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Six Cambridge academics elected to prestigious British Academy fellowship

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 00:57

They are among 76 distinguished scholars to be elected to the fellowship in recognition of their work in the fields of archaeology, history, law, politics and prison reform.

The Cambridge academics made Fellows of the Academy this year are:

  • Christopher Evans (Department of Archaeology) is to be elected to the fellowship in recognition of his work on some of the most important archaeological field projects undertaken in this country since the growth of development-led archaeology
  • Professor Martin Jones (Department of Archaeology) is to be elected to the fellowship in recognition of his work in the field of in the field of archaeobotany
  • Professor Joya Chatterji (Faculty of History) is to be elected to the fellowship in recognition of her work on South Asian history, specifically the history of the India/Pakistan Partition of 1947
  • Professor Brian Cheffins (Faculty of Law) is to be elected to the fellowship in recognition of his work on the application of economic analysis to the area of company law
  • Professor David Runciman (Department of Politics and International Studies) is to be elected to the fellowship in recognition of his work on the history of political thought (from Hobbes through to late nineteenth and twentieth century political thought); theories of the state and political representation; and contemporary politics and political theory
  • Professor Alison Liebling (Director of the Prisons Research Centre) is to be elected to the fellowship in recognition of her work on studying prisons, specifically the internal social order of prisons.

They join the British Academy, a community of over 1400 of the leading minds that make up the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. Current Fellows include the classicist Dame Mary Beard, the historian Sir Simon Schama and philosopher Baroness Onora O’Neill, while previous Fellows include Sir Winston Churchill, C.S Lewis, Seamus Heaney and Beatrice Webb.

Christopher Evans said: “As having something of a renegade academic status, I am only delighted and honoured to be elected to the Academy.”

Professor Martin Jones said: “It is a real privilege to join the Academy at a time when the humanities and social sciences have more to offer society than ever before."

This year marks the largest ever cohort of new Fellows elected to the British Academy for their distinction in the humanities and social sciences.

As well as a fellowship, the British Academy is a funding body for research, nationally and internationally, and a forum for debate and engagement.

Professor Sir David Cannadine, President of the British Academy, said: “I am delighted to welcome this year’s exceptionally talented new Fellows to the Academy. Including historians and economists, neuroscientists and legal theorists, they bring a vast range of expertise, insights and experience to our most distinguished fellowship.

“The election of the largest cohort of Fellows in our history means the British Academy is better placed than ever to help tackle the challenges we all face today. Whether it’s social integration or the ageing society, the future of democracy or climate change, Brexit or the rise of artificial intelligence, the insights of the humanities and social sciences are essential as we navigate our way through an uncertain present into what we hope will be an exciting future.

“I extend to all of our new Fellows my heartiest congratulations and I look forward to working closely with them to build on the Academy’s reputation and achievements.”

Six academics from the University of Cambridge have been made Fellows of the prestigious British Academy for the humanities and social sciences.

As having something of a renegade academic status, I am only delighted and honoured to be elected to the Academy.Christopher Evans


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Loneliness is contagious – and here's how to beat it

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 11:07

Loneliness is a common condition affecting around one in three adults. It damages your brain, immune system, and can lead to depression and suicide. Loneliness can also increase your risk of dying prematurely as much as smoking can – and even more so than obesity. If you feel lonely, you tend to feel more stressed in situations that others cope better in, and even though you might get sufficient sleep, you don’t feel rested during the day.

Loneliness has also increased over the past few decades. Compared to the 1980s, the number of people living alone in the US has increased by about one-third. When Americans were asked about the number of people that they can confide in, the number dropped from three in 1985 to two in 2004.

In the UK, 21% to 31% of people report that they feel lonely some of the time, and surveys in other parts of the world report similarly high estimates. And it’s not just adults who feel lonely. Over a tenth of kindergarteners and first graders report feeling lonely in the school environment.

Loneliness is common among children, too. Shutterstock

 

So many people feel lonely these days. But loneliness is a tricky condition, because it doesn’t necessarily refer to the number of people you talk to or the number of acquaintances you have. You can have many people around you and still feel lonely. As the comedian Robin Williams put it in the film World’s Greatest Dad:

I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness refers to the discrepancy between the number and quality of the relationships that you desire and those you actually have. You can have only two friends, but if you get along really well with them and feel that they meet your needs, you’re not lonely. Or you can be in a crowd and feel all alone.

But loneliness is not just about how you feel. Being in this state can make you behave differently, too, because you have less control over yourself – for example, you’re more likely to eat that chocolate cake for lunch instead of a meal or order take-out for dinner and you will also feel less motivated to exercise, which is important for mental and physical health. You’re also more likely to act aggressively towards others.

Sometimes people think that the only way out of loneliness is to simply talk to a few more people. But while that can help, loneliness is less about the number of contacts that you make and more about how you see the world. When you become lonely, you start to act and see the world differently. You begin noticing the threats in your environment more readily, you expect to be rejected more often, and become more judgemental of the people you interact with. People that you talk to can feel this, and as a result, start moving away from you, which perpetuates your loneliness cycle.

Studies have shown that (non-lonely) people who hang out with lonely people are more likely to become lonely themselves. So loneliness is contagious, just as happiness is – when you hang out with happy people, you are more likely to become happy.

There is also a loneliness gene that can be passed down and, while inheriting this gene doesn’t mean you will end up alone, it does affect how distressed you feel from social disconnection. If you have this gene, you are more likely to feel the pain of not having the kinds of relationships that you want.

It’s particularly bad news for men. Loneliness more often results in death for men than for women. Lonely men are also less resilient and tend to be more depressed than lonely women. This is because men are typically discouraged from expressing their emotions in society and if they do they are judged harshly for it. As such, they might not even admit it to themselves that they’re feeling lonely and tend to wait a long time before seeking help. This can have serious consequences for their mental health.

How to escape it Look at being alone in a new light. Shutterstock

 

To overcome loneliness and improve our mental health, there are certain things we can do. Research has looked at the different ways of combating this condition, such as increasing the number of people you talk to, improving your social skills, and learning how to compliment others. But it seems the number one thing is to change your perceptions of the world around you.

It’s realising that sometimes people aren’t able to meet up with you, not because there is something inherently wrong with you, but because of other things going on in their lives. Maybe the person that you wanted to have dinner with wasn’t able to accept your invitation because it was too short notice for them and they had already promised someone else they would have drinks. People who aren’t lonely realise this and, as a consequence, don’t get down or start beating themselves up when someone says no to their invitations. When you don’t attribute “failures” to yourself, but rather to circumstances, you become much more resilient in life and can keep going.

Getting rid of loneliness is also about letting go of cynicism and mistrust of others. So next time you meet someone new, try to lose that protective shield and really allow them in, even though you don’t know what the outcome will be.

Olivia Remes, PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

One in three adults is affected by loneliness. It's time for us to take a risk and let others into our lives, says Olivia Remes, PhD candidate at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, writing for The Conversation.

Warren Wong (Unsplash)Quiet reflection (crop)


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Underdogs, curses and ‘Neymaresque’ histrionics: Cambridge University Press reveals what’s been getting us talking this World Cup

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 15:58

There has been no shortage of surprises during this year’s competition, and this shines through in the language data. Expressions such as premature exit reflect that several of the predicted favourites haven’t fared as well as expected, with the odd unforgivable blunder making an appearance, too.

Building on similar research conducted during the 2014 World Cup, the Press has mined over 12 million words of media coverage, to analyse the language used when discussing the various teams over the course of this year’s tournament.

Comparison with the language collected in 2014 shows that, whilst traditionally successful teams such as Brazil have gone from stylish to nervous and Argentina from having flair to struggling, World Cup 2018 underdogs such as England have gone from being inexperienced to confident.

The data reflects that several teams have defied expectations – the word underdogs features frequently in media reports, along with related language like plucky, determined, and punch above their weight also making an appearance.

As fans root for their home teams, the verb overcome is commonly found alongside words such as obstacles, hurdles and adversity. Even England’s long-standing penalty curse has been overcome, whereas previous champions Germany fell victim to the curse of the holders.

The introduction of Video Assisted Referee (VAR) technology has seemingly been met with mixed feelings, as it is commonly associated with words such as controversy, overturn and incident.

Despite the introduction of VAR, however, bad behaviour still abounds; the word histrionics is prominent in the data – often found alongside adjectives such as ridiculous, headline-grabbing, and amateurish. A new term has even been coined this year: neymaresque.

As well as analysing the language used by journalists and media commentators, The Press has also been asking fans to submit the words they would use to describe their national teams.

Laura Grimes, senior ELT research manager at Cambridge University Press, said: “It’s been great to see the correlation between the language used by the media and the descriptive words submitted by football fans. We’ve combined these two datasets to select the three words most strongly associated with each team.

“The huge amount of language data we’ve collected and analysed gives us fascinating insight into the mood surrounding the World Cup. It’s been a dramatic and surprising tournament and this is certainly reflected by the language used in the media, as well as by football fans.”

The Press is still inviting submissions for the public’s top three words to describe each national team. To contribute, simply visit www.cambridge.org/word-cup, click on any country and enter the three words you feel best describes this team.

Once submitted, you’ll be taken to a page that is updated in real time and shows the most popular words that have been submitted in a word cloud.

Cambridge University Press has revealed the results of its global study into the language used around the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

The huge amount of language data we’ve collected and analysed gives us fascinating insight into the mood surrounding the World Cup.Laura GrimesPhoto by Tom Grimbert on UnsplashArgentina fans at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.


