripts, the book and the newspaper became fundamental to religious and political changes, and helped create the modern world.

Studies of material culture focus upon things not just as material objects, but also on how they reflect our meanings and uses. Throughout the humanities and social sciences, there is a long tradition of thinking principally about meaning and human intention, but scholars are now realising the immense importance of material things in social life.

At the core of material culture studies is the question of how people and things interact. This is a simple, sweeping question, but one long overlooked, thanks to historically dominant philosophical traditions that focus narrowly on human intention. In fact, it’s only in the past decade that scholars have posed the question of material agency – how things structure human lives and action.

Material culture studies have emerged as central in many disciplines across the University of Cambridge. In archaeology and history, scholars see material objects as fundamental sources for the human past, counterbalancing the discourse-oriented view that written texts give us. Should we use historical sources to see what people think they ate, or count their rubbish to find out what they really consumed? Combining the two gives us answers of unprecedented scope.

Geographers ask why it makes a difference whether workplaces are organised into separate offices or open-plan cubicles. Literary scholars draw attention to how experience and meaning are built around things, like Marcel Proust’s remembering of things long past as a madeleine cake is dipped in tea; even books themselves are artefacts of a singular and powerful kind. Likewise, studying anatomical models and astronomical instruments empowers an understanding of the history of science as a practical activity. And anthropologists explore the capacity of art to cross cultures and express the claims of indigenous peoples.

Material things are also at the heart of new fields such as heritage studies. Memory itself is material, as we’ve seen recently in the USA, where whether to keep or tear down statues of historic figures such as Confederate generals can polarise people.

Unlike most newly emerging fields in the sciences, material culture studies are grounded in a sprawling panoply of related approaches rather than in a tightly focused paradigm. They come from a convergence of archaeology, anthropology, history, geography, literary studies, economics and many other disciplines, each with its own methods for approaching human–thing interactions.

The reasons for this interest are not hard to find. The University offers a rare combination of three essential foundations for the field. One is world-class strength in the humanities and social sciences, sustained by institutions like the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), an essential venue for interdisciplinary collaboration as shown by its 'Things' seminar series (see panel).

Most human dilemmas are material dilemmas in some way

The second is the capacity for a huge range of scientific analyses of materials. The third is our immensely varied museum collections: the Fitzwilliam Museum’s treasures; the Museum of Classical Archaeology’s 19th-century cast gallery; the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s worldwide prehistoric, historic and ethnographic collections; and many others. Where else can scholars interested in the material aspect of Victorian collecting study Darwin’s original finches or Sedgwick’s and Scilla’s original fossils, boxes, labels, archives and all?

Whether it’s work on historic costume, craft production, religion or books, the study of material culture offers unparalleled insights into how humans form their identities, use their skills and create a sense of place and history.

But it is not only a descriptive and historical field. Most human dilemmas are material dilemmas in some way. Where did our desire for things come from and how did the economics of consumerism develop? How can we organise our daily lives to reduce our dependence on cars? Should we care where the objects we buy come from before they reach the supermarket shelves? How do repatriation claims grow out of the entangled histories of museum objects?

The shape of this new field is still emerging, but Cambridge research will be at the heart of it.

Professor John Robb is at the Department of Archaeology, Professor Simon Goldhill is at the Faculty of Classics, Professor Ulinka Rublack is at the Faculty of History and Professor Nicholas Thomas is at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Things structure our lives. They enrich us, embellish us and express our hopes and fears. Here, to introduce a month-long focus on research on material culture, four academics from different disciplines explain why understanding how we interact with our material world can reveal unparalleled insights into what it is to be human.

Studies of material culture focus upon things not just as material objects, but also on how they reflect our meanings and uses. John Robb, Simon Goldhill, Ulinka Rublack, Nicholas ThomasHarlow HeslopAll the thingsCurious objects and CRASSH courses

You’ve had a difficult time lately. You’re thinking that all this bad luck might be more than coincidence. You trim your nails, snip some hair and bend a couple of pins. You put them in a bottle with a dash of urine, heat it up and put it in a wall. That’ll cure the bewitchment, you say to yourself.

Making a ‘witch bottle’ like this would be an entirely reasonable thing to do 400 years ago. It would also be reasonable to swallow a stone from a goat’s stomach to counteract poisoning and hide an old shoe in a chimney breast to increase the chance of conceiving.

