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Low-Cost Battery-Like Device Absorbs CO2 Emissions While It Charges

Two smiling scientists in a lab
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Researchers have developed a low-cost device that can selectively capture carbon dioxide gas while it charges. Then, when it discharges, the CO2 can be released in a controlled way and collected to be reused or disposed of responsibly.

 

We found that that by slowly alternating the current between the plates we can capture double the amount of CO2 than before

Alexander Forse

The supercapacitor device, which is similar to a rechargeable battery, is the size of a two-pence coin, and is made in part from sustainable materials including coconut shells and seawater.

Designed by researchers from the University of Cambridge, the supercapacitor could help power carbon capture and storage technologies at much lower cost. Around 35 billion tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere per year and solutions are urgently needed to eliminate these emissions and address the climate crisis. The most advanced carbon capture technologies currently require large amounts of energy and are expensive.

The supercapacitor consists of two electrodes of positive and negative charge. In work led by Trevor Binford while completing his Master’s degree at Cambridge, the team tried alternating from a negative to a positive voltage to extend the charging time from previous experiments. This improved the supercapacitor’s ability to capture carbon.

“We found that that by slowly alternating the current between the plates we can capture double the amount of CO2 than before,” said Dr Alexander Forse from Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, who led the research.

“The charging-discharging process of our supercapacitor potentially uses less energy than the amine heating process used in industry now,” said Forse. “Our next questions will involve investigating the precise mechanisms of CO2 capture and improving them. Then it will be a question of scaling up.”

The results are reported in the journal Nanoscale.

A supercapacitor is similar to a rechargeable battery but the main difference is in how the two devices store charge. A battery uses chemical reactions to store and release charge, whereas a supercapacitor does not rely on chemical reactions. Instead, it relies on the movement of electrons between electrodes, so it takes longer to degrade and has a longer lifespan.

“The trade-off is that supercapacitors can’t store as much charge as batteries, but for something like carbon capture we would prioritise durability,” said co-author Grace Mapstone. “The best part is that the materials used to make supercapacitors are cheap and abundant. The electrodes are made of carbon, which comes from waste coconut shells.

“We want to use materials that are inert, that don’t harm environments, and that we need to dispose of less frequently. For example, the CO2 dissolves into a water-based electrolyte which is basically seawater.”

However, this supercapacitor does not absorb CO2 spontaneously: it must be charging to draw in CO2. When the electrodes become charged, the negative plate draws in the CO2 gas, while ignoring other emissions, such as oxygen, nitrogen and water, which don’t contribute to climate change. Using this method, the supercapacitor both captures carbon and stores energy.

Co-author Dr Israel Temprano contributed to the project by developing a gas analysis technique for the device. The technique uses a pressure sensor that responds to changes in gas adsorption in the electrochemical device. The results from Temprano’s contribution help narrow down the precise mechanism at play inside the supercapacitor when CO2 is absorbed and released. Understanding these mechanisms, the possible losses, and the routes of degradation are all essential before the supercapacitor can be scaled up.

“This field of research is very new so the precise mechanism working inside the supercapacitor still isn’t known,” said Temprano.

The research was funded by a Future Leaders Fellowship to Dr Forse, a UK Research and Innovation scheme developing the next wave of world-class research and innovation.

Reference:
Trevor B. Binford, Grace Mapstone, Israel Temprano, and Alexander C. Forse. ‘Enhancing the capacity of supercapacitive swing adsorption CO2 capture by tuning charging protocols.’ Nanoscale (2022). DOI: 10.1039/D2NR00748G


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The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Scientists ‘See’ Puzzling Features Deep In Earth’s Interior

Etna Volcano Eruption January 12 2011
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

New research led by the University of Cambridge is the first to obtain a detailed ‘image’ of an unusual pocket of rock at the boundary layer with Earth’s core, some three thousand kilometres beneath the surface.

 

Of all Earth’s deep interior features, these are the most fascinating and complex

Zhi Li

The enigmatic area of rock, which is located almost directly beneath the Hawaiian Islands, is one of several ultra-low velocity zones – so-called because earthquake waves slow to a crawl as they pass through them.

The research, published in Nature Communications, is the first to reveal the complex internal variability of one of these pockets in detail, shedding light on the landscape of Earth’s deep interior and the processes operating within it.

“Of all Earth’s deep interior features, these are the most fascinating and complex. We’ve now got the first solid evidence to show their internal structure – it’s a real milestone in deep earth seismology,” said lead author Zhi Li, PhD student at Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences.

Earth’s interior is layered like an onion: at the centre sits the iron-nickel core, surrounded by a thick layer known as the mantle, and on top of that a thin outer shell — the crust we live on. Although the mantle is solid rock, it is hot enough to flow extremely slowly. These internal convection currents feed heat to the surface, driving the movement of tectonic plates and fuelling volcanic eruptions.

Scientists use seismic waves from earthquakes to ‘see’ beneath Earth’s surface — the echoes and shadows of these waves reveal radar-like images of deep interior topography. But, until recently, ‘images’ of the structures at the core-mantle boundary, an area of key interest for studying our planet’s internal heat flow, have been grainy and difficult to interpret.

The researchers used the latest numerical modelling methods to reveal kilometre-scale structures at the core-mantle boundary. According to co-author Dr Kuangdai Leng, who developed the methods while at the University of Oxford, “We are really pushing the limits of modern high-performance computing for elastodynamic simulations, taking advantage of wave symmetries unnoticed or unused before.” Leng, who is currently based at the Science and Technology Facilities Council, says that this means they can improve the resolution of the images by an order of magnitude compared to previous work.

The researchers observed a 40% reduction in the speed of seismic waves travelling at the base of the ultra-low velocity zone beneath Hawaii. This supports existing proposals that the zone contains much more iron than the surrounding rocks – meaning it is denser and more sluggish. “It’s possible that this iron-rich material is a remnant of ancient rocks from Earth’s early history or even that iron might be leaking from the core by an unknown means,” said project lead Dr Sanne Cottaar from Cambridge Earth Sciences.

The research could also help scientists understand what sits beneath and gives rise to volcanic chains like the Hawaiian Islands. Scientists have started to notice a correlation between the location of the descriptively-named hotspot volcanoes, which include Hawaii and Iceland, and the ultra-low velocity zones at the base of the mantle. The origin of hotspot volcanoes has been debated, but the most popular theory suggests that plume-like structures bring hot mantle material all the way from the core-mantle boundary to the surface.

With images of the ultra-low velocity zone beneath Hawaii now in hand, the team can also gather rare physical evidence from what is likely the root of the plume feeding Hawaii. Their observation of dense, iron-rich rock beneath Hawaii would support surface observations. “Basalts erupting from Hawaii have anomalous isotope signatures which could either point to either an early-Earth origin or core leaking, it means some of this dense material piled up at the base must be dragged to the surface,” said Cottaar.

More of the core-mantle boundary now needs to be imaged to understand if all surface hotspots have a pocket of dense material at the base. Where and how the core-mantle boundary can be targeted does depend on where earthquakes occur, and where seismometers are installed to record the waves.

The team’s observations add to a growing body of evidence that Earth’s deep interior is just as variable as its surface. “These low velocity zones are one of the most intricate features we see at extreme depths – if we expand our search, we are likely to see ever-increasing levels of complexity, both structural and chemical, at the core-mantle boundary,” said Li.

They now plan to apply their techniques to enhance the resolution of imaging of other pockets at the core-mantle boundary, as well as mapping new zones. Eventually they hope to map the geological landscape across the core-mantle boundary and understand its relationship with the dynamics and evolutionary history of our planet.

Reference:
Zhi Li, Kuangdai Leng, Jennifer Jenkins, Sanne Cottaar. ‘Kilometer-scale structure on the core–mantle boundary near Hawaii.’ Nature Communications (2022), DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-30502-5


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Satellite Images Reveal Dramatic Loss of Global Wetlands Over Past Two Decades

Extensive coastal development along the East Asia coastline has led to rapid declines of tidal flat ecosystems, which are the principal coastal ecosystems protecting coastal populations in China
source: wwwcam.ac.uk

 

An analysis of over a million satellite images has revealed that 4,000 square kilometres of tidal wetlands have been lost globally over twenty years.

 

This data can help identify coastal areas most impacted – and therefore in need of protection

Thomas Worthington

Global change and human actions are driving rapid changes to tidal wetlands – tidal marshes, mangroves and tidal flats – worldwide. However, ecosystem restoration and natural processes are playing a part in reducing total losses.

But efforts to estimate their current and future status at the global scale remain highly unclear due to uncertainty about how tidal wetlands respond to drivers of change.

In a new study, researchers have developed a machine-learning analysis of vast archives of historical satellite images to detect the extent, timing and type of change across the world’s tidal wetlands between 1999 and 2019.

They found that globally, 13,700 square kilometres of tidal wetlands were lost, offset by gains of 9,700 square kilometres, leading to a net loss of 4,000 square kilometres over the two-decade period.

The study is published today in the journal Science.

“We found 27 per cent of losses and gains were associated with direct human activities, such as conversion to agriculture and restoration of lost wetlands,” said Dr Nicholas Murray, Senior Lecturer and head of James Cook University’s Global Ecology Lab, who led the study.

All other changes were attributed to indirect drivers such as human impacts to river catchments, extensive development in the coastal zone, coastal subsidence, natural coastal processes and climate change.

About three-quarters of the net global tidal wetland decrease happened in Asia, with almost 70 per cent of that total concentrated in Indonesia, China and Myanmar.

“Asia is the global centre of tidal wetland loss from direct human activities. These activities had a lesser role in the losses of tidal wetlands in Europe, Africa, the Americas and Oceania, where coastal wetland dynamics were driven by indirect factors such as wetland migration, coastal modifications and catchment change,” said Murray.

The scientists found that almost three-quarters of tidal wetland loss globally has been offset by the establishment of new tidal wetlands in areas where they formerly did not occur – with notable expansion in the Ganges and Amazon deltas.

Most new areas of tidal wetlands were the result of indirect drivers, highlighting the prominent role that broad-scale coastal processes have in maintaining tidal wetland extent and facilitating natural regeneration.

“This result indicates that we need to allow for the movement and migration of coastal wetlands to account for rapid global change,” said Murray.

He added: “Global-scale monitoring is now essential if we are going to manage changes in coastal environments effectively.”

Over one billion people now live in low-elevation coastal areas globally.

Tidal wetlands are of immense importance to humanity, providing benefits such as carbon storage and sequestration, coastal protection, and fisheries enhancement.

“Protecting our coastal wetlands is critical to supporting coastal communities and the wider health of the planet. These areas are the last refuge for many plants and animals,” said Dr Thomas Worthington, Senior Research Associate in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and co-author of the study.

He added: “This data can help identify coastal areas most impacted – and therefore in need of protection, or areas where we can prioritise restoration.”

Reference:

Murray, N.J. et al: ‘High-resolution mapping of losses and gains of Earth’s tidal wetlands.’ Science, May 2022. DOI: 10.1126/science.abm9583

More information: www.globalintertidalchange.org

Adapted from a press release by James Cook University


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Katherine Parr Did Not Persuade Henry VIII To Found Trinity College Cambridge

Henry VIII statue on the Great Gate of Trinity College Cambridge
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

King Henry VIII had already made up his mind to found Trinity College Cambridge and Christ Church Oxford before Cambridge lobbied his queen, a re-examination of 16th-century sources suggests. Professor Richard Rex’s study undermines a popular ‘Cambridge version’ of events, sheds new light on the Chantries Act and emphasises the king’s ability to take big decisions.

 

Henry’s plan to establish lasting memorials to himself in both universities had probably been in his mind since mid-1545 at the latest

Richard Rex

The story that Trinity College Cambridge was only founded because Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr, pleaded with him to do so, has become part of the folklore of Cambridge University. It resurfaced again in Cambridge News this month, along with the claim that it was only the queen’s intervention that stopped Henry from closing down some or all of the Cambridge colleges.