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Homeward Bound

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 10:08

Earlier this year a team of 78 women from around the world took part in a three-week expedition to Antarctica, a trip that marked the culmination of the year-long Homeward Bound leadership programme for women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM). Read more about their adventure here

Oli SansomHomeward bound expedition


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Bridging the divide: philosophy meets science

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 16:03

The Templeton World Charity Foundation Project, spearheaded by Professor Sarah Coakley, the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, saw three postdoctoral researchers placed into science labs around the University with the aim of addressing the ever-widening gap between those working in the fields of science and those working in fields of philosophy and theology.

For three years, Daniel De Haan, Natalja Deng and Peter Woodford worked side-by-side with colleagues from the Department of Experimental Psychology, the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and the Department of Zoology respectively – taking part in cutting-edge research, and being mentored by world-leading thinkers in their subject fields.

It is hoped that the huge success of this project – which saw unusually deep philosophical engagement with working scientists – will be a catalyst for similar experiments both in Cambridge and beyond.

Professor Coakley said: “Top level, path-breaking science can often go on in universities without any connections to the history and philosophy of science which is coming at the same material from a different direction. The philosophical questions are enormously pressing so we were delighted that some truly leading scientists at Cambridge were open to the possibility of having our three young researchers embedded with them.”

Dr Peter Woodford, who worked both in Cambridge’s Zoology labs and in the field in Africa to look at cooperation among meerkats, what makes them behaves the way they do, and how we as humans understand the value of selflessness, altruism and the care of others.

He said: “It was obviously a unique experience for any philosopher to have, seeing what animals are doing in their natural environment and asking why animals do what they do – that’s a central question of philosophy as well as science. The value of pursuing these big questions is to understand what we believe and why we believe it in a better way.”

Dr Natalja Deng, who worked on the cosmology strand of the project, alongside colleagues in DAMPT, said: “What does it mean to ask if God exists? And what does it mean to say that the universe had a beginning? If you ask yourself questions like this, you are doing philosophy.

“In order to do that, you need to talk to both theologians and physicists. They may not be used to talking to one another, but that’s all the more reason to bring them together in conversation. We were an experiment for this.”

Dr De Haan looked at the connections between cognitive neuroscience, psychology and philosophy for his strand of the project. As with his other Templeton colleagues, Daniel received formal training in his chosen subject areas to ensure they were up to date with the latest research and scientific developments in that particular field.

He said: “It was enormously helpful to spend time seeing what the day-to-day routines are, working in a lab and attending lectures. The people in my lab were open to the idea of having someone around from a different background and a different perspective.

“Academics in the humanities as well as the sciences are beginning to appreciate some of the difficulties arising from the extreme degrees of specialisation – where we are losing the ability to talk to each other.”

Added Coakley: “I’m more happy than I could have hoped. This was a unique experiment in how to create a new generation of scholars to learn this agility early in their careers and we have shown that if it’s possible in one of the top universities in the world for scientific and mathematical endeavour, it should be possible in other places, too.”

A unique three-year project to bridge the divide between science and philosophy – which embedded early-career philosophers into some of Cambridge’s ground-breaking scientific research clusters – is the subject of a new film released today.

Academics in the humanities as well as the sciences are beginning to appreciate some of the difficulties arising from the extreme degrees of specialisation – where we are losing the ability to talk to each other.Daniel De Haan


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Baby’s sex affects mother’s metabolism and may influence risk of pregnancy-related complications

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 14:00

The findings, published today in JCI Insight, help to explain, for example, why male babies in the womb may be more vulnerable to the effects of poor growth, and why being pregnant with a girl may lead to an increased risk of severe pre-eclampsia for the mother.

A team led by researchers at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, performed detailed scientific studies of more than 4,000 first time mothers and analysed samples of placenta and maternal blood.

They found that the genetic profile of the placentas of male and female babies were very different in relation to the baby’s sex. Many of the genes that differed according to the sex of the baby in the placenta had not previously been seen to differ by sex in other tissues of the body.

The team found that one of these uniquely sex-related placental genes controlled the level of a small molecule called spermine. Spermine is a metabolite – a substance involved in metabolism – that plays an important role in all cells and is even essential for the growth of some bacteria.

Female placentas had much higher levels of the enzyme that makes spermine, and mothers pregnant with baby girls had higher levels of a form of spermine in their blood compared to mothers pregnant with baby boys.

Placental cells from boys were also found to be more susceptible to the toxic effects of a drug that blocked spermine production. This provided direct experimental evidence for sex-related differences in the placental metabolism of spermine.

The researchers also found that the form of spermine which was higher in mothers pregnant with a girl was also predictive of the risk of pregnancy complications: high levels were associated with an increased risk of pre-eclampsia (where the mother develops high blood pressure and kidney disease), whereas low levels were associated with an increased risk of poor fetal growth.

The patterns observed were all consistent with previous work which has shown that boys may be more vulnerable to the effects of fetal growth restriction and that being pregnant with a girl may lead to an increased risk of severe preeclampsia.

“In pregnancy and childbirth, the sex of the baby is at the forefront of many parents’ minds, but we do not even think of the placenta as having a sex. This work shows that the placenta differs profoundly according to sex,” says Professor Gordon Smith from the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“These differences alter elements of the composition of the mother’s blood and may even modify her risk of pregnancy complications. Better understanding of these differences could lead to new predictive tests and possibly even new approaches to reducing the risk of poor pregnancy outcome.”

The work was supported by NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Gong, S et al. Placental polyamine metabolism differs by fetal sex, fetal growth restriction, and preeclampsia. JCI Insight; 12 July 2018; DOI: 10.1172/jci.insight.120723

The sex of a baby controls the level of small molecules known as metabolites in the pregnant mother’s blood, which may explain why risks of some diseases in pregnancy vary depending whether the mother is carrying a boy or a girl, according to new research from the University of Cambridge.

In pregnancy and childbirth, the sex of the baby is at the forefront of many parents’ minds, but we do not even think of the placenta as having a sexGordon SmithJerry LaiPregnant


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Legislating labour in the long run – how worker rights help economies

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:09

There’s a familiar story that goes something like this: the post-war consensus was one of heavy regulation, dominant trade unions and the same job for life; then, in the 1980s, free market forces were unleashed, and regulation came to be viewed as a ‘market distortion’ that stifled productivity. By the start of the 1990s, deregulation was a cornerstone of the emergent ‘Washington Consensus’, and worker protection and unions were in steep decline. Legal reforms to ‘free up’ the labour market were declared a route to prosperity by international bodies such as the OECD and World Bank.

Now, a decade on from a global economic crash, and the mood music may again be changing. Issues of inequality and migrant labour are destabilising politics, while all-conquering technology companies are driving new and more flexible – as well as precarious – ways of working.

Last year, for the first time in a generation, both major UK parties went into an election with manifestos that argued free market forces alone were not sufficient to achieve the desired levels of productivity and social cohesion.

From time limits on working to minimum wages, from dismissal rights for workers to legal support for strikes, the extent to which labour regulations engender flourishing or sclerotic economies is a major policy question that is now firmly back on the table.

Helpfully, a research project compiling the largest ever dataset of employment regulations from countries representing over 95% of world GDP (117 nations) tracked across a 44-year period (from 1970 to 2013) is now beginning to publish findings. The team has made the data open access for other researchers to use.

Ten years (with various intermissions) in the making, the project involved around 20 legal, economic and statistical researchers – from senior academics to PhD students and postdocs – pulling together numerous data sources before refining the analysis with sophisticated regression models based on equations created by Cambridge economists in the 1990s.     

One constant, however, has been Simon Deakin, Director of the Centre for Business Research, Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law and Co-Chair of the University’s Public Policy Strategic Research Initiative.

“What we’ve ended up with is a vast dynamic dataset – a concrete product with implications for big policy debates, not least whether legislating to strengthen worker rights helps or hinders different types of economies,” says Deakin.

“Complex data of this nature may well prove helpful when exploring crucial issues for the future of society, such as how to combine social justice with economic growth. It’s really a question of the kind of global society we want.”

The datasets tell a story that contrasts to some extent with the familiar political story that most of us recognise.

It goes something like this: despite the massive deregulation that accompanied economic liberalisation in the 1980s – spreading through former Soviet territories as well as into the global South during the 1990s – employment protection laws became gradually stronger over time pretty much everywhere.

“Even during the Thatcher years – while trade union laws were certainly dismantled – we don’t see significant weakening in individual protection laws governing areas such as termination of employment, for example,” says Deakin.  

Moreover, after controlling for all other effects, the data suggest that this increase in employment protection that most countries and regions experienced during much of post-war history appeared to have no negative impact on their economies.

In fact, the team found small but positive correlations between stronger protective legislation and beneficial social and economic outcomes. This was seen in overall levels of employment, in increased labour productivity and in the amount of national income going to workforce wages rather than to capital profit.

Some of these positives may be the result of a “virtuous circle” in the long run, argues Deakin. Employment regulations can create short-term shocks: labour costs go up, leading to recruitment freezes or even lay-offs.

In the medium term, however, firms invest in new technologies and in training workers to use them. This improves morale, job security and productivity, while workers and their employers co-invest in learning and sharing knowledge – it’s called a “capital deepening” effect. “Innovation is connected to the way we regulate the labour market,” Deakin suggests.  

He offers some important caveats. The positive coefficients seen in the data are small, conclusions can’t be drawn about any single nation and empirically it’s not straightforward to infer causation from correlation. “This is the first time anyone’s done this for so many countries over such a long period; much more work is needed to extend the analysis, including studies of individual countries.”