“All of these objects took on layers of meaning for their owners, and the fact these strong connections existed at all gives us glimpses of people’s beliefs, hopes and lives,” says Annie Thwaite, a PhD student in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. She is also one of the convenors of a seminar series on ‘Things’ at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).

“Material culture was a crucial part of medicine in the 17th century. Objects like witch bottles are often dismissed as ‘folkish’. But by investigating the bottles’ architectural and geographical situation, their material properties and processes, you start to look through the eyes of their owners. Fearful of supernatural intrusion into their homes and bodies, people would go to great efforts to use something they regarded as a legitimate element of early modern medical practice.”

Charms and amulets, votives and potions, myths and magic will be discussed as this year’s ‘Things’ seminars begins a new focus on imaginative objects.

“Like material culture studies, the seminar series is broad and varied,” she explains. “We might just as easily examine the skills required to craft objects as the power of objects to become politicised.

“Things matter greatly to humans. We have short lives and our stuff outlives us. While we can’t tell our own story, maybe they can.”

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Postgraduate Pioneers 2017 #1

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:00
First in the series is Himansha Singh, a Pharmacologist from India whose research aims to help tackle antimicrobial resistance.   My research sets out to   Today, we can survive an organ transplant but then die because of a bacterial infection. The rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and ‘superbugs’, along with the lack of antibiotic development in the last decades, is a major concern for global healthcare. Whilst there are several mechanisms responsible for AMR, our research group is examining multidrug efflux pumps or transporters that expel drugs rendering bacteria resistant to a broad range of antibiotics.    While we know some things about the architecture of bacteria, we don’t fully understand how they conduct transportation of antibiotics. If we could understand their operating system, we could develop compounds, which might help switching off the system and stop them from rejecting antibiotics. In particular, my project is looking into a very interesting E.coli ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter MsbA. We are working towards characterising how this protein uses energy to operate dynamic changes in its structure to facilitate drug transport.    My Motivation   During my master's degree, I worked with AstraZeneca and my neighbouring lab was working on transporters in drug development. Their work caught my attention. I also visited India that summer and my hometown, Gwalior, in Madhya Pradesh, was suffering a severe outbreak of tuberculosis and typhoid. These experiences exposed me to the seriousness of antibiotic resistance. Transporters play a huge role in this and after reading up on the topic, I looked for a relevant PhD project and was delighted to be accepted into Dr Hendrik W. van Veen's lab to work on various transporters, both in humans and bacteria.   Day-to-day   I am based in the Department of Pharmacology, which is in the city center – it’s a great location. I work in a team of ten and my average day in the lab is spent working on culturing liters of bacterial cells to extract MsbA and reconstitute it in artificial lipid membranes. I then test MsbA activity under different energy conditions and drugs, or test different inhibitors.    My best days   That has to be when we first noticed that the ATP dependent transporter MsbA could also work without ATP. ATP is an energy currency of cells and ABC transporters, such as MsbA, utilize it as their main source of power for drug transport. But we showed that MsbA is also dependent on another form of energy source, an electrochemical gradient. In fact, MsbA cannot function without the involvement of both of these power sources. That brought a paradigm shift in our understanding of translocation by MsbA, which may lead us to new ways to tackle bacteria.   I hope my work will lead to    Apart from being a multidrug transporter, MsbA is an essential membrane protein that transports phospholipids in E.coli to form its cell membrane; so inhibiting this pump is clinically important to develop or establish foundations for a new class of antibiotics against E.coli. We can only design inhibitors if we know the fundamental basis of their transport mechanism and I hope my PhD research will provide some insight into this.  We believe that our findings will be of great interest to the wider scientific community.    It had to be Cambridge because   My supervisor, Dr. Hendrik W. van Veen has played a crucial role in developing my enthusiasm for scientific research. And Cambridge has provided a tight-knit, supportive and stimulating intellectual environment which has shaped my career and understanding of academia in really important ways. Other than benefiting from the world-class research facilities in my lab and department, I’ve been able to immerse myself in Cambridge’s rich culture and exciting critical atmosphere. The collegiate system also ensures a thriving social life and this paved the way for me to develop interests in various other disciplines over formal dinners and drinks in our college bars.      In 2017, Himansha Singh was one of twelve PhD students to win an award from the Cambridge Society for the Application of Research.