But research by Richard Rex, Professor of Reformation History at Cambridge, now shows that this much loved and repeated tale is misleading. Rex’s study, published in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, reveals that numerous powerful people at Court helped to defend the university from the potential threat posed by the king in his final few years, and that Henry had already decided to establish Trinity before the university lobbied Katherine Parr.

The university’s fears centred on the Chantries Act of 1545, which empowered the king to take over, at will, any of the ‘colleges, free chapels, chantries, hospitals’ or other religious foundations with which his kingdom abounded. In principle this power could certainly have swept up the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge to swell the royal coffers.

But as Professor Rex explains: “While the Chantries Act did indeed give Henry the power to suppress any college or church foundation he chose, it’s clear that the university’s friends at Court did all they could, from the start, to ensure that this new power would not be used against Cambridge or Oxford.”

“Even before the universities knew what was going on, they were given different treatment from the rest of England and Wales as the new law was put into effect.”

Cambridge did write to Katherine Parr, among others, to lobby against the potential threat to their interests. But her reply only confirms what other sources studied by Rex also make clear: that Henry had already taken the decision to found Christ Church in Oxford and Trinity in Cambridge.

Parr’s letter, dated 26 February 1546 and preserved in Corpus Christi College’s library in Cambridge, assures the university that the king:
‘being such a patron to good learning doth tender [i.e. favour] you so much that he will rather advance learning and erect new occasion thereof than to confound those your ancient and godly institutions’.

Even though the processes for establishing the twin foundations were delayed so that the colleges only came into being a month or two before Henry’s death at the end of January 1547, key parts of the plan were already in place as early as summer 1545.

Rex said: “Katherine Parr was undoubtedly a patron of learning and in particular of the ‘new learning’ of the Protestant Reformation. But the idea that she had a crucial role in the foundation of Trinity is romantic fiction with only the slenderest basis in the historical record.”

Rex’s study undermines other long-held assumptions based on chronological errors, including that Cambridge’s lobbying secured the favourable appointment of university insiders Matthew Parker, John Redman and William May as commissioners to survey its Colleges for the king.

In fact, their appointment preceded any known Cambridge lobbying by about a month and, Rex argues, this came about thanks to ‘the unsolicited intervention of the university’s friends at court’. Rex found supporting evidence for this among Matthew Parker’s papers in Corpus Christi’s library, which still bears Parker’s name because he left the College his magnificent private collection of books and manuscripts.

Rex, himself a student at Trinity in the 1980s, made these discoveries while working with Colin Armstrong (another Trinity alum) on a chapter for a forthcoming book about the college’s history.

The popular narrative which emphasises Parr’s influence and that of Cambridge lobbyists originated in a book published in 1884 by J.B. Mullinger entitled The University of Cambridge from the royal injunctions of 1545 to the accession of Charles the First. Mullinger was a historian and librarian at St John’s College Cambridge. But Rex concludes that he both misread and misdated the patchy original sources which describe these events.

He said: “When I started this work, I simply wanted to nail down the traditional story by checking the sources and footnotes. It had been retold so often by so many good historians that I had no reason to doubt it was true. But I found that the whole thing was a mess, the chronology didn’t make any sense. So I set about trying to put the record straight.”

“The fact that Cambridge and Oxford were, from the start, set apart from the rest of the country in the implementation of the Chantries Act is just one among several indications that Henry VIII already had something special in mind for them.

“Henry’s plan to establish lasting memorials to himself in both universities had probably been in his mind since mid-1545 at the latest. The ‘Cambridge version’ of events appears to have been an academic flight of fancy. Our lobbying efforts weren’t quite as influential as we once liked to imagine.”

“Strangely, a fashion has grown up of attributing too much of what Henry VIII did to the influence of those closest to him – Wolsey, Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, or Katherine Parr. Like anyone, Henry was liable to be influenced by those around him. But the big decisions – and the founding of Christ Church and Trinity were big decisions – were his.”

Reference
R Rex, ‘The University of Cambridge and the Chantries Act of 1545’, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History (2022); doi.org/10.1017/S0022046921001494


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First-Ever Cambridge Foundation Year Offers Made To Prospective Students

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

More than 50 students from backgrounds of educational disadvantage have been offered a place on the University of Cambridge’s first-ever pre-degree foundation year.

 

The Cambridge Foundation Year is an innovative programme that aims to reach an entirely new field of Cambridge candidates, and to transform lives.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor

The landmark new programme will provide a new route to undergraduate education at Cambridge for around 50 talented individuals every year who have experienced educational and social disadvantage, and demonstrate the potential to succeed in a degree in the arts, humanities, or social sciences.

The one-year, full-time residential course will welcome its first intake of students to Cambridge for the start of the new academic year, in October 2022. Following a rigorous admissions process, offers have been made to 52 students.

Free and fully funded, the Cambridge Foundation Year is aimed at engaging an entirely new stream of applicants who have been prevented from reaching their full potential by their circumstances. This includes students with experience of the care system, estrangement from parents, low levels of household income, and schools with little history of sending students to highly selective universities. Their selection has taken into account their educational background and contextualised their achievements, recognising that circumstances and opportunity should not be a barrier to future academic success.

The programme’s engaging and challenging curriculum will prepare students for further study at Cambridge, or another top university.

Typical offers for the Cambridge Foundation Year – which is open to those ordinarily resident in the UK who meet specific eligibility criteria – require 120 UCAS Tariff Points, which is equivalent to BBB at A-Level. The usual Cambridge offer is at least A*AA.

In total, there were 267 applications to the pilot Foundation Year programme, around 5 applications for every place, which is comparable to the number of applications the University normally receives for undergraduate study (6 applications for every place). Cambridge Foundation Year applicants, including mature students, came from diverse backgrounds and from across the UK. They have received guidance during the process through a University online applicant support programme to help them make the strongest possible application.

A Foundation Year Offer Holder Day will be held in June, giving students an opportunity to find out more about life at Cambridge and visit colleges, and a Residential Pre-Term Induction Week will take place in September.

Dr Alex Pryce, Foundation Year Course Director, said: “This is a big day for those who are receiving their Cambridge Foundation Year offer, and a big day for the University. This is the first time in its history that Cambridge has run a pre-degree foundation year programme, aimed at talented applicants who might not otherwise consider applying to study here, and the number of applications we received shows that it is competitive and that there is a clear appetite for it.

“I’d like to congratulate everyone who has received an offer; we look forward to welcoming our first-ever Cambridge Foundation Year students to Cambridge very soon.”

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “The Cambridge Foundation Year offers a fresh approach to widening participation at Cambridge. It is an innovative programme that aims to reach an entirely new field of Cambridge candidates, and to transform lives. After all the planning that has gone into creating the Cambridge Foundation Year, and the hard work of many people across the University and Colleges, I’m delighted that we have reached this important moment.”

A cornerstone gift from philanthropists Christina and Peter Dawson is funding the launch of the programme and full one-year scholarships for all students who are accepted. Students will study at one of the 13 Cambridge colleges participating in the pilot scheme, and will benefit from the community, support and academic stimulation this offers, which is intrinsic to the Cambridge experience.

As with all courses at Cambridge, there was a rigorous admissions process designed to help admit students who will thrive on the Foundation Year and be able to progress to a degree at Cambridge – including interviews and assessment. Students also have to prove their eligibility to receive the generous scholarship given to all students on the course.

On successful completion of the programme, Cambridge Foundation Year students will receive a recognised CertHE qualification from the University of Cambridge, and with suitable attainment can progress to degrees in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Cambridge without the need to apply to the University again in the usual admissions round. Students will also be supported during the programme in finding alternative university places if they do not wish to continue to undergraduate study at Cambridge, or do not meet the required level of attainment.

Along with the Cambridge Foundation Year in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the University last year launched the STEM SMART programme to support hundreds of UK state school students through their maths and science A-levels with enhanced learning, encouragement and mentoring. The two programmes build on widening participation progress made by the University in recent years, including the use of the August Reconsideration Pool to reconsider candidates who exceed expectations in examinations, and the launch of an enhanced bursary scheme.

In 2021, 72% of Cambridge’s new undergraduate students were from state schools and more than a quarter were from the least advantaged backgrounds.
For more information visit: www.foundationyear.cam.ac.uk


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Remote working is a ‘mixed bag’ for employee wellbeing and productivity, study finds

Woman using laptop for team meeting
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Adapting remote and hybrid work policies to employees’ specific work-life situations can result in increased well-being and productivity, but many employees are stuck in an increasing number of low-quality meetings when working remotely, according to a new study.

 

The shift to remote working for many office-based workers at the start of the pandemic initially led to an increase in productivity, especially by reducing commute times, but a new large-scale study has outlined the many ways in which remote working has affected wellbeing and productivity over the past two years, both positively and negatively.

One of the big changes for remote workers was the number and quality of meetings. As outlined in a new article in MIT Sloan Management Review, the study from Cambridge Judge Business School and the Vitality Research Institute, part of the wellness and financial services group Vitality, found that the average number of meetings increased by 7.4% from June 2020 to December 2021.

The study, based on more than 1,000 Vitality employees, also found that people in most departments spent more hours in low-quality meetings – defined as meetings in which participants multitask, are double-booked into competing meetings or tasks, or are accompanied by another person with a similar role.

“Low-quality meetings often translate into less productivity and high levels of multitasking can increase stress,” said study co-author Thomas Roulet from Cambridge Judge Business School.

The study, which looked at employees from four Vitality locations in the UK and across all business units, is based on automated data collection using Microsoft Workplace Analytics complemented by weekly surveys.

The authors focused on five core workplace behaviours that have the most significant impact on a range of wellbeing and work outcomes: collaboration hours (meetings, calls, dealing with emails); low-quality meeting hours; multitasking hours during meetings (including sending emails); ‘focus’ hours (blocks of at least two hours with no meetings); and workweek span (number of hours worked per week).

Work capacity was captured based on four factors: life and work satisfaction, anxiety and stress levels, work energy, and work-life balance.

The relationships emerging from the data are clear: employees were working longer (a higher workweek span), spent time in more low-quality meetings, and had higher levels of multitasking, all of which are associated with worse outcomes, including a decline in work-life balance and quality of work.

More after-hours work predominantly affects one’s sense of work engagement but has no real impact on work productivity and quality. Increased focus hours affect work outcomes but not work engagement.

The authors conclude that the shift over the past two years toward remote or hybrid working has improved wellbeing for some workers but not others, so they caution against a ‘blanket approach’ to workplace rules such as requiring employees to come into the office for a set number of days or under specific conditions.

The research found, for example, that increasing ‘focus’ hours was beneficial to senior employees who may need to concentrate on more complex tasks, but it decreased well-being for junior employees who want more social interactions rather than working in isolation from their team.

The article in MIT Sloan Management Review – entitled “How Shifts in Remote Behavior Affect Employee Well-being” – is co-authored by Shaun Subel, Director at the Vitality Research Institute; Martin Stepanek, Lead Researcher at the Vitality Research Institute; and Thomas Roulet, Associate Professor in Organisational Strategy at Cambridge Judge Business School.

 

Adapted from a story published on the Cambridge Judge Business School website. 


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‘Threatening’ Faces and Beefy Bodies Do Not Bias Criminal Suspect Identification, Study Finds

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Research shows that there is no bias toward selecting people with muscular bodies or facial characteristics perceived as threatening when identifying criminal suspects in line-ups.

 

Misidentification of innocent defendants plays a significant role in most cases of prisoners later exonerated through DNA evidence

Magda Osman

We’re all familiar with the classic “look” of a movie bad guy: peering through narrowing eyes with a sinister sneer (like countless James Bond villains, including Christopher Walken’s memorable Max Zorin in A View to a Kill) or pumped up to cartoon-like dimensions (like the Soviet boxer Drago who growls “I must break you” to Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV).

Yet a detailed new study of identifying criminal suspects finds, to the authors’ surprise, no bias toward selecting people with threatening facial characteristics or muscular bodies. The study does find, however, that suspects with highly muscled, “threatening” bodies are most accurately identified by eyewitnesses in line-ups.

‘No systematic bias’ 

“These findings suggest that while no systematic bias exists in the recall of criminal bodies, the nature of the body itself and the context in which it is presented can significantly impact identification accuracy,” says the research published in the journal Memory & Cognition. “Participant identification accuracy was highest for the most threatening body stimuli high in musculature.”

Eyewitness testimony and the identification of suspects lies at the heart of the criminal justice system. In the absence of incriminating physical evidence, an eyewitness can be crucial in convincing a court of the defendant’s guilt. Previous studies have revealed identification errors may be due to people finding it hard to recognise unfamiliar faces, as well as height and weight frequently being underestimated.

Computer-generated images varying in levels of threat 

“Misidentification of innocent defendants plays a significant role in most cases of prisoners later exonerated through DNA evidence,” says study co-author Magda Osman, Head of Research and Analysis at the Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge, which is affiliated with Cambridge Judge Business School.

“Having a stereotypically ‘criminal’ or threatening appearance has long been established to be a disadvantage in the judicial system, both in terms of the likelihood of initially being arrested and in terms of courtroom sentencing,” adds co-author Terence J. McElvaney of the Department of Biological and Experimental sychology, Queen Mary University of London. “What we wanted to establish through this new research was whether some people are also more likely to be falsely identified as a criminal because they naturally have a more threatening appearance – and, contrary to our expectations, we found that this was not the case.

In three separate experiments, participants were first presented with either the outline of a violent crime, neutral information, or no background information. They were then shown a realistic computer-generated image of the male suspect (target) and asked to identify him from a selection of images (foils) that varied in facial threat or body muscle.

“Although this does not match the procedural experience of real eyewitnesses, this allowed us to explore the potential biasing effects of criminal context while maintaining tight control over the stimuli,” the study explains. In some experiments a delay between witnessing the crime and trying to identify the suspect was simulated.  All faces in the dataset were Caucasian and converted to greyscale.

Three experiments form basis of study 

Around 200 hundred adults living in the UK took part in each of the three experiments:

Experiment 1 

Participants were divided into two teams, with one group told the person they were about to see was involved in an armed robbery. The other group was told the aim of the experiment was to see how accurately they could identify unfamiliar people. The groups completed 20 trials in total, identifying a different suspect each time from a selection of faces and body shapes with blurred heads. In each case, the target image was shown for one second, followed by a blank screen for one second, followed by the line-up.

Experiment 2 

This experiment introduced a distractor task adding a five-minute delay between participants seeing the target image for 30 seconds and trying to identify it. Contributors were divided into three categories. In the crime and neutral groups, they were presented with background information such as a shop robbery resulting in a murder, or someone purchasing a winning lottery ticket. The final group was told to study the person for later identification. Fixation dots and a random noise mark were also added to the start of each trial to break concentration. This time, faces or bodies were shown individually with those taking part responding Yes or No to the question: “Did that face/body EXACTLY match the one you previously studied?”

Experiment 3 

Participants were again provided with a criminal context, neutral context, or no additional information. They were given 30 seconds to study the target, then following a distractor task lasting ten minutes, were asked to identify him from a line-up of bodies only, from which the perpetrator was missing.

Impact of stereotypes on memory 

The authors expected that if no background context was provided, participants would not show any bias in recalling a body or a face. They hypothesised that more threatening faces and larger bodies would be selected when the perpetrator was presented in a criminal context, rather than in a neutral context, but this did not turn up in the findings.

Previous research suggests associating someone with a crime can distort their appearance in memory by automatically activating racial stereotypes linked to the crime being committed, such as a Caucasian stereotype being activated for crimes such as identity theft or embezzlement.

This new research found giving criminal background information about the suspects did not significantly influence participants’ memory. “Participants viewing images of alleged violent criminals were no more likely to overestimate the facial threat or musculature of the target stimuli than those who studied the targets in empty or neutral contexts,” the study says.

“These results suggest that, although errors of eyewitness identification can or do occur, they may not be driven by systematic biases related to how threatening a criminal is later recalled.”

The authors identified several limitations in their study. These included the use of computer-generated still images rather than video footage. Although a delay was introduced in the process, it does not reflect the days or weeks experienced by real eyewitnesses, or difficulties presented by lighting or distance.

Crucially, due to the images used, all the conclusions are restricted to Caucasian defendants.

“Although it’s possible participants didn’t perceive the images to be of a particular race because they’re computer generated, further research could use morphing software to produce photo-realistic facial images of different races that vary in perceived threat”, says co-author Isabelle Mareschal, also of the Department of Biological and Experimental Psychology, Queen Mary University of London.

The study in Memory & Cognition – entitled “Identifying criminals: No biasing effect of criminal context on recalled threat” – is co-authored by Terence J. McElvaney and Isabelle Mareschal, both of the Department of Biological and Experimental Psychology, Queen Mary University of London; and Magda Osman of the Centre of Science and Policy, Cambridge Judge Business School.


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Women Are ‘Running With Leaded Shoes’ When Promoted At Work, Says Study

Businesswoman interacting with colleagues sitting at conference table during meeting in board room - stock photo
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Promotion at work has greater emotional benefit for men than women, says a new study on gender and workplace emotion.

 

Women and men feel different at work, as moving up the ranks alleviates negative feelings such as frustration less for women than for men, says a sweeping new study on gender differences in emotion at work.

The study, led by researchers at Yale University and co-authored by Jochen Menges at Cambridge Judge Business School, finds that rank is associated with greater emotional benefits for men than for women, and that women reported greater negative feelings than men across all ranks.

Because emotions are important for leadership, this puts women at a disadvantage akin to running with ‘leaded shoes’, according to the study, which is based on nearly 15,000 workers in the US.

The results, published in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, tie the different ways women and men experience emotions at work to underrepresentation at every level of workplace leadership.

Little previous research on gender and workplace emotions 

The study notes that, while the glass ceiling for women has been extensively documented, there has been surprisingly little research on gender differences in emotions at work. Understanding this is particularly important as emotions influence job performance, decision-making, creativity, absence, conflict resolution and leadership effectiveness.

The practical implications of the study are that organisations must provide support to women as they advance, including formal mentoring relationships and networking groups that can provide opportunities to deal with emotions effectively while supporting women as they rise within organisational ranks.

“It would be hard for anyone to break through a glass ceiling when they feel overwhelmed, stressed, less respected and less confident,” said Menges, who teaches at both the University of Zurich and Cambridge Judge Business School.

“This emotional burden may not only hamper promotion opportunities for women, but also prevent them from contributing to an organisation to the best of their ability. More needs to be done to level the playing field when it comes to emotional burdens at work,” said Menges, whose research often focuses on leadership, motivation and other workplace issues.

Women feel more ‘overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated’ at work 

The study finds gender does make a difference for the emotions that employees experience at work. Compared to men, women reported feeling more overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, tense, and discouraged, and less respected and confident.

Women reported greater negative feelings than men across all ranks. Although these feelings decreased for both men and women as they moved up in rank, the extent to which rank diminished negative feelings differed between the sexes. For instance, moving up rank did alleviate frustration and discouragement in both men and women, but it did so more for men than for women.

The study says that because women experience more negative and fewer positive feelings in climbing the organisational ladder, this puts women at a disadvantage in attaining leadership roles.

At the lowest levels of employment, women reported feeling significantly more respected than men, yet this reverses as people climb within an organisation, resulting in men feeling significantly more respected than women at higher levels.

The research used data from 14,618 adult US workers (50.7% male, 49.3% female) reflecting a diversity of race, ethnicity and industries, to test the following factors:

–Differences in the emotions that men and women experience at work.

–If gender interacts with rank to predict emotions.

–Whether the association between gender and emotions is mediated by emotional labour demands.

–If this relationship differs as a function of the proportion of women in an industry or organisational rank.

Feelings ranging from ‘inspired’ to ‘stressed’ 

Emotions were assessed using two different methods. Participants used a sliding scale to indicate how often they had experienced 23 feelings at work in the previous three months. The items included ten positive emotions such as “interested”, “proud” and “inspired”, and 13 negative responses including “bored”, “stressed” and “envious”. Participants were also asked to report their typical feelings about work in open-ended responses about how their job had made them feel over the past six months.

In addition, to assess positional power, participants were asked to place themselves on a ladder with ten steps representing where people stand in their organisation.

Inhibiting negative emotion is not the answer 

The study concludes that simply smothering emotion in the workplace isn’t the answer: Inhibiting negative emotions for a prolonged time increases burnout, and negatively impacts performance and personal well-being.

It recognises there are areas of future research which include how gender interacts with other categories of identity, such as race and ethnicity, social class, and sexuality. Women of colour face stronger glass ceiling effects than white women and have to simultaneously navigate bias and discrimination based on their gender and race.

The authors also suggest further investigation to establish whether women’s negative experiences can impose an emotional glass ceiling because obstacles such as unequal treatment at work causes emotions such as feeling disrespected, which in turn can become an additional barrier to advancement.

Reference:
Christa L. Taylor et al. ‘Gender and Emotions at Work: Organizational Rank Has Greater Emotional Benefits for Men than Women.’ Sex Roles (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s11199-021-01256-z

Adapted from a story on the Cambridge Judge Business School website.


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Cambridge Spin-Out Aiming To Make It Easier To Find And Apply Regulations

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

RegGenome, a commercial spin-out from the University of Cambridge, has announced the completion of a $6 million seed funding round.

 

Regulation is critical to the global economy but keeping track of it all has become a major challenge – for both the regulated and the regulators.

RegGenome’s vision is to transform the way the world consumes regulatory information. The company provides structured machine-readable regulatory content that is dynamic, granular, and interoperable—all powered by AI-based textual information extraction techniques. This enables regulatory authorities to share their regulatory information more effectively and empowers organisations to deepen their regulatory intelligence and digitise their compliance and risk management processes.

Robert Wardrop, Management Practice Professor of Finance at Cambridge Judge Business School and Executive Chairman of RegGenome, said: “We are thrilled to be working with a group of investors that share our view that the world is rapidly entering into a period of regulatory uncertainty, requiring interoperable content to power the next generation of regulatory applications for the digital economy.”

Marcio Siqueira, Head of Physical Sciences, Cambridge Enterprise, said: “RegGenome is a superb example of how the University’s transformational IP can be applied for global impact. The company is primed to deliver a quantum leap in the way regulatory content is shared and harnessed. Cambridge Enterprise has been an integral part of RegGenome from the outset, from enabling access to the required technology to investing in its funding. We look forward to seeing RegGenome’s vision come to life.”

The funding round is led by Evolution Equity Partners, with participation from AlbionVC, Cambridge Enterprise, and Mastercard.

Adapted from a news release by Cambridge Enterprise

Photo credit: Joshua Sortino on Unsplash


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Women in England Had Predominantly Negative Experiences of Childbirth During Pandemic In 2020, Survey Finds

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

47% of parents in a national survey reported negative experiences of giving birth during the pandemic in 2020, with uncertainties about rapidly changing restrictions and poor communication from healthcare providers causing them increased anxiety and distress.

 

This study highlights the importance of good communication in giving women the feeling of control over their childbirth experience, and mitigating the anxiety they feel

Ezra Aydin

This is in contrast with 33% of parents who said they had a positive experience, and 20% who had a ‘neutral’ experience of giving birth in England during this time.

These are the findings of a study of women’s birth experiences in England during COVID-19, published this week in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.

The authors say these predominantly negative childbirth experiences appeared to be linked to a loss of choice and control, and lack of clear communication from healthcare providers.

Information was collected by online survey between July 2020 and March 2021 from 477 families, as part of a larger national study called ‘COVID-19 in the Context of Pregnancy, Infancy and Parenting’ (CoCoPIP). Parents living in England with an infant between the ages of 0-6 months were asked to report on their recent experience of giving birth.

“Many expectant mothers said that the constant changes to government guidance caused them heightened anxiety and distress, in particular because they didn’t know whether they could have a birth partner with them during labour and birth,” said Sarah Lloyd-Fox in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, senior author of the paper.

She added: “Choice and control are so important in women’s childbirth experience – and lack of both during the pandemic restrictions in 2020 had an adverse effect on the experiences of many pregnant women in England.”

Parents reported mixed experiences of communication from hospitals and midwives prior to the birth of their child: some received almost no communication, which added to their anxiety, while others received very clear information about what to expect at the birth while pandemic-related restrictions were in place.

40% of respondents said they had been uncertain about whether their birthing partner would be allowed to attend the delivery of their baby. Despite this, only 2.3% had no birthing partner present at the time of the birth due to COVID-related restrictions.

25% of respondents reported COVID-related changes to the delivery of their baby. The suspension of home births and birthing pools during early 2020 restrictions reduced parents’ feelings of control. Some women reported difficulties accessing pain-relief and assistance.

“This study highlights the importance of good communication in giving women the feeling of control over their childbirth experience, and mitigating the anxiety they feel,” said Ezra Aydin in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, first author of the paper.

She added: “When restrictions due to the pandemic were changing from one moment to the next, some NHS trusts created Facebook or WhatsApp groups where people could ask questions – and that helped expectant parents feel a bit more at ease in such an uncertain time.

“When families were provided with support, and had input into decision-making about the birth, they reported a more positive experience – with reduced levels of anxiety and stress.”

In March 2020 the first national UK lockdown was announced in response to COVID-19, and NHS trusts began to suspend home birth services as resources were diverted to the pandemic. Individual NHS trusts were required to draw up their own guidance on access to maternity services and birth partners, based on government guidelines.

The authors say their findings show the need for clear and consistent guidance to be in place for expectant women giving birth during future lockdowns and public health crises. This should include allowances for choice of delivery methods, and the availability of consistent support for the duration of the labour and birth.

The CoCoPIP Study was developed to explore how COVID-19 and the cascade of changes in healthcare, social restrictions and government guidance impacted the lives of families who were expecting a baby or had recently given birth. The results reported in this paper focused on parents’ experiences of giving birth during the pandemic, including the ways in which communication and advice provided by hospitals may have influenced these experiences.

In early September 2020 NHS England issued guidance to individual NHS trusts to reintroduce access for partners, visitors and other supporters of pregnant women in English maternity services – however this was adopted inconsistently. In December 2020 this guidance was further revised to explicitly allow in-person support for expectant women throughout their maternity journey, including antenatal visits, ultrasound scans, and during the birth.

The researchers acknowledge that the experience of the pandemic in 2020 was a unique period of hardship for everyone. The aim of their study is to give a voice to expectant and new parents during this time. The CoCoPIP study will continue to monitor the babies until they are 18 months old to follow their development into toddlerhood.

This research was funded by the Medical Research Council and UK Research and Innovation.

Reference

Aydin, E. et al: ‘Giving birth in a Pandemic: Women’s Birth Experiences in England during COVID-19.’ BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, April 2022. DOI: 10.1186/s12884-022-04637-8


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Co-Offenders Likely To Violently Turn On One Another, UK Crime Gang Study Shows

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Researchers use over a decade of data from Thames Valley Police to reveal ‘mechanisms’ that generate and sustain violence within networks of organised crime.

 

Violence is like a virus, it spreads through proximity and familiarity

Paolo Campana

The first study to take a ‘network analysis’ approach to patterns of violence within UK organised crime gangs (OCG) has shown that OCG members who previously offended together are likely to end up attacking one another.

The research also reveals cycles of escalating violence within the criminal milieu of Thames Valley. For example, OCG members who harass other members are far more likely to become victims of violence, primarily from those they harassed.

Researchers found these ‘relational effects’ – whether one OCG member has worked with or fallen out with another – to be much stronger predictors of violent crime than more traditional ‘rap sheets’: prior offence lists of individuals.

The study, led by the University of Cambridge and using 16 years of data from Thames Valley Police, is published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. It marks an initial foray into ‘networks of violence’ research for the UK.

While network analyses have previously been used to help police some of the most violent cities in the USA, such as Chicago and Boston, this is the first time the technique has been deployed in a less violent European context.

“Our work shows the importance of taking relationships into account when developing policing risk factors and ‘red flags’,” said Dr Paolo Campana from Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. “These techniques could help police identify at an earlier stage the social networks set to spiral into violence.”

Within the wider milieu of hardened OCG and all their known current and former associates, having co-offended – or been suspected of offending – with an OCG member dramatically increased the odds of becoming a victim of OCG violence by 56 times, typically from the former partner-in-crime.

Having harassed an OCG member or associate increased the odds of violent victimisation by a factor of 243, while those who had attacked someone in the network were 479 times more likely to become victims of violence themselves.

However, simply having a record of criminal violence, or of hard drugs offences, was found to have no significant effect on the potential for future violence.

Researchers say that such high odds ratios are due in part to limited data in this early study, but expect to see similarly strong correlations in future research. Campana is working with Cambridgeshire and Merseyside police to build bigger datasets.

“It often comes down to tit-for-tat retaliation that generates circuits of violence,” said Campana.

“In the Thames Valley data we can see how prior co-offending relationships turn sour and become a mechanism for further violence. Harassment within criminal networks also dramatically increases the potential for violence.”

“Violence is like a virus, it spreads through proximity and familiarity. Those within certain social bubbles are most at risk. In some US cities, co-offending bubbles account for over 80% of the violence,” he said.

“As we collect more data, we can expect to identify more of the chains and feedback loops that sustain violence and render it endemic within groups and locations.”

The study used anonymised records from Thames Valley Police between 2000 and 2016 to build a network model for organised crime across a population of just over two million, including cities such as Oxford and Reading.

Definitions of an OCG member includes those working with others to ‘commit serious crime on a continuing basis’, with elements of planning, structure and coordination.

Campana and his colleague Dr Nynke Niezink from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA analysed a criminal environment of 6,234 individuals, of which 833 were longstanding OCG: active as part of a gang for two years both before and after their first and last recorded offences.

Overall, belonging to an OCG carried a slightly lower risk of becoming a victim of violence than those in the wider criminal network, but it increased the risk of being attack by fellow gang members.

Researchers whittled over 23,000 events down to 156 OCG-instigated violent acts with sufficient data on the connections and criminal histories of the gang members involved.

Acts included murder and attempted murder, manslaughter, assault, and actual and grievous bodily harm with and without intent. Related incidents of threats and harassment were added to data models in addition to core acts of violence.

The hardened OCG members were overwhelmingly male (93%), and most had been active in drug dealing. Half (51%) had been involved in a violent act, while a quarter (26%) had been a victim of violence.

The few female OCG members were twice as likely as male members to be victims of violence. This was despite researchers removing incidents related to domestic violence.

Police initially supplied records on all events involving at least one OCG member as offender or victim, along with information on all others connected to the event.

Over the data period, the average size of a crime gang in Thames Valley’s jurisdiction – which includes cities such as Oxford and Reading – was 5-6 members, with the largest composed of 21 members.


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Trainee Teachers Made Sharper Assessments About Learning Difficulties After Receiving Feedback From AI

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A trial in which trainee teachers who were being taught to identify pupils with potential learning difficulties had their work ‘marked’ by artificial intelligence has found the approach significantly improved their reasoning.

 

It is possible that AI could provide an extra level of individualised feedback to help [teachers] develop these essential competencies

Riikka Hofmann

The study, with 178 trainee teachers in Germany, was carried out by a research team led by academics at the University of Cambridge and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU Munich). It provides some of the first evidence that artificial intelligence (AI) could enhance teachers’ ‘diagnostic reasoning’: the ability to collect and assess evidence about a pupil, and draw appropriate conclusions so they can be given tailored support.

During the trial, trainees were asked to assess six fictionalised ‘simulated’ pupils with potential learning difficulties. They were given examples of their schoolwork, as well as other information such as behaviour records and transcriptions of conversations with parents. They then had to decide whether or not each pupil had learning difficulties such as dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and explain their reasoning.

Immediately after submitting their answers, half of the trainees received a prototype ‘expert solution’, written in advance by a qualified professional, to compare with their own. This is typical of the practice material student teachers usually receive outside taught classes. The others received AI-generated feedback, which highlighted the correct parts of their solution and flagged aspects they might have improved.

After completing the six preparatory exercises, the trainees then took two similar follow-up tests – this time without any feedback. The tests were scored by the researchers, who assessed both their ‘diagnostic accuracy’ (whether the trainees had correctly identified cases of dyslexia or ADHD), and their diagnostic reasoning: how well they had used the available evidence to make this judgement.

The average score for diagnostic reasoning among trainees who had received AI feedback during the six preliminary exercises was an estimated 10 percentage points higher than those who had worked with the pre-written expert solutions.

The reason for this may be the ‘adaptive’ nature of the AI. Because it analysed the trainee teachers’ own work, rather than asking them to compare it with an expert version, the researchers believe the feedback was clearer. There is no evidence, therefore, that AI of this type would improve on one-to-one feedback from a human tutor or high-quality mentor, but the researchers point out that such close support is not always readily available to trainee teachers for repeat practice, especially those on larger courses.

The study was part of a research project within the Cambridge LMU Strategic Partnership. The AI was developed with support from a team at the Technical University of Darmstadt.

Riikka Hofmann, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said: “Teachers play a critical role in recognising the signs of disorders and learning difficulties in pupils and referring them to specialists. Unfortunately, many of them also feel that they have not had sufficient opportunity to practise these skills. The level of personalised guidance trainee teachers get on German courses is different to the UK, but in both cases it is possible that AI could provide an extra level of individualised feedback to help them develop these essential competencies.”

Dr Michael Sailer, from LMU Munich, said: “Obviously we are not arguing that AI should replace teacher-educators: new teachers still need expert guidance on how to recognise learning difficulties in the first place. It does seem, however, that AI-generated feedback helped these trainees to focus on what they really needed to learn. Where personal feedback is not readily available, it could be an effective substitute.”

The study used a natural language processing system: an artificial neural network capable of analysing human language and spotting certain phrases, ideas, hypotheses or evaluations in the trainees’ text.

It was created using the responses of an earlier cohort of pre-service teachers to a similar exercise. By segmenting and coding these responses, the team ‘trained’ the system to recognise the presence or absence of key points in the solutions provided by trainees during the trial. The system then selected pre-written blocks of text to give the participants appropriate feedback.

In both the preparatory exercises and the follow-up tasks, the trial participants were either asked to work individually, or assigned to randomly-selected pairs. Those who worked alone and received expert solutions during the preparatory exercises scored, on average, 33% for their diagnostic reasoning during the follow-up tasks. By contrast, those who had received AI feedback scored 43%. Similarly, the average score of trainees working in pairs was 35% if they had received the expert solution, but 45% if they had received support from the AI.

Training with the AI appeared to have no major effect on their ability to diagnose the simulated pupils correctly. Instead, it seems to have made a difference by helping teachers to cut through the various information sources that they were being asked to read, and provide specific evidence of potential learning difficulties. This is the main skill most teachers actually need in the classroom: the task of diagnosing pupils falls to special education teachers, school psychologists, and medical professionals. Teachers need to be able to communicate and evidence their observations to specialists where they have concerns, to help students access appropriate support.

How far AI could be used more widely to support teachers’ reasoning skills remains an open question, but the research team hope to undertake further studies to explore the mechanisms that made it effective in this case, and assess this wider potential.

Frank Fischer, Professor of Education and Educational Psychology at LMU Munich, said: “In large training programmes, which are fairly common in fields such as teacher training or medical education, using AI to support simulation-based learning could have real value. Developing and implementing complex natural language-processing tools for this purpose takes time and effort, but if it helps to improve the reasoning skills of future cohorts of professionals, it may well prove worth the investment.”

The research is published in Learning and Instruction.


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Lessons From Modern Languages Can Reboot Latin Learning

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A new guide calls for a broader approach to teaching Latin, one that draws on modern languages education, involving speaking, music and storytelling.

 

Falling uptake means there is now a moral imperative for us to be open to different ideas

Steven Hunt

Fan fiction, Minecraft and Taylor Swift lyrics are hardly the stuff of traditional Latin lessons. They are, however, part of an expanding repertoire that teachers are successfully drawing on to deepen students’ grasp of the language of Virgil and Cicero.

All three are cited – alongside many other examples of innovative tools and techniques – in a new handbook which calls for a rethink about how to teach Latin. Its author, the Cambridge academic Steven Hunt, suggests that mainstream teaching practices, some of which date back to the 1950s, are linked to dwindling uptake in the subject and that change is overdue.

Part of his suggested solution is for Classics teachers to follow the lead of subjects like French and German, where students learn to use and communicate in their target language. Hunt argues that students would comprehend Latin better if they were exposed to opportunities to speak, sing, perform or write creatively in it, rather than just learning vocab and grammar, and translating set texts. They might also enjoy it more.

His book shows that some more adventurous teachers are, indeed, already following this path and innovating in the classroom to engage students and improve fluency. While Hunt does not dispute the value of some traditional teaching methods, he does suggest that a more open-minded approach to how Latin might be taught, drawing on the evidence from other language subjects, would help students to thrive.

Hunt has been a Latin teacher for 35 years, and now trains teachers on the University of Cambridge PGCE. “The trouble with Latin teaching is that it’s never been subject to thorough academic investigation; we tend to rely on anecdotal information about what seems to work,” he said.

“There is no ‘best way’ to teach it, but some teachers are creating a rich set of responses to the challenge. Most draw on principles from modern languages education. Because the human brain is hardwired for sound, it learns by speaking, listening and using language. Some Latin teachers are realising that this is the way to learn any language – dead or alive.”

Hunt believes that many students are disengaged by the standard teaching model for Latin: an outdated formula focused on vocab, grammar, translations, comprehension exercises and rote-learning. There is little evidence from research in modern languages that this is the best way to develop students’ fluency or understanding, and there has been a steady decline in the numbers of students choosing Latin for examination. “Falling uptake means there is now a moral imperative for us to be open to different ideas,” he said.

His book makes a case for more forms of ‘active’ Latin – encouraging students to use and communicate in the language. One argument is that of ‘communicative necessity’. Speaking a language means students have to make themselves understood in real time, so they often grasp core principles, and learn to correct mistakes, quickly. Similarly, he advocates giving students more opportunities to hear Latin being sung or spoken. This can, for example, embed vocabulary in the long-term memory: when we recall a word, what we are really recalling is its sound.

The book also suggests new ways to develop the traditionally favoured skills of reading and translation. For example, some teachers have successfully improved students’ ability to master complicated texts, like Cicero’s speeches, through a process called ‘tiering’, in which they start with simplified versions and gradually build up to reading the full, complex original.

Evidence is also emerging, particularly from the US, that free composition – creative writing in Latin – can improve fluency, translation, and deepen students’ appreciation of Roman authors. In some classrooms, students now produce poetry, prose and songs in Latin, as well as their own fan fiction – which often involves tributes to characters from popular programmes such as the Cambridge Latin Course.

One example cited in the book comes from a university tutor who, having struggled to develop his students’ understanding of Virgil’s poetry, asked them to try translating well-known songs instead. In a research paper, he describes how, for instance, students Latinised the chorus of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood: Quod, care, nunc malum sanguinem habemus. He found their choices about how to translate the hits strengthened their ability to “recognise, comprehend and use” different techniques in Roman poetry. The exercise is now a staple of his Latin Prose Composition course.

Similar examples of innovative practice abound in Hunt’s book. Adopting principles from language immersion, many teachers use techniques such as storytelling, singing and dramatic performances to get students using Latin, while some universities now have Latin-speaking social circles.

Teachers are also producing their own resources to support these endeavours. A thriving culture of self-published Latin short stories and novellas is encouraging students’ free reading, which according to one study is up to six times more efficient than traditional teaching at building vocabulary.

Elsewhere, one enthusiast has recorded Latinised Disney songs, enabling listeners to hear how Let It Go might have sounded had Frozen been made in Ancient Rome. 3D digital modelling and Google Earth are also being used to create opportunities for students to use Latin during virtual walk-throughs of ancient sites; these include a 3D model of Rome built in Minecraft.

Such innovations should, Hunt says, be treated selectively but seriously; while the change they are instigating ought to be welcomed. “Latin’s role as the gatekeeper to an elite education is over, but involving more students, especially in state schools, remains a problem,” he said. “The challenge for teachers in the years to come will be whether they are prepared to grasp these opportunities to present the subject differently, and widen the appeal for students, or whether they prefer to stick to familiar routines.”


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Founding Headteacher Appointed to Lead New Cambridge Mathematics School

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

The development of the new Cambridge Mathematics School, in partnership with the University of Cambridge, continues with the appointment of a founding headteacher.

 

We are excited to engage with the Cambridge Mathematics School to enable students from all backgrounds to ‘think like a mathematician’.

Professor Colm-cille Caulfield, Head of DAMTP

Maths education expert Clare Hargraves will lead the state-funded specialist sixth-form college, which is being created by multi-academy trust The Eastern Learning Alliance (ELA) in collaboration with the University’s Faculty of Mathematics.

Clare has maths leadership experience in secondary schools and sixth form colleges across the East of England, including as a deputy head in a school rated in the top 1% of state schools nationally, and during a sixth-form headship where she was responsible for transforming the outcomes of a previously underperforming college. Most recently, her trust-wide consultancy work has focused on curriculum design, the professional development of staff, and embedding a culture of rigorously high expectations in mathematics education.

She said: “It’s an enormous privilege to be the founding headteacher of the Cambridge Mathematics School, but this is of course a collaboration that involves the expertise, passion and experience of many people – including at the University of Cambridge. This partnership is committed to developing pioneering learning and ensuring truly outstanding and enhanced mathematics provision is available to A-Level students across the region.”

The Cambridge Mathematics School – which will open in Mill Road, Cambridge, in September 2023 – will teach 16 to 19-year-old A-Level students from across the East of England, and aims to attract more female students into maths subjects, more minority ethnic students, and more students from socially and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The principal aim of maths schools is to help prepare more of the UK’s most mathematically able students to succeed in maths disciplines at top universities, and address the UK’s skills shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

As part of the academy trust-University collaboration, the School is working with  the University’s Faculty of Mathematics, and in particular with the  Cambridge Mathematics project (a collaboration between  Cambridge University Press and Assessment and the Faculties of Education and Mathematics) to create an innovative mathematics curriculum. It is also drawing on the Faculty of Mathematics’ widening participation and outreach experience, in particular the success of the Millennium Mathematics Project (MMP) and its NRICH programme.

Lynne McClure, Director of the Cambridge Mathematics project, said: “There is a wonderful opportunity here to work with high attaining students and their highly qualified and passionate teachers, and to do something different. The Cambridge Mathematics team is looking forward to sharing our research and evidence base in the design of an exciting, engaging and cutting-edge curriculum.”

Professor Colm-cille Caulfield, Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics & Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge (DAMTP), said: “Mathematics in Cambridge has a rich past and a vibrant present. In the Faculty we aim both to advance mathematical knowledge through novel and insightful research, and to train the next cohort of mathematicians through innovative and rigorous teaching. Through MMP and NRICH we are committed to the development and support of pre-University mathematical education for all, and looking to the future, we are excited to engage with the Cambridge Mathematics School to enable students from all backgrounds to ‘think like a mathematician’.”

More information here.


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New Head at Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, has announced the appointment of Dr Christine Martin as Head of Seed Funds.

 

Christine has served as Interim Head of Seed Funds since February 2021. She brings a broad range of experience to the role, drawing particularly on previous positions within Cambridge Enterprise. These include having been Deputy Head of Seed Funds and Technology Transfer Manager for Drug Discovery. Prior to joining Cambridge Enterprise, Christine was a Senior Director at Biotica Technology Ltd. Christine holds a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Oxford.

The work of the Seed Funds team is central to Cambridge Enterprise’s ambition to create societal and economic impact from research at the University of Cambridge. Seed Funds identifies and invests in new companies formed to realise opportunities arising from the £600 million of research funding invested across the University annually.

Over the last decade Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds has established a portfolio of over 125 companies that have, in turn, raised in excess of £2.7 billion. Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds has an excellent track record, with 12% internal rate of return over both five- and ten-year terms. Having started with £8 million, the combined portfolio is now valued at £107 million.

Christine starts her new role having successfully raised £30 million of new investment from the University of Cambridge. She has an ambitious vision for the journey ahead, with an expansive remit to extend and enhance the investment outcomes on behalf of the University.

Christine takes over as Head of Seed Funds from Dr Anne Dobrée, who oversaw the dramatic and successful growth of the portfolio since 2011. Anne moves into a newly-formed role at Cambridge Enterprise as Director of Programming, with responsibility for developing new innovation deal flows from within the University.

 

About Cambridge Enterprise

Part of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Enterprise supports academics, researchers, staff and students in achieving knowledge transfer and research impact through commercialisation, consultancy and social enterprise.

 

This news story was first published on Cambridge Enterprise’s website on 06 April 2022.


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‘Robot Scientist’ Eve Finds That Less Than One Third of Scientific Results Are Reproducible

Breast Cancer Cell‘source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Researchers have used a combination of automated text analysis and the ‘robot scientist’ Eve to semi-automate the process of reproducing research results. The problem of lack of reproducibility is one of the biggest crises facing modern science.

 

One of the big advantages of using machines to do science is they’re more precise and record details more exactly than a human can

Ross King

The researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, analysed more than 12,000 research papers on breast cancer cell biology. After narrowing the set down to 74 papers of high scientific interest, less than one-third – 22 papers – were found to be reproducible. In two cases, Eve was able to make serendipitous discoveries.

The results, reported in the journal Royal Society Interface, demonstrate that it is possible to use robotics and artificial intelligence to help address the reproducibility crisis.

A successful experiment is one where another scientist, in a different laboratory under similar conditions, can achieve the same result. But more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce some of their own experiments: this is the reproducibility crisis.

“Good science relies on results being reproducible: otherwise, the results are essentially meaningless,” said Professor Ross King from Cambridge’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, who led the research. “This is particularly critical in biomedicine: if I’m a patient and I read about a promising new potential treatment, but the results aren’t reproducible, how am I supposed to know what to believe? The result could be people losing trust in science.”

Several years ago, King developed the robot scientist Eve, a computer/robotic system that uses techniques from artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out scientific experiments.

“One of the big advantages of using machines to do science is they’re more precise and record details more exactly than a human can,” said King. “This makes them well-suited to the job of attempting to reproduce scientific results.”

As part of a project funded by DARPA, King and his colleagues from the UK, US and Sweden designed an experiment that uses a combination of AI and robotics to help address the reproducibility crisis, by getting computers to read scientific papers and understand them, and getting Eve to attempt to reproduce the experiments.

For the current paper, the team focused on cancer research. “The cancer literature is enormous, but no one ever does the same thing twice, making reproducibility a huge issue,” said King, who also holds a position at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. “Given the vast sums of money spent on cancer research, and the sheer number of people affected by cancer worldwide, it’s an area where we urgently need to improve reproducibility.”

From an initial set of more than 12,000 published scientific papers, the researchers used automated text mining techniques to extract statements related to a change in gene expression in response to drug treatment in breast cancer. From this set, 74 papers were selected.

Two different human teams used Eve and two breast cancer cell lines and attempted to reproduce the 74 results. Statistically significant evidence for repeatability was found for 43 papers, meaning that the results were replicable under identical conditions; and significant evidence for reproducibility or robustness was found in 22 papers, meaning the results were replicable by different scientists under similar conditions. In two cases, the automation made serendipitous discoveries.

While only 22 out of 74 papers were found to be reproducible in this experiment, the researchers say that this does not mean that the remaining papers are not scientifically reproducible or robust. “There are lots of reasons why a particular result may not be reproducible in another lab,” said King. “Cell lines can sometimes change their behaviour in different labs under different conditions, for instance. The most important difference we found was that it matters who does the experiment, because every person is different.”

King says that this work shows that automated and semi-automated techniques could be an important tool to help address the reproducibility crisis, and that reproducibility should become a standard part of the scientific process.

“It’s quite shocking how big of an issue reproducibility is in science, and it’s going to need a complete overhaul in the way that a lot of science is done,” said King. “We think that machines have a key role to play in helping to fix it.”

The research was also funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP)

 

Reference:
Katherine Roper et al. ‘Testing the reproducibility and robustness of the cancer biology literature by robot.’ Royal Society Interface (2022). DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0821


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Colleges for Mature Students Launch Cambridge 21+

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

When Olivia was asked by a teacher on her Access course “have you considered applying to Cambridge?” she thought it was some kind of joke.

 

“As someone who had spent some time working and then as a stay-at-home Mum, I did not have the confidence to imagine that a prestigious university such as Cambridge could ever be a viable option for me.”

Whilst many students returning to learning choose to take A-levels, Access courses are also an excellent option. They are designed for people thinking about returning to Higher Education after a gap and don’t have the conventional qualifications to enter a competitive course. Olivia thought ‘why not!’ and so applied.

”When I arrived at Wolfson College I found a warm, welcoming, and non-pressured environment.” Olivia is now in the second year of her English degree.

The University of Cambridge has three colleges specifically for mature students aged 21 and over: Hughes Hall, St Edmund’s and Wolfson. The three colleges have come together to launch Cambridge 21+: an outreach programme aimed at UK students who will be 21 or over when they start their degree.

The programme will offer information on studying at Cambridge, advice on making a competitive application and support with study skills. The programme starts with a series of free online advice sessions between the 20th to 22nd April. These will give a taste of what life is like for a mature student and tips on how to navigate the process of returning to the world of study. Participants will then be able to book free 1:1 video call advice sessions with Admissions Tutors from the three colleges and take up the opportunity for a free visit to the University in July, when they can visit the colleges and meet other mature students.

Hannah Elkington, Outreach and Student Recruitment Officer at Wolfson College, says:

“The application process can be daunting for someone who is returning to education after a period away. We want to make it as easy as possible to navigate. One of the things that we know a lot of potential students struggle with is the lack of confidence in believing they can secure a place. There are a range of courses that may suit them and their skillset so it’s often just a matter of tailoring their expertise to the right pathway. Cambridge 21+ is here to provide that inspiration and support.”

As Sophie, a third-year Education student at St Edmund’s explains:

“I had wanted to go to university but life kept getting in the way. I wished I’d applied when I was in school so I thought why not give it a go. I thought that it would be a bit of a long shot but I gave it a go and hoped for the best!”

And Beth, a Law student from Hughes Hall, says:

“It can be an incredibly daunting prospect to go to university a bit later, let alone applying to Cambridge. Try not to let those fears deter you from applying, it’s an incredible experience to be here, and you gain so much more from studying when you are a little bit older…you appreciate every moment so much more. So, apply, don’t be scared”

The deadline for applications to attend the online sessions is the 13th April. Details can be found here..


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Cambridge Festival to host a series of high-profile talks on Ukraine

source: www.cam.ac.uk

The Cambridge Festival, which begins today and runs until the 10th of April, will host a series of high-profile talks focussing on the war in Ukraine.

Escalation of the war in Ukraine has resulted in the tragic loss of human lives but also brought economic suffering to millions of Ukrainians. In the modern interconnected world, the war in Ukraine has a global impact. In Economic aspects of the war in Ukraine (Monday 4th April, 5pm-6.30pm, live stream) a panel of experts discuss the Ukrainian economy. More specifically, the speakers will cover the topics of the economic impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and look closer into the financial sector. Speakers include:

Dr Tymofiy Mylovanov, a Ukrainian economist and former Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine in 2019/20. Currently, Dr Mylovanov serves as President of Kyiv School of Economics and Associate Professor in Microeconomics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr Andrei Kirilenko, a Professor of Finance and Director of the Doctoral Programme at the Cambridge Judge Business School, as well as Founding Director of the Centre for Finance, Technology & Regulation (CFTR). Previously, Dr Kirilenko worked in different leadership positions at Imperial College Business School, MIT, US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and IMF.

Dr Alexander Rodnyansky, an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge in addition to serving as a Member of the Supervisory Board for the  State Savings Bank of Ukraine (second largest bank in Ukraine). In the past, he was Chief Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ukraine.

Democracy is the focus of the second event, Ukraine vs Russia: War for Democracy (Thursday, 7th of April, 5pm-6.30pm, live stream). This talk is led by Oleksiy Honcharuk, a lawyer and politician, who served as Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and as the youngest Prime Minister of Ukraine from August 2019 until March 2020. Mr Honcharuk will speak about the ideological aspect of the Russo-Ukrainian war and the role of democracy in it.

Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Honcharuk said: “The Western world has forgotten the price of freedom. Too many people in the West, especially politicians, began to think that monstrous wars are in history, which will never repeat itself and their freedom will not be threatened. This is a terrible mistake for which Ukraine is now paying in full.

“Ukraine is currently an example for the entire free world. An example of how one should not be afraid of the darkness and fight for one’s values.

“If the West doesn’t draw conclusions from the example of Ukraine and will not stand by to stop the darkness, the whole world will plunge into this darkness.”

The third event in the series, Sacred Freedom on Your Side: Literature and Ukraine’s National Identity (Friday, 8th of April, 6pm-7.15pm, in person) centres on Ukrainian literature. The talk is led by Dr Rory Finnin, Associate Professor of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge. His primary research interest is the interplay of literature and national identity in Ukraine. His new book, Blood of Others: Stalin’s Crimean Atrocity and the Poetics of Solidarity, is being released this spring by University of Toronto Press.

In the final event for this special Cambridge Festival series, Dr Olesya Khromeychuk discusses Ukraine’s future during her talk, Ukraine: in defence of the future (Saturday 9th April, 3pm-4.30pm, in person). Dr Olesya Khromeychuk, who is the Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, is a historian of 20th century East-Central Europe, specialising in Ukrainian history. Dr Khromeychuk has previously taught at King’s College London, the University of East Anglia, University College London and the University of Cambridge. She is the author of A Loss. The Story of a Dead Soldier Told by His Sister.

The series of talks, which aim to increase awareness about Ukraine and raise funds for charity to help those affected by the Russian invasion, are part of a programme of over 350 online and in person events at the Cambridge Festival – which begins tomorrow and runs until the 10th of April.

The Festival is the University of Cambridge’s leading public engagement event, covering a wide range of issues, including geopolitical developments such as the rise of Eurasia and a discussion about political innovation in times of crisis. It is the largest event of its kind in the country. Almost all the events are completely free.

For the full programme and bookings, please see the Festival website: www.festival.cam.ac.uk   

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media: Instagram @Camunifestivals | Facebook: @CambridgeFestival | Twitter: @Cambridge_Fest

The Festival sponsors and partners are AstraZeneca and RAND Europe. The Festival media partners are BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Cambridge Independent.

HRH The Prince of Wales Visits World-Leading Cambridge Sustainability Projects and Opens Pioneering Green Retrofit Office

Clare Shine, CEO and Director of CISL, with HRH The Prince of Wales
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

During a visit to groundbreaking sustainability projects at the University of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales met with experts and practitioners from all sectors and disciplines working together to solve the world’s biggest problems.

 

Today we celebrate projects that have the power to change the way we live and the way our industries operate, hastening the transition to a low carbon world.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor

At a reception for the opening of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s (CISL) low-carbon HQ and its new green entrepreneur hub, The Prince of Wales met with design and construction firms, owners of start-ups, small businesses and corporate CEOs, before moving onto events to celebrate Commonwealth scholars, and innovative academic and industry leaders collaborating on net-zero aviation – just two years after the Prince issued a challenge to accelerate innovation towards sustainable flight.

Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge said: “The University of Cambridge’s work on climate change and sustainability is an outstanding collaborative achievement. Today we celebrate projects that have the power to change the way we live and the way our industries operate, hastening the transition to a low carbon world. The new Entopia building is now the most sustainable premises in the University’s estate, and a key contributor to reaching the target of eliminating our carbon emissions.”

Housed in CISL’s new ultra-green Entopia building, the Prince launched the Canopy incubator where SMEs and entrepreneurs can join the organisation’s international network of corporate, finance and sustainability leaders to share ideas and gain access to the wider University community.

 

Clare Shine, CEO and Director, CISL said: “Bolder leadership and action are critical for human security and planetary health over the next 10 years. Today’s launch of the Canopy incubator at the heart of our groundbreaking retrofit HQ takes CISL’s global reach and impact to new levels. We’re creating new bridges between entrepreneurs, SMEs and the most powerful actors in the economy, to put their collective weight and innovation capacity at the service of inclusive and sustainable development. CISL thrives on openness. Through Canopy and our collaborations across the University, we hope to embrace fresh perspectives and forge solutions that work for people, nature and climate.”

The £12.8m retrofit is supported by a £6m donation from greentech leaders Envision Group and a £3m grant from the European Regional Development fund (ERDF), which is also funding the operation of the Canopy. The University has invested its own funds in the project alongside an internal grant from its internal Energy and Carbon Reduction Project.

Michael Ding, Executive Director, Envision Group said: “Envision Group is pleased to support the Entopia building as a world-first retrofitted sustainable office building to showcase pioneering net-zero innovation and set new standards for low energy use, carbon emissions and impact on natural resources. Entopia was conceived with the aim of housing a global hub and collaboration space for companies, academia and governments to push the boundaries of sustainability and accelerate the transition to net-zero carbon emissions. Envision will play its full part to help bring together like-minded people as part of a bold vision to enable a future where everyone has access to clean, secure, affordable energy.”

HRH The Prince of Wales also visited the University’s Whittle Laboratory to see groundbreaking work hosted there on how to accelerate the transition to sustainable aviation. He was joined by Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Kwasi Kwarteng, and key figures from the aviation sector, including business and government representatives, to see both cutting-edge, zero-emission technology under development and a new global whole-system model of the aviation sector developed by the Aviation Impact Accelerator (AIA) – an industry-academic initiative started two years ago by a challenge from The Prince of Wales for Cambridge to accelerate the transition towards sustainable flight. The AIA is led by The Whittle Laboratory and CISL.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “We are determined to seize the economic opportunities of the global shift to greener aviation technologies, which will help to secure growth and thousands of jobs across the country. That is why just this week we have announced record levels of Government funding for our Aerospace Technology Institute R&D programme.

“It has been fantastic to accompany HRH The Prince of Wales on a visit to one of our country’s great seats of learning to discover more about some of the incredible new zero-emission technologies that are currently under development at the world-class Whittle Laboratory.”

Professor Rob Miller, Director of the Whittle Laboratory said: “Achieving an aviation sector with no climate impact is one of society’s biggest challenges. Solving it will require a complex combination of technology, business, human behaviour, and policy. We have assembled a world class team of academics and industry experts to take on this challenge.”

During the event the Prince was introduced to the latest developments on a proposed new Whittle Laboratory building, currently under development. This new site would provide facilities for rapid technology development, cutting the time to develop technologies from years to months and act as a hub for the Aviation Impact Accelerator.  By bringing together multi-disciplinary global expertise from industry and academia this new hub will accelerate the aviation sector towards a climate-neutral future and help sustain the UK as a leader in aviation innovation.

In a visit to King’s College, the Prince met with HRH Prince of Wales Commonwealth Scholarship recipients currently undertaking their studies in Cambridge, and welcomed the launch of a new climate action scholarship programme for students from small island nations.  Working with HRH The Prince of Wales, Professor Toope developed the initiative that will support skills and knowledge development for students at the frontline of the climate crisis.

Scholarships will be provided at the University of Toronto, the University of Melbourne, McMaster University and the University of Montreal, as well as by the Cambridge Trust, which will offer 10 fully-funded HRH The Prince of Wales Commonwealth Scholarships over the next two years, with the first recipients expected to take up their places at the University of Cambridge in October 2022.

Helen Pennant, Director, Cambridge Trust, of which HRH The Prince of Wales is Patron, said: “The strength of the collaborative thinking between HRH The Prince of Wales and the University, and the scholars living with some of the most substantial impacts of climate change has the potential to make a huge difference – not only to support climate action in small island states, but also in seeding new conversations in the University and beyond that can widen the perspectives we need to see solutions to the climate crisis more quickly.”


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Poorly Conceived Payment-On-Results Funding Threatens To Undermine Education Aid

 

Analysis of a results-based-financing programme for education aid in Ethiopia finds that multiple aspects of the arrangement were unfit for purpose from the start and could undermine education reforms.

 

Some of the education reforms to which the funding is tied have inevitably ground to a halt since 2018

Pauline Rose

A payment on results approach to delivering education aid, which is championed by international institutions including the World Bank, is in danger of backfiring in some of the countries it aims to help, researchers believe.

The concerns are raised in a new study, by academics at the Universities of Cambridge and Addis Ababa, which examines results-based financing in education and heavily critiques one such programme in Ethiopia. It urges donors not to treat the approach as a “magic bullet” for poorer countries, echoing other studies which have flagged similar doubts.

Results-based financing is a funding model that has been widely adopted by Western governments and institutions to provide education aid to lower-income countries. Rather than handing out grants up front, the approach requires recipient governments to meet a set of target conditions which are agreed with donors in advance. The money is released as these conditions are met.

The targets vary, but typically involve improvements to attainment and enrolment in schools. According to the World Bank, results-based financing “could have a substantial impact in terms of achieving results that matter” in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The new study examined the ‘Programme for Results’ (PforR) scheme: a results-based financing package underpinning the latest phase of the Ethiopian government’s education reforms. This draws on a pooled fund, supported by a consortium of donors led by the World Bank.

Although the research is broadly supportive of the principle of linking funding to results, it found that several aspects of the financing project were unfit for purpose from the start. Many of the targets set through PforR, for example, fell short of those of the education reforms themselves. The researchers also argue that key groups of children, such as those with disabilities, were overlooked in the target-setting; inadequate systems were put in place to measure results, and some local authorities were unaware of the new system months after it began.

Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge, said: “The shortcomings we identified suggest that the potential for this results-based financing programme to improve education and learning is limited. In the worst-case scenario, it could end up undermining the very reforms it is meant to support.”

The study is not the first to question how results-based financing packages are being structured and implemented. Similar problems have been highlighted in several previous assessments, including an evaluation of a pilot programme in Ethiopia in 2015, and an assessment of funding programmes in Mozambique, Nepal and Tanzania, in 2021.

The PforR initiative began in 2018 and is expected to run until 2023. Researchers examined the original programme appraisal document, and interviewed 72 of the donors and government officials responsible for its creation and delivery.

They found that many targets set through the scheme failed to match the ambition of the Ethiopian government’s reforms. Just 40% were linked to improving academic results, which is the principal aim of the government’s initiative. The PforR plan also specified that attainment should be measured at 2,000 schools which had been earmarked as requiring improvement. The bar set for the attainment targets that would unlock further funding was therefore often low; one donor described them as “a bit soft”.

While some of these targets took gender parity into account, researchers found that they overlooked other equity issues, such as how far education reforms were supporting marginalised groups including children with disabilities and those from the poorest backgrounds.

In the few cases where the PforR plan did specify targets for these groups, they were often widely considered to be inadequate. For example, education officials told the researchers that they had raised concerns at the plan’s draft stage about a target for expanding the number of Inclusive Education Resource Centres in Ethiopia. The researchers calculate that this target, if achieved, would affect just 10% of schools and fail to reach the majority of children with disabilities. The feedback raising this concern was never taken into account.

The paper criticises what appears to be a back-to-front approach to data-gathering. Several interviewees observed that systems were not in place to measure whether the PforR targets were being met before the programme started. Instead, improving data collection was itself set as a goal. In some cases, the study finds, this may mean that inaccurate information produced under the old, faulty system is likely to be contradicted mid-programme, creating the false impression that some targets are being missed.

The analysis also found a “significant gap in knowledge” about the programme’s introduction among regional and woreda (district) officials in the local education authorities charged with delivering results.

Months after it commenced, one official told researchers that he had “no clear understanding” of what ‘Programme for Results’ meant or involved. Another said that they had only heard “a rumour that the school grant is to be changed”. “These interviews were carried out during the first year of the implementation,” co-author, Dr Belay Hagos from Addis Ababa University, said. “We didn’t expect everyone to have a comprehensive knowledge of what it involved, but we did expect they would at least be aware of it.”

The authors suggest that these findings add further weight to existing evidence that some results-based financing packages are being implemented without adequate, contextualised planning, and without necessary preconditions – such as data-gathering measures – in place.

Rose added that there were doubts about how more recent developments in Ethiopia – notably the double shock of COVID-19 and conflict – would affect the arrangements. “Some of the education reforms to which the funding is tied have inevitably ground to a halt since 2018,” she said. “It is not entirely clear who will be responsible when results aren’t achieved in this context, and what sort of funding the government might eventually receive.”

The research is published in Third World Quarterly.


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Guests To Return To Graduation Ceremonies

Guests to return to graduation ceremonies

Graduating students, Cambridge

 

The University will welcome guests back to graduation ceremonies from April 2022 for the first time in two years. Due to the  pandemic, graduation was at first run in absence only, but in-person Degree Congregations were re-introduced later in 2021, with social distancing in place and live streaming available because we wanted to offer those graduating an occasion to celebrate with their fellow students.

 

We are delighted to be looking forward to welcoming family and friends back to the Senate-House

Bridget Kendall

From 29 April, family and friends will be able to attend these historic occasions in person, although the live streaming service will continue.

Degree Congregations are ceremonial meetings of the University’s Governing Body, the Regent House, where degrees are conferred, either in person or in absence if the student is not present.

The Chair of the joint University and Colleges Working Group on Congregations, the Master of Peterhouse, Bridget Kendall, said:

“We are delighted to be looking forward to welcoming family and friends back to the Senate House at our Degree Congregations from the end of April. Graduations are normally a highlight across the academic year, but the last two years have made it challenging to hold them. Guests have been able to watch an adjusted form of ceremony online since June 2021 and have appreciated that opportunity. For that reason, the streaming service will continue, allowing those who can’t attend to participate in real-time and share in the tradition of the occasion.”

 


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The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Scientists Find That The Impact of Social Media On Wellbeing Varies Across Adolescence

Scientists find that the impact of social media on wellbeing varies across adolescence

Boy using a smartphonesource: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Girls and boys might be more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media use at different times during their adolescence, say an international team of scientists.

 

With our findings, rather than debating whether or not the link exists, we can now focus on the periods of our adolescence where we now know we might be most at risk

Amy Orben

In a study published today in Nature Communications, the researchers show that, in UK data, girls experience a negative link between social media use and life satisfaction when they are 11-13 years old and boys when they are 14-15 years old. Increased social media use again predicts lower life satisfaction at age 19 years. At other times the link was not statistically significant.

In just over a decade, social media has fundamentally changed how we spend our time, share information about ourselves, and talk to others. This has led to widespread concern about its potential negative impact, both on individuals and on the wider society. Yet, even after years of research, there is still considerable uncertainty about how social media use relates to wellbeing.

A team of scientists including psychologists, neuroscientists and modellers analysed two UK datasets comprising some 84,000 individuals between the ages of 10 and 80 years old. These included longitudinal data – that is, data that tracks individuals over a period of time – on 17,400 young people aged 10-21 years old. The researchers are from the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.

The team looked for a connection between estimated social media use and reported life satisfaction and found key periods of adolescence where social media use was associated with a decrease in life satisfaction 12 months later. In the opposite direction, the researchers also found that teens who have lower than average life satisfaction use more social media one year later.

In girls, social media use between the ages of 11 and 13 years was associated with a decrease in life satisfaction one year later, whereas in boys this occurred between the ages of 14 and 15 years. The differences suggest that sensitivity to social media use might be linked to developmental changes, possibly changes in the structure of the brain, or to puberty, which occurs later in boys than in girls. This requires further research.

In both females and males, social media use at the age of 19 years was again associated with a decrease in life satisfaction a year later. At this age, say the researchers, it is possible that social changes – such as leaving home or starting work – may make us particularly vulnerable. Again, this requires further research.

At other times, the link between social media use and life satisfaction one year later was not statistically significant. Decreases in life satisfaction also predicted increases in social media use one year later; however this does not change across age and or differ between the sexes.

Dr Amy Orben a group leader at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: “The link between social media use and mental wellbeing is clearly very complex. Changes within our bodies, such as brain development and puberty, and in our social circumstances appear to make us vulnerable at particular times of our lives.”

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Cambridge and a co-author of the study, said: “It’s not possible to pinpoint the precise processes that underlie this vulnerability. Adolescence is a time of cognitive, biological and social change, all of which are intertwined, making it difficult to disentangle one factor from another. For example, it is not yet clear what might be due to developmental changes in hormones or the brain and what might be down to how an individual interacts with their peers.”

Dr Orben added: “With our findings, rather than debating whether or not the link exists, we can now focus on the periods of our adolescence where we now know we might be most at risk and use this as a springboard to explore some of the really interesting questions.”

Further complicating the relationship is the fact – previously reported and confirmed by today’s findings – that not only can social media use negatively impact wellbeing, but that the reverse is also true and lower life satisfaction can drive increased social media use.

The researchers are keen to point out that, while their findings show at a population level that there is a link between social media use and poorer wellbeing, it is not yet possible to predict which individuals are most at risk.

Professor Rogier Kievit, Professor of Developmental Neuroscience at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, said: “Our statistical modelling examines averages. This means not every young person is going to experience a negative impact on their wellbeing from social media use. For some, it will often have a positive impact. Some might use social media to connect with friends, or cope with a certain problem or because they don’t have anyone to talk to about a particular problem or how they feel – for these individuals, social media can provide valuable support.”

Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford said: “To pinpoint which individuals might be influenced by social media, more research is needed that combines objective behavioural data with biological and cognitive measurements of development. We therefore call on social media companies and other online platforms to do more to share their data with independent scientists, and, if they are unwilling, for governments to show they are serious about tackling online harms by introducing legislation to compel these companies to be more open.”

The research was supported by Emmanuel College, the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the Huo Family Foundation, Wellcome, the Jacobs Foundation, the Wellspring Foundation, the RadboudUMC and the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Orben, A et al. Windows of developmental sensitivity to social media. Nat Comms; 28 March 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-29296-3


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Supermassive Black Holes Put a Brake On Stellar Births

Supermassive black holes put a brake on stellar births

 

Black holes with masses equivalent to millions of suns do put a brake on the birth of new stars, say astronomers. Using machine learning and three state-of-the-art simulations to back up results from a large sky survey, researchers from the University of Cambridge have resolved a 20-year long debate on the formation of stars.

 

It’s really exciting to see how the simulations predict exactly what we see in the real Universe

Joanna Piotrowska

Star formation in galaxies has long been a focal point of astronomy research. Decades of successful observations and theoretical modelling resulted in our good understanding of how gas collapses to form new stars both in and beyond our own Milky Way. However, thanks to all-sky observing programmes like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), astronomers realised that not all galaxies in the local Universe are actively star-forming – there exists an abundant population of “quiescent” objects which form stars at significantly lower rates.

The question of what stops star formation in galaxies remains the biggest unknown in our understanding of galaxy evolution, debated over the past 20 years. Joanna Piotrowska and her team at the Kavli Institute for Cosmology set up an experiment to find out what might be responsible.

Using three state-of-the-art cosmological simulations – EAGLE, Illustris and IllustrisTNG – the astronomers investigated what we would expect to see in the real Universe as observed by the SDSS, when different physical processes were halting star formation in massive galaxies.

The astronomers applied a machine learning algorithm to classify galaxies into star-forming and quiescent, asking which of three parameters: the mass of the supermassive black holes found at the centre of galaxies (these monster objects have typically millions or even billions of times the mass of our Sun), the total mass of stars in the galaxy, or the mass of the dark matter halo around galaxies, best predicts how galaxies turn out.

These parameters then enabled the team to work out which physical process: energy injection by supermassive black holes, supernova explosions or shock heating of gas in massive halos is responsible for forcing galaxies into semi-retirement.

The new simulations predict the supermassive black hole mass as the most important factor in putting the brakes on star formation. Crucially, the simulation results match observations of the local Universe, adding weight to the researchers’ findings. The results are reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“It’s really exciting to see how the simulations predict exactly what we see in the real Universe,” said Piotrowska. “Supermassive black holes – objects with masses equivalent to millions or even billions of Suns – really do have a big effect on their surroundings. These monster objects force their host galaxies into a kind of semi-retirement from star formation.”

Reference:
Joanna M Piotrowska et al. ‘On the quenching of star formation in observed and simulated central galaxies: evidence for the role of integrated AGN feedback.’ Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2022). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stab3673

Adapted from a story published by the Royal Astronomical Society.


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Dense Bones Allowed Spinosaurus To Hunt Underwater

Illustration of Spinosaurus hunting underwater
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Its close cousin Baryonyx probably swam too, but Suchomimus might’ve waded like a heron

 

There’s nothing like Spinosaurus in our modern world, but they had a number of traits that we see today in semi-aquatic animals who specialise in aquatic prey

Guillermo Navalón

Spinosaurus is the biggest carnivorous dinosaur ever discovered—even bigger than T. rex—but the way it hunted has been a subject of debate for decades. Based on its skeleton, some scientists have proposed that Spinosaurus could swim, but others believe that it waded in the water like a heron.

To help solve this mystery, palaeontologists from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and the Field Museum in Chicago, have taken a different approach by examining the density of their bones and comparing them to animals like penguins, hippos and alligators.

The team’s analysis, published in the journal Nature, found that Spinosaurus and its close relative Baryonyx had dense bones that likely would have allowed them to submerge themselves underwater to hunt. Meanwhile, another related dinosaur called Suchomimus had lighter bones that would have made swimming more difficult, so it likely waded instead or spent more time on land like other dinosaurs.

“The fossil record is tricky—there are only a handful of partial spinosaurid skeletons, and we don’t have any complete skeletons for these dinosaurs,” said co-lead author Dr Matteo Fabbri from the Field Museum. “Other studies have focused on interpretation of anatomy, but if there are such opposite interpretations regarding the same bones, this is already a clear signal that maybe those are not the best proxies for us to infer the ecology of extinct animals.”

“There’s nothing like Spinosaurus in our modern world, but they had a number of traits that we see today in semi-aquatic animals who specialise in aquatic prey,” said co-lead author Dr Guillermo Navalón from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences.

All life initially came from water, and most groups of terrestrial vertebrates contain members that have returned to it—for instance, while most mammals are land-dwellers, we’ve got whales and seals that live in the ocean, and other mammals like otters, tapirs, and hippos that are semi-aquatic. For a long time, non-avian dinosaurs (those that didn’t branch off into birds) were the only group without any water-dwellers. That changed in 2014, when a new Spinosaurus skeleton was described.

Scientists already knew that spinosaurids spent some time by water—their long, crocodile-like jaws and cone-shaped teeth are like those of other aquatic predators, and some fossils had been found with bellies full of fish. But the Spinosaurus specimen described in 2014 had retracted nostrils, short hind legs, paddle-like feet, and a fin-like tail: all signs that pointed to an aquatic lifestyle. But researchers have continued to debate whether spinosaurids swam for their food or if they just stood in the shallows and dipped their heads in to snap up prey.

This continued back-and-forth led the researchers to try to find another way to solve the problem.

“Instead of trying to know as much as possible about the whole skeleton of Spinosaurus, we asked a much simpler question — what are the most important small-scale observations that would tell you whether animals routinely swim or not?” said co-lead author Professor Roger Benson from the University of Oxford.

Across the animal kingdom, bone density is a tell in terms of whether that animal can sink beneath the surface and swim. Dense bone works as buoyancy control and allows the animal to submerge itself.

“We thought maybe this is the proxy we can use to determine if spinosaurids were actually aquatic,” says Fabbri.

The researchers put together a dataset of femur and rib bone cross-sections from 250 species of extinct and living animals, from seals, whales, elephants, mice and hummingbirds, to dinosaurs of different sizes, to extinct marine reptiles like mosasaurs and plesiosaurs.

They compared these cross-sections to bone from Spinosaurus and its relatives Baryonyx and Suchomimus. “We had to divide this study into successive steps,” said Navalón. “The first was to understand if there is actually a universal correlation between bone density and ecology. And the second was to infer ecological adaptations in extinct taxa.”

Essentially, the team had to show a proof of concept among present-day animals that we know for sure are aquatic or not, and then apply it to extinct animals that we can’t observe.

The study revealed a clear link between bone density and aquatic foraging behaviour: animals that submerge themselves underwater to find food have bones that are almost completely solid throughout, whereas cross-sections of land-dwellers’ bones look more like doughnuts, with hollow centres.

“Aquatic animals need to be able to control their buoyancy, but terrestrial animals don’t have this problem,” said Navalón. “Because bones are mineralised tissue, controlling the rate of deposition of mineralised tissue within them is the easiest route to become denser or lighter for a land-dwelling vertebrate. This happened in many groups that underwent the ‘back to water’ evolutionary journey: from whales and hippopotamuses to penguins and marine reptiles that lived in the distant past.”

When the researchers applied spinosaurid dinosaur bones to this paradigm, they found that Spinosaurus and Baryonyx both had the sort of dense bone associated with full submersion.

“If we combine all these pieces of evidence, Spinosaurus might have moved through shallow water using a combination of ‘bottom-walking’ – like modern hippos – and side-to-side strokes of its giant tail,” said Navalón. “It probably used this means of locomotion not to pursue prey for long distances in open water, but to ambush and catch very large fish like lungfishes or coelacanths that lived in the same environment.”

Meanwhile, the closely-related Suchomimus had hollower bones. It still lived by water and ate fish, as evidenced by its crocodile-mimic snout and conical teeth, but based on its bone density, it wasn’t actually swimming.

Other dinosaurs, like the giant long-necked sauropods also had dense bones, but the researchers don’t think that meant they were swimming. “Very heavy animals like elephants and rhinos, and like the sauropod dinosaurs, have very dense limb bones, because there’s so much stress on the limbs,” said Fabbri. “The other bones are pretty lightweight. That’s why it was important for us to look at a variety of bones from each of the animals in the study.” And while there are limitations to this kind of analysis, there is potential for this study to tell us about how dinosaurs lived.

“One of the big surprises from this study was how rare underwater foraging was for dinosaurs, and that even among spinosaurids, their behaviour was much more diverse that we’d thought,” said Navalón.

The study shows how much information can be gleaned from incomplete specimens. “The good news with this study is that now we can move on from the paradigm where you need to know as much as you can about the anatomy of a dinosaur to know about its ecology, because we show that there are other reliable proxies that you can use,” said Fabbri.

 

Reference:
Matteo Fabbri, Guillermo Navalón, Roger B. J. Benson et al. ‘Subaqueous foraging among carnivorous dinosaurs.’ Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04528-0

Adapted from a Field Museum press release.


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Crop Science Centre To Conduct Field Trials of Genetically Modified Barley That Could Reduce Need For Synthetic Fertilisers

Barley trial crop in field
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Trials will evaluate whether enhancing the natural capacity of crops to interact with common soil fungi can contribute to more sustainable, equitable food production

 

Working with natural and beneficial microbial associations in plants has the potential to replace or greatly reduce the need for inorganic fertilisers

Giles Oldroyd

A field trial of genetically modified and gene edited barley is due to be planted this April. The research is evaluating whether improved crop interactions with naturally occurring soil fungi promote more sustainable food production.

Scientists are hopeful that the results from the trial will demonstrate ways to reduce the need for synthetic fertilisers, which could have significant benefits for improving soil health while contributing to more sustainable and equitable approaches to food production.

The trial is being conducted by researchers at the Crop Science Centre, an alliance between the University of Cambridge and the crop research organisation NIAB. It will evaluate whether improving crop interactions with naturally occurring soil fungi can help them more efficiently absorb water along with nitrogen and phosphorous from the soil. Nitrogen and phosphorous are two essential nutrients critical to crop production that are often provided through synthetic fertilisers.

While the use of synthetic fertilisers increases crop productivity, excessive applications in high and middle-income countries has caused environmental pollution that reduces biodiversity, as well as producing greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, in low-income countries, fertilisers are often too expensive or unavailable to local farmers, which limits food production. That contributes to both hunger and poverty, because in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, most people depend on farming to support their families.

“Working with natural and beneficial microbial associations in plants has the potential to replace or greatly reduce the need for inorganic fertilisers, with significant benefits for improving soil health while contributing to more sustainable and equitable approaches to food production,” said Professor Giles Oldroyd, Russell R Geiger Professor of Crop Science, who is leading the work.

He added: “There is an urgent need for ecologically sound approaches to food production that can satisfy the demands of a growing global population while respecting limits on natural resources. We believe biotechnology can be a valuable tool for expanding the options available to farmers around the world.”

The trial will evaluate a barley variety that has been genetically modified to boost expression levels of the NSP2 gene. This gene is naturally present in barley and boosting its expression enhances the crop’s existing capacity to engage with mycorrhizal fungi.

In addition, the trial will test varieties of barley that have been gene edited to suppress their interaction with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This will allow scientists to better quantify how the microbes support plant development by assessing the full spectrum of interactions. They will measure yield and grain nutritional content in varieties with an enhanced capacity to engage the fungi and those in which it has been suppressed–while comparing both to the performance of a typical barley plant.

Professor Oldroyd said: “Barley has properties that make it an ideal crop for studying these interactions. The ultimate goal is to understand whether this same approach can be used to enhance the capacity of other food crops to interact with soil fungi in ways that boost productivity without the need for synthetic fertilisers.”

The trial will assess production under high and low phosphate conditions. It will also investigate additional potential benefits of the relationship with mycorrhizal fungi, such as protecting crops from pests and disease.

The trial will follow the regulations that govern the planting of genetically modified crops in the UK, with oversight conducted by Defra and its Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE.) There will also be inspections during the trial, carried out by the Genetic Modification Inspectorate, which is part of the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. The inspection reports will be publicly available.

More information about GM field trials is available here.


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