Cambridge's 2017 admissions statistics published

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 10:32

The latest figures also show an increase in the number of students coming from areas of the UK which have a low participation rate in higher education. Admissions from students in Polar3 Quintile 1 have risen from 3.3% to 4.6%. Admissions of students identified using other measures of socio-economic disadvantage are also up.

The proportion of Home applicants accepted who declared themselves to be from an ethnic minority background increased from 21.8% to 22.1%, another record high.

Dr Sam Lucy, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges, says:

“It’s encouraging to see the University continuing to make progress in attracting more students from low-participation neighbourhoods and other under-represented groups. This is testament to the hard work of Colleges and the University in the range of outreach activity being conducted. While welcoming these figures we cannot be complacent. There is still much work to do to reinforce the message that the University of Cambridge is open to talented young people, regardless of background. We welcome applications from all academically able students and encourage them to explore our free online extension material available at to see if our courses might suit their academic interests.”

The total number of students applying to Cambridge stood at just over 17,000, a rise of 2.6% on the 2016 cycle, and another all-time high. The total number of acceptances was 3,497, an increase of 1.2%. 

The University spends around £5m a year on outreach activities. These include residential stays at Colleges, open days and visits to schools across the UK.

Professor Graham Virgo, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, says:

“We take diversity extremely seriously and our outreach teams have been working hard to challenge misconceptions about what Cambridge is like. It’s a tribute to their hard work that more young people from different backgrounds have been given the chance of a world-class education here at Cambridge. I’m delighted that the message is getting through that people can find their place here, no matter where they’re from or whatever their background.”

Details of the 2017 admissions statistics can be found here


Figures released by the University of Cambridge show another rise in the number of state-educated Home students being accepted on to a course of study. The number, for the 2017 admissions cycle, has increased to 64.1% (up from 62.5% in the 2016 cycle). This is the highest level since comparable records began more than 30 years ago.  

While welcoming these figures we cannot be complacentDr Sam Lucy Sir Cam Graduation ceremony

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesLicense type: Attribution
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Proposals for the regeneration of Old Press/ Mill Lane receive strong support

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 10:15

During March and April, a full public consultation was held on their proposals for a masterplan that will transform an important quarter of the city and draws residents, students and visitors into the area.  The masterplan was originally called for in the City Council’s Supplementary Planning Document  of 2010 and includes the creation of new areas of public open space on the riverfront and provides exciting retail and leisure opportunities.

The consultation included two days of public exhibitions held at the university Centre on Granta Place in late March. Key members of the project team were present to answer any questions about the scheme, and it gave the opportunity to feed back to the University and the Colleges on the proposals, including key aspects such as the creation of public open space on the riverfront through the demolition of the Laundress Lane Warehouse.

The results of the feedback have shown that there has been strong support in general for the proposals.  In responding to the consultation questionnaire, 95% felt that the exhibition had been useful, with 90% agreeing that regeneration of the area was important. Importantly, having reviewed the plans, 79% of respondents wanted to see the creation of a new area of public open space through the removal of the Laundress Lane Warehouse – this option was first reviewed in the 2010 Supplementary Planning Document that called for a Masterplan. In addition, although in the city council’s control not the University’s, 81% supported the removal of the boatshed on Granta Place – both of these proposals open up public access to the river and significantly improve views over Coe Fen.

Duncan Maskell, the University’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor, said, “We are very pleased that, overall, the proposals in the Masterplan were supported by 77% of respondents – this is a very high number for regeneration projects and reflects the public and stakeholders’ desire to see high quality regeneration of the area.”

This masterplan, which sets out general development parameters, will be followed by full planning applications that provide more detail around traffic control and architectural treatment. The first of these full applications will come from Pembroke College later this year and will provide more details about the block bounded by Mill Lane and Little St Mary’s Lane.

Although the consultation is now closed the proposals are still available to view on the project website at or alternatively you can contact us via email at if you have any further comments/questions.

Cambridge University, together with Pembroke, Darwin and Queens’ Colleges have revealed the strong level of support for their plans to regenerate the Old Press / Mill Lane area.

We are very pleased that, overall, the proposals in the Masterplan were supported by 77% of respondents – this is a very high number for regeneration projects and reflects the public and stakeholders’ desire to see high quality regeneration of the area.Duncan Maskell, the University’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Oldest genetic evidence of Hepatitis B virus found in ancient DNA from 4,500 year-old skeletons

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 18:00

A pioneering study has identified the oldest evidence of HBV in the ancient remains and proved that viruses can become extinct. The scientific significance of the research has been described as ‘truly remarkable’ and compared to the discovery of the first fossils.

Today the Hepatitis B virus affects millions of people worldwide. In 2015 it was estimated that approximately 257 million people were chronically infected with HBV and 887,000 died due to associated complications such as liver cancer.

The new research, led by a group of academics at the Center for Pathogen Evolution in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge and the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, took genetic samples from skeletons across Europe and Asia from the Bronze Age to the Medieval period, and found 25 HBV-positive skeletons amongst the remains. In 12 of these skeletons, they found enough of the HBV genome to perform detailed analyses - the oldest of which was 4,500-years-old.

From this data they were able to extract the genetic sequences of HBV that infected the individuals thousands of years ago.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, present new insights into the origins and evolution of HBV. The genetic makeup of this strain could have implications for improving vaccines for HBV.