With our Postgraduate Open Day fast approaching (3 Nov), we introduce five PhD students who are already making waves at Cambridge.

I have benefited from world-class research facilities and immersed myself in Cambridge’s rich culture. Himansha SinghHimansha Singh, Dept of PharmacologyPostgraduate Open Day

For more information about the University's Postgraduate Open Day on 3rd November 2017 and to book to attend, please click here.

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Four new council flats to be built on site of Arbury medical clinic

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 14:32

A MEDICAL clinic is set to be converted into four much-needed new council flats in Arbury.

Cambridge City Council will build two one-bedroom and two two-bedroom flats on the site of an NHS clinic located on the ground floor of Kingsway Flats in Arbury.

The NHS are vacating the clinic in early 2018 due to services being provided elsewhere, and it was thought unlikely that a new tenant would be found due to lack of demand and the outdated nature of the facilities.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

First detection of gravitational waves and light produced by colliding neutron stars

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 14:17

It could be a scenario from science fiction, but it really happened 130 million years ago -- in the NGC 4993 galaxy in the Hydra constellation, at a time here on Earth when dinosaurs still ruled, and flowering plants were only just evolving.

Today, dozens of UK scientists – including researchers from the University of Cambridge – and their international collaborators representing 70 observatories worldwide announced the detection of this event and the significant scientific firsts it has revealed about our Universe.

Those ripples in space finally reached Earth at 1.41pm UK time, on Thursday 17 August 2017, and were recorded by the twin detectors of the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) and its European counterpart Virgo.

A few seconds later, the gamma-ray burst from the collision was recorded by two specialist space telescopes, and over following weeks, other space- and ground-based telescopes recorded the afterglow of the massive explosion. UK developed engineering and technology is at the heart of many of the instruments used for the detection and analysis.

Studying the data confirmed scientists’ initial conclusion that the event was the collision of a pair of neutron stars – the remnants of once gigantic stars, but collapsed down into approximately the size of a city. “These objects are made of matter in its most extreme, dense state, standing on the verge of total gravitational collapse,” said Michalis Agathos, from Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. “By studying subtle effects of matter on the gravitational wave signal, such as the effects of tides that deform the neutron stars, we can infer the properties of matter in these extreme conditions.”

There are a number of “firsts” associated with this event, including the first detection of both gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation (EM) - while existing astronomical observatories “see” EM across different frequencies (eg, optical, infra-red, gamma ray etc), gravitational waves are not EM but instead ripples in the fabric of space requiring completely different detection techniques. An analogy is that LIGO and Virgo “hear” the Universe.

The announcement also confirmed the first direct evidence that short gamma ray bursts are linked to colliding neutron stars. The shape of the gravitational waveform also provided a direct measure of the distance to the source, and it was the first confirmation and observation of the previously theoretical cataclysmic aftermaths of this kind of merger - a kilonova.

Additional research papers on the aftermath of the event have also produced a new understanding of how heavy elements such as gold and platinum are created by supernova and stellar collisions and then spread through the Universe. More such original science results are still under current analysis.

By combining gravitational-wave and electromagnetic signals together, researchers also used for the first time a new and novel technique to measure the expansion rate of the Universe.

While binary black holes produce “chirps” lasting a fraction of a second in the LIGO detector’s sensitive band, the August 17 chirp lasted approximately 100 seconds and was seen through the entire frequency range of LIGO — about the same range as common musical instruments. Scientists could identify the chirp source as objects that were much less massive than the black holes seen to date. In fact, “these long chirping signals from inspiralling neutron stars are really what many scientists expected LIGO and Virgo to see first,” said Christopher Moore, researcher at CENTRA, IST, Lisbon and member of the DAMTP/Cambridge LIGO group. “The shorter signals produced by the heavier black holes were a spectacular surprise that led to the awarding of the 2017 Nobel prize in physics.”

UK astronomers using the VISTA telescope in Chile were among the first to locate the new source. “We were really excited when we first got notification that a neutron star merger had been detected by LIGO,” said Professor Nial Tanvir from the University of Leicester, who leads a paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters today. “We immediately triggered observations on several telescopes in Chile to search for the explosion that we expected it to produce. In the end, we stayed up all night analysing the images as they came in, and it was remarkable how well the observations matched the theoretical predictions that had been made.”

“It is incredible to think that all the gold in the Earth was probably produced by merging neutron stars, similar to this event that exploded as kilonovae billions of years ago.”

“Not only is this the first time we have seen the light from the aftermath of an event that caused a gravitational wave, but we had never before caught two merging neutron stars in the act, so it will help us to figure out where some of the more exotic chemical elements on Earth come from,” said Dr Carlos Gonzalez-Fernandez of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, who processed the follow-up images taken with the VISTA telescope.

“This is a spectacular discovery, and one of the first of many that we expect to come from combining together information from gravitational wave and electromagnetic observations,” said Nathan Johnson-McDaniel, researcher at DAMTP, who contributed to predictions of the amount of ejected matter using the gravitational wave measurements of the properties of the binary.

Though the LIGO detectors first picked up the gravitational wave in the United States, Virgo, in Italy, played a key role in the story. Due to its orientation with respect to the source at the time of detection, Virgo recovered a small signal; combined with the signal sizes and timing in the LIGO detectors, this allowed scientists to precisely triangulate the position in the sky. After performing a thorough vetting to make sure the signals were not an artefact of instrumentation, scientists concluded that a gravitational wave came from a relatively small patch of the southern sky.

“This event has the most precise sky localisation of all detected gravitational waves so far,” says Jo van den Brand of Nikhef (the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics) and VU University Amsterdam, who is the spokesperson for the Virgo collaboration. “This record precision enabled astronomers to perform follow-up observations that led to a plethora of breath-taking results.”

Fermi was able to provide a localisation that was later confirmed and greatly refined with the coordinates provided by the combined LIGO-Virgo detection. With these coordinates, a handful of observatories around the world were able, hours later, to start searching the region of the sky where the signal was thought to originate. A new point of light, resembling a new star, was first found by optical telescopes. Ultimately, about 70 observatories on the ground and in space observed the event at their representative wavelengths. “What I am most excited about, personally, is a completely new way of measuring distances across the universe through combining the gravitational wave and electromagnetic signals. Obviously, this new cartography of the cosmos has just started with this first event, but I just wonder whether this is where we will see major surprises in the future,” said Ulrich Sperhake, Head of Cambridge’s gravitational wave group in LIGO.

In the weeks and months ahead, telescopes around the world will continue to observe the afterglow of the neutron star merger and gather further evidence about its various stages, its interaction with its surroundings, and the processes that produce the heaviest elements in the universe.

Physical Review Letters
"GW170817: Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Neutron Star Inspiral."

"A Radio Counterpart to a Neutron Star Merger."
"Swift and NuSTAR observations of GW170817: detection of a blue kilonova."
"Illuminating Gravitational Waves: A Concordant Picture of Photons from a Neutron Star Merger."

Astrophysical Journal Letters
"Gravitational Waves and Gamma-rays from a Binary Neutron Star Merger: GW170817 and GRB 170817A."
"Multi-Messenger Observations of a Binary Neutron Star Merger."

"A gravitational-wave standard siren measurement of the Hubble constant."

Adapted from STFC and LIGO press releases. 

In a galaxy far away, two dead stars begin a final spiral into a massive collision. The resulting explosion unleashes a huge burst of energy, sending ripples across the very fabric of space. In the nuclear cauldron of the collision, atoms are ripped apart to form entirely new elements and scattered outward across the Universe. 

What I am most excited about, personally, is a completely new way of measuring distances across the universe.Ulrich SperhakeESO/L. Calçada/M. KornmesserArtist’s impression of merging neutron stars

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2017 begins

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 14:12

The Cambridge Festival of Ideas launches today with a focus on truth, post-truth and the everything in between.

The Festival is one of the biggest public engagement events held by the University of Cambridge. It attracts thousands of people and runs from 16th to 29th October.

This year marks the Festival’s 10th anniversary and sees a bumper programme of 234 events for people of all ages, ranging from debates, talks and exhibitions to films and performances, held in lecture theatres, museums and galleries across Cambridge. Most events are free of charge.

Speakers include some of the world’s leading thinkers, such as the philosopher Professor Rae Langton on post-truth as post-democracy, historian Professor Richard Evans, Classics author and presenter Tom Holland, the economist Dr Ha-Joon Chang, Tristram Hunt, former Labour MP and now director of the Victorian and Albert Museum, Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service and Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics.

The main theme of the Festival is truth and many of the events focus on issues around post-truth and fake news, why it has come to prominence and how it can be tackled:

In Post-truth as post-democracy on 16th October, Professor Rae Langton looks at how 'post-truth’, described as speech that manipulates and deceives, in the media and in social media, marks the abandonment of truth. She will argue that this brings the death, not the vindication, of free speech and that a living democracy needs and deserves better.

On 20th October, historians of political thought Annabel Brett, John Robertson and Ben Slingo will take a journey through the history of ideas, exploring the deep questions raised by fake news with a look back at an early modern political genre that manipulated the form of ‘news’ during the event Fake news.

Speaking ahead of the event, Dr Annabel Brett said: “In the 21st century, increasing alienation and ideological division within Western democracies, together with conditions of global insecurity and threat, have fragmented the political consciousness of nations. Simultaneously, the internet has multiplied potential sources of information and consequent claims to authority and authenticity. People have been both forced and enabled to choose their news. From certain points of view, the news is just another form of liberal-elite establishment self-protection. But the idea of ‘fake news’ is nevertheless parasitic upon it. Fake news isn’t just false news as opposed to real or true news.

“Our event explores questions of fake and mock, intention and authenticity, and our own responses and psychological investments, through a look at a past political genre that we might call ‘fake news’, but in the absence of a collective democratic culture of the news.”

If the aim of fake news is to mislead, what happens when genuine news is viewed as fake? One such example was that the Russians were fuelling American nuclear power plants in the 1990s, and is just one of several real and fake stories published following the end of the Cold War. These stories will be explored by Shane Guy from the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge, during his talk, One in ten American light bulbs are lit by the Russians: fake news? on 21st October.

Commenting on fake news during and after the Cold War, Shane said: “A fertile breeding ground for fake news was the Cold War and within that the nuclear capability of the adversaries. When the Cold War ended, the United States, other countries of the G7, and the EU began 20-year programmes to assist Russia in its nuclear disarmament and to stop nuclear proliferation from the former Soviet Union.

“It is to the success of that programme that much is owed in keeping the peace, preventing terrorist acquisition of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and preventing nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.  During that time, there was unreliable and fake news about what was going on. There were also accurate accounts that some sought to conceal or deny.”

Fake news goes hand-in-hand with propaganda and one of the Festival's events explores the symbiotic relationship between the state and the media. The talk, Media, the state and propaganda: what is the truth? on 21st October, illuminates some of the key issues of truth versus propaganda.

Speaker, Ian Shields, is a former RAF officer and presently an Associate Lecturer in International Relations at Cambridge University.  In his long military career, he had frequent dealings with the national media, and this has led to a growing interest in the relationship between the State and the Media – and their inter-dependent and symbiotic relationship.  Each need and feeds off the other – but is this always for the best or does it primarily serve the interests of these two sides?  Where is ‘truth’ and how much of what we are told is primarily propaganda?  And are we sufficiently aware of the closeness of the State-Media relationship?  This talk is inspired by both a long interest in these questions, and by Ian's research for his doctorate, which is examining this relationship against the backdrop of the use of military force.

Amid the propaganda and fake news, how do you know when information is fact-based? The rapid growth of information and the numbers of people who can create it means that we need more sophisticated tools to process the news we receive. In the event, Popping the filter bubble: how facts can help you on 23rd October, a panel of experts, senior librarians at the University of Cambridge, describe the different methods people can use to be their own fact checker.

One of the speakers, Katie Hughes, Open Access Research Adviser, Office of Scholarly Communication at the University of Cambridge, said: “Every day we are facing an overwhelming amount of information. The question is 'how can we trust what we are reading?' With traditional news sources under threat, online sources and social media are on the rise. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become an important source of news. What people don't realise is that in a way, they are creating their own news 'filter bubble'. The way to combat this is by teaching digital skills and information literacy – an area in which Librarians are greatly skilled. We help students evaluate information for their research and we can help apply those same skills to evaluating news.”

The Cambridge Festival of Ideas launches today with 234 events taking place over two weeks, most of them free.

In the 21st century, increasing alienation and ideological division within Western democracies, together with conditions of global insecurity and threat, have fragmented the political consciousness of nations. Simultaneously, the internet has multiplied potential sources of information and consequent claims to authority and authenticity. People have been both forced and enabled to choose their news.Dr Annabel Brett

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Council continues working to bring properties back into use during Empty Homes Week

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 09:59

RESIDENTS are being asked to help bring empty properties back into use during National Empty Homes Week this week (16-22 October).

Making empty properties available for people in need of affordable housing forms an important part of Cambridge City Council’s housing strategy. The council is asking residents to report any properties they think may be empty in the city, and is offering support to any owners of empty properties to help bring them back into residential use.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Restless legs syndrome study identifies 13 new genetic risk variants

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 00:01

As many as one in ten people of European ancestry is affected by restless legs syndrome, in which sufferers feel an overwhelming urge to move, often in conjunction with unpleasant sensations, usually in the legs. Rest and inactivity provoke the symptoms, whereas movement can lead to temporary relief. The condition is chronic and can get progressively worse, with long-lasting effects on patients’ mental and physical health. People with restless legs syndrome have substantially impaired sleep, reduced overall quality of life, and increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, hypertension, and, possibly, cardiovascular disease.

For around one in 50 people, the condition can be severe enough to require chronic medication, which may in turn have potentially serious side effects.

Studies of families and twins have shown that there is a strong genetic component to the disorder and led to the discovery of six genetic variants that increased the risk of developing the condition.

“We have studied the genetics of restless legs syndrome for more than 10 years and the current study is the largest conducted so far,” says Dr Barbara Schormair from the Institute of Neurogenomics at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, first author of the study. “We are convinced that the newly discovered risk loci will contribute substantially to our understanding of the causal biology of the disease.”

Now, an international team of researchers has compared the genetic data from over 15,000 patients with more than 95,000 controls, and identified a further 13 genetic risk variants. The findings were then replicated in a sample of 31,000 patients and 287,000 controls. The results are published today in Lancet Neurology.

“Restless legs syndrome is surprisingly common, but despite this, we know little about what causes it – and hence how to treat it,” says Dr Steven Bell from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, also one of the first authors on the study. “We already know that it has a strong genetic link, and this was something we wanted to explore in more detail.”

Several of the genetic variants have previously been linked to the growth and development of nerve cells – a process known as neurogenesis – and to changes in the formation of neuronal circuits. These findings strengthen the case for restless legs syndrome being a neurodevelopmental disorder whose origins may go back to development in the womb as well as impaired nerve cell growth in later life.

“The genetic risk variants that we’ve discovered add more weight to the idea that this condition is related to the development of our nervous system,” says Dr Emanuele Di Angelantonio, also from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care. “It also gives us some clues to how we may treat patients affected by the condition.”

Prof Juliane Winkelmann, who heads the Institute of Neurogenomics at the Helmholtz Zentrum as well as a restless legs syndrome outpatient clinic at the Klinikum Rechts der Isar in Munich, adds: “Our genetic findings are an important step towards developing new and improved treatment options for our patients.”

One particular biological pathway implicated by the findings is known to be a target for the drug thalidomide. While the drug has a controversial reputation due to its previous use when treating pregnant women that led to serious birth defects in their offspring, it is now used to treat some cancers. The researchers suggest that thalidomide or similar drugs may offer potential treatment options for male patients with restless leg syndrome and female patients beyond reproductive age, but they stress the necessity of rigorous clinical testing for efficacy and side-effects before any such use. 

The study was largely funded by NHS Blood and Transplant, National Institute for Health Research, British Heart Foundation, European Commission, European Research Council, National Institute for Health Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, UK Medical Research Council, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and Helmholtz Zentrum München.

Schormair, B., Zhao, C., Bell, S. et al. Identification of novel risk loci for restless legs syndrome in genome-wide association studies in individuals of European ancestry: a meta-analysis. Lancet Neurology; 10th October 2017; DOI: 10.1016/S1474-4422(17)30327-7

A new study into the genetics underlying restless legs syndrome has identified 13 previously-unknown genetic risk variants, while helping inform potential new treatment options for the condition.


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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

The secret language of anatomy

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 20:25

Where is the seahorse in our brain? Why is there a Turkish saddle in our head? Why are our heart chambers named after Roman halls?
A new book by Cambridge anatomists provides an illustrated guide to the mysterious vocabulary of the human body - the terms used to teach trainee surgeons and doctors about how we work.  The Secret Language of Anatomy will be launched at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas where its authors will give a talk which will bring to life the rich imagery that was adopted by the anatomists of the past and seek to decode patterns in the naming of diverse structures in different regions of the body.
The book came about because of concerns among the authors - Cecilia Brassett, Emily Evans and Isla Fay - that medical students found many anatomical terms confusing. “They didn’t just have to understand anatomy and physiology. They had to deal with not understanding the words they were using to describe structures and processes,” says Dr Brassett, who is a linguist in addition to being the current University Clinical Anatomist.
At first she considered producing a small pocket handbook for students to explain the origins of the words used to describe parts of the body.  She consulted Emily Evans, a medical illustrator who is also a senior demonstrator of anatomy at the University. She runs Anatomy Boutique and Anatomy Boutique Books and regularly gives talks about the use of anatomy in contemporary art practice.
Evans felt the book could reach out beyond medical students. It was she who did the illustrations of the 125 terms in the book. They show both the parts of the body and what they were named after. In some cases, this requires inversion of objects so the relation between the word and the part of the body is clear.
Each entry and each chapter has a description of how particular types of words - from flora and fauna to architecture and astronomy - came to be used in anatomy.

Having worked in Anatomy for many years Dr Brassett had already formulated some themes which grouped particular words together. Her first idea was Architecture, in particular how many of the words used in Anatomy relate to Roman Architecture, such as atrium [in the heart], fauces [the passage at the back of the throat] and the ostium [the opening of the cervix]. “The home is such an intimate concept and it makes sense to use it to  name the parts of the body,” says Dr Brassett. The landscape was also a clear inspiration for many anatomists. “There are references to mountains, caves and ditches.  It was very clear that anatomists were inspired by their surroundings. Nowadays, we are surrounded by man-made things, but in the past the landscape was much more prominent,” says Dr Brassett.
Another category is birds - their use for anatomical parts has a long history, dating back to ancient times. The coccyx, for instance, is named after the ancient Greek word for cuckoo. The physician Galen gave that name to the bone at the bottom of the spine because he thought it resembled the bill of a cuckoo. Bird-related words became popular again in the Renaissance period at the same time that avian anatomical parts began to be named in English. Isla Fay, the Human Anatomy Technical Coordinator in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience who was previously a historical researcher, says this may also have coincided with the publication of illustrated ornithological encyclopedias.
The Renaissance period was a rich one with regard to new anatomical terms. The fact that many anatomists were polymaths - they may have been zoologists or botanists or artists, for instance - meant the references they used drew from a broad range of disciplines. Many were collectors of objects - the so-called cabinets of curiosities.
In the 20th century anatomy was stripped of a lot of previously used terms, for instance, some like the pelvis, meaning a bowl-shaped container, were used in other parts of the body such as the brain. Descriptions relating to surgeons from the past which would no longer be relevant were also dropped. “The terms which were more visual were retained as they helped students to understand their shape and function,” says Dr Brassett.
Isla Fay adds that many terms, such as the Turkish saddle or sella turcica which describes the bone in which the pituitary gland sits, convey a sense of exploration. The hippocampus - the Latin for seahorse - describes the shape of the part of the brain that controls memory.  She states: “It’s exhilarating uncovering the historical roots of  anatomical terms - there’s a real sense of it being an adventure around the body.”




A new book illustrates the origins of the terms we use to describe the human anatomy.

It’s exhilarating uncovering the historical roots of anatomical terms - there’s a real sense of it being an adventure around the body.Isla FayEmily Evans

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Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Council supports musical evening in aid of local homelessness charities

Cambridge Council Feed - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 15:19

CAMBRIDGE City Council is supporting an event to raise money and awareness for two homelessness charities.

The Believing In People Concert takes place at Great St Mary’s Church on Saturday 14 October from 7pm-8.30pm.

Entry is free, but all proceeds from a collection will be split between local charities Jimmy’s Cambridge and the Cambridge Churches Homeless Project.

The evening will feature a concert by local band The Broccoli King, with an opening talk by former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, and speeches about homelessness from local figures.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire