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Artificial ancreas Successfully Trialled For Use By Type 2 Diabetes Patients

 

Schematic illustration showing the artificial pancreas

 

Cambridge scientists have successfully trialled an artificial pancreas for use by patients living with type 2 diabetes. The device – powered by an algorithm developed at the University of Cambridge – doubled the amount of time patients were in the target range for glucose compared to standard treatment and halved the time spent experiencing high glucose levels.

 

Many people with type 2 diabetes struggle to manage their blood sugar levels using the currently available treatments, such as insulin injections. The artificial pancreas can provide a safe and effective approach to help them

Charlotte Boughton

Around 415 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with type 2 diabetes, which costs around $760 billion in annual global health expenditure. According to Diabetes UK, in the UK alone, more than 4.9million people have diabetes, of whom 90% have type 2 diabetes, and this is estimated to cost the NHS £10bn per year.

Type 2 diabetes causes levels of glucose – blood sugar – to become too high. Ordinarily, blood sugar levels are controlled by the release of insulin, but in type 2 diabetes insulin production is disrupted. Over time, this can cause serious problems including eye, kidney and nerve damage and heart disease.

The disease is usually managed through a combination of lifestyle changes – improved diet and more exercise, for example – and medication, with the aim of keeping glucose levels low.

Researchers from the Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge have developed an artificial pancreas that can help maintain healthy glucose levels. The device combines an off-the-shelf glucose monitor and insulin pump with an app developed by the team, known as CamAPS HX. This app is run by an algorithm that predicts how much insulin is required to maintain glucose levels in the target range.

The researchers have previously shown that an artificial pancreas run by a similar algorithm is effective for patients living with type 1 diabetes, from adults through to very young children. They have also successfully trialled the device in patients with type 2 diabetes who require kidney dialysis.

Today, in Nature Medicine, the team report the first trial of the device in a wider population living with type 2 diabetes (not requiring kidney dialysis). Unlike the artificial pancreas used for type 1 diabetes, this new version is a fully closed loop system – whereas patients with type 1 diabetes need to tell their artificial pancreas that they are about to eat to allow adjustment of insulin, for example, with this version they can leave the device to function entirely automatically.

The researchers recruited 26 patients from the Wolfson Diabetes and Endocrine Clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, part of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and a local group of GP surgeries. Patients were randomly allocated to one of two groups – the first group would trial the artificial pancreas for eight weeks and then switch to the standard therapy of multiple daily insulin injections; the second group would take this control therapy first and then switch to the artificial pancreas after eight weeks.

The team used several measures to assess how effectively the artificial pancreas worked. The first was the proportion of time that patients spent with their glucose levels within a target range of between 3.9 and 10.0mmol/L. On average, patients using the artificial pancreas spent two-thirds (66%) of their time within the target range – double that while on the control (32%).

A second measure was the proportion of time spent with glucose levels above 10.0mmol/L. Over time, high glucose levels raise the risk of potentially serious complications. Patients taking the control therapy spent two-thirds (67%) of their time with high glucose levels – this was halved to 33% when using the artificial pancreas.

Average glucose levels fell – from 12.6mmol/L when taking the control therapy to 9.2mmol/L while using the artificial pancreas.

The app also reduced levels of a molecule known as glycated haemoglobin, or HbA1c. Glycated haemoglobin develops when haemoglobin, a protein within red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body, joins with glucose in the blood, becoming ‘glycated’. By measuring HbA1c, clinicians are able to get an overall picture of what a person’s average blood sugar levels have been over a period of weeks or months. For people with diabetes, the higher the HbA1c, the greater the risk of developing diabetes-related complications. After the control therapy, average HbA1c levels were 8.7%, while after using the artificial pancreas they were 7.3%.

No patients experienced dangerously-low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) during the study. One patient was admitted to hospital while using the artificial pancreas, due to an abscess at the site of the pump cannula.

Dr Charlotte Boughton from the Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, who co-led the study, said: “Many people with type 2 diabetes struggle to manage their blood sugar levels using the currently available treatments, such as insulin injections. The artificial pancreas can provide a safe and effective approach to help them, and the technology is simple to use and can be implemented safely at home.”

Dr Aideen Daly, also from the Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, said: “One of the barriers to widespread use of insulin therapy has been concern over the risk of severe ‘hypos’ – dangerously low blood sugar levels. But we found that no patients on our trial experienced these and patients spent very little time with blood sugar levels lower than the target levels.”

Feedback from participants suggested that participants were happy to have their glucose levels controlled automatically by the system, and nine out of ten (89%) reported spending less time managing their diabetes overall. Users highlighted the elimination of the need for injections or fingerprick testing, and increased confidence in managing blood glucose as key benefits. Downsides included increased anxiety about the risk of hypoglycaemia, which the researchers say may reflect increased awareness and monitoring of glucose levels, and practical annoyances with wearing of devices.

The team now plan to carry out a much larger multicentre study to build on their findings and have submitted the device for regulatory approval with a view to making it commercially available for outpatients with type 2 diabetes.

The research was supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

Reference
Daly, AB, Boughton, CK, et al. Fully automated closed-loop insulin delivery in adults with type 2 diabetes: an open-label, single-centre randomised crossover trial. Nat Med; 11 Jan 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41591-022-02144-z


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Solar-Powered System Converts Plastic and Greenhouse Gases Into Sustainable Fuels

Solar-powered reactor for converting plastic and greenhouse gases into sustainable fuels
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Researchers have developed a system that can transform plastic waste and greenhouse gases into sustainable fuels and other valuable products – using just the energy from the Sun.

 

A solar-driven technology that could help to address plastic pollution and greenhouse gases at the same time could be a game-changer in the development of a circular economy

Subhajit Bhattacharjee

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, developed the system, which can convert two waste streams into two chemical products at the same time – the first time this has been achieved in a solar-powered reactor.

The reactor converts carbon dioxide (CO2) and plastics into different products that are useful in a range of industries. In tests, CO2 was converted into syngas, a key building block for sustainable liquid fuels, and plastic bottles were converted into glycolic acid, which is widely used in the cosmetics industry. The system can easily be tuned to produce different products by changing the type of catalyst used in the reactor.

Converting plastics and greenhouse gases – two of the biggest threats facing the natural world – into useful and valuable products using solar energy is an important step in the transition to a more sustainable, circular economy. The results are reported in the journal Nature Synthesis.

“Converting waste into something useful using solar energy is a major goal of our research,” said Professor Erwin Reisner from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, the paper’s senior author. “Plastic pollution is a huge problem worldwide, and often, many of the plastics we throw into recycling bins are incinerated or end up in landfill.”

Reisner also leads the Cambridge Circular Plastics Centre (CirPlas), which aims to eliminate plastic waste by combining blue-sky thinking with practical measures.

Other solar-powered ‘recycling’ technologies hold promise for addressing plastic pollution and for reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but to date, they have not been combined in a single process.

“A solar-driven technology that could help to address plastic pollution and greenhouse gases at the same time could be a game-changer in the development of a circular economy,” said Subhajit Bhattacharjee, the paper’s co-first author.

“We also need something that’s tuneable, so that you can easily make changes depending on the final product you want,” said co-first author Dr Motiar Rahaman.

The researchers developed an integrated reactor with two separate compartments: one for plastic, and one for greenhouse gases. The reactor uses a light absorber based on perovskite – a promising alternative to silicon for next-generation solar cells.

The team designed different catalysts, which were integrated into the light absorber. By changing the catalyst, the researchers could then change the end product. Tests of the reactor under normal temperature and pressure conditions showed that the reactor could efficiently convert PET plastic bottles and CO2 into different carbon-based fuels such as CO, syngas or formate, in addition to glycolic acid. The Cambridge-developed reactor produced these products at a rate that is also much higher than conventional photocatalytic CO2 reduction processes.

“Generally, CO2 conversion requires a lot of energy, but with our system, basically you just shine a light at it, and it starts converting harmful products into something useful and sustainable,” said Rahaman. “Prior to this system, we didn’t have anything that could make high-value products selectively and efficiently.”

“What’s so special about this system is the versatility and tuneability – we’re making fairly simple carbon-based molecules right now, but in future, we could be able to tune the system to make far more complex products, just by changing the catalyst,” said Bhattacharjee.

Reisner recently received new funding from the European Research Council to help the development of their solar-powered reactor. Over the next five years, they hope to further develop the reactor to produce more complex molecules. The researchers say that similar techniques could someday be used to develop an entirely solar-powered recycling plant.

“Developing a circular economy, where we make useful things from waste instead of throwing it into landfill, is vital if we’re going to meaningfully address the climate crisis and protect the natural world,” said Reisner. “And powering these solutions using the Sun means that we’re doing it cleanly and sustainably.”

The research was supported in part by the European Union, the European Research Council, the Cambridge Trust, Hermann and Marianne Straniak Stiftung, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Erwin Reisner is a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Reference:
Subhajit Bhattacharjee, Motiar Rahaman et al. ‘Photoelectrochemical CO2-to-fuel conversion with simultaneous plastic reforming.’ Nature Synthesis (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s44160-022-00196-0


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Astronomers Use ‘Little Hurricanes’ To Weigh and Date Planets Around Young Stars

ALMA image of the protoplanetary disc around HL Tauri
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Little ‘hurricanes’ that form in the discs of gas and dust around young stars can be used to study certain aspects of planet formation, even for smaller planets which orbit their star at large distances and are out of reach for most telescopes.

 

It’s extremely difficult to study smaller planets that are far away from their star by directly imaging them: it would be like trying to spot a firefly in front of a lighthouse. We need other, different methods to learn about these planets

Roman Rafikov

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Institute for Advanced Study have developed a technique, which uses observations of these ‘hurricanes’ by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA) to place some limits on the mass and age of planets in a young star system.

Pancake-like clouds of gases, dust and ice surrounding young stars – known as protoplanetary discs – are where the process of planet formation begins. Through a process known as core accretion, gravity causes particles in the disc to stick to each other, eventually forming larger solid bodies such as asteroids or planets. As young planets form, they start to carve gaps in the protoplanetary disc, like grooves on a vinyl record.

Even a relatively small planet – as small as one-tenth the mass of Jupiter according to some recent calculations – may be capable of creating such gaps. As these ‘super-Neptune’ planets can orbit their star at a distance greater than Pluto orbits the Sun, traditional methods of exoplanet detection cannot be used.

In addition to the grooves, observations from ALMA have shown other distinct structures in protoplanetary discs, such as banana- or peanut-shaped arcs and clumps. It had been thought that at least some of these structures were also driven by planets.

“Something must be causing these structures to form,” said lead author Professor Roman Rafikov from Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. “One of the possible mechanisms for producing these structures – and certainly the most intriguing one – is that dust particles that we see as arcs and clumps are concentrated in the centres of fluid vortices: essentially little hurricanes that can be triggered by a particular instability at the edges of the gaps carved in protoplanetary discs by planets.”

Working with his PhD student Nicolas Cimerman, Rafikov used this interpretation to develop a method to constrain a planet’s mass or age if a vortex is observed in a protoplanetary disc. Their results have been accepted for publication in two separate papers in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“It’s extremely difficult to study smaller planets that are far away from their star by directly imaging them: it would be like trying to spot a firefly in front of a lighthouse,” said Rafikov. “We need other, different methods to learn about these planets.”

To develop their method, the two researchers first theoretically calculated the length of time it would take for a vortex to be produced in the disc by a planet. They then used these calculations to constrain the properties of planets in discs with vortices, basically setting lower limits on the planet’s mass or age. They call these techniques ‘vortex weighing’ and ‘vortex dating’ of planets.

When a growing planet becomes massive enough, it starts pushing material from the disc away, creating the tell-tale gap in the disc. When this happens, material on the outside of the gap becomes denser than material on the inside of the gap. As the gap gets deeper and the differences in density become large, an instability can be triggered. This instability perturbs the disc and can eventually produce a vortex.

“Over time, multiple vortices can merge together, evolving into one big structure that looks like the arcs we’ve observed with ALMA,” said Cimerman. Since the vortices need time to form, the researchers say their method is like a clock that can help determine the mass and age of the planet.

“More massive planets produce vortices earlier in their development due to their stronger gravity, so we can use the vortices to place some constraints on the mass of the planet, even if we can’t see the planet directly,” said Rafikov.

Using various data points such as spectra, luminosity and motion, astronomers can determine the approximate age of a star. With this information, the Cambridge researchers calculated the lowest possible mass of a planet that could have been in orbit around the star since the protoplanetary disc formed and was able to produce a vortex that could be seen by ALMA. This helped them put a lower limit on the mass of the planet without observing it directly.

By applying this technique to several known protoplanetary discs with prominent arcs, suggestive of vortices, the researchers found that the putative planets creating these vortices must have masses of at least several tens of Earth masses, in the super-Neptune range.