In addition, the bigger picture remains one of widening inequality and shrinking labour share – as illustrated by another time-series dataset the researchers have been working on: the shifting legal protections of shareholders.

“Labour rights are fighting a constant headwind across the decades,” says Deakin. “Worker protections gradually get a bit stronger over time, while shareholder rights start to rocket from the early 1990s – across the West but also in China and Russia.

“When you put these datasets together you can see labour weakening significantly compared with capital. However, we can say that the labour share would have gone down even further were it not for the strengthening in employment protection law.”

The only dip of real note in the otherwise steady uptick of global employment regulation is found in Europe following the 2008 crash. The data show that labour protection laws became entangled in the Eurozone’s austerity drive, particularly in “debtor nations” such as Greece and Portugal.

“A reactionary resurgence of Washington-Consensus-style thinking post-crash resulted in minor rolling back of employment protections in Europe, but this approach is short-termist and I doubt there’s any real economic evidence for its effectiveness,” he says.

While liberalising legislation is often combined with new worker protections, as seen in Italy’s Jobs Act of 2014 or Germany’s controversial Hartz IV in the mid-2000s, reforms such as these loosened rules around ‘nonstandard’ employment: fixed-term and temporary work.

The rise of this type of work – along with new notions of self-employment through digital platforms – make up the so-called gig economy of often-piecemeal and insecure employment.

How labour relations in this economy are regulated may prove to be a crucible for policymaking in many countries in the future. Deakin sees potential similarities within the dataset and beyond.

“The gig economy is an issue that’s exploded in recent years, but our data show similar debates around labour law when part-time and agency work dramatically expanded 30 years ago and people needed better protection.

“You could even argue similarities to the late 18th century with factory expansion. At various points in history, labour law comes under pressure from technological innovation, an oversupply of labour or a loss of collective power. Traditional forms of regulation start to look worn.

“But the law evolves. We’re starting to see this with the designation of Uber drivers as ‘limb b’ workers: dependent to some extent on an employer, with accompanying rights.” There are parallels between ‘limb b’ and the introduction of part-time and temporary work in the 1980s, argues Deakin – “but the law caught up then and will do so again”.

“The law, society and technology often evolve out of sync. Sometimes the law actually triggers advancement, such as the commercialisation of intellectual property rights contributing to innovation in IT and pharmaceuticals. You need to take a broad historical perspective to gauge these interactions, which is exactly what our research allows.”

Inset image: read more about our research on the topic of work in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

Researchers have built the single largest dataset of employment laws – spanning more than 100 countries across much of post-war history – to look at how worker rights affect economies over decades.    

Complex data of this nature may well prove helpful when exploring crucial issues for the future of society, such as how to combine social justice with economic growthSimon DeakinUnsplashSteel workers


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Cambridge partners with industry leaders to fund research on global sustainability challenges

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 00:00

The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) is launching The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme today (11 July), with the support of some of the UK’s leading companies. The programme will attract researchers from around the world to identify solutions to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In a unique model for the University, up to 15 Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellows will be appointed to undertake three-year studies to mobilise global evidence on the world’s most pressing challenges, enabling companies and policymakers to build a more sustainable economy.

Founding sponsors of the Fellowship Programme include Anglian Water, Asda, AstraZeneca, The Equal Opportunities Foundation, Heathrow Airport Holdings, Paul and Michelle Gilding, Sainsbury’s, Sappi and Unilever.

As a tribute to his 70th birthday year, and in recognition of his lifetime’s dedication to environmental issues, the Fellowship Programme is named in honour of CISL’s Patron The Prince of Wales.

This effort is even more urgent given the UN’s announcement last week that progress on the SDGs has been slow and not on track to reach its 2030 targets.

“Universities contribute to society through the creation of new knowledge and the development of new skills,” said Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. “It is our aspiration to do this in ways that are relevant and purposeful. The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme, hosted by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, will help us to do just that by allowing academics to engage productively with business, government and financial institutions for society’s benefit – both in the UK and globally.”

The SDGs were launched in 2015 to provide a global framework for development with 17 Goals to be achieved by 2030, such as ending poverty, tackling inequality and climate change. Governments have cited the critical role of the private sector in delivering the Goals.

“The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme will create a rich intellectual space for collaboration between researchers and industry as we seek breakthrough ideas and leadership actions towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Polly Courtice, Director of CISL.

“Sainsbury’s are proud to be founding supporters of this Fellowship Programme and to have the opportunity to assess the evidence and potential for our business to play a more active and positive role in the communities we serve and source from,” said Mike Coupe, Group Chief Executive, Sainsbury’s.

“AstraZeneca is proud to be part of the Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme, supporting research to positively impact SDG 3; Good health and wellbeing,” said Katarina Ageborg, Executive Vice-President, Sustainability and Chief Compliance Officer, AstraZeneca. “By supporting a research Fellow to review the academic evidence for non-communicable disease prevention, we look forward to understanding and sharing more about the policies, practices and innovations necessary to deliver the economic and human benefits of sustainable health.”

“Meeting the UN SDGs will require the biggest transformation the world has ever faced and it will take all stakeholders to pull it off: governments, the private sector, civil society and academia,” said Lise Kingo, CEO & Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact. “The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme will provide a critical meeting point for the exchange of ideas in the development of solutions, and the evidence base for the urgent action that is required.”

The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme represents a multi-million-pound commitment from the private sector to accelerate progress on UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme will create a rich intellectual space for collaboration between researchers and industry as we seek breakthrough ideas and leadership actions towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.Polly CourticeUN Sustainable Development Goals


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Making sense of cancer’s ‘big data’ problem to revolutionise patient care

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 12:12

The Mark Foundation Institute for Integrated Cancer Medicine, announced today, will be funded by an £8.6 million award to the University of Cambridge from The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research – the first time that the New York-based philanthropic organisation has made an award to a UK institution.

The virtual institute aims to exploit recent advances in big data processing and machine learning to capture and integrate clinical, genomic, and image data collated from hundreds of cancer patients in real-time. Laboratory and clinic-based researchers and data experts will work together to determine whether sophisticated computational integration of all these diverse data types into a single platform can inform and predict the best treatment decisions for each individual patient.

Blood tests, biopsies, medical imaging, and genetic tests are a routine part of current cancer care; however, it is not always clear which of these increasingly large datasets are most important in guiding treatment at specific points in the patient journey.  

“Doctors have long dreamed of an objective system that can integrate all the results generated from their cancer patients, guiding comprehensive treatment decisions both for current treatment and to predict how a particular disease will behave in the future,” explains Professor Richard Gilbertson, Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre where the new institute will be based.

“This is essentially an enormous mathematical problem that requires state-of-the art computational and machine learning approaches to solve. It is this problem that our new institute, funded by a visionary award from The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, will seek to address.”

With the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches, the new institute will build and interrogate common data platforms and translate insights gained into principles for guiding timely clinical decision making.

“Integrated cancer medicine offers the promise of turning the tsunami of data generated in medical practice into an extraordinarily powerful but practical tool for patient benefit. This should enable us to deliver conventional and novel cancer treatments more effectively, and learn constantly from each patient through iterative analysis, as we refine and improve care for the future,” adds Professor Gilbertson.

The researchers involved in these studies plan to use existing breast cancer clinical trials to test the concept of synthesising different types of data to produce results that improve clinical decisions for patients during the course of their treatment. If successful, this approach will be extended to other disease types.

Dr Michele Cleary, CEO of The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research said: “We are delighted to support this bold and innovative research at the University of Cambridge.  The maximal use of patient data holds tremendous promise to offer better outcomes to patients and their families.  Cambridge scientists are at the forefront of the field in this regard and are well positioned to accelerate optimal approaches for personalised cancer medicine.”

A new institute at the University of Cambridge aims to revolutionise cancer care by using cutting edge analytics to maximize the use of big data sets collected from patients.

Integrated cancer medicine offers the promise of turning the tsunami of data generated in medical practice into an extraordinarily powerful but practical tool for patient benefitRichard GilbertsonNASA's Marshall Space Flight CenterMutants in Microgravity


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Vice-Chancellor’s awards showcase Cambridge researchers' public engagement and societal impact

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 16:26

Hundreds of post-war peace settlements were trawled through by a team at Cambridge’s Lauterpacht Centre for International Law to build this innovative research tool. Outputs from the work have been used to assist mediators engaged with some of the world's most violent and tragic conflicts.

The announcement was made at a prize ceremony held at the Old Schools on 9 July, during which a number of other awards were also presented to Cambridge researchers for projects that have made significant contributions to society – including work on prisons, pandemics, and pollution.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, says: “This award scheme, now in its third year, received nearly a hundred nominations from all areas of research within the University, which were of an extremely high calibre across the board.”

“Impact is at the heart of the University’s mission. Engaging the public is crucial to helping our University deliver on its mission, and to be a good citizen in our city and community. Institutions such as ours have a vital role to play in restoring trust and faith in expertise and ways of knowing.”

Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards

The Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards were established to recognise and reward those whose research has led to excellent impact beyond academia, whether on the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life. Each winner receives a prize of £1,000 and a trophy, with the overall winner – Prof Marc Weller from the Faculty of Law – receiving £2,000.

This year’s winners are:

Overall winner: Marc Weller (Faculty of Law)

Making and sustaining international peace

Drawing on a ten-year research programme addressing self-determination and ethnic conflicts, the Legal Tools of Peace-making project presents, for the first time, the vast practice revealed through peace agreements on an issue-by issue basis, making it instantly accessible to practitioners and academics.

The project, led by Weller, uses this repository to derive realistic settlement options for use in actual peace-negotiations, and making these available to the United Nations, the African Union, the EU and other mediating agencies. The work has had immediate impact on on-going, high-level peace negotiations in the inter-ethnic negotiations in Myanmar, the UN-led negotiations on Syria, discussions on Catalonia, the independence of Kosovo, Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia and several others.   

Marko Hyvönen (Department of Biochemistry)

Production of growth factors for stem cell research

‘Growth factors’ are proteins that regulate many aspects of cellular function – including proliferation. These complex proteins are essential for stem cell research, to differentiate stem cells into the specific cell types found in our bodies.  

Hyvönen and colleagues have used their expertise as structural biologists to develop methods to efficiently produce growth factors in extremely high quality: reducing cost to the stem cell community locally, and facilitating world-class research. They have spun out a company to supply these proteins for researchers around the globe and secured an Innovate UK grant for the company.  

Ryan Williams (Institute of Criminology)

Re-imagining Citizenship

Williams’ research on Islam and society works on the borderlines of religious studies and criminology, challenging practitioners and policy-makers to think holistically about social inclusion and the role of religion in contemporary society.

His research has been incorporated into: guidelines on countering prison radicalisation, adopted by the European Commission in 2017; the evidence base for the Lammy Review on equality and implementing its recommendations; a course on the Good Life Good Society, adopted in 2016 in a high security prison. Read Ryan's This Cambridge Life here. 

Florin Udrea (Department of Engineering)

Cambridge CMOS Sensors

Sensors that sniff the air can warn us of pollution in city streets, offices and homes. Breathe on these sensors and they can check our health. But they are normally big, heavy and drain batteries quickly.

Florin Udrea and his team set out to create environmental micro-sensors that are ultra-efficient and small enough for smart phones, watches and air purifiers in smart homes. Their spin-off, Cambridge CMOS Sensors, was acquired by AMS in 2016, which is now shipping products.

Julia Gog (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics)

Harnessing mathematics to help control influenza

Predicting the evolution of the seasonal human influenza virus to better inform vaccination selection is critical to controlling the spread of influenza each year. Moreover, a rarer global outbreak pandemic would have severe consequences on loss of life and the economy, and is viewed by the UK government as a major threat to the UK due to both its high likelihood and severity of outcome.

Julia Gog worked with data gathered through the BBC’s Pandemic project to produce mathematical modelling that helps predict how UK populations move and interact, and consequently how and where a virus would spread.  

Tim Cox (Department of Medicine)

Innovative Treatments for Lysosomal diseases

Niemann-Pick C, Tay-Sachs, Sandhoff and Gaucher diseases are genetic lysosomal diseases that affect several organs, including the brain, resulting in painful symptoms, neurological complications and early death. Tim Cox is a leading UK clinical investigator for Lysosomal diseases, exploring the rebalancing of excess production of the toxic sphingolipids, which cause these diseases.

His work has developed effective treatments that have been introduced into the clinic, improving patient outcomes. This research has also identified a definitive correction of the cruel children’s condition, Tay-Sachs disease, through gene transfer. After successful preclinical work, a University spin-out, Cambridge Gene Therapy, is accelerating the clinical programme for this disease.

Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards

The Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards were set up to recognise and reward those who undertake quality engagement with research. Each winner receives a £1000 personal prize and a trophy. This year’s winners are:

Sophie Seita (Faculty of English)

Seita produced a collaborative multi-media creative project that combined experimental performances, lecture performances, poetry, publications, and installations; both emerging from and feeding back into research. Presented as star-gazing conversations with a number of Enlightenment writings in English, French, and German, from tragedies, melodramas, philosophical treatises to proto-romantic romances of the period, the work investigates which aspects of the Enlightenment still speak to us today, and was performed at the University’s Festival of Ideas.

Anna Spathis and Stephen Barclay (Department of Public Health and Primary Care)

Fatigue, an extreme tiredness that affects the mind as well as the body, is the single most common and distressing symptom experienced by teenagers and young adults with cancer. Spathis and Barclay worked with these young patients to co-design a treatment for fatigue that meets their unique needs.

Charlotte Payne (Department of Zoology)

Working together with farmers and scientists at every stage, Payne developed a participatory research project on the sustainable use of edible caterpillars in southwestern Burkina Faso, and has explained the methods, aims and results to a variety of public audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Ragnhild Dale (Scott Polar Research Institute)

Dale was a researcher and assistant dirtector on a three-day staging of a mock trial version of the ground-breaking lawsuit where Norwegian environmental organisations Greenpeace and Nature and Youth are suing the Norwegian Government for allegedly allowing unconstitutional oil exploration in the Barents Sea. The project inviting expert witnesses from academia, industry and NGOs to testify in our production in Kirkenes, bringing the drama of the trial directly to the people who live and work in the north. 

The first major repository of legal practices for mediators and conflict parties to draw on when negotiating peace has won the top prize in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards at the University of Cambridge.

Impact is at the heart of the University’s missionStephen Toope


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Ancient American dogs almost completely wiped out by arrival of European breeds

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 19:00

But one close relative of these native dogs lives on in an unexpected place – as a transmissible cancer whose genome is that of the original dog in which it appeared, but which has since spread throughout the world.

Using genetic information from 71 archaeological dog remains from North America and Siberia, an international team led by researchers at the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Queen Mary University of London, and Durham University showed that ‘native’ (or ‘pre-contact’) American dogs, which arrived alongside people over 10,000 years ago and dispersed throughout North and South America, possessed genetic signatures unlike dogs found anywhere else in the world.

Comparison of ancient and modern American dog genomes, however, demonstrated that these pre-contact American dogs rapidly disappeared following the arrival of Europeans and left little to no trace in modern American dogs.

Senior lead author Dr Laurent Frantz from Queen Mary University and the Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network (Palaeo-BARN) at Oxford said: “It is fascinating that a population of dogs that inhabited many parts of the Americas for thousands of years, and that was an integral part of so many Native American cultures, could have disappeared so rapidly. Their near-total disappearance is likely due to the combined effects of disease, cultural persecution and biological changes starting with the arrival of Europeans.”

Professor Greger Larson, Director of the Palaeo-BARN at Oxford and senior author of the study, said: “This study demonstrates that the history of humans is mirrored in our domestic animals. People in Europe and the Americas were genetically distinct, and so were their dogs. And just as indigenous people in the Americas were displaced by European colonists, the same is true of their dogs.”

By comparing the ancient and modern genomes, the researchers confirmed that the earliest American dogs were not descended from North American wolves, but likely originated in Siberia, crossing into the Americas during early human migrations.

Lead archaeologist Dr Angela Perri from Durham University, co-first author on the study, added: “Archaeological evidence has long suggested that ancient dogs had a dynamic history in the Americas, but the fate of these pre-contact dogs and their relationship to modern American dog populations was largely unknown. Our study confirms that they likely originated in Siberia, crossing the Bering Strait during initial human migrations.”

“In fact, we now know that the modern American dogs beloved worldwide, such as Labradors and Chihuahuas, are largely descended from Eurasian breeds, introduced to the Americas between the 15th and 20th centuries.”

Intriguingly, the study revealed a close link between the genomes of the pre-contact dogs, as the researchers refer to them, and those derived from canine transmissible venereal tumours (CTVT). CTVT is a contagious genital cancer that is spread between dogs by the transfer of living cancer cells during mating. CTVT originated from the cells of a single dog, known as the ‘CTVT founder dog’, that lived several thousand years ago. Remarkably, the research revealed that the dog that first spawned CTVT was closely related to American pre-contact dogs. Overall the results indicate that this cancer, now found worldwide, possesses a genome that is the last remaining vestige of the dog population that was once found all across the Americas.

“It’s quite incredible to think that possibly the only survivor of a lost dog lineage is a tumour that can spread between dogs as an infection,” added Maire Ní Leathlobhair, co-first author, from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge. “Although this cancer’s DNA has mutated over the years, it is still essentially the DNA of that original founder dog from many thousands of years ago.”

Co-author and zooarchaeologist Professor Keith Dobney from the University of Liverpool, who co-directs the dog domestication project with Professor Larson added “This is yet another new and exciting finding from our combined genetic and archaeological research, which continues to challenge and illuminate our understanding of the history of the first and most iconic domestic animal.”

The research was largely funded by Wellcome, the Natural Environment Research Council, and the European Research Council.

Reference
Ní Leathlobhair, M, Perri, AR, Irving-Pease, EK, Witt, KE, Linderholm, A, et al. The Evolutionary History of Dogs in the Americas. Science; 6 July 2018; DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4776

The arrival of Europeans to the Americas, beginning in the 15th century, all but wiped out the dogs that had lived alongside native people on the continent for thousands of years, according to new research published today in Science.

It’s quite incredible to think that possibly the only survivor of a lost dog lineage is a tumour that can spread between dogs as an infectionMaire Ní LeathlobhairDel Baston (courtesy of the Center for American Archeology)Ancient dog burial


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Humans need not apply

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 14:08

On googling ‘will a robot take my job?’ I find myself on a BBC webpage that invites me to discover the likelihood that my work will be automated in the next 20 years. I type in ‘editor’. “It’s quite unlikely, 8%” comes back. Quite reassuring – but, coming from a farming family, it’s a sobering moment when I type in ‘farmer’: “It’s fairly likely, 76%”.

The results may well be out of date – such is the swiftness of change in labour market predictions – but the fact that the webpage even exists says something about the focus of many of today’s conversations around the future of work.

Many of the discussions are driven by stark numbers. According to a scenario suggested recently by consultancy McKinsey, 75–375 million workers (3–14% of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories by 2030, and all workers will need to adapt “as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines”.

Just recently, online retailer Shop Direct announced the closure of warehouses and a move to automation, putting nearly 2,000 jobs at risk. Automation – or ‘embodied’ artificial intelligence (AI) – is one aspect of the disruptive effects of technology on the labour market. ‘Disembodied AI’, like the algorithms running in our smartphones, is another.

Dr Stella Pachidi from Cambridge Judge Business School believes that some of the most fundamental changes in work are happening as a result of ‘algorithmication’ of jobs that are dependent on information rather than production – the so-called knowledge economy.

Algorithms are capable of learning from data to undertake tasks that previously needed human judgement, such as reading legal contracts, analysing medical scans and gathering market intelligence.

“In many cases, they can outperform humans,” says Pachidi. “Organisations are attracted to using algorithms because they want to make choices based on what they consider is ‘perfect information’, as well as to reduce costs and enhance productivity.”

But these enhancements are not without consequences, says Pachidi, who has recently started to look at the impact of AI on the legal profession.

“If routine cognitive tasks are taken over by AI, how do professions develop their future experts?” she asks. “Expertise and the authority it gives you is distributed in the workplace. One way of learning about a job is ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ – a novice stands next to experts and learns by observation. If this isn’t happening, then you need to find new ways to learn.”

Another issue is the extent to which the technology influences or even controls the workforce. For over two years, Pachidi was embedded in a telecommunications company. There she observed “small battles” playing out that could have vast consequences for the future of the company.

“The way telecoms salespeople work is through personal and frequent contact with clients, using the benefit of experience to assess a situation and reach a decision. However, the company had started using a data analytics algorithm that defined when account managers should contact certain customers about which kinds of campaigns and what to offer them.”

The algorithm – usually built by external designers – often becomes the curator of knowledge, she explains. “In cases like this, a myopic view begins to creep into working practices whereby workers learn through the ‘algorithm’s eyes’ and become dependent on its instructions. Alternative explorations – the so-called technology of foolishness where innovation comes out of experimentation and intuition – is effectively discouraged.”

Pachidi and colleagues have even observed the development of strategies to ‘game’ the algorithm. “Decisions made by algorithms can structure and control the work of employees. We are seeing cases where workers feed the algorithm with false data to reach their targets.”

It’s scenarios like these that many researchers in Cambridge and beyond are working to avoid by increasing the trustworthiness and transparency of AI technologies (see issue 35 of Research Horizons), so that organisations and individuals understand how AI decisions are made.

In the meantime, says Pachidi, in our race to reap the undoubted benefits of new technology, it’s important to avoid taking a laissez-faire approach to algorithmication: “We need to make sure we fully understand the dilemmas that this new world raises regarding expertise, occupational boundaries and control.”

While Pachidi sees changes ahead in the nature of work, economist Professor Hamish Low believes that the future of work will involve major transitions across the whole life course for everyone: “The traditional trajectory of full-time education followed by full-time work followed by a pensioned retirement is a thing of the past.”

“Disruptive technologies, the rise of the ad hoc ‘gig economy’, living longer and the fragile economics of pension provision will mean a multistage employment life: one where retraining happens across the life course, and where multiple jobs and no job happen by choice at different stages.”

His research examines the role of risk and the welfare system in relation to work at these various life stages. “When we are talking about the future of work,” he says, “we should have in mind these new frameworks for what people’s lives will look like, and prepare new generations for a different perspective on employment.”

On the subject of future job loss, he believes the rhetoric is based on a fallacy: “It assumes that the number of jobs is fixed. If in 30 years, half of 100 jobs are being carried out by robots that doesn’t mean we are left with just 50 jobs for humans. The number of jobs will increase: we would expect there to be 150 jobs.”

Dr Ewan McGaughey, at Cambridge’s Centre for Business Research and King’s College London, agrees that “apocalyptic” views about the future of work are misguided. “It’s the laws that restrict the supply of capital to the job market, not the advent of new technologies that causes unemployment.”

His recently published research answers the question of whether automation, AI and robotics will mean a ‘jobless future’ by looking at the causes of unemployment. “History is clear that change can mean redundancies – after World War II, 42% of UK jobs were redundant, but social policy maintained full employment. Yes, technology can displace people. But social policies can tackle this through retraining and redeployment.”

He adds: “The big problem won’t be unemployment it will be underemployment – people who want to work but can’t because they have zero-hours contracts. If there is going to be change to jobs as a result of AI and robotics then I’d like to see governments seizing the opportunity to improve policy to enforce good job security. We can ‘reprogramme’ the law to prepare for a fairer future of work and leisure.”

This might mean revitalising fiscal and monetary policies such as a universal social security and taxing the owners of robots.

McGaughey’s findings are a call to arms to leaders of organisations, governments and banks to pre-empt the coming changes with bold new policies that ensure full employment, fair incomes and a thriving economic democracy.

“The promises of these new technologies are astounding. They deliver humankind the capacity to live in a way that nobody could have once imagined,” he adds. “Just as the industrial revolution brought people past subsistence agriculture, and the corporate revolution enabled mass production, a third revolution has been pronounced. But it will not only be one of technology. The next revolution will be social.”

Inset image: read more about our research on the topic of work in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

Will automation, AI and robotics mean a jobless future, or will their productivity free us to innovate and explore? Is the impact of new technologies to be feared, or a chance to rethink the structure of our working lives and ensure a fairer future for all?

If routine cognitive tasks are taken over by AI, how do professions develop their future experts?Stella PachidiThe DistrictLinking research to policy makers

Dr Koen Jonkers is at the Joint Research Centre – the European Commission’s science and knowledge service in Brussels – and also a policy fellow at Cambridge’s Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP).

Over the past few months, Jonkers has been discussing the future of work with academic experts in Cambridge as part of his research for a special JRC report aimed at providing evidence for the European Commission’s employment and social affairs policies.

“Among the megatrends that will affect the future of work – an ageing workforce, migration, globalisation, urbanisation, and so on – the impact of technology is one where we seem to be witnessing a step change in the relationship that many people have with their work,” says Jonkers, who is one of the scientists employed by the JRC to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.

“Some people have said there will be a major shock in terms of joblessness. Others that it is part of a trend that is ongoing and that it will bring opportunity. We want to give an overview of all the viewpoints, to analyse how well societies are equipped to deal with change, to mitigate potential adverse consequences, and to come up with an idea of what is likely to happen.

“As well as reskilling and upskilling current workers, governments will be keen to look at anticipatory actions to prepare young people to have a different type of work life to that of their parents and grandparents, so that they will be used to a world where people and machines work together.”

The mission of CSaP is to improve public policy – in the UK and Europe – through the more effective use of evidence and expertise. “Through the CSaP Fellowship, it’s been very refreshing to talk with people with very high levels of expertise in fields other to my own,” says Junkers. “In such a multifaceted areas as the future of work, it’s been important for me to have expert analysis of the themes that are playing out.”


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Celebrating Cambridge’s LGBT+ scientists and engineers

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 00:00

To mark the event, the University has released a film in which staff and researchers from the University, AstraZeneca and the Wellcome Genome Campus discuss their experiences of being LGBT+ in Cambridge – and why it is important to be who you are.

"While we have witnessed an increase in inclusion and equality efforts in STEM organisations and companies, we have to recognise the many challenges individuals continue to face, especially members of the LGBT+ community," said Dr Alfredo Carpineti, founder of Pride in STEM and one of the organisers of the initiative. “That's why we launched LGBTSTEM Day. We hope for this to be a day of celebration, of reflection, and of engagement. LGBTSTEM Day is part of the global push to increase the visibility of minorities in STEM fields.”

The celebrations highlight the need for more role models to help enable LGBT+ scientists and engineers to be able to express themselves and to encourage others to consider a career in STEM. As Dr Sara El-Gebali, Scientific Database Curator at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) says in the film: “Sadly there are very few [LGBT role models in science]. It’s not because we’re not here, it’s because we’re not seen. We’re not officially here.”

Anna Langley, Computer Officer at Cambridge’s University Information Services, was one of the founding members of the University of Cambridge’s LGBT+ Staff Network. She works in an environment where diversity is a problem, but says that things that are changing.

“Working in IT is still a very straight, white, male, cis environment,” she says. “But generally, I think that the university is trying to do the right thing in terms of diversity. It’s trying to ensure that people are treated fairly regardless of their background, their gender identity, their sexuality.”

Having a supportive work environment is essential in helping staff both personally and professionally, says Christopher Fox, Associate Scientist at AstraZeneca/MedImmune: “I don’t think I’d be as confident as I am at work if I didn’t have people around me who were openly gay or openly lesbian, people who are happy to be themselves. It made me feel that I can be myself.”

Elizabeth Wynn, Advanced Research Assistant at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, adds: “I think it’s important to be who you are, to be able to live as your authentic self, because you’re never going to be truly happy or productive or complete if you’re trying to silence or hide some part of yourself.”

For Langley, being ‘out’ at work is important not just for oneself, but to support others. “If you’re not visible as someone who’s LGB or T, intersexual, queer, non-binary, whatever, then you’re making it that little bit harder for other people to be open about their experience too, […] to be comfortable in their skin in the working environment.”

The film’s contributors all describe Cambridge as being a very positive, open city in which to live and work.

“There’s a real emphasis on ‘it’s what you can bring to the table in STEM rather than who you are’,” says Fox. “It’s about what you can achieve, not what your sexuality is.”

Michael Rivera, a PhD student in the Department of Biological Anthropology, agrees: “With such a diverse, knowledgeable population in Cambridge, I think it’s very likely that you will find many friends to make here with common interests to you. You will find lots of allies who are open to different backgrounds and different sexualities – and maybe you’ll even find someone very special to spend time with!”

For Dr El-Gebali, her move to Cambridge has made a huge difference to her life. “Being in Cambridge has helped me to come out, not just to my friends and family, but also to work,” she says. “It’s the first time in my long career when I can officially say ‘Yeah, here I am and I’m not the only one’. Cambridge has been really, really good to me.”

This year, staff and students from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press, will be marching together as they join thousands of others in the parade at Pride London on Saturday. AstraZeneca and scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute will also be marching together as part of the Proud Science Alliance group.

Cambridge today celebrates the first ever LGBTSTEM Day – recognising all those who work in science, technology, engineering and medicine and who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other minority gender identities and sexual orientations.

I think that the university is trying to do the right thing in terms of diversity. It’s trying to ensure that people are treated fairly regardless of their background, their gender identity, their sexualityAnna Langley


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The Gaia Sausage: the major collision that changed the Milky Way

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 07:59

The astronomers propose that around eight to 10 billion years ago, an unknown dwarf galaxy smashed into our own Milky Way. The dwarf did not survive the impact. It quickly fell apart, and the wreckage is now all around us.

“The collision ripped the dwarf to shreds, leaving its stars moving on very radial orbits, like needles,” said Vasily Belokurov of the University of Cambridge and the Center for Computational Astrophysics at the Flatiron Institute in New York City. “These stars’ paths take them very close to the centre of our galaxy. This is a tell-tale sign that the dwarf galaxy came in on a really eccentric orbit and its fate was sealed.”

The salient features of this extraordinary event are outlined in several new papers, some of which were led by Cambridge graduate student GyuChul Myeong. He and colleagues used data from the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite. This spacecraft has been mapping the stellar content of our galaxy, recording the journeys of stars as they travel through the Milky Way. Thanks to Gaia, astronomers now know the positions and trajectories of our celestial neighbours with unprecedented accuracy.

“The paths of the stars from the galactic merger earned the moniker ‘Gaia Sausage’,” said Wyn Evans of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. “We plotted the velocities of the stars, and the sausage shape just jumped out at us. As the smaller galaxy broke up, its stars were thrown out on very radial orbits. These Sausage stars are what's left of the last major merger of the Milky Way.”

There are ongoing mergers taking place right now, such as between the puny Sagittarius dwarf galaxy and the Milky Way. However, the Sausage galaxy was much more massive. Its total mass in gas, stars and dark matter was more than 10 billion times the mass of our sun. When it crashed into the young Milky Way, it caused a lot of mayhem. The Sausage’s piercing trajectory meant that the Milky Way’s disk was probably puffed up or even fractured following the impact, and the Milky Way had to re-grow a new disk. At the same time, the Sausage debris was scattered all around the inner parts of the Milky Way, creating the ‘bulge’ at the galaxy’s centre and the surrounding ‘stellar halo’.

“Numerical simulations of the galactic smash-up can reproduce these features,” said Denis Erkal of the University of Surrey. In simulations ran by Erkal and colleagues, stars from the Sausage galaxy enter stretched out orbits. The orbits are further elongated by the growing Milky Way disk, which swells and becomes thicker following the collision.

“Evidence of this galactic remodelling is seen in the paths of stars inherited from the dwarf galaxy,” said Alis Deason of Durham University. “The Sausage stars are all turning around at about the same distance from the centre of the Galaxy. These U-turns cause the density in the Milky Way’s stellar halo to drop dramatically where the stars flip directions.” This discovery was especially pleasing for Deason, who predicted this orbital apocentric pile-up almost five years ago.

The new research also identified at least eight large, spherical clumps of stars called globular clusters that were brought into the Milky Way by the Sausage galaxy. Small galaxies do not normally have globular clusters of their own, so the Sausage galaxy was big enough to host its own entourage of clusters.

“While there have been many dwarf satellites falling onto the Milky Way over its life, this was the largest of them all,” said Sergey Koposov of Carnegie-Mellon University, who has been studying the kinematics of the Sausage stars and globular cluster in detail.

The head-on collision of the Sausage galaxy was a defining event in the early history of the Milky Way. It created the thick disk and the inner stellar halo. Even though the merger took place at a very remote epoch, the stars in the Sausage galaxy can be picked out today. Memory of this event persists in the kinematics and chemistry of its stars. Thanks to the Gaia satellite, astronomers have miraculous data with which we can peer back into the very distant past and recreate the pre-history of our galactic home.

Reference: 
Paper 1, Paper 2, Paper 3, Paper 4, Paper 5

An international team of astronomers has discovered an ancient and dramatic head-on collision between the Milky Way and a smaller object, dubbed ‘the Sausage galaxy’. The cosmic crash was a defining event in the early history of the Milky Way and reshaped the structure of our galaxy, fashioning both the galaxy’s inner bulge and its outer halo, the astronomers report in a series of new papers.

These Sausage stars are what's left of the last major merger of the Milky Way. Wyn EvansV. Belokurov (Cambridge, UK) based on an image by ESO/Juan Carlos MuñozArtist's impression of a collision between the Milky Way and a massive dwarf


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How 9,000 lists written over 300 years are helping to test theories of economic growth

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 11:59

In 1752, Juliana Schweickherdt, a 50-year-old spinster living in the small Black Forest community of Wildberg, was reprimanded by the local weavers’ guild for “weaving cloth and combing wool, counter to the guild ordinance”.

When Juliana continued taking jobs reserved for male guild members she was summoned before the guild court and fined the equivalent of one third of a maidservant’s annual wages. The entire affair was then recorded neatly
in a ledger.

It was a small act of defiance by today’s standards, but it reflects a time when laws in Germany, and elsewhere, regulated people’s access to labour markets. The dominance of guilds not only prevented people from using their skills, as in Juliana’s case, but also held back even the simplest of industrial innovations.

What makes this detail of Juliana’s life so interesting is that it is one among a vast number of observations in a huge database on the lives of southwest German villagers between 1600 and 1900. Built by a team led by Professor Sheilagh Ogilvie in the Faculty of Economics, the database includes court records, guild ledgers, parish registers, village censuses, tax lists and – the most recent addition – 9,000 handwritten inventories listing over a million personal possessions belonging to ordinary women and men across three centuries.

Ogilvie, who discovered the inventories in the archives of two German communities 30 years ago, believes they may hold the answer to a conundrum that has long puzzled economists: the lack of evidence for a causal link between education and a country’s growth and development.

“It might sound as if this is a no-brainer,” explains Ogilvie. “Education helps us to work more productively, invent better technology, earn more, have fewer children and invest more in them – surely it must be critical for economic growth? But, if you look back through history, there’s no evidence that having a high literacy rate made a country industrialise earlier.”

She explains that between 1600 and 1900, England had only mediocre literacy rates by European standards, yet its economy grew fast and it was the first country to industrialise. Germany and Scandinavia had excellent literacy rates, but their economies grew slowly and they industrialised late.

“Modern cross-country analyses have also struggled to find evidence that education causes economic growth, even though there is plenty of evidence that growth increases education,” she adds.

The inventories Ogilvie is analysing listed the belongings of women and men at marriage, remarriage and death. From badger skins to Bibles, dung barrows to dried apple slices, sewing machines to scarlet bodices – the villagers’ entire worldly goods were listed. Inventories of agricultural equipment and craft tools revealed economic activities; ownership of books and education-related objects like pens and slates suggested how people learned.

In addition, tax lists recorded the value of farms, workshops, assets and debts; signatures and people’s estimates of their age indicated literacy and numeracy levels; and court records revealed obstacles that stifled industry, like Juliana and her wool-combing.

“Previous studies usually had just one proxy for linking education with economic growth – the presence of schools and printing presses, perhaps, or school enrolment, or the ability to sign names.
This database gives us multiple indicators for the same individuals,” she explains. “I began to realise that, for the first time ever, it was possible to link literacy, numeracy, wealth, industriousness, innovative behaviour and participation in the cash economy and credit markets – for individual women and men, rich and poor, over the very long term.”

Since 2009, Ogilvie and her team have been building the vast database of material possessions on top of their full demographic reconstruction of the people who lived in these two communities. “We can follow the same people – and their descendants – across 300 years of educational and economic change,” she says.

Individual lives have unfolded before their eyes. Stories like that of the man who wanted to grow a new crop – turnips – but was forbidden by the village council because it meant driving his cart to the fields at a different time, threatening others’ crops in the communal rotation system.

Or the young weaver’s wife Magdalena Schöttlin fined 11 days’ wages for wearing an “excessively large neckerchief ... above her station”. Or the 24-year-olds Ana Regina and Magdalena Riethmüllerin who were chastised in 1707 for reading books instead of listening to the pastor’s sermon. “This tells us that they were continuing to develop their reading skills at least a decade after leaving school,” explains Ogilvie.

It would be easy to focus on these stories – the aspirations and tragedies, the societal norms and individual rebellions, the possessions precious and prosaic – but, says Ogilvie, now that the data-gathering phase of the project is complete, “it’s time to ask the big questions”.

One way to look at whether education causes economic growth is to “hold wealth constant” and follow the lives of people of a certain level, rich or poor, she explains. “Do we find education positively linked to the cultivation of new crops, or to the adoption of industrial innovations like knitting frames or sewing machines? Or to the acquisition of ‘contemporary’ goods such as cottons or coffee cups? Or to female labour force participation or involvement in the credit market?”

The team will also ask whether more highly educated women had fewer children – enabling them to invest more in those they had – as well as what aspect of education helped people engage more with productive and innovative activities. Was it, for instance, literacy, numeracy, book ownership, years of schooling? Was there a threshold level – a tipping point – that needed to be reached to affect economic performance?

Ogilvie hopes to start finding answers to these questions over the next two years. One thing is already clear, she says: the relationship between education and economic growth is far from straightforward.

“German-speaking central Europe is an excellent laboratory for testing theories of economic growth,” she explains. “We know that literacy rates and book ownership were high and yet the region remained poor. We also know that local guilds and merchant associations were powerful and resisted changes that threatened their monopolies. Entrenched village oligarchies opposed disruptive innovations and blocked labour migration.

“Early findings suggest that the potential benefits of education for the economy can be held back by other barriers, and this has implications for today,” she says. “Huge amounts are spent improving education in developing countries but this spending can fail to deliver economic growth if restrictions block people – especially women and the poor – from using their education in economically productive ways. If economic institutions are poorly set up, for instance, education can’t lead to growth.”

Ogilvie also hopes to dig deeper into which aspects of education matter. “We feel intuitively that the answer to the famous question posed by Tolstoy – ‘Can there be two opinions on the advantage of education?’ – is the one that Tolstoy gives: ‘If it’s a good thing for you, it’s a good thing for everyone’.

“But while some types of schooling just benefit the providers or the authorities, other types make kids happier, increase their productivity, maximise impact on people’s wellbeing and benefit the wider society.”

Ogilvie believes the data will contain answers, and says: “I look at what we’ve amassed and I realise that I’m going to be working on these inventories for the rest of my life… I can think of much worse fates.”

Research funded by the British Academy, the Wolfson Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust.

Inset image: read more about our research on the topic of work in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

The handwritten inventories had lain largely untouched for centuries. Sand used to dry the ink still lay between the pages. Written neatly inside were thousands of lists that might hold the key to an enduring puzzle in economics – does education fuel economic growth?

Education helps us to work more productively, invent better technology, earn more, have fewer children and invest more in them – surely it must be critical for economic growth? But, if you look back through history, there’s no evidence that having a high literacy rate made a country industrialise earlierOriginal and Reproduction: Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart. HStAS A573 Bü. 4923, death inventory for Michael Planckh of Wildberg, 30 Oct. 1676.


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Mend the gap: solving the UK’s productivity puzzle

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 14:02

The UK is the world’s sixth largest economy. But would it surprise you to learn that outside of London, the South East and a handful of major cities, many areas of the UK are just as poor as swathes of Eastern Europe?

The disparity between different regions of the UK is stark, and not only in terms of living standards and educational attainment – but, crucially, also in the productivity of its workforce.

The productivity gap is one of the most serious and vexing economic problems facing the government of the day, and Brexit is adding uncertainty to the mix.

Close the productivity gap between the most and least successful regions of the UK, and the GDP of UK PLC will invariably rise. Allow it to remain at current, stagnant levels – or, even worse, let the gap widen – and it’s not only our place in the world rankings that suffers, but also the UK’s economy, infrastructure, educational standards and health, as well as other indicators of social cohesion, such as child poverty and rising crime rates.

Put simply, productivity fires the engine of our economy – and we all need to mind the gap.

The UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’ is what concerns Dr Maria Abreu from the Department of Land Economy. She’s working with colleagues from universities around the UK as part of the Productivity Insights Network funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and led by the University of Sheffield. The group of economists, geographers, management experts and other scientists are taking a place-based approach to a problem HM government is desperate to solve.

Last year, the government published a 256-page Industrial Strategy that placed the productivity gap at its centre and is looking to the Network to provide policy recommendations, explains Abreu.

“There’s a narrative that the UK is a very rich country, but many regions of the UK outside the capital are poor,” she says. “We have a few of the richest regions in Europe and some of the poorest. It’s a delusion to say we’re rich.

“All the growth in the economy is centred on London, the South East and a few other cities. But growth is low or negative in the rest of the UK, and overall that means there is nearly no growth whatsoever. We are standing still.”

Compared with other OECD countries, the UK has had low productivity performance since the 1970s.

The gap with other countries closed significantly during the Labour governments of the late 1990s and 2000s: GDP per hour worked grew at an average rate of 2.1% until 2007 when the global financial crisis began.

Since then, however, productivity growth has been negative (-1.1% per year for 2007–9) or very low (0.4% per year from 2009–13), and the gap with other OECD countries has increased again despite employment rates remaining relatively strong, leading to the so-called productivity puzzle.

The three-year ESRC project is divided into distinct themes, and Abreu is leading on researching how the skills of the UK labour force, developed from preschool to life-long adult learning, go hand in hand with the rise (or fall) of productivity – and how place is a crucial, determining factor in all of this.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that labour productivity in 2016 was significantly above the UK average in London (+33%) and the South East (+6%), but below average in all other regions and nations, and particularly low in the North East (-11%), the West Midlands (-13%), Yorkshire (-15%), and Wales and Northern Ireland (-17%).

“My group is looking at education and teaching standards, and what might be causing the regional disparities,” says Abreu. “We are also looking at graduate migration because we have some excellent northern universities, but those regions lose a lot of people after graduation.

“London and its surrounding areas are very successful in attracting graduates and highly skilled workers from around the UK, as well as migrant workers from abroad.

“The capital’s productivity is enormous, but this means it is decoupling from the rest of the economy. We can link this directly to globalisation in the 1980s and the offshoring of certain industries. Most of the new jobs have been in hi-tech industries concentrated in only a few places.”

Abreu suggests the dismantling of the Regional Development Agencies and the move to LEPs (Learning Enterprise Zones) from 2010 has come at a huge cost to large areas of the UK that are no longer covered by a consistent development strategy.

She passionately believes that increasing education standards across the country is vital if the UK is ever to close its productivity gap. She also argues for proper development strategies for all regions of the UK – as well as investment in education.

The extent to which parents are engaged with their children’s schooling also displays strong regional variations. Areas that are better off attract better teachers. The benefits and drawbacks of this regionalism become self-perpetuating and that affects everyone.

“These disparities in productivity, education and living standards affect us all,” says Abreu. “It matters if you have one region that far outpaces everywhere else. Regions get left behind, become very socially and politically unstable, and low productivity translates into low wages and deprivation. Families do badly at school and this entrenches poverty and poor social mobility, which impacts the rest of the country.”

 

Migrant workers and domestic labour

A study by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2015 found that migrant workers brought benefits to UK employers that led to productivity boosts. What happens after Brexit?

Professor Catherine Barnard from the Faculty of Law believes that too much of the Brexit debate has been taken up with the discussion of trade – manufacturing amounts to only 15% of the economy – rather than the impact of the migrant workforce.

 “We know there are sectors that are highly dependent on EU labour such as agriculture, which is often low-paid, seasonal work where the incentive to UK workers is not that great,” says Barnard. “We also know that 10% of
the NHS, especially in London, is made up of migrant workers. At Cambridge University, it’s 27% at postdoctoral level.”

 Barnard, working with Dr Amy Ludlow and Sarah Fraser-Butlin, has been looking at the issue of immigration and the labour force, funded by the ESRC. They have focused on the East of England, visiting schools in Spalding as well as attending town hall meetings in Holt and Sheringham. Barnard says: “You get a very different view of the world. When I have given evidence to parliament, I can talk about these towns and their experiences of Eastern European migration – which are very different to the experiences of a town like Cambridge.

 “The reason people can’t get a hospital appointment or a school place is partly to do with migration, but it’s also because of the underfunding of public services. Local councils have lost 40% of their funding from central government since 2010.”

 

Read more about our research on the topic of work in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

When it comes to the output, education and wellbeing of the Great British workforce, our towns, cities and regions exist on a dramatically unequal footing. A new, wide-ranging research network hopes to find answers to a decades-old problem – the UK’s productivity gap.

There’s a narrative that the UK is a very rich country, but many regions of the UK outside the capital are poor.Maria Abreu


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Ely’s new cathedral (of books) opens for business

Wed, 06/27/2018 - 14:45

The first book placed into the store was Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: the nearly definitive edition, introduced by Richard Dawkins and Nick Harkaway (London, Heinemann, 2014). Adams was a former student at St John’s College, Cambridge. Click here for the full story.

Visitors to Ely may spot a new landmark on the city’s horizon aside from its famous 1,000-year-old cathedral – a vast, new state-of-the-art storage facility for millions of books belonging to Cambridge University Library and other university collections. 


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The stresses and strains of work and unemployment

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 08:45

When I ask Dr Adam Coutts what we know about the impact of unemployment on health, his response is blunt and to the point: “It’s very bad.”

There’s a pause before he goes on to say that we’ve known for more than half a century that unemployment is bad for mental health and wellbeing, and that this has a knock-on effect on our physical health. Where there is debate, though, is over why it is so bad. Studies suggest that work provides what he describes as “psychological vitamins or functions”, such as structure, routine, a sense of identity and the opportunity to meet people and socialise. “It’s not all about a wage,” he says.

Coutts has been on research placement from the Department of Sociology to the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) Work and Health Unit since June 2016. There, he has been looking to better understand the link between unemployment and mental health, particularly in the context of today’s Britain, and how policy can intervene to help.

He is studying an intervention that aims to get people back to work and to support their mental health needs. The programme is adapted from one developed by the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan and now being trialled by the DWP. Participants take part in a voluntary five-day course, during which they receive help with CV writing, social support, interview techniques and how to search for a job, including how to see the process from the viewpoint of an employer.

Coutts has been conducting an ethnographic study across five areas of England since the trial started in January 2017 to complement a large-scale randomised control trial evaluation. He has what he describes as “a ringside seat” of the policy process and has seen how the intervention has been designed, implemented and evaluated: a privileged point of access for any academic researcher. He observes course participants and facilitators, and staff at job centres – “everyone from the unemployed to senior civil servants” – to see how these policies actually work on the ground.

“We know these types of interventions have an effect on job search behaviours and a person’s health, but we don’t really know why and who is most responsive. I’m trying to tell a story of what it’s like to go through these programmes, be unemployed and cope with mental health issues in Britain today.”

If the evidence from previous trials in the USA is anything to go by, then the benefits from such an intervention would reach beyond the individual: as well as helping people get back to work, improving their mental health and wellbeing could save money for the NHS, as a result of less reliance on GP or mental health services.

But mental health issues are not just associated with unemployment. There is a growing recognition of the link between employment and our health and wellbeing, too. A recent report for government, entitled ‘Thriving at Work’, included some startling statistics for the UK: 15% of workers have a mental health condition and 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs each year. Mental health costs employers over £33 billion per year, the state over £24 billion and the whole economy over £73 billion.

“Employers need to understand that stress and anxiety, and mental ill health, is a large problem in terms of people not being at work, or being at work and not performing well,” says Professor Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College, and author of several influential reports for government about work and health.

Black believes that training at line management level to identify and support workers with mental health issues is essential to tackling this problem; without this, measures to create healthier workplaces will amount to little more than papering over the cracks, Black says.

However, she has seen enough examples of good practice in companies such as BT, Unilever and Anglian Water to be optimistic that we can tackle this problem. “What you see are pockets of good practice, but I think we need a campaign to really get it out there and say we know this is what we all should be doing – it isn’t that difficult to do.”

Business leaders are beginning to pay attention. In an article earlier this year following the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Clifton Leaf, Editor-in-Chief at the influential business magazine Fortune, chose as number one of ‘7 Takeaways From Davos’: ‘The mental health disorder time bomb is upon us’.

One of the problems, however, is the lack of concrete evidence about what works. “People often ask ‘where’s the Cochrane-type evidence?’” says Black, referring to the ‘gold standard’ of evidence reviews in research. “It’s not easy to collect data in the workplace, but we would only have better evidence if more organisations collected data and were willing to share it.”

Dr Tine Van Bortel from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health is helping to build this evidence base. In fact, she was namechecked in Leaf’s article after he attended a mental health event at Davos that she co-presented with the international care consortium Kaiser Permanente.

As part of her mandate with the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Mental Health, Van Bortel has been leading a study looking at policies used by major corporations aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of their workforce. “A lot of these corporations say that a combination of integrated and targeted approaches are really important,” she says.

An integrated approach might consist of providing access to a gym. Targeted interventions might include a willingness to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ such as moving an employee to less strenuous work or allowing
them to work part time.

While Van Bortel believes employers should take responsibility for ensuring the health and wellbeing of their employees, she is a passionate believer that government can – and should – think about our mental health.

“I firmly believe that government should ensure our workplaces are healthy and that we’re not being confronted with some of the stressful, unjust and – quite frankly – inhumane situations that we’re currently seeing.

“Think about zero-hours contracts, or people having to work three jobs to make ends meet, or wage discrepancies and other structural inequalities. This puts a lot of stress on persons, families and ultimately society, and can reflect on work and productivity. More can and should be done. After all, healthy and all-inclusive workforces make excellent business sense.” 

A stressful workplace can damage your health. But so too can being out of work. Cambridge researchers are trying to understand why both situations can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing – and help employers and government provide solutions.

Employers need to understand that stress and anxiety, and mental ill health, is a large problem in terms of people not being at work, or being at work and not performing wellCarol BlackPixabayMeeting


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Why life on Earth first got big

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 15:52

The research, led by the University of Cambridge, found that the most successful organisms living in the oceans more than half a billion years ago were the ones that were able to ‘throw’ their offspring the farthest, thereby colonising their surroundings. The results are reported in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Prior to the Ediacaran period, between 635 and 541 million years ago, life forms were microscopic in size, but during the Ediacaran, large, complex organisms first appeared, some of which – such as a type of organism known as rangeomorphs – grew as tall as two metres. These organisms were some of the first complex organisms on Earth, and although they look like ferns, they may have been some of the first animals to exist – although it’s difficult for scientists to be entirely sure. Ediacaran organisms do not appear to have mouths, organs or means of moving, so they are thought to have absorbed nutrients from the water around them.

As Ediacaran organisms got taller, their body shapes diversified, and some developed stem-like structures to support their height.

In modern environments, such as forests, there is intense competition between organisms for resources such as light, so taller trees and plants have an obvious advantage over their shorter neighbours. “We wanted to know whether there were similar drivers for organisms during the Ediacaran period,” said Dr Emily Mitchell of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, the paper’s lead author. “Did life on Earth get big as a result of competition?”

Mitchell and her co-author Dr Charlotte Kenchington from Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada examined fossils from Mistaken Point in south-eastern Newfoundland, one of the richest sites of Ediacaran fossils in the world.

Earlier research hypothesised that increased size was driven by the competition for nutrients at different water depths. However, the current work shows that the Ediacaran oceans were more like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

“The oceans at the time were very rich in nutrients, so there wasn’t much competition for resources, and predators did not yet exist,” said Mitchell, who is a Henslow Research Fellow at Murray Edwards College. “So there must have been another reason why life forms got so big during this period.”

Since Ediacaran organisms were not mobile and were preserved where they lived, it’s possible to analyse whole populations from the fossil record. Using spatial analysis techniques, Mitchell and Kenchington found that there was no correlation between height and competition for food. Different types of organisms did not occupy different parts of the water column to avoid competing for resources – a process known as tiering.

“If they were competing for food, then we would expect to find that the organisms with stems were highly tiered,” said Kenchington. “But we found the opposite: the organisms without stems were actually more tiered than those with stems, so the stems probably served another function.”

According to the researchers, one likely function of stems would be to enable the greater dispersion of offspring, which rangeomorphs produced by expelling small propagules. The tallest organisms were surrounded by the largest clusters of offspring, suggesting that the benefit of height was not more food, but a greater chance of colonising an area.

“While taller organisms would have been in faster-flowing water, the lack of tiering within these communities shows that their height didn’t give them any distinct advantages in terms of nutrient uptake,” said Mitchell. “Instead, reproduction appears to have been the main reason that life on Earth got big when it did.”

Despite their success, rangeomorphs and other Ediacaran organisms disappeared at the beginning of the Cambrian period about 540 million years ago, a period of rapid evolutionary development when most major animal groups first appear in the fossil record.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Murray Edwards College and Newnham College, Cambridge.

Reference
Emily G. Mitchell and Charlotte G. Kenchington. ‘The utility of height for the Ediacaran organisms of Mistaken Point.’ Nature Ecology and Evolution (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0591-6

Inset image: 
A close-up view of the Mistaken Point ‘E’ surface community. Credit: Emily Mitchell. 

Some of the earliest complex organisms on Earth – possibly some of the earliest animals to exist – got big not to compete for food, but to spread their offspring as far as possible. 

Reproduction appears to have been the main reason that life on Earth got big when it did.Emily MitchellCG KenchingtonArtist’s reconstruction of the community at Lower Mistaken Point


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University of Cambridge raises £600 million in pioneering bonds issue

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 14:33

The proceeds will be used to invest in the University’s revenue-generating projects and other facilities, allowing Cambridge to further its mission to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence.  

The bonds are issued in two tranches:

1.    A £300 million bond with a fixed interest rate of 2.35%, repayable in 60 years’ time; and

2.    A £300 million bond with an interest rate of 0.25%, repayable in equal annual instalments between 10 and 50 years (‘amortising’), with those payments of principal and interest being linked to any rise in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), within a ‘floor’ and ‘cap’ of 0% to 3% per annum.

The amortising CPI-linked issue is particularly innovative, and is believed to be amongst the first of its kind in the UK bond markets.  Both bonds are expected to be rated Aaa by Moody’s, the highest credit rating that it awards.

Commenting on the bonds, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen J Toope, said: “We are delighted by the success of today’s bonds, which shows the confidence that investors have in the University, its mission, and its growth strategy in the years ahead.”

Barclays, HSBC and Morgan Stanley acted as Joint Bookrunners.  Rothschild provided independent debt advice to the University.  Clifford Chance and Mills & Reeve provided joint legal advice to the University and Linklaters provided legal advice to the Joint Bookrunners.

Cambridge Chief Financial Officer Anthony Odgers said: “We knew we were doing something unique with the CPI-linked bonds and that has really paid off with the enthusiastic reception in the market, the tight pricing and the collar.”

The University of Cambridge today announces that it has priced £600m of bonds. 

We are delighted by the success of today’s bonds, which shows the confidence that investors have in the University, its mission, and its growth strategy in the years ahead.Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope


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