Before this study, the oldest human viruses to be discovered were approximately 450-years- old but most are no more than 50-years-old. The research now forms the oldest and largest datasets scientists have of ancient human viruses.

Barbara Mühlemann, joint first author on the research paper and a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, said: “People have tried to unravel the history of HBV for decades - this study transforms our understanding of the virus and proves it affected people as far back as the Bronze Age. We have also shown that it is possible to recover viral sequences from samples of this age which will have much wider scientific implications.”

Although HBV is a global health issue, little is known about its origin and evolution. As with many human viruses, this is largely due to a lack of historical evidence which has been difficult to locate and identify.

Dr Terry Jones, joint first author who is based at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, explained: “Scientists mostly study modern virus strains and we have mainly been in the dark regarding ancient sequences – until now. It was like trying to study evolution without fossils. If we only studied the animals living today it would give us a very inaccurate picture of their evolution – it is the same with viruses.”

Understanding more about HBV may now be possible. Showing that the virus has been circulating in humans since at least the Bronze Age is a big scientific advancement, as previous attempts to estimate how long the virus has infected humans have ranged from 400 years to 34,000 years.

The study was led by Professor Eske Willerslev, who holds positions both at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen.

He said: “This data gives us an idea of how this virus behaves, and it provides us with a better idea of what is biologically possible in the future. Analysis of other ancient DNA samples may reveal further discoveries and this pioneering study could have huge implications for how the virus affects humans today.”

The research also shows the existence of ancient HBV genotypes in locations incompatible with their present-day distribution, contradicting previously-suggested geographical origins of the virus.

Professor Willerslev initially suspected that it might be possible to find viruses in human remains based on previous research during his role at the University of Copenhagen. He approached Mühlemann and Jones who have specialised in identifying and studying the evolution of viruses.

The research approach the group used in the study, called ‘shotgun sequencing’, looks at all genetic material present in a sample, as opposed to ‘genome bio-capture’ which focuses only on the human genome.

Professor Willerslev said: “This study is just the start. We’re talking about one virus here, but there are a lot of other viruses we could look for.”

Barbara Mühlemann et al. 'Ancient Hepatitis B viruses from the Bronze Age to the Medieval period.' Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0097-z

An extinct strain of the human Hepatitis B virus (HBV) has been discovered in Bronze Age human skeletons found in burial sites across Europe and Asia.

This study could have huge implications for how the virus affects humans today.Eske WillerslevAlexey A. KovalevMass burial of battle victims from the Xiongnu period in Omnogobi, Mongolia, from which scientists extracted ancient DNA from for the study.

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Get composting this summer

Cambridge Council Feed - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 16:23

RESIDENTS of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are being encouraged to compost more of their food and garden waste as part of International Compost Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday.

Home composting organic waste also helps to significantly reduce carbon emissions, and can also be used as an effective way for residents to help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. Also, according to Recycle Now, composting at home for just one year can save global warming gases equivalent to all the CO2 a kettle produces annually, or a washing machine produces in three months.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

The Royal Society announces 2018 Fellows

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 15:26

The 50 newly-elected Fellows announced today join a list of scientists, engineers and technologists from the UK and Commonwealth. Past Fellows and Foreign Members have included Newton, Darwin and Einstein.

The Cambridge academics announced today as Royal Society Fellows are:

  • Alexander Dawid, Emeritus Professor of Statistics, Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics
  • Gregory Hannon, Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor of Molecular Cancer Biology and Director, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
  • Judy Hirst, Deputy Director, MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit
  • Lalita Ramakrishnan, Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and Head of Molecular Immunity Unit, Department of Medicine

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, says: “Our Fellows are key to the Royal Society’s fundamental purpose of using science for the benefit of humanity. For their outstanding contributions to research and innovation, both now and in the future, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the world’s best scientists into the ranks of the Royal Society.”

The new Fellows will be formally admitted to the Society at the Admissions Day ceremony in July, when they will sign the Charter Book and the Obligation of the Fellows of the Royal Society.

View the full list of new Fellows and Foreign Members

Four Cambridge academics are among the new Fellows announced today by the Royal Society and chosen for their outstanding contributions to science.

For their outstanding contributions to research and innovation, both now and in the future, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the world’s best scientists into the ranks of the Royal SocietySir Venki RamakrishnanRoyal SocietyProfessor Simon Tavare elected as a Foreign Member of US National Academy of Sciences

Professor Simon Tavare, former Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, has been elected as a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences

Professor Tavare works at the interface of the mathematical sciences and the biological and medical sciences. He pioneered probabilistic and statistical aspects of coalescent theory, full likelihood-based methods for sequence variation data, methods for ancestral inference, evolutionary approaches to cancer, and approximate Bayesian computation for inference in complex stochastic processes.

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Brain cholesterol associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 05/07/2018 - 16:00

The international team, led by the University of Cambridge, have found that in the brain, cholesterol acts as a catalyst which triggers the formation of the toxic clusters of the amyloid-beta protein, which is a central player in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The results, published in the journal Nature Chemistry, represent another step towards a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects millions worldwide. The study’s identification of a new pathway in the brain where amyloid-beta sticks together, or aggregates, could represent a new target for potential therapeutics.

It is unclear if the results have any implications for dietary cholesterol, as cholesterol does not cross the blood-brain barrier. Other studies have also found an association between cholesterol and the condition, since some genes which process cholesterol in the brain have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but the mechanism behind this link is not known.