“In my daily work, I often focus on the technical aspects of performing the simulations,” said Cimerman. “It’s exciting when things come together and we can use our theoretical findings to learn something about real systems.”

“Our constraints can be combined with the limits provided by other methods to improve our understanding of planetary characteristics and planet formation pathways in these systems,” said Rafikov. “By studying planet formation in other star systems, we may learn more about how our own Solar System evolved.”

The research was supported in part by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

 

References:
Roman R. Rafikov and Nicolas P. Cimerman. ‘Vortex weighing and dating of planets in protoplanetary discs.’ Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2022). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stac3692 or DOI: 10.48550/arXiv.2301.01789

Nicolas P. Cimerman and Roman R. Rafikov. ‘Emergence of vortices at the edges of planet-driven gaps in protoplanetary discs.’ Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2022). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stac3507


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First UK Proton Beam Therapy Trial For Breast Cancer Launches

An Asian woman in her 60s embraces her mid-30s daughter who is battling cancer - stock photo
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Cambridge researchers are jointly leading the first UK trial to test the benefits of proton beam therapy for certain patients with breast cancer.

 

Standard breast radiotherapy is really effective for most people with very few side effects, but there is a small group of patients for whom proton beam therapy may be a better option

Charlotte Coles

The trial will compare proton beam therapy – which can target radiotherapy beams more precisely – with standard radiotherapy for patients who are at greater risk of long-term heart problems after radiotherapy treatment. It will help to determine whether proton beam therapy can help to deliver adequate doses of radiotherapy to breast tissue, while minimising off-target radiation delivered to the heart.

The trial will enrol 192 people across a planned 22 sites in the UK. People allocated to receive proton beam therapy will be treated at either The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester or University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, with accommodation provided for those who are travelling far from home.

The PARABLE trial is being led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, Institute of Cancer Research, London, and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and managed by the Cancer Research UK-funded Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR). It is funded by a National Institute for Health and Care Research and Medical Research Council partnership. The NHS proton centres – UCLH and The Christie – also provided expert guidance on the trial protocol development.

Every year in the UK over 30,000 people with breast cancer receive radiotherapy following surgery as part of their treatment. Standard breast cancer radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. As well as lowering the risk of cancer coming back, radiotherapy can increase survival rates.

Standard breast cancer radiotherapy is very effective for the vast majority of people and the benefits far outweigh small side effects. However, there can be a very small risk of radiotherapy leading to heart problems much later in life (less than one per cent of people treated). The risk of heart problems later in life due to breast radiotherapy maybe be higher than one per cent for a very small group of people. This is usually because their breast tissue and the lymph nodes which require radiotherapy treatment are located close to the heart, and/or because they have an increased underlying risk of developing heart problems later in life.

Professor Charlotte Coles, Professor of Breast Cancer Clinical Oncology at the University of Cambridge, Consultant Oncologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Chief Investigator of the PARABLE trial, said: “Although only a very small group of people are affected by a higher risk of heart problems later in life, it can still be a serious issue. Most patients treated with radiotherapy have decades of healthy life ahead of them and we need to do everything we can to avoid possible future heart problems related to treatment.

“Standard breast radiotherapy is really effective for most people with very few side effects, but there is a small group of patients for whom proton beam therapy may be a better option.”

Proton beam therapy uses charged particles instead of X-rays to target tumours more precisely. Researchers hope it will allow doctors to deliver the required dose of radiotherapy where it’s needed, while minimising the dose of radiation delivered to the heart, and without increasing the risk of early side effects such as skin redness and changes in breast appearance.

The average radiotherapy dose that the heart is likely to receive from the radiotherapy planning scan can be estimated and together with age and other medical history, this information is used to predict the potential small lifetime risk of heart problems.

Professor Judith Bliss, Director of the Cancer Research UK-funded Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, which is managing the PARABLE trial, said: “The PARABLE trial will measure average dose of radiotherapy delivered to the heart to predict long-term heart damage. Using this early predictor will allow us to uncover the potential benefits of using proton beam therapy for long term heart health in years rather than decades.”

People who are predicted to have at least a two per cent or more potential lifetime risk of heart problems from radiotherapy will be invited to take part.  Around 500 out of every 30,000 people who receive radiotherapy for breast cancer fall into this category. People who enter the trial will either receive standard radiotherapy or proton beam therapy.

The trial will measure radiation dose delivered to the heart as an early predictor of possible heart problems, to avoid the need for lengthy follow up for many years before results are available.

People in the trial will also record their experiences using questionnaires so that researchers can assess side-effects including skin reactions, breast pain and swelling, and other symptoms which are particularly important for patients.

Proton beam therapy has been used in other countries to treat breast cancer, but numbers of participants in these trials are small and there have been no reported trials that directly compare proton beam therapy with standard radiotherapy.

The researchers stress the importance of evaluating the benefits of proton beam therapy – which is expensive and only available in certain locations across the UK – thoroughly in a clinical trial.

Dr Anna Kirby, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, Breast Cancer Radiotherapy Team Lead at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Radiotherapy Lead for the PARABLE trial, said: “We have already learnt a huge amount about how to optimise and standardise current breast cancer radiotherapy practices alongside optimising proton beam therapy approaches. We hope that the PARABLE trial will help us to further personalise radiotherapy treatments and ensure that people can access the radiotherapy approach that is best for them, regardless of where they live.

Adapted from a press release from The Institute of Cancer Research


Kim Jones: Patient story

Kim Jones, 44, a school caterer from Ely, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2022 after noticing some thickening of the skin and painful twinges in her left breast. Her GP referred her for urgent scans at the breast clinic, and after having mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies, the diagnosis was confirmed.

Kim was then referred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, where she had chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy and lymph node removal. Following acceptance to the PARABLE trial, Kim’s proton beam therapy commenced at The Christie on 24 October.

Kim said: “I was told I might be suitable to participate in the PARABLE trial as it would potentially benefit patients with a high risk of long-term heart complications. As I already had an issue with my heart, the trial seemed like a great idea.

“When I was told that I’d been accepted onto the trial, I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to get this treatment. Clinical trials are incredibly important as they are the best way to evaluate which treatments work the best.”

“The proton beam therapy centre at The Christie is bright and spacious and feels very relaxing. My experience of being treated at The Christie so far has been superb. The staff are wonderful and seem to have thought of everything. Their care is second to none, and I feel completely safe in their hands.”

Following the proton beam therapy, Kim will have further chemotherapy and hormone therapy at Addenbrooke’s.

Kim is married to Mark, and they have two boys, Dylan, age 14, and Elwood, age 11. She enjoys walking, reading, live music and spending time with her family.


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Insulation Only Provides Short-Term Reduction In Household Gas Consumption

Insulation only provides short-term reduction in household gas consumption

Man installing loft insulation
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

First study to look at long-term effect of home insulation in England and Wales finds fall in gas consumption per household was small and only lasts a few years.

 

We found that energy efficiency retrofits are often combined with home improvements that actually increase consumption, such as extensions

Cristina Penasco

Insulating the lofts and cavity walls of existing UK housing stock only reduces gas consumption for the first year or two, with all energy savings vanishing by the fourth year after a retrofit, according to research from policy experts at the University of Cambridge.

The latest study is the first to track in detail household gas use across England and Wales for at least five years both before and after insulation installation.

Researchers analysed gas consumption patterns of more than 55,000 dwellings over twelve years (2005-2017), and found that cavity wall insulation led to an average 7% drop in gas during the first year. This shrank to 2.7% in the second, and by the fourth year, any energy savings were negligible.

Loft insulation was half as effective as cavity wall, with an initial fall in gas consumption of around 4% on average, dropping to 1.8% after one year and becoming insignificant by the second year. For households with conservatories*, any gains in energy efficiency disappeared after the first year.

The findings suggests that when it comes to home insulation there may be a significant ‘rebound effect’: any savings through energy efficiency get cancelled out by a steady increase in energy use.**

The UK Treasury recently announced some £6 billion in funding to reduce the energy consumption of buildings and industry by 15% over the next eight years, with a major focus on insulation retrofits across the residential sector.

Researchers behind the study, published in the journal Energy Economics, say it is extremely difficult to identify specific causes of the ‘rebound effect’ they found, but behaviours such as turning up the heating, opening windows in stuffy rooms or building extensions may all contribute.

They argue that good insulation is vital, but any drive to insulate UK homes should be combined with investment in heat pump installation and campaigns to encourage behaviour change if 2030 targets for energy independence are to be met.

To capture the overall effect of insulating homes, the researchers accounted for various factors, including the age and size of buildings, the weather and gas prices.

However, they did find that gas price influenced energy use – so the soaring cost of gas may mean greater energy reductions from insulation now than during the study period. The research also found household gas consumption fluctuated less after both loft and cavity wall insulation.

“The recent spotlight on increasing the energy efficiency in UK buildings is both welcome and long overdue, and there are very real benefits to households from good insulation, not least in terms of health and comfort,” said study co-author Prof Laura Diaz Anadon, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance.

“However, home insulation alone is not a magic bullet. High gas prices will reduce the rebound effect in the short term, as homeowners have the need to keep costs down at the front of their minds. In the long term, simply funding more of the same insulation roll-out to meet the UK’s carbon reduction and energy security targets may not move the dial as much as is hoped.”

Anadon and her Cambridge co-author Dr Cristina Penasco say that insulating old and draughty housing across the UK is a vital step, but argue that not encouraging homeowners to “fully degasify heating” while going through the disruption of a retrofit is a missed opportunity.

Heat pumps, which extract warmth from outside to heat internal radiators, are highly efficient and negate the need for gas boilers. Recent research suggests the UK lags behind many other European countries on heat pump sales, and the UK Committee on Climate Change has also highlighted the need to speed up heat pump deployment.

“When trying to get middle income households to conduct energy renovations, as the government are currently doing, it makes sense to further encourage heat pump installation at the same time,” said Penasco, the study’s first author from Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies.

“This could be through incentives such as more generous and focused grant schemes, as well as obligations for boiler manufacturers and additional investments in skills for installers.”

“We found that energy efficiency retrofits are often combined with home improvements that actually increase consumption, such as extensions.”*** Scotland currently offers grants and interest free loans for heat pumps, while the rest of the UK has reduced VAT in the form of a tax rebate.

Residential housing accounted for almost a third (29.5%) of the UK’s total energy consumption in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency. In the UK, 85% of households use gas as their main heating source.

The study used data collected by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, and compared energy use in individual households before and after insulation, as well as comparing households that did have efficiency renovations with those that did not.

Researchers found that, compared to wealthier areas, households in more deprived areas had half the reductions in gas use: an average of 3% during the first and second year after insulation. Neighbourhoods where deprivation was highest had the lowest reduction in gas consumption.

“Households in more deprived areas often have to limit energy use, so any savings created by home insulation can quickly get redirected into keeping a house warmer for longer,” said Penasco

“This is a good outcome if policies are aimed at reducing fuel poverty in low-income households, but will not help with the UK’s emissions reductions targets or reliance on gas.” In fact, when it came to household income, those in the bottom 20% increased gas consumption straight after insulation.

“National caps on gas prices will not incentivise people to conserve energy,” said Penasco, who argues that energy reduction targets could be set for individual households, and associated with waivers on energy bills in the long run, particularly for low income households.

Added Anadon: “People do not deliberately squander energy savings. There is a need for education to lessen the rebound effect we have documented. Media appearances by ministers to discuss flow temperatures of boilers are positive signs that parts of the government are starting to think about this.”

 

*Conservatories are one of the most popular home improvements in the UK. Data from 2011 suggests that almost 20% of households in England had some form of conservatory, and 80% of those had some form of heating.

** The ‘rebound effect’ is a fundamental concept in economics, and was first identified by William Jevons in 1865, when he observed that more efficient steam engines increased rather than reduced coal use, as engines were put into more widespread use.  

*** Previous research suggests that extensions in the UK increase household energy consumption by 16% on average.   


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Cambridge Achievers Recognised In New Year Honours

Senate House
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A number of academics, staff and an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge feature in this year’s New Year Honours List, the first of the reign of King Charles III.

 

It’s gratifying to see dedicated service acknowledged and rewarded in this way

Dr Anthony Freeling

Economist Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta receives an elevated knighthood. Sir Partha, the Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics, is made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire for services to economics and the natural environment.

Another economist, Dr Graham Gudgin, of the Centre for Business Research, is awarded a CBE for services to economic development in Northern Ireland. He said: “I am delighted to receive this honour in recognition of my time in Belfast running the Northern Ireland Economic Research Centre, as Special Advisor to First Minister, David Trimble, and working with Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, on tax reform for Northern Ireland. It was an honour to be able to use my experience as a member of the Cambridge Economic Policy Group to advance economic ideas and practice in Northern Ireland.”

Professor Krishna Chatterjee, Professor of Endocrinology at the Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, is also awarded a CBE for services to people with endocrine disorders. He said: “I am delighted that my contributions to endocrine disorders have been honoured in this way. This also represents the efforts of many scientists and clinical colleagues in Cambridge, and internationally, with whom I have worked over the years. Together with the patients participating in our research, we strive to advance knowledge and outcomes in rare hormone disorders.”

An MBE is awarded to Elizabeth Blane, a laboratory manager for services to pathogen genome sequencing, and Natural Sciences undergraduate, Dara McAnulty, receives the British Empire Medal for services to nature and the autistic community in his native Northern Ireland. At 18, Dara, a student at Queens’ College, is the youngest person to feature in this year’s list. His ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’ won the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Nature Conservation.

The University’s Acting Vice-Chancellor, Dr Anthony Freeling, congratulated those being honoured: “How wonderful to see people so closely linked to the Collegiate University being recognised in the New Year Honours list. It’s gratifying to see dedicated service acknowledged and rewarded in this way. My warmest congratulations to those colleagues and friends of the University who have been honoured for their commitment and their achievements.”

 

 


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Men May Not ‘Perceive’ Domestic Tasks as Needing Doing In The Same Way As Women, Philosophers Argue

Men may not ‘perceive’ domestic tasks as needing doing in the same way as women, philosophers argue

Wiping down the countertop
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

By adding a gender dimension to the theory of “affordance perception” and applying it to the home, a new hypothesis may help answer questions of why women still shoulder most housework, and why men never seem to notice.

 

Men should be encouraged to resist gendered norms by improving their sensitivity to domestic task affordances

Tom McClelland

Philosophers seeking to answer questions around inequality in household labour and the invisibility of women’s work in the home have proposed a new theory – that men and women are trained by society to see different possibilities for action in the same domestic environment.

They say a view called “affordance theory” – that we experience objects and situations as having actions implicitly attached – underwrites the age-old gender disparity when it comes to the myriad mundane tasks of daily home maintenance.

For example, women may look at a surface and see an implied action – ‘to be wiped’ – whereas men may just observe a crumb-covered countertop.

The philosophers believe these deep-seated gender divides in domestic perception can be altered through societal interventions such as extended paternal leave, which will encourage men to build up mental associations for household tasks.

Writing in the journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, they argue that available data – particularly data gathered during the pandemic – suggest two questions require explanation.

One is “disparity”: despite economic and cultural gains, why do women continue to shoulder the vast majority of housework and childcare? The other is “invisibility”: why do so many men believe domestic work to be more equally distributed than in fact it is?

“Many point to the performance of traditional gender roles, along with various economic factors such as women taking flexible work for childcare reasons,” said Dr Tom McClelland, from Cambridge University’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

“Yet the fact that stark inequalities in domestic tasks persisted during the pandemic, when most couples were trapped inside, and that many men continued to be oblivious of this imbalance, means this is not the full story.”

McClelland and co-author Prof Paulina Sliwa argue that unequal divisions of labour in the home – and the inability of men to identify said labour – is best explained through the psychological notion of “affordances”: the idea that we perceive things as inviting or “affording” particular actions.

“This is not just looking at the shape and size of a tree and then surmising you can climb it, but actually seeing a particular tree as climbable, or seeing a cup as drink-from-able,” said Sliwa, recently of Cambridge’s philosophy faculty and now at the University of Vienna.

“Neuroscience has shown that perceiving an affordance can trigger neural processes preparing you for physical action. This can range from a slight urge to overwhelming compulsion, but it often takes mental effort not to act on an affordance.”

There are dramatic differences in “affordance perception” between individuals. One person sees a tree as climbable where another does not. Objects offer a vast array of affordances – one could see a spatula as an egg-frying tool or a rhythmic instrument – and a spectrum of sensitivity towards them.

“If we apply affordance perception to the domestic environment and assume it is gendered, it goes a long way to answering both questions of disparity and invisibility,” said McClelland.

According to the philosophers, when a woman enters a kitchen she is more likely to perceive the “affordances” for particular domestic tasks – she sees the dishes as ‘to be washed’ or a fridge as ‘to be stocked’.

A man may simply observe dishes in a sink, or a half-empty fridge, but without perceiving the affordance or experiencing the corresponding mental “tug”. Over time, these little differences add up to significant disparities in who does what.

“Affordances pull on your attention,” said Sliwa. “Tasks may irritate the perceiver until done, or distract them from other plans. If resisted, it can create a felt tension.”

“This puts women in a catch-22 situation: either inequality of labour or inequality of cognitive load.”

This gender-based split in affordance perception could have a number of root causes, say philosophers. Social cues encourage actions in certain environments, often given by adults when we are very young children. Our visual systems update based on what we encounter most frequently.

“Social norms shape the affordances we perceive, so it would be surprising if gender norms do not do the same,” said McClelland.

“Some skills are explicitly gendered, such cleaning or grooming, and girls are expected to do more domestic chores than boys. This trains their ways of seeing the domestic environment, to see a counter as ‘to be wiped’.”

The “gendered affordance perception hypothesis” is not about absolving men say Sliwa and McClelland. Despite a deficit in affordance perception in the home, a man can easily notice what needs doing by thinking rather than seeing. Nor should sensitivity to domestic affordances in women be equated with natural affinity for housework.

“We can change how we perceive the world through continued conscious effort and habit cultivation,” said McClelland. “Men should be encouraged to resist gendered norms by improving their sensitivity to domestic task affordances.”

“A man might adopt a resolution to sweep for crumbs every time he waits for the kettle to boil, for example. Not only would this help them to do the tasks they don’t see, it would gradually retrain their perception so they start to see the affordance in the future.”

Collective efforts to change social norms require policy-level interventions, argue the philosophers. For example, shared parental leave gives fathers the opportunity to become more sensitive to caring-task affordances.

Added Sliwa: “Our focus has been on physical actions such as sweeping or wiping, but gendered affordance perceptions could also apply to mental actions such as scheduling and remembering.”


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UK-Led Robotic Sky Scanner Reveals its First Galactic Fingerprint

Blue, green and red colours, according to velocities derived from the WEAVE spectra, are overlaid on a composite image of Stephan’s Quintet, which features galaxy star light (CFH telescope), and X-ray emission of hot gas (blue vertical band, Chandra X-ray observatory).
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A major telescope upgrade has peered through to the distant Universe to reveal the spectra of a pair of galaxies 280 million light years away from Earth.

 

Without even breaking a sweat, WEAVE has provided us with an unprecedented glimpse into the dance of this enigmatic group of galaxies

David Murphy

The spectra provide a first glimpse of the sky from the WHT Enhanced Area Velocity Explorer (WEAVE) – a unique upgrade to the William Herschel Telescope (WHT) in La Palma on the Canary Islands.

After its integration into the WHT last year, WEAVE has now begun its on-sky commissioning phase, ready to reveal more than 12 million spectra of stars and galaxies over the next five years.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is one of the key partners in the operation of the WHT. Data processing, analysis and archiving for WEAVE is led by astronomers from the University of Cambridge, with support from the IAC in Spain and INAF in Italy.

Understanding the Universe through spectra

Spectroscopy is an essential element in an astronomer’s toolbox. Analysing light detected with a telescope reveals useful scientific information, such as the speed of the object observed, the atoms it is made of and its temperature.

If an image tells us what an astronomical object looks like, its spectrum tells us what it is.

First galactic spectra with WEAVE

A galactic spectrum is the combination of spectra from the millions of stars in an observed galaxy. Studying the features of a galaxy spectrum allows astronomers to understand what types of stars the galaxy contains, and the relative abundances of each type of star. This tells us about how the galaxy formed and changed over time.

First-light observations with WEAVE were carried out with the large integral-field unit (LIFU) fibre bundle, one of WEAVE’s three fibre systems. The team observed the heart of the galaxy group Stephan’s Quintet, a group of five interacting galaxies.

The instrument was aimed at NGC 7318a and NGC 7318b, a pair of galaxies at the centre of a major galaxy collision 280 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus.

“The wealth of complexity revealed in this way by a single detailed observation of this pair of nearby galaxies provides insights into the interpretation of the many millions of spectra that WEAVE will obtain from galaxies in the distant Universe and provides an excellent illustration of the power and flexibility of the WEAVE facility,” said Professor Gavin Dalton from the University of Oxford.

The WEAVE LIFU (large integral-field unit) measures separate spectra for 547 different regions in and around the two galaxies, recording the colours of their light from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared.

These spectra reveal the motions of stars and gas, the chemical composition of the stars, the temperatures and densities of the gas clouds, and more. This data will help astronomers learn how galaxy collisions transform the galaxies in the group.

“Without even breaking a sweat, WEAVE has provided us with an unprecedented glimpse into the dance of this enigmatic group of galaxies,” said Dr David Murphy from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, lead of spectroscopic pipeline development for WEAVE. “This exciting initial release provides a snapshot of the various ways the instrument can provide insights into the universe. Coupled with our rapid-response data-processing pipelines, WEAVE will advance cutting-edge research ranging from the complex chemical fingerprint of our galactic neighbourhood to the very structure and fabric of our universe.”

“Our advanced analysis pipeline consists of a chain of more than 20 state-of-art modules developed to analyse a wide range of astronomical targets, from newly born hot stars to quasars,” said Dr Alireza Molaeinezhad from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, Lead developer of the Advanced Processing System. “Using this pipeline on the phenomenal first-light data is like wearing 3D-glasses to watch the cosmic dance of galaxies in this system.”

Eight surveys using WEAVE

In the coming five years, the ING (Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes) will assign 70% of the time available on the WHT to eight major surveys with WEAVE, selected out of those proposed by the astronomical communities of the partner countries. All these surveys require spectra of up to millions of individual stars and galaxies, a goal now obtainable thanks to WEAVE’s ability to observe almost 1000 objects at a time.

Over 500 astronomers from across Europe have organized these eight surveys, covering studies of stellar evolution, Milky Way science, galaxy evolution and cosmology. WEAVE will study galaxies near and far to learn the history of their growth, and will obtain millions of spectra of stars in the Milky Way.

“This first light event is a milestone for both the international and UK astronomy communities: WEAVE will provide spectra of millions of stars and galaxies over the next five years,” said Professor Mark Thomson, STFC Executive Chair. “After ten years in development, WEAVE will now finally offer astronomers a new eye to the sky to help them answer questions such as what is dark matter and how did stars form in distant galaxies?”

“These wonderful first light images demonstrate the power of WEAVE to unravel the intricate chemo-dynamical processes at work in this galaxy system,” said Dr Nicholas Walton from the Institute of Astronomy and lead of the WEAVE data analysis system development team. “The analysis of this data, from one of the many observational modes of WEAVE, has used our state-of-the-art science pipelines. We are now ready to handle the nightly data from WEAVE as it embarks on its main science surveys.”

The Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) is operated on behalf of the STFC in the UK, the Nederlanse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) in The Netherlands, and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in Spain.

Adapted from an STFC press release.


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Prostate Cancer Risk Prediction Algorithm Could Help Target Testing at Men At Greatest Risk

Middle aged couple
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Cambridge scientists have created a comprehensive tool for predicting an individual’s risk of developing prostate cancer, which they say could help ensure that those men at greatest risk will receive the appropriate testing while reducing unnecessary – and potentially invasive – testing for those at very low risk.

 

What we need is a way of identifying those men who are at greatest risk, allowing us to target screening and diagnostic tests where they are most needed, while also reducing the harms for those men who have low risk of the disease. This is what CanRisk-Prostate aims to do

Antonis Antoniou

CanRisk-Prostate, developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, will be incorporated into the group’s CanRisk web tool, which has now recorded almost 1.2 million risk predictions. The free tool is already used by healthcare professionals worldwide to help predict the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men. According to Cancer Research UK, over 52,000 men are diagnosed with the disease each year and there are more than 12,000 deaths. Over three-quarters (78%) of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive for over ten years, but this proportion has barely changed over the past decade in the UK.

Testing for prostate cancer involves a blood test that looks for a protein known as a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) that is made only by the prostate gland; however, it is not always accurate. According to the NHS website, around three in four men with a raised PSA level will not have cancer. Further tests, such as tissue biopsies or MRI scans, are therefore required to confirm a diagnosis.

Professor Antonis Antoniou from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge said: “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, but population-wide screening based on PSA isn’t an option: these tests are often falsely positive, which means that many men would then be biopsied unnecessarily. Also, many prostate tumours identified by PSA tests are slow-growing and would not have been life-threatening. The treatment of these tumours may do more harm than good.

“What we need is a way of identifying those men who are at greatest risk, allowing us to target screening and diagnostic tests where they are most needed, while also reducing the harms for those men who have low risk of the disease. This is what CanRisk-Prostate aims to do. For the first time, it combines information on the genetic makeup and prostate cancer family history, the main risk factors for the disease, to provide personalised cancer risks.”

Prostate cancer is one of the most genetically determined of common cancers. Inherited faulty versions of the BRCA2, HOXB13 and possibly BRCA1 genes are associated with moderate-to-high risk of prostate cancer, though such faults are rare in the population. In addition, there are several hundred more common genetic variants that each confer a lower risk, but in aggregate they act like ‘volume control’ that moderate or increase the prostate cancer risk.

Writing in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the researchers – supported by Cancer Research UK – describe the development of the first comprehensive prostate cancer model using genetic and cancer family history data from almost 17,000 families affected by prostate cancer. It uses data on rare genetic faults in moderate-to-high-risk genes and a risk score based on 268 common low-risk variants, together with detailed cancer family history, to predict the future risks.

One in six men (16%) will develop prostate cancer by the time they are 85 years old. Using the model, the team found that the predicted risk was higher for men who had a father diagnosed with prostate cancer – 27% if the father was diagnosed at an older age (80 years) but as high as 42% if the father was diagnosed at a young age (50 years).

The risks were considerably higher for men with genetic faults. For example, 54% of men who carry an alteration in the BRCA2 gene would develop prostate cancer – however, among men with BRCA2 gene faults, the risks were substantially lower if they also had a small number of the low-risk variants, but much higher if they also had a large number of the low-risk variants.

In practice, say the researchers, clinicians will be able to use any combination of cancer family history, rare and common genetic variants to provide a personalised risk.

To validate their model, the team ran the risk model on an independent cohort of over 170,000 men recruited to UK Biobank, a biomedical database and research resource containing anonymised genetic, lifestyle and health information from half a million UK participants. All of these men were free from prostate cancer when they were recruited to the study, but more than 7,600 developed prostate cancer within the subsequent ten years.

When validating their model, the researchers found that 86% of the UK Biobank participants who developed cancer were in the half of men with the highest predicted risks, which suggests that it may be possible to target screening and diagnostic tests to the subgroup of the population at highest risk, among whom the majority of the cancers will occur.

Dr Tommy Nyberg from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at Cambridge said: “We’ve created the most comprehensive tool to date for predicting a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer. We hope this will help clinicians and genetic counsellors assess their clients’ risk and provide the appropriate follow-up.

“Over the next 12 months, we aim to build this tool into the widely used CanRisk tool, which will facilitate the risk-based clinical management of men seen in family cancer clinics and enable risk-adapted early detection approaches to the population at large.”

Professor Ros Eeles from The Institute of Cancer Research, London and co-author on the study said: “This is an important step forward as it will enable clinicians to have conversations with men about their individual risk of prostate cancer based on the most accurate computer model to date. This will help them in making decisions about screening.”

So far, the data used to develop CanRisk-Prostate has been from men of European ancestry. The team hope to be able to include data from men of other ethnicities as further research is undertaken.

The University of Cambridge recently launched the Early Cancer Institute with the aim of detecting cancer early enough to cure it. It is the first physical institute in the UK dedicated to early cancer. A new Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital is also planned for the near future, bringing together clinical and research expertise in a new, world-class hospital, designed in partnership with patients.

There is also an Early Detection and Diagnosis centre at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust where a prostate risk clinic has been established to translate these findings into targeted screening programmes.

The research was supported by the Cancer Research UK-funded CanRisk programme. Additional support for CanRisk-Prostate was provided by Prostate Cancer UK, The Institute of Cancer Research, Everyman Campaign, National Cancer Research Network UK, National Cancer Research Institute, NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

Reference
Nyberg, T et al. CanRisk-Prostate: a comprehensive, externally validated risk model for the prediction of future prostate cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology; 9 Dec 2022; DOI: 10.1200/JCO.22.01453


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COP15: UN and Cambridge Sign Agreement to Bolster Conservation

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity secretariat and the University of Cambridge signed a Memorandum of Understanding on day two of COP15, which recognises that the CCI Masters in Conservation Leadership course hosted by the Department of Geography plays a crucial role in conservation capacity building.

 

Since 2010 the Cambridge Masters in Conservation Leadership has been building the capacity of outstanding future conservation leaders from around the world

Chris Sandbrook, Director of the Masters in Conservation Leadership and CCI Council member

The agreement has been made in recognition of the impact and alignment of the novel Masters course with the goals of the CBD Capacity Development framework and ultimately the importance of education and capacity building in the fight to protect the natural world and the biodiversity within it.

The MoU agreement signed yesterday paves the way for shared initiatives to accelerate building the capacity of national biodiversity experts and conservation leaders, crucial for the delivery of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Additionally, it will enable a series of knowledge exchange activities to support effective implementation of the framework.

Established in 2010, the Masters in Conservation Leadership is a ground-breaking course that equips students with the applied leadership and management skills needed to create positive change in conservation. A unique feature of the course is its delivery by a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the leading conservation organisations, which together comprise the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI).

Another notable feature of the course is the development of an active global conservation leadership alumni network (UCCLAN), now totalling over 220 alumni in 89 countries around the world. The alumni network has ‘observer status’ at the conference and has already been influential in the wider negotiations.

“Since 2010 the Cambridge Masters in Conservation Leadership has been building the capacity of outstanding future conservation leaders from around the world. Our alumni have the skills, networks and wisdom needed to support delivery of the Convention on Biological Diversity framework being agreed at COP 15,” said Chris Sandbrook, Director of the Masters in Conservation Leadership and CCI Council member. “The MoU we are signing today with the Secretariat of the Convention will enable us to work closely together towards our shared objectives for capacity development. It is a proud moment for me and everyone involved in the Masters.”

The Masters in Conservation Leadership team have been working towards this agreement for several years and are delighted to now finalise the agreement, enabling a cohesive approach to building the leadership capacity needed to create a diverse world in which nature and society thrive.


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Webb Telescope Reaches New Milestone In Its Search For Distant Galaxies

This image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope highlights the region of study by the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES).
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

New findings confirm that JWST has surpassed the Hubble telescope in its ability to observe the early Universe

 

So many questions about galaxies have been waiting for the transformative opportunity of Webb, and we’re thrilled to be able to play a part in revealing this story

Sandro Tacchella

An international team of astronomers, including scientists at the Universities of Cambridge, Hertfordshire and Oxford, has reported the discovery of the earliest galaxies ever confirmed in our Universe.

Using data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scientists have confirmed observations of galaxies dating back to the earliest days of the Universe, less than 350 million years after the Big Bang – when the Universe was just 2% of its current age.

Images from JWST had previously suggested possible candidates for such early galaxies. Now, their age has been confirmed using long spectroscopic observations, which measure light to determine the speed and composition of objects in space.

These observations have revealed distinctive patterns in the tiny amount of light coming from these incredibly faint galaxies, allowing scientists to establish that the light they are emitting has taken 13.4 billion years to reach us, and corroborating their status as some of the earliest galaxies ever observed.

Scientists can also now confirm that two of these galaxies are further away than any observations made by the Hubble telescope – underlining JWST’s incredible power and ability to detect never-before-seen parts of the earliest Universe.

“It was crucial to prove that these galaxies do indeed inhabit the early Universe, as it’s very possible for closer galaxies to masquerade as very distant galaxies,” said Dr Emma Curtis-Lake from the University of Hertfordshire, lead author on one of two papers on the findings. “Seeing the spectrum revealed as we hoped, confirming these galaxies as being at the true edge of our view, some further away than Hubble could see – it is a tremendously exciting achievement for the mission!”

The findings have been achieved by an international collaboration of more than 80 astronomers from ten countries via the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) programme. The team were allocated just over a month of observation on the telescope, using the two on-board instruments: the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) and the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). These instruments were developed with the primary purpose of investigating the earliest and faintest galaxies.

“It is hard to understand galaxies without understanding the initial periods of their development,” said Dr Sandro Tacchella from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute for Cosmology, co-lead author on the second paper. “Much as with humans, so much of what happens later depends on the impact of these early generations of stars. So many questions about galaxies have been waiting for the transformative opportunity of Webb, and we’re thrilled to be able to play a part in revealing this story.”

“For the first time, we have discovered galaxies only 350 million years after the big bang, and we can be absolutely confident of their fantastic distances,” said Brant Robertson from the University of California Santa Cruz, co-lead author on the second paper. “To find these early galaxies in such stunningly beautiful images is a special experience.”

Across 10 days of their observation time, the JADES team of astronomers focused on a small patch of sky in and around Hubble Space Telescope’s Ultra Deep Field, which for over 20 years has been a favourite of astronomers and has been analysed at the limit of nearly every large telescope to have existed. However, with JWST, the team were able to observe in nine different infrared wavelength ranges, providing an exquisitely sharp and sensitive picture of the field. The image reveals nearly 100,000 galaxies, each billions of light years away, in a pinprick of the sky equivalent to looking at a mobile phone screen across a football field.

The very earliest galaxies were identifiable by their distinctive banded colours, visible in infrared light but invisible in other wavelengths. In one rare continuous 28-hour observation window, the Near-Infrared Spectrograph was used to spread out the light emitting from each galaxy into a rainbow spectrum. This allowed astronomers to measure the amount of light received at each wavelength and study the unique light patterns created by the properties of the gas and stars within each galaxy.

Crucially, four of the galaxies were revealed to originate earlier in the Universe than any previous observations.

“Our observations suggest that the formation of the first stars and galaxies started very early in the history of the Universe,” said Professor Andrew Bunker from the University of Oxford.

“This is a major leap forward in our understanding of how the first galaxies formed,” said Professor Roberto Maiolino from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute for Cosmology, co-author on one of the two papers. “We have been able to dissect the light coming from these galaxies in the very early universe and, for the first time, characterise in detail their properties. It’s really fascinating and intriguing to discover how young these systems were and that stellar processes hadn’t yet managed to pollute these galaxies with chemical elements heavier than helium.”

Astronomers in the JADES team now plan to focus on another area of the sky to conduct further spectroscopy and imaging, hoping to reveal more about the earliest origins of our Universe and how these first galaxies evolve with cosmic time.

More information about the findings can be found in a newly-published NASA blog. Pre-prints of the team’s two papers, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, are available online.

The James Webb Space Telescope is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency). Sandro Tacchella is a Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

Adapted from a University of Hertfordshire media release.


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New Initiative to Promote Innovation in the Greater Cambridge Area

Tabitha Goldstaub, Innovate Cambridge’s Executive Director
source: www.cam.ac.uk

100 organisations, including AstraZeneca, Microsoft and Arm, have signed up to a new charter to boost the Cambridge innovation ecosystem and help it address global challenges, announced Innovate Cambridge today (8 December 2022).

 

The charter is a really exciting next step in the development of the Cambridge innovation ecosystem, bringing together key organisations and people to help shape the future of Greater Cambridge and ensure that together we continue to contribute to society.

Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations

Innovate Cambridge is an initiative to create an inclusive vision for the future of Cambridge and its innovation ecosystem. The initiative was launched in September 2022 by the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Enterprise and Cambridge Innovation Capital. Organisations that have signed up to its charter include local government, start-ups, universities, science parks and investors. As well as announcing its first 100 signatories, Innovate Cambridge has also appointed an Executive Director and established a steering committee.

Tabitha Goldstaub, co-founder of festival and online platform CogX and a UK government advisor, has been appointed Innovate Cambridge’s Executive Director and the Rt Hon. Lord Willetts as Chair of its Steering Committee. Other members of the Steering Committee include Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge, Professor Yvonne Barnett, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation for Anglia Ruskin University, Shaun Grady, AstraZeneca’s Senior Vice-President Business Development Operations and Robert Pollock, Chief Executive of Cambridge City Council.

Cambridge has been a global leader in innovation for decades, with its two universities, thriving start-up community, global businesses and strong investment network. But, “standing still is not an option,” said Diarmuid O’Brien, CEO of Cambridge Enterprise: “Many cities and regions across the world are rapidly getting organised to secure their futures. We must learn from and build on their experiences.”

The next step, according to Michael Anstey, Partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital, is for the signatories to the Charter, “to come together to define, and then implement, an inclusive, forward-looking vision for the ecosystem, which ensures the City continues to innovate, compete, and deliver impact on a global scale well into the future.”

Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge, said: “Cambridge has made a difference to the lives of millions of people around the world. A constant source of new ideas and innovations, the Cambridge innovation ecosystem spawns new ideas, technologies and insights that change the way we live and learn. The charter is a really exciting next step in the development of the Cambridge innovation ecosystem, bringing together key organisations and people to help shape the future of Greater Cambridge and ensure that together we continue to contribute to society.”

Read about some of the Cambridge start-ups that are having an impact in the UK and around the world here.


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Cambridge Signs UN Pledge on Reversing Biodiversity Decline at COP15

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

The University of Cambridge has signed a nature positive pledge as a founding member of the global Nature Positive Universities network formed in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

 

Rebuilding nature is a vital foundation for institutional sustainability and an equitable society

Mike Maunder, Executive Director of Cambridge Conservation Initiative

The Nature Positive Universities Alliance launches at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada on Thursday 8 December with 111 universities from 44 countries, who have made individual pledges to start a journey towards becoming nature positive.

The pledge strongly aligns with Cambridge’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) agreed by Council in July 2020. The commitment is to start a Nature Positive journey by determining baselines and setting targets.

“Universities are crucibles where learning and research creates futures. Rebuilding nature is a vital foundation for institutional sustainability and an equitable society. The University of Cambridge by signing up to the Nature Positive University Pledge is amplifying the ambitions of the University’s Biodiversity Action Plan and paving the way for a nature positive university where nature is regenerated to the benefit of students, academics and the city as a whole. The Ecological Advisory Panel and Cambridge Conservation Initiative look forward to delivering this pledge in collaboration with other key players in the University,” Mike Maunder, Chair of the University’s Ecological Advisory Panel and Executive Director of the world-leading Cambridge Conservation Initiative said.

University pledges include four key elements:

  • Carrying out baseline biodiversity assessments
  • Setting specific, time limited and measurable targets for nature
  • Taking bold action to reduce biodiversity impacts, protect and restore species and ecosystems, while influencing others to do the same
  • Transparent annual reporting.

“I am delighted that the University of Cambridge is joining the Nature Positive University Network. Universities make a significant positive contribution to society, but it is vital that we do everything we can to mitigate the harmful unintended impacts that our activities can have on nature. Joining the Nature Positive University Network will inspire us to be more ambitious, enable us to learn from others and hold us to account,” said Professor Chris Sandbrook, Professor of Conservation and Society, Director of the Masters in Conservation Leadership.

The Nature Positive Universities Alliance is a partnership between University of Oxford, UNEP Youth & Education and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which brings higher education institutions together to use their unique power and influence as drivers of positive change.

It is a global network of universities that have made an official pledge to work towards a global Nature Positive goal in order to halt, prevent and reverse nature loss through addressing their own impacts and restoring ecosystems harmed by their activities. This push is part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a movement to avert climate catastrophe and mass extinction.

All the founding universities announced today have pledged to assess their impacts to determine the most impactful initiatives to introduce, and to report on their progress.


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Pedestrians Choose Healthy Obstacles Over Boring Pavements, Study Finds

Collage imagining a challenging 'Active Urbanism' route applied to Sermon Lane in London
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Up to 78% of walkers would take a more challenging route featuring obstacles such as balancing beams, steppingstones and high steps, research has found. The findings suggest that providing ‘Active Landscape’ routes in urban areas could help tackle an “inactivity pandemic” and improve health outcomes.

 

Pedestrians can be nudged into a wider range of physical activities through minor changes to the urban landscape

Anna Boldina

Millions of people in the UK are failing to meet recommended targets for physical activity. Exercising “on the go” is key to changing this but while walking along a pavement is better than nothing it causes no significant increase in heart rate so only qualifies as mild exercise. Walking also fails to significantly improve balance or bone density, unless it includes jumping, balancing, and stepping down.

But would adults opt for such ‘fun’ routes if given the choice? A University of Cambridge-led study published today in the journal Landscape Research suggests that with the right design, most would.

Previous research on ‘healthy route choices’ has focused on people’s likelihood of walking instead of using transport. But this study examined how likely people are to pick a more challenging route over a conventional one and which design characteristics influenced their choices.

Lead author, Anna Boldina, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Architecture, said: “Even when the increase in level and extent of activity level is modest, when millions of people are using cityscapes every day, those differences can have a major positive impact on public health.”

“Our findings show that pedestrians can be nudged into a wider range of physical activities through minor changes to the urban landscape. We want to help policy makers and designers to make modifications that will improve physical health and wellbeing.”

Boldina began this research after moving from Coimbra in Portugal – where she found herself climbing hills and ancient walls – to London, which she found far less physically challenging.

Working with Dr Paul Hanel from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, and Prof. Koen Steemers from Cambridge, Boldina invited almost 600 UK residents to compare photorealistic images of challenging routes – variously incorporating steppingstones, balancing beams, and high steps – with conventional pavements.

Participants were shown images of challenging and conventional tarmac routes and asked which route they would choose. The researchers tested out a range of encouraging / discouraging parameters in different scenarios, including crossing water, shortcuts, unusual sculptures and the presence / absence of a handrail and other people. Participants were asked to score how challenging they thought the route would be from 1 (as easy as walking on level tarmac) to 7 (I would not be able to do it).

Eighty per cent of the study’s participants opted for a challenging route in at least one of the scenarios, depending on perceived level of difficulty and design characteristics. Where a challenging option was shorter than a conventional route, this increased the likelihood of being chosen by 10%. The presence of handrails achieved a 12% rise.

Importance for health

The WHO and NHS recommend at least 150 minutes of ‘moderate’ or 75 minutes of ‘vigorous’ activity spread over a week, including a variety of activities aimed at enhancing bones, muscles, and agility to stay healthy. In addition, adults over 65 are advised to perform strength, flexibility, and balance exercises.

Boldina said: “The human body is a very complex machine that needs a lot of things to keep working effectively. Cycling and swimming are great for your heart and for your leg muscles but do very little for your bone density.”

“To improve cardiovascular health, bone density and balance all at once, we need to add a wider range of exercises into our routine daily walks.”

Psychology of choice

Co-author Dr Paul Hanel said: “Children don’t need much encouragement to try out a balance beam but we wanted to see how adults would respond, and then identify design modifications which made them more likely to choose a challenging route.”

“We found that while embarrassment, anxiety, caution and peer pressure can put some adults off, the vast majority of people can be persuaded to take a more challenging route by paying careful attention to design, safety, difficulty level, location and signage.”

The proportion of participants who were willing to pick a more challenging route varied from 14% for a particular balance beam route to 78% for a route involving wide, low stepping stones and a log with a handrail. The least intimidating routes were found to be those with wide, steady-looking balancing beams and wide steppingstones, especially with the presence of handrails.

The researchers suggest that routes that incorporate more difficult challenges, such as obstacle courses and narrow balancing beams, should be placed in areas more likely to be frequented by younger users.

The participants expressed a range of reasons for picking challenging routes. Unsurprisingly, the study found that challenging routes which also acted as short cuts appealed. Up to 55% of participants chose such routes. The researchers also found that the design of pavements, lighting and flowerbeds, as well as signage helped to nudge participants to choose more challenging routes. Many participants (40%) said the sight of other people taking a challenging route encouraged them to do the same.

The participants who picked conventional routes often had concerns about safety but the introduction of safety measures, such as handrails, increased uptake of some routes. Handrails next to one steppingstones route increased uptake by 12%.

To test whether tendency to choose challenging routes was linked to demographic and personality factors, participants were asked to answer questions about their age, gender, habits, health, occupation, and personality traits (such as sensation seeking or general anxiety).

The researchers found that people of all levels of activity are equally likely to pick a challenging route. But for the most difficult routes, participants who regularly engaged in strength and balancing exercises were more likely to choose them.

Older participants were as supportive of the concept as younger ones but were less likely to opt for the more challenging routes for themselves. Nevertheless, across all age groups, only a small percentage of participants said they would avoid adventurous options completely.

The study applies the idea of “Choice Architecture” (making good choices easier and less beneficial choices harder) plus “Fun theory”, a strategy whereby physical activity is made more exciting; as well as some of the key principles of persuasion: social proof, liking, authority, and consistency.

Future work

The researchers hope to run experiments in physical test sites to see how intentions convert into behaviour, and to measure how changes in habits improve health. In the meantime, Boldina continues to present her findings to policy makers.

Critics might question the affordability and cost effectiveness of introducing ‘Active landscape routes’ in the current economic environment.

In response, the researchers argue that installing stepping stones in a turfed area can be cheaper than laying and maintaining conventional tarmac pavements. They also point out that these measures could save governments far greater sums by reducing demand for health care related to lack of exercise.

 

Reference

A. Boldina et al., ‘Active Landscape and Choice Architecture: Encouraging the use of challenging city routes for fitness’, Landscape Research (2022). DOI: 10.1080/01426397.2022.2142204


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Fitness Levels Accurately Predicted Using Wearable Devices – No Exercise Required

Woman checking her smart watch and mobile phone after run
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Cambridge researchers have developed a method for measuring overall fitness accurately on wearable devices – and more robustly than current consumer smartwatches and fitness monitors – without the wearer needing to exercise.

 

You don’t need an expensive test in a lab to get a real measurement of fitness – the wearables we use every day can be just as powerful, if they have the right algorithm behind them

Cecilia Mascolo

Normally, tests to accurately measure VO2max – a key measurement of overall fitness and an important predictor of heart disease and mortality risk – require expensive laboratory equipment and are mostly limited to elite athletes. The new method uses machine learning to predict VO2max – the capacity of the body to carry out aerobic work – during everyday activity, without the need for contextual information such as GPS measurements.

In what is by far the largest study of its kind, the researchers gathered activity data from more than 11,000 participants in the Fenland Study using wearable sensors, with a subset of participants tested again seven years later. The researchers used the data to develop a model to predict VO2max, which was then validated against a third group that carried out a standard lab-based exercise test. The model showed a high degree of accuracy compared to lab-based tests, and outperforms other approaches.

Some smartwatches and fitness monitors currently on the market claim to provide an estimate of VO2max, but since the algorithms powering these predictions aren’t published and are subject to change at any time, it’s unclear whether the predictions are accurate, or whether an exercise regime is having any effect on an individual’s VO2max over time.

The Cambridge-developed model is robust, transparent and provides accurate predictions based on heart rate and accelerometer data only. Since the model can also detect fitness changes over time, it could also be useful in estimating fitness levels for entire populations and identifying the effects of lifestyle trends. The results are reported in the journal npj Digital Medicine.

A measurement of VO2max is considered the ‘gold standard’ of fitness tests. Professional athletes, for example, test their VO2max by measuring their oxygen consumption while they exercise to the point of exhaustion. There are other ways of measuring fitness in the laboratory, like heart rate response to exercise tests, but these require equipment like a treadmill or exercise bike. Additionally, strenuous exercise can be a risk to some individuals.

“VO2max isn’t the only measurement of fitness, but it’s an important one for endurance, and is a strong predictor of diabetes, heart disease, and other mortality risks,” said co-author Dr Soren Brage from Cambridge’s Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit. “However, since most VO2max tests are done on people who are reasonably fit, it’s hard to get measurements from those who are not as fit and might be at risk of cardiovascular disease.”

“We wanted to know whether it was possible to accurately predict VO2max using data from a wearable device, so that there would be no need for an exercise test,” said co-lead author Dr Dimitris Spathis from Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology. “Our central question was whether wearable devices can measure fitness in the wild. Most wearables provide metrics like heart rate, steps or sleeping time, which are proxies for health, but aren’t directly linked to health outcomes.”

The study was a collaboration between the two departments: the team from the MRC Epidemiology Unit provided expertise in population health and cardiorespiratory fitness and data from the Fenland Study – a long-running public health study in the East of England – while the team from the Department of Computer Science and Technology provided expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence for mobile and wearable data.

Participants in the study wore wearable devices continuously for six days. The sensors gathered 60 values per second, resulting in an enormous amount of data before processing. “We had to design an algorithm pipeline and appropriate models that could compress this huge amount of data and use it to make an accurate prediction,” said Spathis. “The free-living nature of the data makes this prediction challenging because we’re trying to predict a high-level outcome (fitness) with noisy low-level data (wearable sensors).”

The researchers used an AI model known as a deep neural network to process and extract meaningful information from the raw sensor data and make predictions of VO2max from it. Beyond predictions, the trained models can be used for the identification of sub-populations in particular need of intervention related to fitness.

The baseline data from 11,059 participants in the Fenland Study was compared with follow-up data from seven years later, taken from a subset of 2,675 of the original participants. A third group of 181 participants from the UK Biobank Validation Study underwent lab-based VO2max testing to validate the accuracy of the algorithm. The machine learning model had strong agreement with the measured VO2max scores at both baseline (82% agreement) and follow-up testing (72% agreement).

“This study is a perfect demonstration of how we can leverage expertise across epidemiology, public health, machine learning and signal processing,” said co-lead author Dr Ignacio Perez-Pozuelo.

The researchers say that their results demonstrate how wearables can accurately measure fitness, but transparency needs to be improved if measurements from commercially available wearables are to be trusted.

“It’s true in principle that many fitness monitors and smartwatches provide a measurement of VO2max, but it’s very difficult to assess the validity of those claims,” said Brage. “The models aren’t usually published, and the algorithms can change on a regular basis, making it difficult for people to determine if their fitness has actually improved or if it’s just being estimated by a different algorithm.”

“Everything on your smartwatch related to health and fitness is an estimate,” said Spathis. “We’re transparent about our modelling and we did it at scale. We show that we can achieve better results with the combination of noisy data and traditional biomarkers. Also, all our algorithms and models are open-sourced and everyone can use them.”

“We’ve shown that you don’t need an expensive test in a lab to get a real measurement of fitness – the wearables we use every day can be just as powerful, if they have the right algorithm behind them,” said senior author Professor Cecilia Mascolo from the Department of Computer Science and Technology. “Cardio-fitness is such an important health marker, but until now we did not have the means to measure it at scale. These findings could have significant implications for population health policies, so we can move beyond weaker health proxies such as the Body Mass Index (BMI).”

The research was supported in part by Jesus College, Cambridge and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Cecilia Mascolo is a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge.

 

Reference:
Dimitris Spathis et al. ‘Longitudinal cardio-respiratory fitness prediction through wearables in free-living environments.’ npj Digital Medicine (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41746-022-00719-1


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Two Cambridge Researchers Awarded Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies

Silvia Vignolini (left), Rachel Oliver (right)
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Professor Rachel Oliver and Professor Silvia Vignolini from the University of Cambridge have been awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies. Each award is worth £2.5 million over ten years to develop emerging technologies with high potential to deliver economic and social benefits to the UK.

 

Funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Chair in Emerging Technologies scheme aims to identify global research visionaries and provide them with long-term support. The awards will enable the researchers to focus on strategic approaches for taking their technology from the bench to the boardroom.

Professor Rachel Oliver, from the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, is a Fellow of Robinson College and Director of the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride. Gallium nitride (GaN) is a rising star of the electronics and optoelectronics industries, with GaN-based solid-state lighting bringing about a revolution in how we illuminate our world. Creating porosity in GaN vastly extends the range of materials properties achievable in this key compound semiconductor material. By controlling the porosity, engineers can select the properties they need to create new device concepts or to improve existing products.

Professor Oliver’s aim is to create a set of materials fabrication processes which control the structure and properties of porous gallium nitride. Alongside this, she will develop a modelling toolbox for designing new devices. By developing new devices and embedding porous GaN in the UK’s vibrant and expanding compound semiconductor industry, Oliver hopes to drive this emerging materials platform towards widespread industrial adoption, fuelling the future of the UK compound semiconductor ecosystem.

Potential applications for the new research are both wide-ranging and far-reaching. Developing the use of UV LEDs for disinfection would give healthcare professionals new weapons in the fight against viral epidemics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Work on microdisplays using microLEDs could improve augmented and virtual reality headsets. As well as providing immersive experiences for gamers, this technology could be used by organisations for more effective online collaboration. By reducing the need for business travel, the ecological benefits would be significant.

Professor Vignolini and her Bio-inspired Photonics group in the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry have discovered that plants produce bright and vibrant colouration through organising cellulose into sub-micrometer structures that manipulate light. These natural examples have inspired Vignolini to mimic the use of biological building blocks to create sustainable colorants in the lab. She is developing a new generation of manufacturing processes to produce colours using only naturally derived biomaterials, such as cellulose, a biodegradable and abundant plant material.

Vignolini’s vision is that bio-based pigments will replace current alternatives made with energy-intensive and problematic materials.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The Academy places huge importance on supporting excellence in engineering and often the key to engineers fulfilling their potential in tackling global challenges is the gift of time and continuity of support to bring the most disruptive and impactful ideas to fruition.”

 


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COVID Has ‘Ruptured’ Social Skills Af The World’s Poorest Children, Study Suggests

Young children in Ethiopia
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Two interlinked studies, involving 8,000 primary pupils altogether, indicate children lost at least a third of a year in learning during lockdown.

 

Education aid and government funding must focus on supporting both the academic and socio-emotional recovery of the most disadvantaged children first

Pauline Rose

School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have “severely ruptured” the social and emotional development of some of the world’s poorest children, as well as their academic progress, new evidence shows.

In a study of over 2,000 primary school pupils in Ethiopia, researchers found that key aspects of children’s social and emotional development, such as their ability to make friends, not only stalled during the school closures, but probably deteriorated.

Children who, prior to the pandemic, felt confident talking to others or got on well with peers were less likely to do so by 2021. Those who were already disadvantaged educationally – girls, the very poorest, and those from rural areas – seem to have been particularly badly affected.

Both this research and a second, linked study of around 6,000 grade 1 and 4 primary school children, also found evidence of slowed academic progress. Children lost the equivalent of at least one third of an academic year in learning during lockdown – an estimate researchers describe as “conservative”. This appears to have widened an already significant attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and the rest, and there is some evidence that this may be linked to the drop in social skills.

Both studies were by academics from the University of Cambridge, UK and Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.

Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the Research in Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said: “COVID is having a long-term impact on children everywhere, but especially in lower-income countries. Education aid and government funding must focus on supporting both the academic and socio-emotional recovery of the most disadvantaged children first.”

Professor Tassew Woldehanna, President of Addis Ababa University, said: “These  severe ruptures to children’s developmental and learning trajectories underline how much we need to think about the impact on social, and not just academic skills. Catch-up education must address the two together.”

Both studies used data from the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) programme in Ethiopia to compare primary education before the pandemic, in the academic year 2018/19, with the situation in 2020/21.

In the first study, researchers compared the numeracy test scores of 2,700 Grade 4 pupils in June 2019 with their scores shortly after they returned to school, in January 2021. They also measured dropout rates. In addition, pupils completed the Children’s Self Report Social Skills scale, which asked how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I feel confident talking to others”, “I make friends easily”, and “If I hurt someone, I say sorry”.

The second study measured relative progress during the pandemic using the numeracy scores of two separate cohorts of Grade 1 and Grade 4 pupils. The first of these cohorts was from the pre-pandemic year; the other from 2020/21.

The results suggest pupils made some academic progress during the closures, but at a slower than expected rate. The average foundational numeracy score of Grade 1 pupils in 2020/21 was 15 points behind the 2018/19 cohort; by the end of the year that gap had widened to 19 points. Similarly, Grade 4 students started 2020/21 10 points behind their predecessor cohort, and were 12 points adrift by the end. That difference amounted to roughly one third of a year’s progress. Similar patterns emerged from the study of children’s numeracy scores before and after the closures.

Poorer children, and those from rural backgrounds, consistently performed worse academically. Dropout rates revealed similar issues: of the 2,700 children assessed in 2019 and 2021, more than one in 10 (11.3%) dropped out of school during the closures. These were disproportionately girls, or lower-achieving pupils, who tended to be from less wealthy or rural families.

All pupils’ social skills declined during the closure period, regardless of gender or location. Fewer children agreed in 2021 with statements such as “Other people like me” or “I make friends easily”. The decline in positive responses differed by demographic, and was sharpest among those from rural settings. This may be because children from remote parts of the country experienced greater isolation during lockdown.

The most striking evidence of a rupture in socio-emotional development was the lack of a predictive association between the 2019 and 2021 results. Pupils who felt confident talking to others before the pandemic, for example, had often changed their minds two years later.

Researchers suggest that the negative impact on social and emotional development may be linked to the slowdown in academic attainment. Children who did better academically in 2021 tended to report stronger social skills. This association is not necessarily causal, but there is evidence that academic attainment improves children’s self-confidence and esteem, and that prosocial behaviours positively influence academic outcomes. It is therefore possible that during the school closures this potential reinforcement was reversed.

Both reports echo previous research which suggests that lower-income countries such as Ethiopia need to invest in targeted programmes for girls, those from rural backgrounds, and the very poorest, if they are to prevent these children from being left behind. Alongside in-school catch-up programmes, action may be required to support those who are out of school. Ghana’s successful Complementary Basic Education initiative provides one model.

In addition, the researchers urge education policy actors to integrate support for  social skills into both catch-up education and planning for future closures. “Social and emotional skills should be an explicit goal of the curriculum and other guidance,” Rose said. “Schools may also want to think about after-school clubs, safe spaces for girls, and ensuring that primary-age children stay with the same group of friends during the day. Initiatives like these will go some way towards rebuilding the prosocial skills the pandemic has eroded.”

Ruptured School Trajectories is published in the journal, Longitudinal and Life Course Studies. Learning Losses during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ethiopia, is available on the REAL Centre website.


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New Study Suggests Climate Change May Be Affecting Animal Body Size

Burmese tree shrew ( Tupaia belangeri ) in Planckendael by Vassil. Courtesy of Wikimedia commons
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A new study finds treeshrews increase in size in warmer settings, contrary to established norms.

 

Our study is the first to demonstrate a rule reversal over time in any species. We need to revisit some of our assumptions about size variation as our climate continues to rapidly change.

Maya Juman

New evidence shows that some mammals increase in size in warmer settings, upsetting established norms and suggesting that climate change may be having an unexpected impact on animal body size.

The study*, published in Scientific Reports, finds that recent changes in treeshrew body size subvert two of the most studied ecogeographical rules about body size variation within species.

According to Bergmann’s rule, named after nineteenth century German biologist Carl Bergmann who described the pattern in 1847, individuals have larger body sizes in colder climates (typically at higher latitudes).

The second rule, named Foster’s rule after a 1964 study by mammalogist J. Bristol Foster, predicts that island populations of small-bodied species are on average larger in size than their mainland counterparts.

The researchers, led by Maya Juman [2022], a Gates Cambridge scholar and PhD student at the University of Cambridge, tested the rules across space and time simultaneously in the Northern Treeshrew, a small mammal native to South and Southeast Asia. They used a dataset of museum specimens collected across a wide spatial and temporal range, along with associated historical climate data. They found that both rules have inverted rapidly over time: body size variation in specimens collected in the late 19th century followed the patterns predicted by Bergmann’s and Foster’s rules, but the pattern reversed in the 20th century.

According to the study, the size of Northern Treeshrews on the mainland has consistently increased over time in warmer settings, with temperature being the most important predictor of body size, although not the only one. Rainfall, for example, also plays a role, with areas of higher precipitation seeing a more pronounced relationship between temperature and body size.

The researchers also discovered an interaction between the two rules: Bergmann’s rule is upheld in island populations but not mainland ones, so the island rule is upheld at higher latitudes but not closer to the equator. The study demonstrates the complex array of dynamic and potentially interdependent factors that affect body size, which is linked to critical physiological, ecological and behavioural traits.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, Yale University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and McGill University, call for experts to re-examine ecogeographical rules in light of global warming to see whether climate change may be rewriting the rules themselves. “Our study is the first to demonstrate a rule reversal over time in any species,” said Juman. “We need to revisit some of our assumptions about size variation as our climate continues to rapidly change.”

*Recent and rapid ecogeographical rule reversals in Northern Treeshrews by Maya M. Juman (Cambridge; Yale), Virginie Millien (McGill), Link E. Olson (University of Alaska) and Eric J. Sargis (Yale). Picture credit: Burmese tree shrew ( Tupaia belangeri ) in Planckendael by Vassil. Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

 


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Non-Detection of Key Signal Allows Astronomers to Determine What the First Galaxies Were – And Weren’t – Like

Observations by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have taken advantage of gravitational lensing to reveal the largest sample of the faintest and earliest known galaxies in the universe.
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Researchers have been able to make some key determinations about the first galaxies to exist, in one of the first astrophysical studies of the period in the early Universe when the first stars and galaxies formed, known as the cosmic dawn.

 

This is an early step for us in what we hope will be a decade of discoveries about how the Universe transitioned from darkness and emptiness to the complex realm of stars and galaxies we can see today

Eloy de Lera Acedo

Using data from India’s SARAS3 radio telescope, researchers led by the University of Cambridge were able to look at the very early Universe – just 200 million years after the Big Bang – and place limits on the mass and energy output of the first stars and galaxies.

Counterintuitively, the researchers were able to place these limits on the earliest galaxies by not finding the signal they had been looking for, known as the 21-centimetre hydrogen line.

This non-detection allowed the researchers to make other determinations about the cosmic dawn, placing restraints on the first galaxies, and enabling them to rule out scenarios including galaxies that were inefficient heaters of cosmic gas and efficient producers of radio emissions.

While we cannot yet directly observe these early galaxies, the results, reported in the journal Nature Astronomy, represent an important step in understanding how our Universe transitioned from mostly empty to one full of stars.

Understanding the early Universe, when the first stars and galaxies formed, is one of the major goals of new observatories. The results obtained using the SARAS3 data are a proof-of-concept study that paves the way to understanding this period in the development of the Universe.

The SKA project – involving two next-generation telescopes due to be completed by the end of the decade – will likely be able to make images of the early Universe, but for current telescopes, the challenge is to detect the cosmological signal of the first stars re-radiated by thick hydrogen clouds.

This signal is known as the 21-centimetre line – a radio signal produced by hydrogen atoms in the early Universe. Unlike the recently launched JWST, which will be able to directly image individual galaxies in the early Universe, studies of the 21-centimetre line, made with radio telescopes such as the Cambridge-led REACH (Radio Experiment for the Analysis of Cosmic Hydrogen), can tell us about entire populations of even earlier galaxies. The first results are expected from REACH early in 2023.

To detect the 21-centimetre line, astronomers look for a radio signal produced by hydrogen atoms in the early Universe, affected by light from the first stars and the radiation behind the hydrogen fog. Earlier this year, the same researchers developed a method that they say will allow them to see through the fog of the early universe and detect light from the first stars. Some of these techniques have been already put to practice in the current study.

In 2018, another research group operating the EDGES experiment published a result that hinted at a possible detection of this earliest light. The reported signal was unusually strong compared to what is expected in the simplest astrophysical picture of the early Universe. Recently, the SARAS3 data disputed this detection: the EDGES result is still awaiting confirmation from independent observations.

In a re-analysis of the SARAS3 data, the Cambridge-led team tested a variety of astrophysical scenarios which could potentially explain the EDGES result, but they did not find a corresponding signal. Instead, the team was able to place some limits on properties of the first stars and galaxies.

The results of the SARAS3 analysis are the first time that radio observations of the averaged 21-centimetre line have been able to provide an insight to the properties of the first galaxies in the form of limits of their main physical properties.

Working with collaborators in India, Australia and Israel, the Cambridge team used data from the SARAS3 experiment to look for signals from cosmic dawn, when the first galaxies formed. Using statistical modelling techniques, the researchers were not able to find a signal in the SARAS3 data.

“We were looking for a signal with a certain amplitude,” said Harry Bevins, a PhD student from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and the paper’s lead author. “But by not finding that signal, we can put a limit on its depth. That, in turn, begins to inform us about how bright the first galaxies were.”

“Our analysis showed that the hydrogen signal can inform us about the population of first stars and galaxies,” said co-lead author Dr Anastasia Fialkov from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. “Our analysis places limits on some of the key properties of the first sources of light including the masses of the earliest galaxies and the efficiency with which these galaxies can form stars. We also address the question of how efficiently these sources emit X-ray, radio and ultraviolet radiation.”

“This is an early step for us in what we hope will be a decade of discoveries about how the Universe transitioned from darkness and emptiness to the complex realm of stars, galaxies and other celestial objects we can see from Earth today,” said Dr Eloy de Lera Acedo from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who co-led the research.

The observational study, the first of its kind in many respects, excludes scenarios in which the earliest galaxies were both more than a thousand times as bright as present galaxies in their radio-band emission and were poor heaters of hydrogen gas.

“Our data also reveals something which has been hinted at before, which is that the first stars and galaxies could have had a measurable contribution to the background radiation that appeared as a result of the Big Bang and which has been travelling towards us ever since,” said de Lera Acedo, “We are also establishing a limit to that contribution.”

“It’s amazing to be able to look so far back in time – to just 200 million years after the Big Bang- and be able to learn about the early Universe,” said Bevins.

The research was supported in part by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), and the Royal Society. The Cambridge authors are all members of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology in Cambridge.

 

Reference:
H. T. J. Bevins et al. ‘Astrophysical constraints from the SARAS 3 non-detection of the cosmic dawn sky-averaged 21-cm signal.’ Nature Astronomy (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01825-6


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Mussel Survey Reveals Alarming Degradation of River Thames Ecosystem Since the 1960s

Researcher holding a mussel
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Scientists replicated a 1964 River Thames survey and found that mussel numbers have declined by almost 95%, with one species – the depressed river mussel – completely gone.

 

This dramatic decline in native mussel populations is very worrying, and we’re not sure what’s driving it

David Aldridge

The detailed study measured the change in size and number of all species of mussel in a stretch of the River Thames near Reading between 1964 and 2020.

The results were striking: not only had native populations severely declined, but the mussels that remained were much smaller for their age – reflecting slower growth.

Mussels are important in freshwater ecosystems because they filter the water and remove algae. As filter feeders they’re exposed to everything in the water, and this makes them a valuable indicator of ecosystem health. Mussel shells also provide places for other aquatic species to live.

“Mussels are a great indicator of the health of the river ecosystem. Such a massive decline in mussel biomass in the river is also likely to have a knock-on effect for other species, reducing the overall biodiversity,” said Isobel Ollard, a PhD student in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the report.

She added: “The depressed river mussel used to be quite widespread in the Thames, but this survey didn’t find a single one – which also raises concerns for the survival of this species.”

The study also recorded new arrivals: the invasive, non-native zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, and Asian clam, Corbicula fluminea – both absent from the original 1964 survey – were present in high numbers. The scientists say invasive species probably hitched a ride on boats as they sailed up the Thames, and established themselves in the river.

The results are published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

“This dramatic decline in native mussel populations is very worrying, and we’re not sure what’s driving it,” said Professor David Aldridge in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, and senior author of the report.

He added: “While this might seem like a rather parochial little study of a single site in a single river in the UK, it actually provides an important warning signal about the world’s freshwaters.”

The invasive species could be behind the decline in the native mussel populations: zebra mussels are known to smother native species to death. But the scientists say more work is needed to be sure. Other causes could be changes in land use along the river, or changes in the fish populations that mussels depend on as part of their life cycle.

Many empty shells of the depressed river mussel, Pseudanodonta complanata, were found in the survey, indicating that the species had been living at this site in the past. The depressed river mussel is one of the most endangered mussel species in the UK.

The survey found that the population of duck mussels, Anodonta anatina, had decreased to just 1.1% of 1964 levels, and the painter’s mussel, Unio pictorum, decreased to 3.2%.

The scientists think the mussels’ reduced growth rate may reflect the river’s return to a more ‘natural’ state. Since 1964, levels of nitrate and phosphate in the river water have fallen due to tighter regulation of sewage treatment. A reduction in these nutrients would reduce the growth of algae, limiting the food available to the mussels.

Mussel species are threatened globally. The scientists say that regular population surveys of key species, like this one, are essential to tracking the health of rivers and guiding their management.

To ensure the survey was an exact replica of the original, Ollard contacted Christina Negus – who had done her survey while a researcher at the University of Reading in the sixties. Negus, who is no longer a scientist, shared details of the methods and equipment she had used. Her report, published in 1966, continues to be cited extensively as evidence of the major contribution mussels make to ecosystem functioning in rivers.

The research was funded by a Whitten studentship, Department of Zoology, Cambridge.

Reference

Ollard, I, & Aldridge, DC. ‘Declines in freshwater mussel density, size and productivity in the River Thames over the past half century.’ Journal of Animal Ecology, November 2022. DOI: 10.17863/CAM.80071


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Blood thinning drug to treat recovery from severe COVID-19 s Not Effective

 

A drug used to reduce the risk of blood clots does not help patients recovering from moderate and severe COVID-19, despite this approach being offered to patients, a UK-wide trial, led by Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the University of Cambridge has found.

 

This finding is important because it will prevent unnecessary harm occurring to people for no benefit

Charlotte Summers

The HEAL-COVID trial (Helping to Alleviate the Longer-term consequences of COVID-19) is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and the Cambridge NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.  To date, more than a thousand NHS patients hospitalised with COVID have taken part in HEAL-COVID, a platform trial that is aiming to find treatments to reduce the number who die or are readmitted following their time in hospital.

In these first results from HEAL-COVID, it’s been shown that prescribing the oral anticoagulant Apixaban does not stop COVID patients from later dying or being readmitted to hospital over the following year (Apixaban 29.1%, versus standard care 30.8%).

As well as not being beneficial, anticoagulant therapy has known serious side effects, and these were experienced by participants in the trial with a small number of the 402 participants receiving Apixaban having major bleeding that required them to discontinue the treatment.

There was also no benefit from Apixaban in terms of the number of days alive and out of hospital at day 60 after randomisation (Apixaban 59 days, versus standard care 59 days).

Following these results, the trial will continue to test another drug called Atorvastatin, a widely used lipid lowering drug (‘a statin’) that acts on other mechanisms of disease that are thought to be important in COVID.

Chief Investigator for the trial Professor Charlotte Summers is an intensive care specialist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the University of Cambridge.  She said: “Having survived the ordeal of being hospitalised with COVID-19, far too many patients find themselves back in hospital, often developing longer-term complications as a result of the virus. There is an urgent need for us to find treatments that prevent this significant burden of illness and improve the lives of so many still being affected by COVID.

“These first findings from HEAL-COVID show us that a blood thinning drug, commonly thought to be a useful intervention in the post-hospital phase is actually ineffective at stopping people dying or being readmitted to hospital. This finding is important because it will prevent unnecessary harm occurring to people for no benefit. It also means we must continue our search for therapies that improve longer term recovery for this devastating disease.”

Dr Mark Toshner, joint Chief Investigator for HEAL-COVID said: “Up until now it’s been assumed that Apixaban helps patients recover after severe COVID-19 and that thinning their blood to prevent clots is beneficial. This trial is the first robust evidence that longer anticoagulation after acute COVID-19 puts patients at risk for no clear benefit.

“Our hope is that these results will stop this drug being needlessly prescribed to patients with COVID-19 and we can change medical practise. Finding out that a treatment doesn’t work is really important. It’s not the solution many hoped it would be, with our results highlighting once again why testing treatments in randomised trials is important.

“At present, the world’s research efforts have focussed on acute COVID-19. We now urgently need evidence about how to best treat patients beyond their initial infection.”

Professor Nick Lemoine, NIHR Clinical Research Network Medical Director, said: “Research into COVID-19 recovery remains vital as we move out of the pandemic. Results such as these from the HEAL-COVID study, help to strengthen our knowledge of how patients can be treated following their stay in hospital and how recovery rates can be improved upon.

“Findings from clinical trials, whether they identify new treatments or rule out methods of care, are vital and rigorous evidence when it comes to changing best medical practice.”

The trial is being led by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) and University of Cambridge, in collaboration with Liverpool Clinical Trials Centre (University of Liverpool) and Aparito Limited.

HEAL-COVID enrols patients when they are discharged from hospital, following their first admission for COVID-19. They are randomised to a treatment and their progress tracked.

Adapted from a press release from Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


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Most Young People’s Well-Being Falls Sharply In First Years of Secondary School

Young people in class
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Research based on data from 11,000 students charted an across-the-board fall in well-being, regardless of circumstances, between ages 11 and 14.

 

Even though this was a large, diverse group of adolescents, we saw a consistent fall in well-being

Ioannis Katsantonis

Most young people in the UK experience a sharp decline in their subjective well-being during their first years at secondary school, regardless of their circumstances or background, new research shows.

Academics from the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester analysed the well-being and self-esteem of more than 11,000 young people from across the UK, using data collected when they were 11, and again when they were 14.

The adolescents’ overall ‘subjective well-being’ – their satisfaction with different aspects of life (such as friends, school and family) – dropped significantly during the intervening years.

It is widely accepted that young people’s well-being and mental health are influenced by factors such as economic circumstances and family life. The research shows that notwithstanding this, well-being tends to fall steeply and across the board during early adolescence.

That decline is probably linked to the transition to secondary school at age 11. The study identified that the particular aspects of well-being which changed in early adolescence were typically related to school and peer relationships, suggesting a close connection with shifts in these young people’s academic and social lives.

In addition, students with higher self-esteem at age 11 experienced a less significant drop in well-being at age 14. This indicates that structured efforts to strengthen adolescents’ self-esteem, particularly during the first years of secondary school, could mitigate the likely downturn in well-being and life satisfaction.

The research is published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology. It was led by Ioannis Katsantonis, a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, building on research he undertook while studying for an MPhil in Psychology and Education.

“Even though this was a large, diverse group of adolescents, we saw a consistent fall in well-being,” Katsantonis said. “One of the most striking aspects was the clear association with changes at school. It suggests we urgently need to do more to support students’ well-being at secondary schools across the UK.”

Ros McLellan, an Associate Professor at the University of Cambridge, specialist in student well-being, and co-author, said: “The link between self-esteem and well-being seems especially important. Supporting students’ capacity to feel positive about themselves during early adolescence is not a fix-all solution, but it could be highly beneficial, given that we know their well-being is vulnerable.”

Globally, adolescents’ well-being is in decline. In the UK, the Children’s Society has shown that 12% of young people aged 10 to 17 have poor well-being. Dr Jose Marquez, a Research Associate at the Institute of Education, University of Manchester, and co-author, said: “Until now, we haven’t fully understood how universally poor well-being is experienced. The relationship between well-being and self-esteem has also been unclear.”

The researchers used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which involves a nationally representative sample of people born between 2000 and 2002 and incorporates standard questionnaires about well-being and self-esteem. They then calculated a well-being ‘score’ for each student, balanced to control for other factors that influence well-being – such as economic advantage, bullying, and general feelings of safety.

While most adolescents were satisfied with life at age 11, the majority were extremely dissatisfied by age 14. By that age, the well-being scores of 79% of participants fell below what had been the average score for the entire group three years earlier. “This is a statistically significant drop,” Katsantonis said. “It goes far beyond anything we would classify as moderate.”

The study also captured information about the adolescents’ satisfaction with specific aspects of their lives, such as schoolwork, personal appearance, family and friends. This suggested that the most dramatic downturns between 11 and 14 were probably related to school and relationships with peers.

Despite the overall fall, students with better well-being at age 14 tended to be those who had higher self-esteem at age 11. The pattern did not apply in reverse, however: better well-being at age 11 did not predict better self-esteem later. This implies a causal link in which self-esteem seems to protect adolescents from what would otherwise be sharper declines in well-being.

“Supporting self-esteem is not the only thing we need to do to improve young people’s well-being,” Katsantonis said. “It should never, for example, become an excuse not to tackle poverty or address bullying – but it can be used to improve young people’s life satisfaction at this critical stage.”

The researchers identify various ways in which schools could support this. At a basic level, Katsantonis suggested that celebrating students’ achievements, underlining the value of things they had done well, and avoiding negative comparisons with other students, could all help.

More strategically, the study suggests incorporating more features that promote self-esteem into England’s well-being curriculum, and stresses the need to ensure that similar efforts are made across the UK. Recent studies have, for example,  highlighted the potential benefits of mindfulness training in schools, and of ‘positive psychology’ initiatives which teach adolescents to set achievable personal goals, and to acknowledge and reflect on their own character strengths.

McLellan added: “It’s really important that this is sustained – it can’t just be a case of doing something once when students start secondary school, or implementing the odd practice here and there. A concerted effort to improve students’ sense of self-worth could have really positive results. Many good teachers are doing this already, but it is perhaps even more important than we thought.”


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The Future Of Aviation: How Will We Fly To COP in 2035?

How will we fly to COP in 2035?

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

In the week of COP27 people across the world have flown to Sharm El Sheikh to discuss action on climate change. Aviation is a crucial way to bring us together to tackle this challenge – but it is also a major contributor to the problem.

 

The future of sustainable aviation is likely to require a huge amount of energy… This presents an opportunity for all countries, especially developing ones, to participate in the future of sustainable aviation

Samuel Gabra

Along with all areas of the global economy, flight must become climate neutral. However, huge uncertainty remains around what technology, policy, finance, and behaviour will be needed to get it there.

Inspired by a call in early 2020 from His Majesty, King Charles III, for industry, academia, and Government to move much faster to get aviation to net zero, the University of Cambridge set up the Aviation Impact Accelerator (AIA). The AIA aims to accelerate the journey to sustainable aviation by developing evidence-based tools that allow people to map, understand, and embark on the pathways towards sustainable flight.

The team are now working on the Journey Impact Simulator, a tool that can be used to explore how a flight from A to B might look now and in the future, showing the best possible technology options to minimise climate impact while showing the user the trade-offs in terms of cost, land and electricity required. This tool draws results from the whole system model built by the AIA’s international and multi-disciplinary team.

“What we are trying to do is work with experts from industry, government, academia and civil society from around the world to identify ‘unlocks’ which will open the door to much wider transformation in the sector,” explains Professor Rob Miller, AIA lead and Director of the Whittle Laboratory, University of Cambridge.

Dr Samuel Gabra, an Egyptian research associate with the AIA, is passionate about scaling up energy access while reaching net-zero. Explaining how one might use the Simulator to explore a flight from London Standard to Sharm El Sheikh in 2035, he says that the model suggests a synthetic jet fuel and hydrogen combustion aircraft as the best options for limiting the climate impact.

“Although we reduce emissions by depending on hydrogen and synthetic jet fuel, this comes with a significant cost,” Gabra says.

It is startling to see the cost, land and electricity required for these future options. For example, for just one flight from London to Egypt in 2035 using synthetic jet fuel, the electricity requirement is approximately 166% of Egypt’s average electricity use per capita per year.

Gabra adds: “As we saw, the future of sustainable aviation is likely to require a huge amount of energy, which means it is impossible for a single country or region to single-handedly provide this amount of energy. This presents an opportunity for all countries, especially developing ones, to participate in the future of sustainable aviation. By capitalising on their abundant renewable resources, countries can act as hubs for producing green electricity and synthetic jet fuel.”

It is vital that as the world faces climate change adaptation and mitigation, all countries are included in the discussion around the opportunities and challenges. Aviation plays a key role in connecting our world, but access to the economic and social opportunities it brings are not equally available. As the aviation industry works to transform the sector, it is not just the climate impact that must be considered but the impact on people.

Adapted from an article from the Aviation Impact Accelerator


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COP Must Reverse Rising Pessimism Over Building Sector Decarbonisation

People installing a living roof in 2012
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Social media engagement with climate policy events is vital to reducing building emissions and ensuring environmental justice, research led by Cambridge suggests

 

To build for tomorrow fairly, global climate action has to incorporate and empower diverse public voices

Ramit Debnath

Negativity on Twitter about decarbonising the built environment has increased by around a third since 2014, according to a new analysis of more than 250,000 tweets featuring #emissions and #building between 2009 and 2021.

The pessimistic trend has followed the launch of major climate action reports. The study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, reveals that expressions of ‘fear’ in Twitter dialogue increased by around 60% following the launch of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change in 2015.

The researchers, from Cambridge, Boston, Sussex and Aarhus Universities and Caltech, also found that ‘sadness’ increased by around 30% following the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming 1.5˚C in November 2019; while debate in November 2020 over lobbying of builders and utility companies over non-compliance with new building codes in the US triggered a spike in ‘anger’.

Mapping tweets that caused spikes in emotional engagement revealed that public concerns triangulated around inaction towards emission reduction, the fairness of carbon tax, the politicisation of building codes (distinctively seen for the US) and concerns over environmental degradation. This demonstrates, the researchers argue, “a strong environmental justice discourse.”

The findings appear on the heels of COP27’s building sector events (10th – 14th November), which sought to promote a just transition and enhancing building resilience with the tagline ‘Build4Tomorrow’.

Lead author Ramit Debnath, Cambridge Zero Fellow at the University of Cambridge and a visiting faculty associate in Computational Social Science at Caltech, said:

“Major climate policy events including COP have emphasised how difficult it is to decarbonise the built environment and this has been reflected in the rise of negative feelings on social media.

“But our research also offers hope – we found that climate policy events can and do foster public engagement, mostly positive, and that this has the power to increase the building sector’s focus on environmental justice.

“To build for tomorrow fairly, global climate action has to incorporate and empower diverse public voices. Policy actions are no longer isolated events in this digital age and demand two-way communication. Policy events and social media have a crucial role to play in this.”

The study highlights that the building sector is one of the most important and challenging to decarbonise. The IPCC suggests that restricting climate change to 1.5˚C requires rapid and extensive changes around energy use, building design, and broader planning of cities and infrastructure. The buildings and construction sector currently accounts for around 39% of global energy and process-related carbon emissions. The International Energy Agency estimates that to achieve a net-zero carbon building stock by 2050, direct building carbon emissions must decrease by 50%, and indirect building sector emissions must also decrease 60% by 2030.

But decarbonising the building sector is challenging because it involves a complex overlap of people, places and practices that creates a barrier to designing just emission reduction policies. The study argues that democratising the decarbonisation process “remains a critical challenge across the local, national and regional scales”.

“Our findings shed light on potential pathways for a people-centric transition to a greener building sector in a net-zero future,” Debnath said.

Using advanced natural language processing and network theory, the researchers found a strong relationship between Twitter activity concerning the building sector and major policy events on climate change. They identify heightened Twitter engagement around developments including: the Paris Agreement’s call for the building sector to reduce its emissions through energy efficiency and address its whole life cycle; COP-23’s ’Human Settlement Day’ which focused on cities, affordable housing and climate action; COP25’s discourse on green/climate finance for residential homes; and COP26’s ’Cities, Region and Built environment Day’.

The researchers found that despite negative sentiments gaining an increasing share since 2014, positive sentiments have continued to multiply as Twitter engagement has exploded. Across the entire study period (2009–21), positive sentiments have fairly consistently maintained a larger share of the conversation than negative sentiments.

The study highlights the fact that core topics covered by tweets have changed significantly over time, as new innovations, technologies and issues have emerged. Hashtags associated with COP26, for instance, included #woodforgood and #masstimber, as well as #housingcrisis, #healthybuildings #scaleupnow, and #climatejusticenow, all largely or entirely absent in Twitter conversations between 2009 and 2016.

The researchers found that discourse on innovative emissions reduction strategies which remain uncommon in the building sector— including use of alternate building materials like cross-laminated timber; implementing climate-sensitive building codes; and the circular economy – inspired Tweets expressing ‘anticipation’.

“COP26 was an extraordinary moment,” Debnath said. “The Twitter engagement surrounding the event connected public health, the circular economy, affordable housing, and decarbonisation of the built environment like never before.”

“We are seeing a paradigm shift in the building emission discourse towards broader social and environmental justice contexts. Reference to low-carbon alternatives to concrete, housing crisis, scaling-up and climate justice are all part of the growing social justice movement associated with healthy and affordable social housing narratives globally.”

The study notes that considering the size of Twitter’s current user base (around 211 million users globally), the number of tweets about emissions in the building sector, remains relatively small.

“It’s crucial that policymakers raise the salience of these issues and develop communications strategies to emphasise the importance of climate action in hard-to-decarbonise sectors like the building sector,” Debnath said.

The authors of the study intend to continue to analyse social media interaction with further climate policy events, beginning with COP27.

Co-author Professor Benjamin Sovacool, Director of Institute for Global Sustainability at Boston University said: “Some people dismiss Twitter as a poor focus of academic research, given its ability to spread misinformation and fake news. But we instead see it as a lens into the inner workings of how millions of people think, and rethink, about energy and climate change. It offers an incredible opportunity to reveal people’s true intentions, their revealed preferences, in unbiased form on a public forum.”

Co-author Prof R. Michael Alvarez, Professor of Political and Computational Social Science at Caltech, said: “This is an innovative and important study, showing how an interdisciplinary and international group of scholars can use big data and machine learning to provide policy guidance on how to decarbonize the build sector. Research like this is critical at this time, to inform the debates at forums like COP27 and to energise additional scholarly work that can help further our goal of democratising climate action.”

Reference

R. Debnath, R. Bardhan, D.U. Shah, K. Mohaddes, M.H. Ramage, M.R. Alvarez, and B. Sovacool, ‘Social media enables people-centric climate action in the hard-to-decarbonise building sector’. Nature Scientific Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41589-022-23624-9


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Cambridge Dictionary Names ‘Homer’ Word of the Year 2022

A home run in a baseball game
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Homer, an informal American English word for a home run in baseball, is Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2022, thanks to Wordle.

 

English speakers continue to be divided over differences between English language varieties

Wendalyn Nichols

The Cambridge Dictionary has revealed its word of the year for 2022 as “homer”. Editors have credited disgruntled Wordle players whose winning streak was ended by the unfamiliar American English term.

Homer, an informal American English word for a home run in baseball, was searched for nearly 75,000 times on the Cambridge Dictionary website during the first week of May when it was an answer in the online five-letter word puzzle.

It became the dictionary’s highest-spiking word of the year, and editors said five-letter Wordle answers dominated searches this year as the game became a global phenomenon.

Tellingly, 95% of searches for homer were from outside North America as baffled Wordle players turned to the Cambridge Dictionary to find out what it meant.

Some speakers of British English expressed frustration on social media about the choice of “homer” as the Wordle answer for 5th May. But many players would have been rewarded for demonstrating Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2021: perseverance.

In 2022, the American spelling of humor caused the second highest spike. In third place was caulk, a word more familiar in American English than in British English, meaning to fill the spaces around the edge of something, for example a bath or window frame, with a special substance.

Wendalyn Nichols, Cambridge Dictionary’s publishing manager, said: “Wordle’s words, and the public’s reactions to them, illustrate how English speakers continue to be divided over differences between English language varieties, even when they’re playing a globally popular new word game that has brought people together online for friendly competition about language.

“The differences between British and American English are always of interest not just to learners of English but to English speakers globally, and word games are also perennially entertaining.

“We’ve seen those two phenomena converge in the public conversations about Wordle, and the way five-letter words have simply taken over the lookups on the Cambridge Dictionary website.”

Searches for Wordle’s five-letter words on the Cambridge Dictionary website squeezed out other high-interest words that reflected current affairs.

These included oligarch, likely triggered by new international sanctions and geopolitical shifts amid Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Ableist spiked during the controversy over the use of an ableist slur in lyrics to the pop song Grrrls by Lizzo.

Additions to the Cambridge Dictionary this year have included shrinkflation, defined as the situation when the price of a product stays the same but its size gets smaller.

Cambridge University Press has been publishing dictionaries for learners of English since 1995. Cambridge Dictionary began offering these dictionaries completely free of charge online in 1999 and is now the top learner dictionary website in the world, serving 2.6 billion page views a year.


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