The Cambridge researchers found that cholesterol, which is one of the main components of cell walls in neurons, can trigger amyloid-beta molecules to aggregate. The aggregation of amyloid-beta eventually leads to the formation of amyloid plaques, in a toxic chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells.

While the link between amyloid-beta and Alzheimer’s disease is well-established, what has baffled researchers to date is how amyloid-beta starts to aggregate in the brain, as it is typically present at very low levels.

“The levels of amyloid-beta normally found in the brain are about a thousand times lower than we require to observe it aggregating in the laboratory – so what happens in the brain to make it aggregate?” said Professor Michele Vendruscolo of Cambridge’s Centre for Misfolding Diseases, who led the research.

Using a kinetic approach developed over the last decade by the Cambridge team and their collaborators at Lund University in Sweden, the researchers found in in vitro studies that the presence of cholesterol in cell membranes can act as a trigger for the aggregation of amyloid-beta

Since amyloid-beta is normally present in such small quantities in the brain, the molecules don’t normally find each other and stick together. Amyloid-beta does attach itself to lipid molecules, however, which are sticky and insoluble. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the amyloid-beta molecules stick to the lipid cell membranes that contain cholesterol. Once stuck close together on these cell membranes, the amyloid-beta molecules have a greater chance to come into contact with each other and start to aggregate – in fact, the researchers found that cholesterol speeds up the aggregation of amyloid-beta by a factor of 20.

So what, if anything, can be done to control cholesterol in the brain? According to Vendruscolo, it’s not cholesterol itself that is the problem. “The question for us now is not how to eliminate cholesterol from the brain, but about how to control cholesterol’s role in Alzheimer’s disease through the regulation of its interaction with amyloid-beta,” he said. “We’re not saying that cholesterol is the only trigger for the aggregation process, but it’s certainly one of them.”

Since it is insoluble, while travelling towards its destination in lipid membranes, cholesterol is never left around by itself, either in the blood or the brain: it has to be carried around by certain dedicated proteins, such as ApoE, a mutation of which has already been identified as a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. As we age, these protein carriers, as well as other proteins that control the balance, or homeostasis, of cholesterol in the brain become less effective. In turn, the homeostasis of amyloid-beta and hundreds of other proteins in the brain is broken. By targeting the newly-identified link between amyloid-beta and cholesterol, it could be possible to design therapeutics which maintain cholesterol homeostasis, and consequently amyloid-beta homeostasis, in the brain.

“This work has helped us narrow down a specific question in the field of Alzheimer’s research,” said Vendruscolo. “We now need to understand in more detail how the balance of cholesterol is maintained in the brain in order to find ways to inactivate a trigger of amyloid-beta aggregation.”

Johnny Habchi et al. ‘Cholesterol catalyses amyloid-β42 aggregation through a heterogeneous nucleation pathway in the presence of lipid membranes.’ Nature Chemistry (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41557-018-0031-x

Researchers have shown how cholesterol – a molecule normally linked with cardiovascular diseases – may also play an important role in the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. 

The question for us now is not how to eliminate cholesterol from the brain, but about how to control cholesterol’s role in Alzheimer’s disease through the regulation of its interaction with amyloid-beta.Michele VendruscoloNIH Image GalleryMouse model of Alzheimer's disease

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesLicense type: Attribution-Noncommerical
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Birthplace of football sculpture to be unveiled

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 05/04/2018 - 19:21

AN EAGERLY-awaited sculpture marking Cambridge as the birthplace of the modern game of football will be unveiled on Saturday 12 May.

“Cambridge Rules 1848” is a public art commission from Cambridge City Council. It celebrates how a simple set of rules written by university students, for a game of football played on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge 170 years ago, has gone on to shape the development of the modern sport as a grown into a worldwide phenomenon embraced by diverse cultures across the globe.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

‘The greatest director in the world right now’ begins residency at Centre for Film and Screen

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 05/04/2018 - 12:55

Lucrecia Martel comes to the Centre as this year’s Filmmaker in Residence from 5-20 May, following in the footsteps of Gianfranco Rossi (2017) and Joanna Hogg (2016).

A retrospective of her feature films — the first to be held in the UK—has been jointly organised between the Centre for Film and Screen and the Arts Picturehouse. Martel will be present following each screening for conversation and Q&A. 

Martel, who lives and works in Argentina, is one of international cinema’s major stylists. Her provocative films treat questions of family, childhood, sexuality, belonging, nation, class, historical memory, and colonialism. In a cinema that is both sensually immersive and politically attuned, Martel looks at the world in a way that acknowledges mystery and prompts criticism.

Dr John David Rhodes, Director of the Centre for Film and Screen said: “The residencies offer our students, staff and our community both inside and outside the University the opportunity to engage with serious filmmakers of the highest order, all of them crucially important figures in the unfolding history of contemporary cinema.

“The residencies also offer the filmmakers the opportunity to develop and reconsider their practices in the context of the vibrant scholarly and intellectual ecology that is unique to Cambridge.”

Described by Vogue as ‘the greatest director in the world right now’, Martel is the director of four acclaimed films and a number of award-winning shorts. After almost a decade after her last full-length feature film, Martel returned as director of the critically-lauded Zama in 2017.

Based on the 1956 novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, the film is a period drama relating the story of a 17th century Spanish officer, separated from his wife and family, and awaiting a transfer from a remote area of Paraguay to Buenos Aires.

Shining a light on colonialism and class dynamics, the film won almost universal acclaim from film critics in South America, and was chosen as Argentina’s nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Martel will be resident at the University’s Centre for Film and Screen for more than two weeks, during which she will be offering a sequence of seminars on her filmmaking practice.



18 May, 10am-4pm, McCrum Lecture Theatre, Corpus Christi College.

Speakers: Lucy Bollington (Cambridge), Catherine Grant (Birkbeck), Rosalind Galt (KCL), Debbie Martin (UCL). 

Full details - TBC



The screenings will all be held at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse

Tuesday 8 May at 6pm - The Swamp (La Ciénaga)

Thursday 10 May ay 6pm - The Holy Girl (La niña santa)

Tuesday 15 May at 6:30pm - The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza)

Thursday 17 May at 6pm - Zama


One of Argentina’s and Latin America’s pre-eminent filmmakers begins a 16-day residency at Cambridge’s Centre for Film and Screen from tomorrow (May 5).

Lucrecia is a crucially important figure in the unfolding history of contemporary cinema.John David Rhodes

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesLicense type: Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Council asks residents for views on regular new Parkrun event at Coldham's Common

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 05/04/2018 - 12:49

CAMBRIDGE residents are being asked to give their views on a proposal to host a regular ‘Parkrun’ event at Coldham’s Common.

Parkrun is a free, weekly 5km timed run held at locations around the world, including at more than 500 venues in the UK, which is open to runners, joggers and walkers alike.

In partnership with Parkrun Cambridge City Council has identified Coldham’s Common as a potential site to host a new weekly event in the city.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

The history of islands and their contribution to the modern world

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 05/04/2018 - 11:00

The islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans are “the testing grounds for modernity”, but despite their importance they have been overlooked due to the Eurocentric focus of many history textbooks, says Dr Sujit Sivasundaram.

His forthcoming book, tentatively titled ‘Revolutionary Empire’, will be about the history of Pacific and Indian Ocean islands between 1780 and 1840 and he will speak about the subject as part of the Cambridge Series at this year’s Hay Festival. “That was the period that gave rise to the modern world and which consolidated the British Empire,” he says. “If we want to think of modernity in terms of a political system of states and a globalised world linked through capital, technology, ideas and forms of self-understanding this is a crucial period. The Indian and the Pacific Oceans are the ultimate frontiers of the world. Yet they were critical to what the modern world came to be.”

Dr Sivasundaram says the history of islands in the Asia/Pacific region is underexplored compared, for instance, to the Caribbean or the Atlantic, because of the way we see the spread of languages of rights, protest and state-making, from the West to the East. The islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans were further away and ‘othered’ – viewed as exotic and with very different forms of social organisation from Europe. This made it difficult for scholars in the West to give these places the chance to have a history.

“The histories of certain countries have come to stand for Britain’s imperial engagement. For instance, India. And the same is true for the story of the birth of the modern world in the so-called ‘age of revolutions’ at the end of the eighteenth century and the start of the nineteenth. We think that it all started with the American Revolution, the French Revolution and  the Industrial Revolution,” he states. Moreover, there is a tendency to focus mainly on the high point of empire at the end of the nineteenth century, he adds, and to consider the period of the book he is writing retrospectively. The later period was when imperial powers focused on the interiors of continents.

Yet, says Dr Sivasundaram, the study of island history casts an important light on some of the key issues associated with modernity, as they were sites of awful war, waves of migration and cultural encounter, depopulation and deforestation, wide scale attempts at conversion and concentrated attempts at the gathering of knowledge or trade. “They were crucibles of the story that would then unfold and places for the formation of categories of race and gender, for instance,” he adds.

Late 18th century and early 19th century documents also show how people in the region reflected on the environment, an abiding concern of Dr Sivasundaram’s research. Sea levels were studied by Pacific explorers. In Sri Lanka or Mauritius there was a lot of interest in natural history and deforestation. “Concerns with the environment have been long running and were present in the period my book covers,” says Dr Sivasundaram.

He anticipates that there will be more focus on islands as the impact of climate change increases and the world sees increasing numbers of climate refugees. “And the history of islands will be instructive for humanity as we face the future of modernity,”he adds.

From Tasmania to Tonga

Dr Sivasundaram will talk about the commonalities and differences between specific islands at the Hay Festival, by starting with the stories of four islands - Singapore, Tasmania, Tonga and Sri Lanka. In Tasmania, for example, disease and forcible removal led to the vast death of Aboriginals. He is particularly interested in the issue of kingship and local systems of rule. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the Kingdom of Kandy was an independent monarchy until 1815 when the British arrested the king and sent him into exile. The British then appropriated the mantle of kingship.

In Tonga, however, the imperial forces came looking for kings to negotiate with. The local chiefs picked up on the European idea of kings and adopted the model to help them to create more expansive states and retain independence. “Tonga was never colonised. It sees itself as the true Pacific,” says Dr Sivasundaram. “My interest is in the different paths taken and how the outcomes in different islands can be so different.”

He thinks there is a renewed interest in oceanic history and he sees that among the students he teaches on his popular ‘Islands and Beaches’ course for finalist undergraduate historians. “Younger people are travelling a lot off the beaten track. They are also intellectually committed to a history that is as diverse as possible.. There should not just be one history. Looking at the history of islands pluralises our view of the past in so many ways.

"Islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans are by their very nature marginalised spaces. They don’t conform with how we organise our knowledge. In universities we still focus on area studies (such as African studies or South Asian studies), but islands do not fit that disciplinary rubric. It’s a classification that dates from the time of the Cold War when area studies institutions were set up for strategic reasons. Island histories are also greatly vulnerable to loss, because of extinction, depopulation and dramatic change. These are specific reasons why islands have become so marginalised.”

Dr Sivasundaram’s previous books have been for a university readership, but his new one, which will be published by Harper Collins, is aimed at a public audience and he is keen to get it read in the Asia-Pacific region. “I want to change what is learnt about the history of islands,” he says, “and not simply in the West, but through a process of learning between island communities and students and readers in places like the UK.”

Dr Sujit Sivasundaram will speak at the Hay Festival about the history of the islands of the Pacific and Indian oceans and its marginalisation despite the fact the islands played a crucial role in modern political, intellectual and cultural thought.

Islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans are by their very nature marginalised spaces. They don’t conform with how we organise our knowledge.Dr Sujit SivasundaramTupaia"A Maori man and Joseph Banks exchanging a crayfish for a piece of cloth."

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

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

Greenhouse gas ‘feedback loop’ discovered in freshwater lakes

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 05/04/2018 - 10:00

A new study of chemical reactions that occur when organic matter decomposes in freshwater lakes has revealed that the debris from trees suppresses production of methane – while debris from plants found in reed beds actually promotes this harmful greenhouse gas.

As vegetation in and around bodies of water continues to change, with forest cover being lost while global warming causes wetland plants to thrive, the many lakes of the northern hemisphere – already a major source of methane – could almost double their emissions in the next fifty years. 

The researchers say that the findings suggest the discovery of yet another “feedback loop” in which environmental disruption and climate change trigger the release of ever more greenhouse gas that further warms the planet, similar to the concerns over the methane released by fast-melting arctic permafrost.

“Methane is a greenhouse gas at least twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide. Freshwater ecosystems already contribute as much as 16% of the Earth’s natural methane emissions, compared to just 1% from all the world’s oceans,” said study senior author Dr Andrew Tanentzap, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences.

“We believe we have discovered a new mechanism that has the potential to cause increasingly more greenhouse gases to be produced by freshwater lakes. The warming climates that promote the growth of aquatic plants have the potential to trigger a damaging feedback loop in natural ecosystems.”

The researchers point out that the current methane emissions of freshwater ecosystems alone offsets around a quarter of all the carbon soaked up by land plants and soil: the natural ‘carbon sink’ that drains and stores CO2 from the atmosphere.

Up to 77% of the methane emissions from an individual lake are the result of the organic matter shed primarily by plants that grow in or near the water. This matter gets buried in the sediment found toward the edge of lakes, where it is consumed by communities of microbes. Methane gets generated as a byproduct, which then bubbles up to the surface.

Working with colleagues from Canada and Germany, Tanentzap’s group found that the levels of methane produced in lakes varies enormously depending on the type of plants contributing their organic matter to the lake sediment. The study, funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council, is published today in the journal Nature Communications.  

To test how organic matter affects methane emissions, the scientists took lake sediment and added three common types of plant debris: deciduous trees that shed leaves annually, evergreen pine-shedding coniferous trees, and cattails (often known in the UK as ‘bulrushes’) – a common aquatic plant that grows in the shallows of freshwater lakes.

These sediments were incubated in the lab for 150 days, during which time the scientists siphoned off and measured the methane produced. They found that the bulrush sediment produced over 400 times the amount of methane as the coniferous sediment, and almost 2,800 times the methane than that of the deciduous.     

Unlike the cattail debris, the chemical makeup of the organic matter from trees appears to trap large quantities of carbon within the lake sediment – carbon that would otherwise combine with hydrogen and get released as methane into the atmosphere.

To confirm their findings, the researchers also “spiked” the three samples with the microbes that produce methane to gauge the chemical reaction. While the forest-derived sediment remained unchanged, the sample containing the bulrush organic matter doubled its methane production.

“The organic matter that runs into lakes from the forest trees acts as a latch that suppresses the production of methane within lake sediment. These forests have long surrounded the millions of lakes in the northern hemisphere, but are now under threat,” said Dr Erik Emilson, first author of the study, who has since left Cambridge to work at Natural Resources Canada. 

“At the same time, changing climates are providing favourable conditions for the growth and spread of aquatic plants such as cattails, and the organic matter from these plants promotes the release of even more methane from the freshwater ecosystems of the global north.”

Using species distribution models for the Boreal Shield, an area that covers central and eastern Canada and “houses more forests and lakes than just about anywhere on Earth”, the researchers calculated that the number of lakes colonised by just the common cattail (Typha latifolia) could double in the next fifty years – causing current levels of lake-produced methane to increase by at least 73% in this part of the world alone.       

Added Tanentzap: “Accurately predicting methane emissions is vital to the scientific calculations used to try and understand the pace of climate change and the effects of a warmer world. We still have limited understanding of the fluctuations in methane production from plants and freshwater lakes.” 

Latest research finds plant debris in lake sediment affects methane emissions. The flourishing reed beds created by changing climates could threaten to double the already significant methane production of the world’s northern lakes.

The warming climates that promote the growth of aquatic plants have the potential to trigger a damaging feedback loop in natural ecosystemsAndrew TanentzapAndrew Tanentzap.Lake near Sudbury, Ontario, in the Canadian Boreal Shield, with aquatic plants in the foreground providing fuel for methane production.

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge City Council Election Results 2018

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 05/04/2018 - 03:52

ELECTIONS to Cambridge City Council were held on Thursday 3 May. Fifteen seats were contested in 14 wards.

Before the election yesterday, the composition of the 42 seats on the city council was: Labour 26 seats, Liberal Democrat 13 seats, Independent 2 seats, and Green 1 seat.

Following the election, the composition of the 42 seats on the city council is now: Labour 26 seats, Liberal Democrat 14 seats, Independent 1 seat, Greens 1 seat.

The results of this year’s elections are as follows:

* Denotes sitting councillor seeking re-election

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Blood and bodies: the messy meanings of a life-giving substance

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 13:00

What is blood? Today we understand this precious fluid as essential to life. In medieval and early modern Europe, definitions of blood were almost too numerous to locate. Blood was simultaneously the red fluid in human veins, a humour governing temperament, a waste product, a cause of corruption, a source of life and a medical cure.

In 1628, William Harvey, physician to James I and alumnus of Gonville & Caius College, made a discovery that changed the course of medicine and science. As the result of careful observation, he deduced that blood circulated around the body. Harvey’s discovery not only changed the way blood was thought to relate to the heart but revolutionised early science by demanding that human physiology be examined through empirical observation rather than philosophical discourse.

This turning point, and its profound repercussions for ideas about blood, is one of many strands explored in Blood Matters: Studies of European Literature and Thought,. A collection of essays, edited by Bonnie Lander Johnson (English Faculty, Cambridge University) and Eleanor Decamp, it examines blood from a variety of literary, historical and philosophical perspectives.

“The strength of the collection is that, in a series of themed headings, it brings together scholarship on blood to bridge the conventional boundaries between disciplines,” says Lander Johnson. “The volume includes historical perspectives on practical uses of blood such as phlebotomy, butchery, alchemy and birth. Through literary approaches, it also examines metaphoric understandings of blood as wine, social class, sexual identity, family, and the self.”

Contributors include several Cambridge academics. Hester Lees-Jeffries (English Faculty) writes about bloodstains in Shakespeare (most notable, of course, in Macbeth) and early modern textile culture. Heather Webb (Modern and Medieval Languages) looks at medieval understandings of blood as a spirit that existed outside the body, binding people and communities together. Joe Moshenska (English Faculty) examines the classical literary trope of trees that bleed when their branches are broken.

“The idea for the book came from my previous  work on chastity. I was struck that early modern writing about the body is all about fluids, especially blood. Blood was perceived as the vehicle for humours, the essence of being and the spirit – and something that could flow between people,” says Lander Johnson.

“I became fascinated by the fact that we use this word all the time but we have no real sense of what we mean. Our predecessors used it even more frequently and yet there was no scholarship that could help me to begin to understand how many things blood meant for them. A conference at Oxford in 2014 brought together a group of people working in related fields. The book reflects the excitement of those three days.”

Definitions of blood in Western European medical writing during the period covered by the book are changeable and conflicting. “The period’s many figurative uses of ‘blood’ are even more difficult to pin down. The term appeared in almost every sphere of life and thought and ran through discourses as significant as divine right theory, doctrinal and liturgical controversy, political reform, and family and institutional organisation,” says Lander Johnson.

“Blood, of course, was at the centre of the religious schism that split 16th-century society.  The doctrinal dispute over transubstantiation caused ongoing disagreements over the degree to which the bread and wine taken during Mass were materially altered into the body and blood of Christ or merely symbolic.”

The role of blood in sex and reproduction meant that it was routinely described as a force capable of both generation and corruption. Menstrual blood is a case in point. Menstruation was seen as a vital and purifying process, part of a natural cycle essential to human life. But menstrual blood and menstruating women were also thought to be corrupting.

In Shakespeare’s plays, blood makes many appearances, both spoken and staged, from bleeding wounds to the rebellious ‘high’ blood of youth. Lander Johnson examines Romeo and Juliet’s love affair in the light of early modern beliefs about weaning and sexual appetites.

“Writing about birth and infancy reveals that early moderns were as anxious about their children’s health as we are but for them the pressing questions were: should I breastfeed my baby myself or give it to a wet nurse? How and when should I wean it to food? What sort of food?” she says.

“The wrong decision at this early stage of life could have a fatal outcome and was thought to not only form the child’s blood in either a healthy or corrupted state but also to shape the child’s moral appetites for the rest of their lives.”

Blood is synonymous with family and, in elite circles, with dynasty. Contributor Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes University) explores character and social class through references to blood in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V. In these plays about warfare and the relationships between royalty and common men, blood is often a substance that eliminates the differences between soldiers who die together in arms, their blood mingling in the dirt of the battlefield.

“Frequently these same descriptions turn into assertions of an essential difference between aristocratic and vulgar bloods,” says Lander Johnson. “Shakespeare is particularly inventive at building character through distinctions of this kind.”

In contrast, Ben Parsons (Leicester University) looks at blood and adolescence in the context of the medieval classroom where ‘too much blood’ was understood to cause wild and unruly behaviour. Medieval pedagogues were concerned about how the ‘full blood’ of students ought to be managed through the kind of material they were asked to read and when, the sort of food they ate while learning, and the style of punishment administered to those who were inattentive.

Blood Matters makes a valuable contribution to the history of the body and its place in literature and popular thought. It draws together scholarship that offers insight into both theory and practice during a period that saw the beginnings of empiricism and an overturning of the folklore that governed early medicine.

Today's scientists understand blood as a liquid comprising components essential to good health. But English remains a language peppered with references to blood that hint at our conflicted relationship with a liquid vital to human life.

A collection of essays explores understandings of a vital bodily fluid in the period 1400-1700. Its contributors offer insight into both theory and practice during a period that saw the start of empiricism and an overturning of the folklore that governed early medicine.

The book brings together scholarship on blood to bridge the conventional boundaries between disciplines.Bonnie Lander Johnson'Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library (Keynes.D.2.7)Detail from William Harvey's De motu cordis (experiment confirming direction of blood flow)

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Professor Lynn Gladden named Executive Chair of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 09:58

Professor Gladden is currently Shell Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge. She is internationally recognised for her work on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods which have benefited a wide array of industrial processes and contributed to a range of products and process technologies across multiple sectors.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is the main mechanism that promotes the UK’s strengths in research and innovation both at home and around the world and ensures that the UK continues to make the most of its world-leading R&D sector and provide support for researchers and scientists.

EPSRC is the UK’s main funder for research across the engineering and physical sciences. It supports excellent, long-term research and high-quality postgraduate training, in order to contribute to the economic competitiveness of the UK.

“EPSRC science delivers world-leading, original thinking in mathematics, physical sciences and engineering that transforms the world we live in, and I am honoured to have been selected to be its new Executive Chair,” said Professor Gladden. “This is an exciting time to lead EPSRC. In particular, the formation of UKRI offers opportunities for EPSRC science and thinking to expand into new fields through collaboration with partner Councils, and to explore new ways of working to deliver the UK’s Industrial Strategy.”

Sir Mark Walport, UKRI CEO, said: “Professor Lynn Gladden is a world-leading chemical engineer. Her ground-breaking work in academia coupled with her strong collaborations with industry makes her the ideal candidate to lead EPSRC and ensure the wider success of UK Research and Innovation. 

Lynn will build on the successes of her predecessor, Professor Philip Nelson, who I would like to thank for his exceptional leadership of EPSRC over the last four years and the crucial role he has played in the creation of UK Research and Innovation.”

Professor Gladden is Shell Professor of Chemical Engineering in Cambridge’s Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology, and a Fellow of Trinity College. Her research has focused on advancing magnetic resonance imaging techniques, originally developed for use in the medical environment, and using them in engineering research to gain a greater understanding of the physical and chemical phenomena that determine the performance of chemical processes and their resulting products. In addition to her own research, Professor Gladden has held a number of research oversight roles in the UK and abroad, including Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Cambridge from 2010 to 2016. She is currently a Judge for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

Professor Lynn Gladden CBE, FRS, FREng has been selected to be the next Executive Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), as announced today by Science Minister Sam Gyimah. She will take up the role in October, succeeding Professor Philip Nelson who will step down at the end of September.

Jason Alden/QEPrizeLynn Gladden

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

University of Cambridge wins Boeing Innovation Award

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 09:50

The University was presented with Boeing’s Innovation Award at a gala held in Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday 11 April. The award was given for the University’s ‘outstanding performance in research and development efforts, instrumental in the introduction of new products to meet Boeing’s current and future business needs’.

Accepting the award on behalf of the University were Philip Guildford, Professor Bill O'Neill and Dr John Durrell from the Department of Engineering. 

“We thought working with Boeing engineers on such exciting research for the last 15 years was already prize enough, but now Boeing has topped this wonderful experience with its most prestigious award – we are thrilled,” said Guildford. 

Professor David Cardwell, Head of the Department of Engineering, coordinated the Boeing partnership for Cambridge for many years, a role which was taken over in 2017 by Professor Duncan McFarlane.

Researchers from the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) have been working with Boeing since 2005, finding intelligent solutions to some challenging industrial problems. DIAL, headed up by McFarlane, has worked with Boeing on seven major projects to date, addressing three key challenges: how to manage supply chains more effectively, how to improve production resilience and how to make airports and airlines more efficient and robust. The lab is currently implementing a production quality tracking system in one of Boeing's US facilities.

Researchers in the Bulk Superconductivity Group, supported by Boeing, set a new Guinness World Record in 2014 for the strongest magnetic field trapped in a superconductor (17.6 tesla - roughly 100 times stronger than the field generated by a typical fridge magnet), beating a record that stood for more than a decade. They have since demonstrated a portable superconducting magnetic system that can act as a high-performance substitute for a conventional permanent magnet and can attain a 3-tesla level for the magnetic field.

The team, led by Dr John Durrell, are planning further testing for more magnetic power and overall efficiency. The group aims to enhance both the fundamental performance of superconducting bulks and to tailor them for specific applications.

And Bill O'Neill, Professor of Laser Engineering, is working with Boeing on a new generation of laser-based manufacturing technologies aimed at improving quality and productivity.

As part of its 2017 Supplier of the Year Awards, Boeing recognised 13 companies for the high-quality products, services and value they create for Boeing as well as its commercial airplanes, services, and defence, space and security customers.

The aerospace company said its award-winning suppliers had helped it achieve a ‘record year’ in its commercial airplane deliveries, growth in its services business and solid defence, space and security performance.

Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg said: “Our continued success in an increasingly challenging business environment is driven in large part by having the aerospace industry’s best team and talent – and that includes the world’s best supply chain.

“The 2017 Supplier of the Year Award recipients all share a passion for innovation, collaboration and sustained exceptional performance – qualities we look for in all of our industry partners.”

Jenette Ramos, Boeing Senior Vice President, Supply Chain and Operations, added: “The winners are among the best aerospace suppliers the world has to offer, and with their help, we will continue to lead the market by delivering value throughout Boeing’s second century.”

The University of Cambridge’s ‘outstanding performance’ in research and development has been recognised by Boeing in its 2017 Supplier of the Year Awards.

The Boeing Company 2018Collecting the Boeing Innovation Award on behalf of the University of Cambridge: Professor Bill O'Neill (holding the Award), Dr John Durrell (centre), and Philip Guildford (centre, right).

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Taming the multiverse: Stephen Hawking’s final theory about the big bang

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 11:47

The theory, which was submitted for publication before Hawking’s death earlier this year, is based on string theory and predicts the universe is finite and far simpler than many current theories about the big bang say.

Professor Hertog, whose work has been supported by the European Research Council, first announced the new theory at a conference at the University of Cambridge in July of last year, organised on the occasion of Professor Hawking’s 75th birthday.

Modern theories of the big bang predict that our local universe came into existence with a brief burst of inflation – in other words, a tiny fraction of a second after the big bang itself, the universe expanded at an exponential rate. It is widely believed, however, that once inflation starts, there are regions where it never stops. It is thought that quantum effects can keep inflation going forever in some regions of the universe so that globally, inflation is eternal. The observable part of our universe would then be just a hospitable pocket universe, a region in which inflation has ended and stars and galaxies formed.

“The usual theory of eternal inflation predicts that globally our universe is like an infinite fractal, with a mosaic of different pocket universes, separated by an inflating ocean,” said Hawking in an interview last autumn. “The local laws of physics and chemistry can differ from one pocket universe to another, which together would form a multiverse. But I have never been a fan of the multiverse. If the scale of different universes in the multiverse is large or infinite the theory can’t be tested. ”

In their new paper, Hawking and Hertog say this account of eternal inflation as a theory of the big bang is wrong. “The problem with the usual account of eternal inflation is that it assumes an existing background universe that evolves according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity and treats the quantum effects as small fluctuations around this,” said Hertog. “However, the dynamics of eternal inflation wipes out the separation between classical and quantum physics. As a consequence, Einstein’s theory breaks down in eternal inflation.”

“We predict that our universe, on the largest scales, is reasonably smooth and globally finite. So it is not a fractal structure,” said Hawking.

The theory of eternal inflation that Hawking and Hertog put forward is based on string theory: a branch of theoretical physics that attempts to reconcile gravity and general relativity with quantum physics, in part by describing the fundamental constituents of the universe as tiny vibrating strings. Their approach uses the string theory concept of holography, which postulates that the universe is a large and complex hologram: physical reality in certain 3D spaces can be mathematically reduced to 2D projections on a surface.

Hawking and Hertog developed a variation of this concept of holography to project out the time dimension in eternal inflation. This enabled them to describe eternal inflation without having to rely on Einstein’ theory. In the new theory, eternal inflation is reduced to a timeless state defined on a spatial surface at the beginning of time.

“When we trace the evolution of our universe backwards in time, at some point we arrive at the threshold of eternal inflation, where our familiar notion of time ceases to have any meaning,” said Hertog.

Hawking’s earlier ‘no boundary theory’ predicted that if you go back in time to the beginning of the universe, the universe shrinks and closes off like a sphere, but this new theory represents a step away from the earlier work. “Now we’re saying that there is a boundary in our past,” said Hertog.

Hertog and Hawking used their new theory to derive more reliable predictions about the global structure of the universe. They predicted the universe that emerges from eternal inflation on the past boundary is finite and far simpler than the infinite fractal structure predicted by the old theory of eternal inflation.

Their results, if confirmed by further work, would have far-reaching implications for the multiverse paradigm. “We are not down to a single, unique universe, but our findings imply a significant reduction of the multiverse, to a much smaller range of possible universes,” said Hawking.

This makes the theory more predictive and testable.

Hertog now plans to study the implications of the new theory on smaller scales that are within reach of our space telescopes. He believes that primordial gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime – generated at the exit from eternal inflation constitute the most promising “smoking gun” to test the model. The expansion of our universe since the beginning means such gravitational waves would have very long wavelengths, outside the range of the current LIGO detectors. But they might be heard by the planned European space-based gravitational wave observatory, LISA, or seen in future experiments measuring the cosmic microwave background.

S.W. Hawking and Thomas Hertog. ‘A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation?’’ Journal of High-Energy Physics (2018). DOI: 10.1007/JHEP04(2018)147

Professor Stephen Hawking’s final theory on the origin of the universe, which he worked on in collaboration with Professor Thomas Hertog from KU Leuven, has been published today in the Journal of High Energy Physics

We are not down to a single, unique universe, but our findings imply a significant reduction of the multiverse, to a much smaller range of possible universes.Stephen HawkingAndre PattendenStephen Hawking

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Tall Tales: Secrets of the Tower opens to the public

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 11:45

Now, the treasures of Cambridge University Library’s fabled 17-storey Tower Collection, chosen from nearly a million volumes, will go on public display together for the first time in a free exhibition, Tall Tales: Secrets of the Tower

Click here to go behind the scenes of one of Cambridge's most famous landmarks.

It is an icon of the Cambridge skyline that has inspired authors from CS Lewis to Stephen Fry – and been an enduring source of undergraduate legend for its mythical collection of Victorian pornography.

Sir Cam

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesLicense type: Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire