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Lava From 2021 Icelandic Eruption Gives Rare View of Deep Churnings Beneath Volcano

Fagradalsfjall volcano, Iceland
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

After centuries without volcanic activity, Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula sprang to life in 2021 when lava erupted from the Fagradalsfjall volcano. New research involving the University of Cambridge helps us see what is going on deep beneath the volcano by reading the chemistry of lavas and volcanic gases almost as they were erupted.

 

I’ve looked at hundreds of samples from dead volcanoes, but never had the chance to observe such a spectacular example of magma mixing in real-time

John Maclennan

The study, published in the journal Nature and led by the University of Iceland, reports that the eruption was unusual because it was supplied by a particularly deep reservoir of magma originating around 15 kilometres beneath the surface, at the base of Earth’s crust.

Their results also show that volcanoes like this can be fed by complex plumbing systems, where different batches of magma can mix and travel to the surface in just a matter of days or weeks.

The researchers took measurements of lava and volcanic gases during the first 50 days of the eruption — giving them a near-real time report on the changing magma supply.

“I never expected to see the chemical composition of erupting lava change this quickly, showing us just how fast things can change in the depths beneath volcanoes,” said Simon Matthews from the University of Iceland.

The chemical fingerprint of lavas and the crystals inside them — together with the volcanic gases erupted — helped the researchers decode where the magma originated from and its journey to the surface. Until now, there has been a lack of information about the deepest parts of magmatic systems.

The results showed that, during the initial phases of the eruption, the lava was predominately coming from around the boundary between the crust and underlying mantle – the thick, rocky layer that makes up most of Earth’s interior. But over the following weeks, the composition of the lava changed, indicating the eruption was directly tapping magma from greater depths.

“Ever since Enlightenment thinkers started writing about volcanoes, scientists have drawn cross-sections to visualise how they might work below ground,” said co-author Professor Clive Oppenheimer from Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “This study draws together different strands of information from monitoring the chemistry of lava and gas emissions to describe what is happening up to 20 kilometres down.”

They used indicators including the magnesium contents of the lava and carbon dioxide levels in the volcanic gases as barometers to gauge how hot and deep the magma feeding the eruption was. They suggest that, for the magma to come from 15 kilometres below the surface, the eruption was fed by something like a high-speed train direct to the mantle.

“We’ve known for a while that magma coming from the mantle is variable,” said co-author Professor John Maclennan from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, “But we’ve had to work hard to find clues as to how this complex mixing happens.”

The authors point out that it has long been argued that different kinds of magma can mix deep in magmatic systems before an eruption. The new research shows that new magma can flow into a deep reservoir and mix with existing magma rapidly, in as little as 20 days.

Normally scientists use lavas erupted from old or extinct volcanoes to get a below ground view of volcanoes. But these samples are often too old to unravel processes happening over the course of a few days, “I’ve looked at hundreds of samples from dead volcanoes, but never had the chance to observe such a spectacular example of magma mixing in real-time,” said Maclennan.

Magma mixing has been shown to be an important process in triggering volcanic eruptions, so the study findings could have implications for understanding what drove the eruption and for future monitoring of volcanic activity in Iceland and at similar volcanoes.

Reference:
Sæmundur A. Halldórsson et al. ‘Rapid shifting of a deep magmatic source at Fagradalsfjall volcano, Iceland.’ Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04981-x.


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Regius Professor of Divinity On His Role As Queen’s Scottish Chaplain

Cambridge Regius Professor of Divinity and Dean of the Chapel Royal for the Church of Scotland, the Very Reverend Professor David Fergusson
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

In these days of mourning, much has rightly been made of the length of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, its historic moments, and distinctive characteristics.

 

As Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland, I have been privileged to add my own words of appreciation.

While the events that have punctuated her life have been recited, some constant features of this long reign have often gone unnoticed, especially those qualities that outlasted so many movements, trends, and fashions in our national life.

The Queen always turned up and stuck to the programme. This might seem easy with staff to organise and plan ahead, but it required a discipline to adhere steadfastly to a schedule that was demanded and often dictated by others. Looking forwards was also a characteristic attitude displayed by The Queen. It seems that she didn’t dwell long on the past or reflect nostalgically on what was once the case. There was an unsentimental focus on the task at hand.

Paying attention to other people was another hallmark of her long reign. Every teacher, health care worker or counter assistant knows how demanding this can be. We speak of ‘emotional labour’ – the effort involved in listening, reflecting, and responding in the right way to different needs, circumstances and personalities. The Queen gave her undivided attention, however briefly or however long, to those around her.

On the affairs of politics, The Queen always remained discreet. But on one matter she was anxious to tell us what she really thought. Since the turn of the millennium, she became increasingly explicit in her festive broadcasts on the significance of her faith. There was acknowledged a dependence on the grace of God to fulfil her work, a dependence that was strengthened by daily habits of devotion. And there was also an appeal to the example of Christ as a way of living. The theme of service was never far away from these reflections, nor was the sense that other faiths also stressed the importance of loving God and one’s neighbour above all else. A consciousness of divine vocation sustained her since she unexpectedly became heir to the throne after the abdication crisis of 1936; reaffirmed at her accession and coronation, this sen

Cambridge Organist’s Musical Moment of Sorrow Goes Viral

Pembroke College Director of Music Anna Lapwood
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Anna Lapwood never expected that playing the organ in the London Underground might interest anyone other than the odd passer-by or her Twitter followers until an unrehearsed duet with a security guard went viral on Sunday.

 

Lascia ch’io Pianga actually translates as ‘let me weep’. It’s an expression of sorrow

The 27-year old Director of Music at Pembroke College and London Bridge security guard Marcella de Gale posted a recording of themselves playing George Frideric Handel’s sorrowful aria ‘Lascia ch’io Pianga‘ after a chance encounter at the station led to some impromptu duets.

Four million Twitter views, a stint on breakfast television and a deluge of media requests from around the world later, Lapwood is amazed by the media interest, but not the emotional effect that this piece of music has had on so many people at this moment of national mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

“Lascia ch’io Pianga actually translates as ‘let me weep’. It’s an expression of sorrow, and it happens to come at a time when many of us are having to process grief and are not sure how to express that,” she said.

Capturing that moment on video happened on Sunday accidentally – naturally – doing something she does all the time. She dropped by to play a couple of pieces on the organ installed beneath the vaulted ceilings of London Bridge tube and rail station, something she often does when passing the station with a little time to spare.

“I played duets with four people that day,” Lapwood said.

She was only planning to hang around for about 10 minutes, but then Marcella wandered over and asked to sing along.

“We played a couple of pieces together and she clearly had a voice that had been trained in the past – then she requested that Handel and it was one of those goosebump moments.”

Lapwood, who earned her music degree at Oxford before coming to the University of Cambridge, always props her phone up on the organ when she visits London Bridge to capture reactions to the instrument from passing commuters.

“I love capturing people’s responses to this instrument – it’s not often that organs are this accessible in a public space, and I love the fact it makes it an instrument people can literally just stumble across.”

Her only explanation for the explosion of interest in her and Marcella’s rendition of Handel’s 1711 aria for his opera Rinaldo is timing.

“Music is how we get to the heart of a conversation much quicker,” she said. “It allows humans to connect without the need for words.”

Lapwood’s seven-year tenure at Pembroke as Director of Music started at the age of 21 and she has been on a mission to bring organ music and music in general to the masses ever since. She set up a girls’ choir at Pembroke, inviting girls 11-18 from local schools to sing. Under her tenure the choirs have released two recordings, and she also has her own album, Images, out on Signum.


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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.

New Phases of Water Detected

New Phases of Water Detected

 

Abstract image of water
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Water can be liquid, gas or ice, right? Think again.

 

One way to visualise this phase is that the oxygen atoms form a solid lattice, and protons flow like a liquid through the lattice, like kids running through a maze

Venkat Kapil

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered that water in a one-molecule layer acts like neither a liquid nor a solid, and that it becomes highly conductive at high pressures.

Much is known about how ‘bulk water’ behaves: it expands when it freezes, and it has a high boiling point. But when water is compressed to the nanoscale, its properties change dramatically.

By developing a new way to predict this unusual behaviour with unprecedented accuracy, the researchers have detected several new phases of water at the molecular level.

Water trapped between membranes or in tiny nanoscale cavities is common – it can be found in everything from membranes in our bodies to geological formations. But this nanoconfined water behaves very differently from the water we drink.

Until now, the challenges of experimentally characterising the phases of water on the nanoscale have prevented a full understanding of its behaviour. But in a paper published in the journal Nature, the Cambridge-led team describe how they have used advances in computational approaches to predict the phase diagram of a one-molecule thick layer of water with unprecedented accuracy.

They used a combination of computational approaches to enable the first-principles level investigation of a single layer of water.

The researchers found that water which is confined into a one-molecule thick layer goes through several phases, including a ‘hexatic’ phase and a ‘superionic’ phase. In the hexatic phase, the water acts as neither a solid nor a liquid, but something in between. In the superionic phase, which occurs at higher pressures, the water becomes highly conductive, propelling protons quickly through ice in a way resembling the flow of electrons in a conductor.

Understanding the behaviour of water at the nanoscale is critical to many new technologies. The success of medical treatments can be reliant on how water trapped in small cavities in our bodies will react. The development of highly conductive electrolytes for batteries, water desalination, and the frictionless transport of fluids are all reliant on predicting how confined water will behave.

“For all of these areas, understanding the behaviour of water is the foundational question,” said Dr Venkat Kapil from Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, the paper’s first author. “Our approach allows the study of a single layer of water in a graphene-like channel with unprecedented predictive accuracy.”

The researchers found that the one-molecule thick layer of water within the nanochannel showed rich and diverse phase behaviour. Their approach predicts several phases which include the hexatic phase–an intermediate between a solid and a liquid–and also a superionic phase, in which the water has a high electrical conductivity.

“The hexatic phase is neither a solid nor a liquid, but an intermediate, which agrees with previous theories about two-dimensional materials,” said Kapil. “Our approach also suggests that this phase can be seen experimentally by confining water in a graphene channel.

“The existence of the superionic phase at easily accessible conditions is peculiar, as this phase is generally found in extreme conditions like the core of Uranus and Neptune. One way to visualise this phase is that the oxygen atoms form a solid lattice, and protons flow like a liquid through the lattice, like kids running through a maze.”

The researchers say this superionic phase could be important for future electrolyte and battery materials as it shows an electrical conductivity 100 to 1,000 times higher than current battery materials.

The results will not only help with understanding how water works at the nanoscale, but also suggest that ‘nanoconfinement’ could be a new route into finding superionic behaviour of other materials.

Dr Venkat Kapil is a Junior Research Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge. The research team included Dr Christoph Schran and Professor Angelos Michaelides from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry ICE group, working with Professor Chris Pickard at the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, Dr Andrea Zen from the University of Naples Federico II and Dr Ji Chen from Peking University.

Reference:
Angelos Michaelides et al. ‘The first-principles phase diagram of monolayer nanoconfined water.’ Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05036-x


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Competition With China a ‘Driving Force’ For Clean Energy Funding in the 21st Century

Competition with China a ‘driving force’ for clean energy funding in the 21st century

Solar panels in Dunhuang, Gansu, China
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Analysis of energy RD&D investment in major economies also found that commitments at COP21 yielded some positives. Ultimately, however, trends over this century are not consistent with the ‘cleantech’ funding levels needed to meet climate goals, say researchers.

 

Competition is only half the battle, we also need global cooperation

Laura Diaz Anadon

The first major study of driving forces behind government funding of energy RD&D – and the public institutions generating it – over the 21st century shows that competition created by China’s rise as a technology superpower led to significant increases in clean energy investment.

The new study, led by University of Cambridge and University of California, Berkeley, and published in the journal Nature Energy, also finds that cooperation commitments at a UN climate conference were not just empty words, and did boost ‘cleantech’ innovation, albeit a long way off levels required to hit net zero or prevent two-degree warming.

The research covers eight major economies – Germany, France, US, UK, Korea, India, China and Japan – in the years between 2000 and 2018, and finds that total energy funding among seven of these (excluding India) grew from $10.9 billion to $20.1 billion, an 84% increase.

The share of RD&D (research, development and demonstration) funding for clean technologies – from solar and wind to efficient energy storage – across these seven economies went from 46% to 63% during the first 18 years of this century.

However, it came at the expense of nuclear energy investment, which fell from 42% to 24%, while fossil fuel funding remained ‘sticky’ and relatively unchanged – propped up by huge increases in fossil fuel RD&D spending from China (over $1.5 billion from 2001 to 2018).

“Levels of investment in clean energy have yet to come close to achieving meaningful global decarbonisation,” said Prof Laura Diaz Anadon from the University of Cambridge, a corresponding author on the study.

“Annual government funding for energy RD&D needed to have at least doubled between 2010 and 2020 to better enable future emissions cuts in line with the two-degree Celsius goal,” Anadon said.

Prof Jonas Meckling, study first author from the University of California, Berkeley, said: “Our research reveals the drivers of clean energy investment that had most impact in the 21st century. A mix of cooperation and competition between nations, and a strategic shift towards commercialisation, led to advances that policymakers must build upon.”

Many consider high oil prices a key incentive for government spending on energy innovation as alternatives are sought, such as in the 1970s. Yet the study shows clean energy RD&D continued to grow despite declining oil costs after 2008, leading researchers to assess other possible ‘drivers’ of cleantech investment this century.

The research team conducted their analysis by creating two datasets. One tracked RD&D funding from China, India and the member countries of the International Energy Agency.

The other inventoried 57 public institutions working on energy innovation across eight major economies. These include agencies that fund energy tech such as ARPA-E in the US, the Carbon Trust in the UK, and India’s National Institute of Solar Energy.

The study found intensifying competition in clean energy markets created a ‘cumulative’ investment boost across major economies – primarily driven by China, which grew cleantech RD&D spending at double-digit rates every year (bar one) between 2003 and 2014.

As original solar and wind industries in the US and Europe fought to keep up, an analysis of government reports conducted for the study shows RD&D pushes in major economies were increasingly justified by referencing competitive threats from China. This included US investments post-2008 crash, Germany’s push into electric vehicles, and the EU Green Deal.

The study pinpoints 2014 as the year China became a major player in cleantech across a range of areas, accelerating a gradual shift towards clean energy commercialisation and economic strategy that had already begun in other countries.

For example, after 2014, public RD&D institutions across the eight economies with a stated goal of “competitiveness and economic growth” increased by 14 percentage points.

In addition, some 39% of RD&D institutions ran as government-business partnerships before 2014, but increased focus on commercialisation with the rise of China saw this jump to 63% of institutions established or repurposed from 2015 onwards.

“Competition with China helped grow some clean technologies, but stymied others,” said Anadon. “Research and development for onshore wind increased in major economics when Chinese firms entered the market. However, cleantech that was easily shippable, such as solar PV, suffered from intense Chinese investment that eliminated international competitors.”

“Competition is only half the battle, we also need global cooperation,” she said.

The study shows the “Mission Innovation” – a global initiative to boost cleantech development announced at COP21 in 2015 by President Obama, and backed by 20 nations including China and India – failed to double clean energy RD&D spending by 2020, a stated aim.

However, it did lead to significant increases in RD&D for new clean and nuclear energy in the eight major economies for at least three years following launch, with government documents explicitly referencing Mission Innovation as the rationale for expanding clean energy funding.

The team also investigated how this century’s crises influenced RD&D. Stimulus packages following the 2008 financial crash and COVID-19 pandemic did little for new clean energy efforts, instead typically boosting RD&D funding for “incumbent” energy: fossil (including carbon capture and storage) and nuclear.

“Unlike the financial crash and pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine has caused an international crisis with energy at its core,” Anadon added. “This could lead to a global shift in government policies that harness both competition and cooperation to boost clean energy investment, such as a trade club for climate goods.”


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Queen Elizabeth II

1926-2022

source: www.cam.ac.uk

The University of Cambridge community is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Her Majesty The Queen.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope said: “This news brings great sorrow for the United Kingdom as a whole, for the Commonwealth, and most particularly for members of the Royal Family, to whom we extend our heartfelt condolences.

“Her Majesty The Queen’s reign defined the United Kingdom of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Her Majesty’s devotion to public service and the common good, her dignity, her sense of duty and her strong moral compass, will always be an inspiration.”

Queen Elizabeth II had a long association with the University through her family, and one that she characterised as happy. Her father King George VI, two sons, Princes Charles and Edward, and two cousins, Princes William and Richard of Gloucester, all studied at Cambridge. A grandson, Prince William, was created Duke of Cambridge and spent a term studying at the University, while her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was an enthusiastic and supportive Chancellor from 1976 to 2011.

The Queen visited the University and Colleges on numerous occasions during her reign, seeing Cambridge through a time of great change. At the time of Her Majesty’s first visit as monarch in 1955, women had only recently been admitted to full degrees, the great majority of undergraduates were male, and student behaviour was perhaps a little more colourful: several veterinary students attempted to welcome the Queen by laying down their gowns for her to walk over, in homage to the famous story of Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I.

While maintaining her customary neutrality and rarely taking up a public position on an issue, during that visit The Queen chose to tour Newnham and Girton, both Colleges for women – perhaps a quiet signal of support. In 1948 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother had been the first woman admitted to a degree in the Senate House.

On her most recent visit, in 2019, The Queen lunched with Fellows, staff and students at Queens’ College – of which, like The Queen Mother, she was Patroness.

Dr Mohamed El-Erian, the President, said: “Queens’ College was honoured to have Her Majesty as our Patroness. We will always remember with deep affection and great appreciation her visits to the College. On every occasion, she engaged our students, Fellows and staff in her uniquely interesting, elegant, and gracious manner.

“We are enormously grateful for all her wonderful contributions to Queens’, including how she inspired so many members of our community. She will be sorely missed.”

The University has a long history of connections with the Crown. Its existence as a body entitled to regulate its own affairs was confirmed in a writ issued by King Henry III in 1231. Monarchs and members of their families have founded Colleges (King’s and Queens’ most obviously, but also Trinity, St John’s and Christ’s); and have been both Chancellors and students. The Crown has established or designated certain professorships as Regius Professorships. The Queen designated two such during her reign: the Regius Chair of Botany in 2009 and the Regius Chair of Engineering in 2011 – the latter to commemorate the Duke of Edinburgh’s 35 years as Chancellor.

Emeritus Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said: “I had the privilege of meeting Her Majesty The Queen on several occasions. When she opened buildings and attended major events in Cambridge, she always engaged warmly with our staff and students as well as showing a continued interest in the University.

“On each occasion it was an honour and pleasure to meet with her, particularly in the knowledge that she always valued Cambridge University’s contribution to the education and wellbeing of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.”

Remembering Queen Elizabeth II​

Great St Mary’s, the University Church, will be open 9am to 6pm daily, and a Book of Condolence, provided by the City of Cambridge, will be available to the public.

There will be spoken services on Friday 9 Sept and Saturday 10 Sept at 9am, 12noon, 6pm, as well as brief prayers held on the hour.

Details of an ecumenical Act of Remembrance to be held at the University Church will be announced shortly on Great St Mary’s website.

The Queen on her most recent visit to Cambridge, in 2019, meeting Fellows and students of Queens’ College, of which she was Patroness.

Statement on 2022 Admissions

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

The University of Cambridge is publishing initial figures from the 2022 admissions cycle. With a few decisions still outstanding, the University will be admitting just under 3,600 undergraduates this year.

 

Every student who gets a place at Cambridge thoroughly deserves it

Dr Sam Lucy

We would like to congratulate those who successfully met the terms of their offers. This is a cohort of students who have faced immense disruption to their education so their excellent results this summer are a testament to their effort and determination.

The University will welcome another record number of state school students. Around 72.5% will come from the maintained sector (up from 71.6% in 2021). A total of 84 students were admitted through the August Reconsideration Pool (formerly Adjustment). These are students from less advantaged backgrounds who are likely to have narrowly missed out on an offer in January but who then went on to achieve high grades at A-level, demonstrating their potential for Cambridge.

A further 47 students have been successful in securing a place on the University’s Foundation Year. This provides fully funded, year-long study in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences for those who have faced educational disruption or disadvantage.

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

“We’re delighted to be welcoming another cohort of talented young people on to our courses this year who have shown real resilience in going on to achieve superb results. Every student who gets a place at Cambridge thoroughly deserves it. We know that many will have faced challenging circumstances in the last two years and the Colleges are ready to help with the transition to university level study. Once again, more than a quarter of our students will have come from less advantaged backgrounds* with just over 7% having been eligible for Free School Meals while at school. Our Foundation Year programme will give an opportunity to those who have faced additional hurdles in their route to higher education.”

Around 21% of freshers will be international, slightly down on last year. With more than 22,000 applications for 2022 entry, competition has remained high, with 6 applications per place.

Notes

*Using a combination of POLAR 4 Q1 + 2 and IMD measurements.


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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.

Cambridge’s new community joins Open Cambridge

source: www.cam.ac.uk

Eddington, Cambridge’s newest neighbourhood in the North-West of the City, is holding a family-friendly day introducing you to tips and tricks to lead a more sustainable life.

Sustainable YOU

Brook Leys parkland at Eddington. Credit: University of Cambridge.

On Saturday 10 September, head on down to Eddington’s Market Square at the centre of the community for a feast of activity and bookable events.

From ecology walking tours with Eddington’s ecologist Mike Dean to a special talk with Professor of Regional Transformation and Economic Security, Shailaja Fennell, as well as a vegan market and your chance to practise a circular economy by taking part in a toy-swap – there is something for everyone!

Professor Shailaja Fennell. Credit: University of Cambridge

“As a new neighbourhood in Cambridge, we are delighted to host a range of free events for the community that support the theme of sustainability. At Eddington, there are unique features that support environmentally sustainable living: but the ethos of Sustainable YOU is to highlight the small and discreet changes that individuals can try to make a difference. Through our range of activities, we hope people can learn, participate or take at least one small lesson that supports a step towards greater sustainability.”

Biky Wan, Public Relations Manager at the University of Cambridge’s Estates Division.

Eddington Market Square. Credit: Phil Mynott

Partners from local charities and organisations will be on hand to provide tips on a range of topics including sustainable travel from the University’s Transport Team, refills to reduce single-use plastics from local business Green Blue You, as well as local wildlife and other charities.

Sarah, who runs the Green Blue You refill stall. Credit: University of Cambridge

Children take part in the Cycling Festival held at Eddington. Credit: University of Cambridge

Members of the public walk around Eddington during an Ecology walk. Credit: University of Cambridge

A young boy on a cycle. Credit: University of Cambridge

A butterfly rests on some lavender. Credit: University of Cambridge

A small boy plays with a toy at the Eddington Toy Swap. Credit: University of Cambridge

What is Eddington?

Eddington, part of the University of Cambridge’s plan to safeguard its future and maintain its reputation as a world leader, is a new community providing much needed housing for University key workers and students as well as the wider community.

The first residents of this neighbourhood were key workers and post-graduate students who moved into their homes in 2017.

Close to the City, Eddington has environmental sustainability and low-carbon living as a guiding principle. Environmental features include an underground waste and recycling storage system, extensive solar panels, as well as active travel planning that has resulted in over 80% of residents travelling to work by bus, foot or bicycle, and initiatives that support local biodiversity.

“It has been a rare pleasure to work on Eddington. Few developments set out with biodiversity targets as ambitious, and even fewer actually achieve them.”

Mike Dean, Project Ecologist at Eddington

“The contribution that Eddington is making to the local biodiversity resource demonstrates what can be done when ecology is a key influence on scheme design and there is a strong commitment to both the protection of existing important features, and the creation and management of new habitats that are ecologically significant and that can be enjoyed by the local community. We hope you can join for a tour as part of the day,” added Dean.

For full activity listings for Sustainable YOU visit www.eddington-cambridge.co.uk

About Open Cambridge

Wildflowers at Eddington. Credit: Sir Cam

Open Cambridge is a celebration of our community, the heritage, history and stories of Cambridge and the surrounding area and provides an inclusive platform to showcase extraordinary spaces, places and people.

Run over ten days and in conjunction with Heritage Open Days, it is designed to offer special access to places that are normally closed to the public or charge admission. The initiative provides an annual opportunity for people to discover the local history and heritage of their community.

To view the full programme: https://www.opencambridge.cam.ac.uk/

Sign up for mailings: https://www.opencambridge.cam.ac.uk/sign-updates

Follow us on social media: https://twitter.com/opencambridgeuk

Cambridge Biomedical Campus Celebrates 60 Years With £2bn Boost To UK Economy

Aerial shot of Cambridge Biomedical Campus
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A new economic impact report  details the financial contributions of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC), which celebrates its 60th anniversary this autumn. The independent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) for the first time calculates the economic benefits of CBC also highlights the health and research benefits for the region.

 

The success we have on the site is not just limited to improved healthcare and treatments for patients – we generate jobs and income for businesses across Cambridge and the East of England

Kristin-Anne Rutter

The key findings of the report are:

  • The campus supported an aggregate economic footprint of £2.2 billion worth of Gross Value Added to the UK economy and that as well as being the largest employment site in Cambridge, over 15,000 additional roles are supported across the regional supply chain and local businesses.
  • For every 10 jobs directly generated by organisations on the CBC, a further 2.7 jobs are supported within Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire; one in every six jobs in the local authority areas are either directly or indirectly supported by the campus.
  • Employment on site is growing much faster than the rest of the UK and that £721m is spent by employees across the regional economy.

Looking at the wider economic picture, the research highlights that in 2021 the site reported a collaborative operating income of £1.9 billion, as well as contributing £291million to the Exchequer through tax revenues.

In addition to the new report, a series of events are planned to celebrate the success of the campus spanning 60 years and to tell more stories about the globally significant research that goes on.

Dr Kristin-Anne Rutter, Executive Director at Cambridge Biomedical Campus, said: “The economic impact report for the first time demonstrates the importance of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus to the region, and to the thousands of people who work here and rely on the organisations, whether it’s as a patient or someone working on the site. The success we have on the site is not just limited to improved healthcare and treatments for patients – we generate jobs and income for businesses across Cambridge and the East of England. We do this through collaboration, with research, industry and the NHS working together to drive innovation which is then shared.

“The report is an important milestone, so too is our 60th anniversary and throughout September we’ll be highlighting some of the amazing developments and ideas which have happened since Addenbrookes hospital and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology arrived on the Hills Road site. We’ll be sharing how the campus has grown and how science is taken from laboratories into hospitals, to diagnose and treat patients with world-leading innovative healthcare.”

Alongside the major economic impact of CBC, the research that takes place on the campus has very real and direct healthcare benefits, fuelled by innovation and discoveries that sit at the very forefront of life sciences technology and knowhow.

Read the report


Life-saving treatments

Below are some of the case studies of how patients have been given, or are set to benefit from life-saving treatments, discovered and developed at CBC but with the potential to literally change the lives of people across the world.

Cytosponge: A ‘sponge on a string’ test to detect oesophageal cancer

Around 9,100 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer each year in the UK. A big challenge with this type of cancer is that many people don’t realise there’s a problem until they start to have trouble swallowing. Often, these symptoms aren’t recognisable until a later stage in the disease.

But there may be an opportunity to detect the disease earlier. Some people develop a condition – called Barrett’s oesophagus – prior to developing into cancer. Barrett’s oesophagus is much more common than oesophageal cancer, and although it will only become cancer in a handful of cases, it presents an opportunity for doctors to spot a problem early and intervene before cancer develops. But the typical test for Barrett’s oesophagus, endoscopy, is both invasive and expensive.

Enter the Cytosponge.Cytosponge-TFF3 test is a ‘sponge on a string’ device coupled with a laboratory test called TFF3 developed by scientists funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Cancer Research UK – a simple, quick and affordable test for Barrett’s oesophagus that can be done in a GP surgery.

Read more

Ethanol breath biopsy clinical trial for early lung cancer detection

A new clinical trial has launched at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge which is using ethanol (an alcohol) detected in exhaled breath as a potential tool to diagnose lung cancer earlier. The EVOLUTION trial is recruiting patients who definitely have lung cancer and healthy volunteers who definitely do not.
A liquid solution containing a metabolic probe is administered intravenously, travels around the body and when it reacts with a lung tumour causes the release of ethanol. After a set amount of time, patients breathe at regular intervals into a special mask which collects the ethanol which is then analysed in the laboratory. The eVOC probe (Exogenous Volatile Organic Compound) has been developed by Cambridge company Owlstone Medical, who have collaborated with Royal Papworth Hospital’s thoracic oncology research team for previous breath biopsy studies.

Changing the future of ovarian cancer

Each year, about 7,500 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and around 5,000 will have the most aggressive form of the disease. The cure rate for women with ovarian cancer is very low, despite new medicines coming into the clinic. Only 43% of women in England survive five years beyond their ovarian cancer diagnosis, compared with more than 80% of people for more common cancers, such as breast (85%) and prostate (87%). This is because the disease is often diagnosed late, treatment options are limited, and many women develop resistance to current therapies. Research by Professors James Brenton and Evis Sala, at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, aims to address this.

Read more

Life-changing artificial pancreas

An artificial pancreas developed by Cambridge researchers is helping protect very young children with type 1 diabetes at a particularly vulnerable time of their lives.

The artificial pancreas uses an algorithm – CamAPS FX – to determine the amount of insulin administered by a device worn by the child. It is available through a number of NHS trusts across the UK, including Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and the team hope it will soon be available even more widely.

Read more

Adapted from a press release by Cambridge University Health Partners


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Robots Can Be Used To Assess Children’s Mental Wellbeing, Study Suggests

Robot shaking hands with Dr Micol Spitale

source: www.cam.ac.uk

Robots can be better at detecting mental wellbeing issues in children than parent-reported or self-reported testing, a new study suggests.

 

Children might see the robot as a confidante – they feel like they won’t get into trouble if they share secrets with it

Nida Itrat Abbasi

A team of roboticists, computer scientists and psychiatrists from the University of Cambridge carried out a study with 28 children between the ages of eight and 13, and had a child-sized humanoid robot administer a series of standard psychological questionnaires to assess the mental wellbeing of each participant.

The children were willing to confide in the robot, in some cases sharing information with the robot that they had not yet shared via the standard assessment method of online or in-person questionnaires. This is the first time that robots have been used to assess mental wellbeing in children.

The researchers say that robots could be a useful addition to traditional methods of mental health assessment, although they are not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health support. The results will be presented today at the 31st IEEE International Conference on Robot & Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN) in Naples, Italy.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, home schooling, financial pressures, and isolation from peers and friends impacted the mental health of many children. Even before the pandemic however, anxiety and depression among children in the UK has been on the rise, but the resources and support to address mental wellbeing are severely limited.

Professor Hatice Gunes, who leads the Affective Intelligence and Robotics Laboratory in Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology, has been studying how socially-assistive robots (SARs) can be used as mental wellbeing ‘coaches’ for adults, but in recent years has also been studying how they may be beneficial to children.

“After I became a mother, I was much more interested in how children express themselves as they grow, and how that might overlap with my work in robotics,” said Gunes. “Children are quite tactile, and they’re drawn to technology. If they’re using a screen-based tool, they’re withdrawn from the physical world. But robots are perfect because they’re in the physical world – they’re more interactive, so the children are more engaged.”

With colleagues in Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry, Gunes and her team designed an experiment to see if robots could be a useful tool to assess mental wellbeing in children.

“There are times when traditional methods aren’t able to catch mental wellbeing lapses in children, as sometimes the changes are incredibly subtle,” said Nida Itrat Abbasi, the study’s first author. “We wanted to see whether robots might be able to help with this process.”

For the study, 28 participants between ages eight and 13 each took part in a one-to-one 45-minute session with a Nao robot – a humanoid robot about 60 centimetres tall. A parent or guardian, along with members of the research team, observed from an adjacent room. Prior to each session, children and their parent or guardian completed standard online questionnaire to assess each child’s mental wellbeing.

During each session, the robot performed four different tasks: 1) asked open-ended questions about happy and sad memories over the last week; 2) administered the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ); 3) administered a picture task inspired by the Children’s Apperception Test (CAT), where children are asked to answer questions related to pictures shown; and 4) administered the Revised Children’s Anxiety and Depression Scale (RCADS) for generalised anxiety, panic disorder and low mood.

Children were divided into three different groups following the SMFQ, according to how likely they were to be struggling with their mental wellbeing. Participants interacted with the robot throughout the session by speaking with it, or by touching sensors on the robot’s hands and feet. Additional sensors tracked participants’ heartbeat, head and eye movements during the session.

Study participants all said they enjoyed talking with the robot: some shared information with the robot that they hadn’t shared either in person or on the online questionnaire.

The researchers found that children with varying levels of wellbeing concerns interacted differently with the robot. For children that might not be experiencing mental wellbeing-related problems, the researchers found that interacting with the robot led to more positive response ratings to the questionnaires. However, for children that might be experiencing wellbeing related concerns, the robot may have enabled them to divulge their true feelings and experiences, leading to more negative response ratings to the questionnaire.

“Since the robot we use is child-sized, and completely non-threatening, children might see the robot as a confidante – they feel like they won’t get into trouble if they share secrets with it,” said Abbasi. “Other researchers have found that children are more likely to divulge private information – like that they’re being bullied, for example – to a robot than they would be to an adult.”

The researchers say that while their results show that robots could be a useful tool for psychological assessment of children, they are not a substitute for human interaction.

“We don’t have any intention of replacing psychologists or other mental health professionals with robots, since their expertise far surpasses anything a robot can do,” said co-author Dr Micol Spitale. “However, our work suggests that robots could be a useful tool in helping children to open up and share things they might not be comfortable sharing at first.”

The researchers say that they hope to expand their survey in future, by including more participants and following them over time. They are also investigating whether similar results could be achieved if children interact with the robot via video chat.

The research was supported in part by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre. Hatice Gunes is a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

Reference:
Nida Itrat Abbasi et al. ‘Can Robots Help in the Evaluation of Mental Wellbeing in Children? An Empirical Study.’ Paper presented to the 31st IEEE International Conference on Robot & Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN), Naples, Italy, 29 August – 2 September 2022.


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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.

Cannabis Users No Less Likely To Be Motivated Or Able To Enjoy Life’s Pleasure

Female hands rolling a marijuana joint
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Adult and adolescent cannabis users are no more likely than non-users to lack motivation or be unable to enjoy life’s pleasure, new research has shown, suggesting there is no scientific basis for the stereotype often portrayed in the media.

 

We’re so used to seeing ‘lazy stoners’ on our screens that we don’t stop to ask whether they’re an accurate representation of cannabis users. Our work implies that this is in itself a lazy stereotype

Martine Skumlien

Cannabis users also show no difference in motivation for rewards, pleasure taken from rewards, or the brain’s response when seeking rewards, compared to non-users.

Cannabis is the third most commonly used controlled substance worldwide, after alcohol and nicotine. A 2018 report from the NHS Digital Lifestyles Team stated that almost one in five (19%) of 15-year-olds in England had used cannabis in the previous 12 months, while in 2020 the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported the proportion in the United States to be 28% of 15-16-year-olds.

A common stereotype of cannabis users is the ‘stoner’ – think Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, The Dude in The Big Lebowski, or, more recently, Argyle in Stranger Things. These are individuals who are generally depicted as lazy and apathetic.

At the same time, there has been considerable concern of the potential impact of cannabis use on the developing brain and that using cannabis during adolescence might have a damaging effect at an important time in an individual’s life.

A team led by scientists at UCL, the University of Cambridge and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London carried out a study examining whether cannabis users show higher levels of apathy (loss of motivation) and anhedonia (loss of interest in or pleasure from rewards) when compared to controls and whether they were less willing to exert physical effort to receive a reward. The research was part of the CannTEEN study.

The results are published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

The team recruited 274 adolescent and adult cannabis users who had used cannabis at least weekly over the past three months, with an average of four days per week, and matched them with non-users of the same age and gender.

Participants completed questionnaires to measure anhedonia, asking them to rate statements such as “I would enjoy being with family or close friends”. They also completed questionnaires to measure their levels of apathy, which asked them to rate characteristics such as how interested they were in learning new things or how likely they were to see a job through to the end.

Cannabis users scored slightly lower than non-users on anhedonia – in other words, they appeared better able to enjoy themselves – but there was no significant difference when it came to apathy. The researchers also found no link between frequency of cannabis use and either apathy or anhedonia in the people who used cannabis.

Martine Skumlien, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: “We were surprised to see that there was really very little difference between cannabis users and non-users when it came to lack of motivation or lack of enjoyment, even among those who used cannabis every day. This is contrary to the stereotypical portrayal we see on TV and in movies.”

In general, adolescents tended to score higher than adults on anhedonia and apathy in both user and non-user groups, but cannabis use did not augment this difference.

Dr Will Lawn, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “There’s been a lot of concern that cannabis use in adolescence might lead to worse outcomes than cannabis use during adulthood. But our study, one of the first to directly compare adolescents and adults who use cannabis, suggests that adolescents are no more vulnerable than adults to the harmful effects of cannabis on motivation, the experience of pleasure, or the brain’s response to reward.

“In fact, it seems cannabis may have no link – or at most only weak associations – with these outcomes in general. However, we need studies that look for these associations over a long period of time to confirm these findings.”

Just over half of participants also carried out a number of behavioural tasks. The first of these assessed physical effort. Participants were given the option to perform button-presses in order to win points, which were later exchanged for chocolates or sweets to take home. There were three difficulty levels and three reward levels; more difficult trials required faster button pressing. On each trial the participant could choose to accept or reject the offer; points were only accrued if the trial was accepted and completed.

In a second task, measuring how much pleasure they received from rewards, participants were first told to estimate how much they wanted to receive each of three rewards (30 seconds of one of their favourite songs, one piece of chocolate or a sweet, and a £1 coin) on a scale from ‘do not want at all’ to ‘intensely want’. They then received each reward in turn and were asked to rate how pleasurable they found them on a scale from ‘do not like at all’ to ‘intensely like’.

The researchers found no difference between users and non-users or between age groups on either the physical effort task or the real reward pleasure task, confirming evidence from other studies that found no, or very little, difference.

Skumlien added: “We’re so used to seeing ‘lazy stoners’ on our screens that we don’t stop to ask whether they’re an accurate representation of cannabis users. Our work implies that this is in itself a lazy stereotype, and that people who use cannabis are no more likely to lack motivation or be lazier than people who don’t.

“Unfair assumptions can be stigmatising and could get in the way of messages around harm reduction. We need to be honest and frank about what are and are not the harmful consequences of drug use.”

Earlier this year, the team published a study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at brain activity in the same participants as they took part in a brain imaging task measuring reward processing. The task involved participants viewing orange or blue squares while in the scanner. The orange squares would lead to a monetary reward, after a delay, if the participant made a response.

The researchers used this set up to investigate how the brain responds to rewards, focusing in particular on the ventral striatum, a key region in the brain’s reward system. They found no relationship between activity in this region and cannabis use, suggesting that cannabis users had similar reward systems as non-users.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: “Our evidence indicates that cannabis use does not appear to have an effect on motivation for recreational users. The participants in our study included users who took cannabis on average four days a week and they were no more likely to lack motivation. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that greater use, as seen in some people with cannabis-use disorder, has an effect.

“Until we have future research studies that follow adolescent users, starting from onset through to young adulthood, and which combine measures of motivation and brain imaging, we cannot determine for certain that regular cannabis use won’t negatively impact motivation and the developing brain.”

This research was funded by the Medical Research Council with additional support from the Aker Foundation, National Institute for Health Research and Wellcome.

References

Skumlien, M, et al. Anhedonia, apathy, pleasure, and effort-based decision-making in adult and adolescent cannabis users and controls. IJNP; 24 Aug 2022; DOI: 10.1093/ijnp/pyac056

Skumlien, M, et al. Neural responses to reward anticipation and feedback in adult and adolescent cannabis users and controls. Neuropsychopharmacology; 6 April 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41386-022-01316-2


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Scientists Develop New Method To Assess Ozone Layer Recovery

Scientists develop new method to assess ozone layer recovery

View of Earth from 40,000 feet

source: www.cam.ac.uk

Researchers have developed a new method for assessing the impacts of ozone-destroying substances that threaten the recovery of the ozone layer.

 

The Montreal Protocol is successfully protecting the ozone layer, but there is increasing evidence to suggest the ozone hole is recovering slower than expected

John Pyle

Published in the journal Nature, their method – the Integrated Ozone Depletion (IOD) metric – provides a useful tool for policymakers and scientists.

The IOD has been designed to provide a straightforward way to measure the effects of unregulated emissions of substances that deplete the ozone layer, and evaluate how effective ozone layer protection measures are.

The ozone layer is found in a region of the earth’s atmosphere known as the stratosphere, and acts as an important protection barrier against most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Ozone-depleting gases such as chlorofluorocarbons, better known as CFCs, have been phased out under the Montreal Protocol – an international treaty agreed to protect the ozone layer.

The Montreal Protocol has been largely successful, but illegal breaches are jeopardising its efficacy.

The IOD indicates the impact of any new emissions on the ozone layer by considering three things: the strength of the emission, how long it will remain in the atmosphere, and how much ozone is chemically destroyed by it.

For environmental protection and human health policies, the IOD represents a simple means of calculating the impact of any given emission scenario on ozone recovery.

This new metric has been developed by researchers at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Cambridge and the National Centre for Earth Observation at the University of Leeds.

Professor John Pyle, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of Cambridge, has dedicated his career to studying the depletion of ozone in the stratosphere and helping develop the Montreal Protocol. He is the lead author of the current Nature paper.

“Following the Montreal Protocol, we are now in a new phase – assessing the recovery of the ozone layer,” said Pyle, from Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry. “This new phase calls for new metrics, like the Integrated Ozone Depletion – which we refer to as the IOD. Our new metric can measure the impact of emissions – regardless of their size. Using an atmospheric chemistry computer model, we have been able to demonstrate a simple linear relationship between the IOD, the size of the emissions and the chemical lifetimes. So, with knowledge of the lifetimes, it is a simple matter to calculate the IOD, making this an excellent metric both for science and policy.”

“The Montreal Protocol is successfully protecting the ozone layer, but there is increasing evidence to suggest the ozone hole is recovering slower than expected. The IOD will be very useful for monitoring ozone recovery, and especially relevant to regulators who need to phase out substances with the potential to chemically destroy ozone.”

The IOD metric has been created using a computer model of the atmosphere, called the UK Chemistry and Aerosols model (UKCA). The National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the Met Office developed the UKCA model to calculate future projections of important chemicals, such as ozone in the stratosphere.

“We have used the UKCA model to develop the IOD metric, which will enable us to estimate the effect of any new illegal or unregulated emissions on the ozone layer. In the UKCA model we can perform experiments with different types and concentrations of CFCs, and other ozone-depleting substances,” said co-author Dr Luke Abraham, also from the University of Cambridge. “We can estimate how chemicals in the atmosphere will change in the future, and assess their impact on the ozone layer over the coming century.”

The research was supported in part by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Reference:
John A Pyle et al. ‘Integrated ozone depletion as a metric for ozone recovery.’ Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04968-8

Adapted from a press release by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.


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Medieval Monks Were ‘Riddled With Worms’, Study Finds

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Research examining traces of parasites in the remains of medieval Cambridge residents suggests that local friars were almost twice as likely as ordinary working townspeople to have intestinal worms – despite monasteries of the period having far more sanitary facilities.

 

One possibility is that the friars manured their vegetable gardens with human faeces

Piers Mitchell

A new analysis of remains from medieval Cambridge shows that local Augustinian friars were almost twice as likely as the city’s general population to be infected by intestinal parasites.

This is despite most Augustinian monasteries of the period having latrine blocks and hand-washing facilities, unlike the houses of ordinary working people.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology say the difference in parasitic infection may be down to monks manuring crops in friary gardens with their own faeces, or purchasing fertiliser containing human or pig excrement.

The study, published today in the International Journal of Paleopathology, is the first to compare parasite prevalence in people from the same medieval community who were living different lifestyles, and so might have differed in their infection risk.

The population of medieval Cambridge consisted of residents of monasteries, friaries and nunneries of various major Christian orders, along with merchants, traders, craftsmen, labourers, farmers, and staff and students at the early university.

Cambridge archaeologists investigated samples of soil taken from around the pelvises of adult remains from the former cemetery of All Saints by the Castle parish church, as well as from the grounds where the city’s Augustinian Friary once stood.

Most of the parish church burials date from the 12-14th century, and those interred within were primarily of a lower socio-economic status, mainly agricultural workers.

The Augustinian friary in Cambridge was an international study house, known as a studium generale, where clergy from across Britain and Europe would come to read manuscripts. It was founded in the 1280s and lasted until 1538 before suffering the fate of most English monasteries: closed or destroyed as part of Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Church.

The researchers tested 19 monks from the friary grounds and 25 locals from All Saints cemetery, and found that 11 of the friars (58%) were infected by worms, compared with just eight of the general townspeople (32%).

They say these rates are likely the minimum, and that actual numbers of infections would have been higher, but some traces of worm eggs in the pelvic sediment would have been destroyed over time by fungi and insects.

The 32% prevalence of parasites among townspeople is in line with studies of medieval burials in other European countries, suggesting this is not particularly low – but rather the infection rates in the monastery were remarkably high.

“The friars of medieval Cambridge appear to have been riddled with parasites,” said study lead author Dr Piers Mitchell from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology. “This is the first time anyone has attempted to work out how common parasites were in people following different lifestyles in the same medieval town.”

Cambridge researcher Tianyi Wang, who did the microscopy to spot the parasite eggs, said: “Roundworm was the most common infection, but we found evidence for whipworm infection as well. These are both spread by poor sanitation.”

Standard sanitation in medieval towns relied on the cesspit toilet: holes in the ground used for faeces and household waste. In monasteries, however, running water systems were a common feature – including to rinse out the latrine – although that has yet to be confirmed at the Cambridge site, which is only partly excavated.

Not all people buried in Augustinian friaries were actually clergy, as wealthy people from the town could pay to be interred there. However, the team could tell which graves belonged to friars from the remains of their clothing.

“The friars were buried wearing the belts they wore as standard clothing of the order, and we could see the metal buckles at excavation,” said Craig Cessford of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

As roundworm and whipworm are spread by poor sanitation, researchers argue that the difference in infection rates between the friars and the general population must have been due to how each group dealt with their human waste.

“One possibility is that the friars manured their vegetable gardens with human faeces, not unusual in the medieval period, and this may have led to repeated infection with the worms,” said Mitchell.

Medieval records reveal how Cambridge residents may have understood parasites such as roundworm and whipworm. John Stockton, a medical practitioner in Cambridge who died in 1361, left a manuscript to Peterhouse college that included a section on De Lumbricis (‘on worms’).

It notes that intestinal worms are generated by excess of various kinds of mucus: “Long round worms form from an excess of salt phlegm, short round worms from sour phlegm, while short and broad worms came from natural or sweet phlegm.”

The text prescribes “bitter medicinal plants” such as aloe and wormwood, but recommends they are disguised with “honey or other sweet things” to help the medicine go down.

Another text – Tabula medicine – found favour with leading Cambridge doctors of the 15th century, and suggests remedies as recommended by individual Franciscan monks, such as Symon Welles, who advocated mixing a powder made from moles into a curative drink.

Overall, those buried in medieval England’s monasteries had lived longer than those in parish cemeteries, according to previous research, perhaps due to a more nourishing diet, a luxury of wealth.


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Risk of Volcano Catastrophe ‘A Roll Of The Dice’, Say Experts

source: www.cam.ac.uk

While funding is pumped into preventing low-probability scenarios such as asteroid collision, the far more likely threat of a large volcanic eruption is close to ignored – despite much that could be done to reduce the risks, say researchers.

 

The risks of a massive eruption that devastates global society is significant

Lara Mani

The world is “woefully underprepared” for a massive volcanic eruption and the likely repercussions on global supply chains, climate and food, according to experts from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER).

In an article published in the journal Nature, they say there is a “broad misconception” that risks of major eruptions are low, and describe current lack of governmental investment in monitoring and responding to potential volcano disasters as “reckless”.

However, the researchers argue that steps can be taken to protect against volcanic devastation – from improved surveillance to increased public education and magma manipulation – and the resources needed to do so are long overdue.

“Data gathered from ice cores on the frequency of eruptions over deep time suggests there is a one-in-six chance of a magnitude seven explosion in the next one hundred years. That’s a roll of the dice,” said article co-author and CSER researcher Dr Lara Mani, an expert in global risk.

“Such gigantic eruptions have caused abrupt climate change and collapse of civilisations in the distant past.”

Mani compares the risk of a giant eruption to that of a 1km-wide asteroid crashing into Earth. Such events would have similar climatic consequences, but the likelihood of a volcanic catastrophe is hundreds of times higher than the combined chances of an asteroid or comet collision.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are pumped into asteroid threats every year, yet there is a severe lack of global financing and coordination for volcano preparedness,” Mani said. “This urgently needs to change. We are completely underestimating the risk to our societies that volcanoes pose.”

An eruption in Tonga in January was the largest ever instrumentally recorded. The researchers argue that if it had gone on longer, released more ash and gas, or occurred in an area full of critical infrastructure – such as the Mediterranean – then global shock waves could have been devastating.

“The Tonga eruption was the volcanic equivalent of an asteroid just missing the Earth, and needs to be treated as a wake-up call,” said Mani.

The CSER experts cite recent research detecting the regularity of major eruptions by analysing traces of sulphur spikes in ancient ice samples. An eruption ten to a hundred times larger than the Tonga blast occurs once every 625 years – twice as often as had been previously thought.

“The last magnitude seven eruption was in 1815 in Indonesia,” said co-author Dr Mike Cassidy, a volcano expert and visiting CSER researcher, now based at the University of Birmingham.

“An estimated 100,000 people died locally, and global temperatures dropped by a degree on average, causing mass crop failures that led to famine, violent uprisings and epidemics in what was known as the year without summer,” he said.

“We now live in a world with eight times the population and over forty times the level of trade. Our complex global networks could make us even more vulnerable to the shocks of a major eruption.”

Financial losses from a large magnitude eruption would be in the multi-trillions, and on a comparable scale to the pandemic, say the experts.

Mani and Cassidy outline steps they say need to be taken to help forecast and manage the possibility of a planet-altering eruption, and help mitigate damage from smaller, more frequent eruptions.

These include a more accurate pinpointing of risks. We only know locations of a handful of the 97 eruptions classed as large magnitude on the “Volcano Explosivity Index” over the last 60,000 years. This means there could be dozens of dangerous volcanoes dotted the world over with the potential for extreme destruction, about which humanity has no clue.

“We may not know about even relatively recent eruptions due to a lack of research into marine and lake cores, particularly in neglected regions such as Southeast Asia,” said Cassidy. “Volcanoes can lie dormant for a long time, but still be capable of sudden and extraordinary destruction.”

Monitoring must be improved, say the CSER experts. Only 27% of eruptions since 1950 have had a seismometer anywhere near them, and only a third of that data again has been fed into the global database for “volcanic unrest”.

“Volcanologists have been calling for a dedicated volcano-monitoring satellite for over twenty years,” said Mani. “Sometimes we have to rely on the generosity of private satellite companies for rapid imagery.”

The experts also call for increased research into volcano “geoengineering”. This includes the need to study means of countering aerosols released by a massive eruption, which could lead to a “volcanic winter”. They also say that work to investigate manipulating pockets of magma beneath active volcanoes should be undertaken.

Added Mani: “Directly affecting volcanic behaviour may seem inconceivable, but so did the deflection of asteroids until the formation of the NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office in 2016. The risks of a massive eruption that devastates global society is significant. The current underinvestment in responding to this risk is simply reckless.”


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Algorithm Learns To Correct 3D Printing Errors For Different Parts, Materials and Systems

Example image of the 3D printer nozzle used by the machine learning algorithm to detect and correct errors in real time.
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Engineers have created intelligent 3D printers that can quickly detect and correct errors, even in previously unseen designs, or unfamiliar materials like ketchup and mayonnaise, by learning from the experiences of other machines.

 

Once trained, the algorithm can figure out just by looking at an image which setting is correct and which is wrong

Sebastian Pattinson

The engineers, from the University of Cambridge, developed a machine learning algorithm that can detect and correct a wide variety of different errors in real time, and can be easily added to new or existing machines to enhance their capabilities. 3D printers using the algorithm could also learn how to print new materials by themselves. Details of their low-cost approach are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the production of complex and customised parts, such as aircraft components, personalised medical implants, or even intricate sweets, and could also transform manufacturing supply chains. However, it is also vulnerable to production errors, from small-scale inaccuracies and mechanical weaknesses through to total build failures.

Currently, the way to prevent or correct these errors is for a skilled worker to observe the process. The worker must recognise an error (a challenge even for the trained eye), stop the print, remove the part, and adjust settings for a new part. If a new material or printer is used, the process takes more time as the worker learns the new setup. Even then, errors may be missed as workers cannot continuously observe multiple printers at the same time, especially for long prints.

“3D printing is challenging because there’s a lot that can go wrong, and so quite often 3D prints will fail,” said Dr Sebastian Pattinson from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the paper’s senior author. “When that happens, all of the material and time and energy that you used is lost.”

Engineers have been developing automated 3D printing monitoring, but existing systems can only detect a limited range of errors in one part, one material and one printing system.

“What’s really needed is a ‘driverless car’ system for 3D printing,” said first author Douglas Brion, also from the Department of Engineering. “A driverless car would be useless if it only worked on one road or in one town – it needs to learn to generalise across different environments, cities, and even countries. Similarly, a ‘driverless’ printer must work for multiple parts, materials, and printing conditions.”

Brion and Pattinson say the algorithm they’ve developed could be the ‘driverless car’ engineers have been looking for.

“What this means is that you could have an algorithm that can look at all of the different printers that you’re operating, constantly monitoring and making changes as needed – basically doing what a human can’t do,” said Pattinson.

The researchers trained a deep learning computer vision model by showing it around 950,000 images captured automatically during the production of 192 printed objects. Each of the images was labelled with the printer’s settings, such as the speed and temperature of the printing nozzle and flow rate of the printing material. The model also received information about how far those settings were from good values, allowing the algorithm to learn how errors arise.

“Once trained, the algorithm can figure out just by looking at an image which setting is correct and which is wrong – is a particular setting too high or too low, for example, and then apply the appropriate correction,” said Pattinson. “And the cool thing is that printers that use this approach could be continuously gathering data, so the algorithm could be continually improving as well.”

Using this approach, Brion and Pattinson were able to make an algorithm that is generalisable – in other words, it can be applied to identify and correct errors in unfamiliar objects or materials, or even in new printing systems.

“When you’re printing with a nozzle, then no matter the material you’re using – polymers, concrete, ketchup, or whatever – you can get similar errors,” said Brion. “For example, if the nozzle is moving too fast, you often end up with blobs of material, or if you’re pushing out too much material, then the printed lines will overlap forming creases.

“Errors that arise from similar settings will have similar features, no matter what part is being printed or what material is being used. Because our algorithm learned general features shared across different materials, it could say ‘Oh, the printed lines are forming creases, therefore we are likely pushing out too much material’.”

As a result, the algorithm that was trained using only one kind of material and printing system was able to detect and correct errors in different materials, from engineering polymers to even ketchup and mayonnaise, on a different kind of printing system.

In future, the trained algorithm could be more efficient and reliable than a human operator at spotting errors. This could be important for quality control in applications where component failure could have serious consequences.

With the support of Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm, Brion has formed Matta, a spin-out company that will develop the technology for commercial applications.

“We’re turning our attention to how this might work in high-value industries such as the aerospace, energy, and automotive sectors, where 3D printing technologies are used to manufacture high-performance and expensive parts,” said Brion. “It might take days or weeks to complete a single component at a cost of thousands of pounds. An error that occurs at the start might not be detected until the part is completed and inspected. Our approach would spot the error in real time, significantly improving manufacturing productivity.”

The research was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Royal Society, Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Isaac Newton Trust.

The full dataset used to train the AI is freely available online.

Reference:
Douglas A. J. Brion & Sebastian W. Pattinson. ‘Generalisable 3D printing error detection and correction via multi-head neural networks.’ Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-31985-y


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Smart Lighting System Based on Quantum Dots More Accurately Reproduces Daylight

Smart Lighting System Based on Quantum Dots More Accurately Reproduces Daylight

Long exposure light painting

 

Researchers have designed smart, colour-controllable white light devices from quantum dots – tiny semiconductors just a few billionths of a metre in size – which are more efficient and have better colour saturation than standard LEDs, and can dynamically reproduce daylight conditions in a single light.

 

This research opens the way for a wide variety of new human-responsive lighting environments

Gehan Amaratunga

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, designed the next-generation smart lighting system using a combination of nanotechnology, colour science, advanced computational methods, electronics and a unique fabrication process.

The team found that by using more than the three primary lighting colours used in typical LEDs, they were able to reproduce daylight more accurately. Early tests of the new design showed excellent colour rendering, a wider operating range than current smart lighting technology, and wider spectrum of white light customisation. The results are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

As the availability and characteristics of ambient light are connected with wellbeing, the widespread availability of smart lighting systems can have a positive effect on human health since these systems can respond to individual mood. Smart lighting can also respond to circadian rhythms, which regulate the daily sleep-wake cycle, so that light is reddish-white in the morning and evening, and bluish-white during the day.

When a room has sufficient natural or artificial light, good glare control, and views of the outdoors, it is said to have good levels of visual comfort. In indoor environments under artificial light, visual comfort depends on how accurately colours are rendered. Since the colour of objects is determined by illumination, smart white lighting needs to be able to accurately express the colour of surrounding objects. Current technology achieves this by using three different colours of light simultaneously.

Quantum dots have been studied and developed as light sources since the 1990s, due to their high colour tunability and colour purity. Due their unique optoelectronic properties, they show excellent colour performance in both wide colour controllability and high colour rendering capability.

The Cambridge researchers developed an architecture for quantum-dot light-emitting diodes (QD-LED) based next-generation smart white lighting. They combined system-level colour optimisation, device-level optoelectronic simulation, and material-level parameter extraction.

The researchers produced a computational design framework from a colour optimisation algorithm used for neural networks in machine learning, together with a new method for charge transport and light emission modelling.

The QD-LED system uses multiple primary colours – beyond the commonly used red, green and blue – to more accurately mimic white light. By choosing quantum dots of a specific size – between three and 30 nanometres in diameter – the researchers were able to overcome some of the practical limitations of LEDs and achieve the emission wavelengths they needed to test their predictions.

The team then validated their design by creating a new device architecture of QD-LED based white lighting. The test showed excellent colour rendering, a wider operating range than current technology, and a wide spectrum of white light shade customisation.

The Cambridge-developed QD-LED system showed a correlated colour temperature (CCT) range from 2243K (reddish) to 9207K (bright midday sun), compared with current LED-based smart lights which have a CCT between 2200K and 6500K. The colour rendering index (CRI) – a measure of colours illuminated by the light in comparison to daylight (CRI=100) – of the QD-LED system was 97, compared to current smart bulb ranges, which are between 80 and 91.

The design could pave the way to more efficient, more accurate smart lighting. In an LED smart bulb, the three LEDs must be controlled individually to achieve a given colour. In the QD-LED system, all the quantum dots are driven by a single common control voltage to achieve the full colour temperature range.

“This is a world-first: a fully optimised, high-performance quantum-dot-based smart white lighting system,” said Professor Jong Min Kim from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who co-led the research. “This is the first milestone toward the full exploitation of quantum-dot-based smart white lighting for daily applications.”

“The ability to better reproduce daylight through its varying colour spectrum dynamically in a single light is what we aimed for,” said Professor Gehan Amaratunga, who co-led the research. “We achieved it in a new way through using quantum dots. This research opens the way for a wide variety of new human responsive lighting environments.”

The structure of the QD-LED white lighting developed by the Cambridge team is scalable to large area lighting surfaces, as it is made with a printing process and its control and drive is similar to that in a display. With standard point source LEDs requiring individual control this is a more complex task.

The research was supported in part by the European Union and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

 

Reference:
Chatura Samarakoon et al. ‘Optoelectronic System and Device Integration for Quantum-Dot Light-Emitting Diode White Lighting with Computational Design Framework.’ Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-31853-9

source: ww.cam.ac.uk


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Racial Discrimination Linked To Increased Risk of Premature Babies

Racial Discrimination Linked To Increased Risk of Premature Babies

Black woman holding newborn baby in hospital bed

 

Women who experience racial discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, race or nationality are at increased risk of giving birth prematurely, according to a team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

 

Racial discrimination impacts the health of racialised communities not only in direct and intentional ways, but also in how it shapes an individual’s experiences, opportunities, and quality of life

Jeenan Kaiser

The findings add to growing evidence that racial discrimination is a risk factor for poor health outcomes, say the researchers.

For several decades, race has been recognised as a social determinant of health and a risk factor for numerous diseases. The evidence increasingly suggests that social, environmental, economic and political factors are fundamental drivers of health inequities, and that it is often racial discrimination or racism, rather than race, that is the root cause of racial disparities in health outcomes.

For example, maternal death rates among Black and Indigenous women in the USA are two to three times higher than those of white women. Similarly, in the UK, maternal death rates are two to four times higher among Black and Asian women compared to death rates among white women.

To explore the existing patterns of racial discrimination and adverse pregnancy outcomes, the researchers carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis, pooling and analysing data from the available evidence. This approach allowed them to bring together existing and sometimes contradictory or under-powered studies to provide more robust conclusions. Their results are published in the open access journal BMJ Global Health.

The team searched eight electronic databases, looking for relevant studies on self-reported racial discrimination and premature birth (that is, before 37 weeks), low and very low birthweight, small-for-gestational age, and high blood pressure associated with pregnancy.

In all, the results of 24 studies were included in the final analysis. The majority of studies (20) were carried out in the USA. Study participants were of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, including Black or African American, Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, Mãori, Pacific, Asian, Aboriginal Australian, Romani, indigenous German and Turkish.

The pooled analysis showed that the experience of racial discrimination was significantly associated with increased risk of premature birth. Women who experienced racial discrimination were 40% more likely to give birth prematurely. When low quality studies were excluded, the odds of a premature birth were reduced, but still 31% higher in those experiencing racial discrimination.

While not statistically significant, the results also suggest that the experience of racial discrimination may increase the chance of giving birth to a small-for-gestational age baby by 23%.

Co-first-author Jeenan Kaiser, who did her MPhil in Public Health at the University of Cambridge and is currently a medical student at the University of Alberta, said: “Racial discrimination impacts the health of racialised communities not only in direct and intentional ways, but also in how it shapes an individual’s experiences, opportunities, and quality of life. These are fundamentally driven by structural and social determinants of health.

“While our study focused on its impact on pregnancy outcomes, it is becoming increasingly evident that it negatively impacts a myriad of health outcomes. Efforts to counter racial discrimination and promote health must focus on systemic policy changes to create sustainable change.”

Co-first author Kim van Daalen, a Gates Cambridge and PhD candidate at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, said: “Dismantling structures and policies that enable institutional and interpersonal racial discrimination, underlying racial and ethnic disparities in health and intersecting social inequalities, is essential to improve overall health in societies. Partnerships of health care professionals with community-based reproductive justice and women’s health organisations who work in this area can improve health for racialised women in a community-centred way.”

The researchers point out that racial discrimination impacts what health services and resources are available, such as referral to specialist care, access to health insurance and access to public health services.

Co-author Dr Samuel Kebede, who did his MPhil in Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar and is currently at Montefiore Health System/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City said: “Historically there have been countless examples of where medicine and public health have been furthered by the subjugation and experimentation of Black and indigenous people. But the influence of structural racism is still present within the healthcare system today. From segregated healthcare for uninsured and under-insured people of colour in the United States, to the global disparity in COVID-19 vaccinations, structures continue to perpetuate inequities. Health professionals can play a vital role in dismantling these systems.”

Many of the studies were of limited quality and included few marginalised racial or ethnic groups other than African Americans; as such, their applicability to other ethnic groups and cultural settings may be limited. However, the researchers argue that when pooled, the data clearly demonstrate the negative impact of racial discrimination on pregnancy outcomes.

Reference
van Daalen, KR, & Kaiser, J et al. Racial discrimination and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Global Health; 3 Aug 2022; DOI: 10.1136/bmjgh-2022-009227

source: www.cam.ac.uk


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Just Over Half of Six-Year-Olds In Britain Meet Physical Activity Guidelines

Just Over Half of Six-Year-Olds In Britain Meet Physical Activity Guidelines

Group of children playing tug of war

 

Fifty-three percent of six-year-olds met the recommended daily guidelines for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in a study carried out pre-pandemic by researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Southampton.

 

This is something of a double-edged sword: children appear to do more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity when they start formal schooling, which is really positive, but they also spend more time sedentary

Kathryn Hesketh

Physical activity is beneficial for our physical and mental health, but activity levels tend to decrease across childhood and adolescence. Current UK physical activity guidelines recommend that children and young people from ages 5 to 18 years do an average of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (such as playing in the park or physical education) per day across the week. For all children, it is also recommended that they keep to a minimum extended periods of sedentary behaviour (such as sitting watching TV).

To investigate how much activity children do in their early primary school years, researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge and the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre at the University of Southampton provided 712 six-year-olds with Actiheart accelerometers, which measured their heart rate and movement. The children, who had been recruited as part of the ongoing Southampton Women’s Survey, wore these continually for an average of six days.

The results of the study are published today in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

At age six, children were sedentary for a daily average of more than five hours (316 minutes) and engaged in over 7.5 hours (457 minutes) of low-level physical activity and just over an hour (65 minutes) of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Just over half of the children (53%) met the current UK recommended guidelines, with boys being more likely to reach the target than girls (63% of boys vs 42% of girls).

Dr Esther van Sluijs from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge said: “Using accelerometers, we were able to get a much better idea of how active children were and we found that just over a half of six-year-olds were getting the recommended amount of physical activity. But this means that almost half of British children in this age group are not regularly active, which we know is important for their wellbeing and their performance at school.”

When the researchers analysed activity levels by time of day, they found that girls engaged in less moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during the school day at age six. Possible explanations are that girls wear skirts, which may make physical activity more challenging, or that they choose less active options during break times.

The researchers were able to look at longitudinal data from some children – that is, data recorded over a period of time rather than just a snapshot – and found that compared to at age four, at age six children became more sedentary (on average, around 30 minutes per day more compared to when they were four), but also engaged in an additional seven minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Dr Kathryn Hesketh from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge added: “This is something of a double-edged sword: children appear to do more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity when they start formal schooling, which is really positive, but they also spend more time sedentary. This may in part be because of the structure of the school day, so we may want to look at ways to reduce sedentary time when children are younger, to prevent that behaviour becoming habitual.”

Professor Keith Godfrey from the University of Southampton commented: “These analyses indicate that new initiatives to promote physical activity must consider the lower activity levels in girls and at weekends. The time when children transition into formal schooling is an important opportunity to ensure a much higher proportion achieve recommended levels of activity.”

While based on detailed data collected up to 2012, evidence from national questionnaire based surveys is that children’s patterns of activity levels changed little in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, with widely recognised even lower rates of meeting the Chief Medical Officer guidelines during the pandemic.

The work was largely supported by Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Hesketh, KR et al. Activity behaviours in British 6-year-olds: cross-sectional associations and longitudinal change during the school transition. Journal of Physical Activity & Health; 11 Aug 2022; DOI: 10.1123/jpah.2021-0718

All averages quoted are mean.

source: www.cam.ac.uk


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This Cambridge Life

This Cambridge Life

The doctor turned detective investigating the imprints of cancer

Serena Nik-Zainal outside the Addenbrooke’s Treatment Centre

Self-confessed ‘nerd’ Serena Nik-Zainal went from hospital wards to the laboratory on a mission to provide patients with the best possible treatment for their illnesses. Ten years later she is at the forefront of genomic research, creating tools for clinicians which are transforming patient care.

I’m a doctor by training; I’d always wanted to be one. I specialised in genetics and dealt with kids with inherited rare disorders. To make a diagnosis I’d often be trying to identify the genetic mutation that caused the presenting symptoms.

‘Reading’ DNA by genomic sequencing was possible but the limitation, at the time, was how expensive it was to do this. It cost thousands of pounds to sequence one little piece of the genome.

As a public sector service there was not enough money to sequence every patient. I found myself in meetings deciding who would be allowed the procedure and who wouldn’t. I found it so hard to be part of this gatekeeping exercise.

Later a technology called Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), pioneered in Cambridge, came along that allowed the whole genome to be sequenced faster than ever before. I knew this would have an impact on my work; I decided to do a PhD so I could understand how to use NGS and was offered a place at the Sanger Institute.

For my research I sequenced the whole genome of 21 breast cancers. At the time it took three months to sequence each one (now it can be done in a day which is fabulous!).

It was astonishing that sequencing as few as 21 cancers resulted in the identification of hundreds and thousands of mutations. Most of these mutations are known as passenger mutations (as opposed to driver mutations that cause cancer).

For decades research had focused on driver mutations rather than passenger mutations which I’d once heard described as “just noise”. I remember thinking: all these mutations can’t just be random. Of course, there is randomness in life, but different factors help mould you in one way or another.

This instinct proved to be correct. I found that the patterns of passenger mutations – called signatures – showed imprints of the damage and repair processes that had occurred in the DNA as the tumour developed. Some of these signatures may be seen across different tumours, whereas others are rare.

Imprints offer clues as to how the cancer arose, what specific type it is and how best to treat it. I often describe the imprints like fingerprints left at a crime scene or footprints in the sand.

 Serena Nik-Zainal using pipette in laboratory
Serena Nik-Zainal talking to colleague in laboratory
 Serena Nik-Zainal running experiments in laboratory
Serena Nik-Zainal using microscope in laboratory
Serena Nik-Zainal talking to colleague in laboratory

 

What struck me from day one was the realisation that each tumour was so different, and yet was being treated in the same way. I wanted the insights from genome sequencing to reach patients as fast as possible so that they could receive personalised treatment, giving them the best chance of surviving their cancer.

For me, it’s always been about the clinical applications. My team and I are involved in developing tools using machine learning that can interpret the results of genome sequencing quickly and efficiently so that clinicians can use them in their diagnosis and treatment of patients.

An important part of the cancer genomics journey is global collaboration. Over the past decade whole-genome sequencing has been conducted all over the world. This anonymised data has been deposited in the public domain and made available for scientists to analyse.

There is so much data; we are like kids in a candy shop! We hope the results will lead to better cancer treatment. That’s what’s keeping us going, the feeling that we’re contributing back to society.

Serena Nik-Zainal outside the Addenbrooke’s Treatment Centre

The UK is in an unprecedented position. Genomics England has led world-leading initiatives like the 100,000 Genome Project that involved sequencing the genome of 85,000 NHS patients affected by rare disease or cancer. There’s also nowhere else in the world that patients can freely access genomics services at the scale as people in England and Wales can.

However, the time taken from genomic discovery to clinical application in cancer care is 10-15 years − it’s just too long. Of course, we need to do clinical trials to prove that genomic information has an impact on cancer patient care, but perhaps how we do those trials could be modernised. We could evolve how we think about genomic data and use all the data available as effectively as possible, to truly personalise treatment plans. We need to consider what could be done to speed up this process.

I recently attended a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert panel discussion about genomics going global. I feel strongly that genomics should be democratised and accessible to people in low-and-middle income countries (LMIC) like Malaysia, where I’m from. Although I’m aware that adaptions would need to be made to meet each countries’ unique requirements.

I started off as a ‘nerd’ looking at genomes and then bioinformatics, and now I’m discussing transformations in the way we diagnose and treat patients. I’d like to reach the stage where cancer patients, not just in the UK, are offered whole or partial genomic sequencing just like they might have a routine blood testImagine the progress! We’ll be able to offer people the best possible care right from the outset.

Serena is Professor of Genomic Medicine and Bioinformatics in the Department of Medical Genetics, University of Cambridge and Honorary Consultant in Clinical Genetics at the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. Serena Nik-Zainal is an alumna and Honorary Fellow of Murray Edwards. In 2019, she was awarded the Dr Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize.

Published 15 August 2022
With thanks to:

Serena Nik-Zainal

Words:
Charis Goodyear

Photography:
Lloyd Mann

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

source: ww.cam.ac.uk

Cambridge Researchers Change Donor Kidney Blood Type

Cambridge Researchers Change Donor Kidney Blood Type

Researchers have been able to alter the blood type of deceased donor kidneys using “molecular scissors”.

The discovery offers hope to ethnic minority patients who struggle to find suitable transplants.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have successfully altered the blood type on three deceased donor kidneys in a ground-breaking discovery that could have major implications for kidney patients.

The project, funded by charity Kidney Research UK, could increase the supply of kidneys available for transplant, particularly within ethnic minority groups who are less likely to be a match for the majority of donated kidneys.

Professor Mike Nicholson and PhD student Serena MacMillan used a normothermic perfusion machine – a device which connects with a human kidney to pass oxygenated blood through the organ to better preserve it for future use – to flush blood infused with an enzyme through the deceased kidney.

The enzyme acted like “molecular scissors” to remove the blood type markers that line the blood vessels of the kidney resulting in the organ being converted to the most common O type.

A kidney from someone with an A blood type cannot be transplanted to someone with a B blood type, nor the other way around. But changing the blood type to the universal O will allow more transplants to take place as O can be used for people with any blood group.

“It’s very exciting to think about how this could potentially impact so many lives”

Serena MacMillan

“Our confidence was really boosted after we applied the enzyme to a piece of human kidney tissue and saw very quickly that the antigens were removed,” said MacMillan.

“After this, we knew that the process is feasible, and we just had to scale up the project to apply the enzyme to full-size human kidneys. By taking B type human kidneys and pumping the enzyme through the organ using our normothermic prefusion machine, we saw in a matter of just a few hours that we had converted a B type kidney into an O type.”

The discovery could be particularly impactful for people from ethnic minority groups who often wait a year longer for a transplant than Caucasian patients.

People from minority communities are more likely to have B type blood and with current low donation rates from these populations, there are simply not enough kidneys to go around. In 2020/21, just over 9% of total organ donations came from black and minority ethnic donors whilst black and minority ethnic patients make up 33% of the kidney transplant waiting list.

The Cambridge team now need to see how the newly changed O type kidney will react to a patient’s usual blood type in their normal blood supply. The perfusion machine allows them to do this before testing in people, as they can take the kidneys which have been changed to the O type, use the machine to introduce different blood types and monitor how the kidney might react, simulating the process of transplant into the body.

“We now need to look at whether our methods can be successful in a clinical setting”

Prof Mike Nicholson

“One of the biggest restrictions to who a donated kidney can be transplanted to is the fact that you have to be blood group compatible,” said Nicholson, professor of transplant surgery.

“The reason for this is that you have antigens and markers on your cells that can be either A or B. Your body naturally produces antibodies against the ones you don’t have.

“Blood group classification is also determined via ethnicity and ethnic minority groups are more likely to have the rarer B type. After successfully shifting blood group to the universal O type, we now need to look at whether our methods can be successful in a clinical setting and ultimately carried through to transplantation.”

Dr Aisling McMahon, executive director of research at Kidney Research UK said: “The research that Mike and Serena are undertaking is potentially game-changing. It is incredibly impressive to see the progress that the team has made in such a short space of time, and we are excited to see the next steps.

“As an organisation, we are committed to funding research that transforms treatments and tackles health inequalities. We know that people from minority ethnic groups can wait much longer for a transplant as they are less likely to be a blood-type match with the organs available. This research offers a glimmer of hope to over 1,000 people from minority ethnic groups who are waiting for a kidney,” McMahon said.

After testing the reintroduction of other blood types, the team in Cambridge will look at how the approach might be used in a clinical setting. Having made great progress in such a short space of time they are hopeful for the future.

The full paper on Mike and Serena’s work is set to be published in the British Journal of Surgery in the coming months.

Ayesha: “A transplant would give me a second chance at a healthy life”

Ayesha was diagnosed with stage three chronic kidney disease in 1998 when she was pregnant with her first child.

She didn’t think much of it while she enjoyed her time being a mother, but her kidneys deteriorated rapidly during the pandemic.

She was told that she would need a transplant, but she might have to wait double or even triple the time for a kidney than a Caucasian person. Consultants estimated that she might have to wait between six to ten years to receive one.

Ayesha said: “They explained that because of my ethnicity my wait for a deceased donor will be longer than for a white person. The reason being my background – being the Muslim community and other faiths and cultures often don’t agree to be organ donors.

“I feel sad at the thought of waiting so long for a transplant, I understand a transplant isn’t a cure, but it would make my body a lot stronger and give me a second chance at a healthy life.”

She has recently started volunteering for Kidney Research UK under the charity’s peer educator scheme, a programme that recruits trusted members of the community to talk openly about kidney disease.

“In the Muslim communities, kidney disease is common yet still a taboo subject at the same time,” said Ayesha.

“People’s religious beliefs play an imperative role in making life-changing decisions. Even after the law change so everyone was automatically made an organ donor, many people decided to opt out.

“The research will offer so much hope to minority groups still waiting for a transplant and could help to save many lives. Convincing communities that research such as this and organ donation is beneficial is so crucial to improving and saving lives.

Ayesha continues to hope for a donor and hopes that through her education, more people will come forward and offer her, and others like her, the chance at a better life.

source: www.cam.ac.uk

Cambridge Spin-Out Nyobolt Raises £50m To Lead The Future of Sustainable Energy Storage

Dr Sai Shivareddy and Professor Clare Grey
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Nyobolt, the pioneer of end-to-end fast-charging battery systems, announces £50 million funding which will enable the company to enter a stage of manufacturing at scale.

 

Nyobolt technology will not only enable net zero both in the electrification of transport, but also the storing of clean and renewable energy on and off the grid.

Professor Clare Grey, Chief Scientist and Co-founder of Nyobolt

Nyobolt, which spun out of the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry in 2016 and was co-founded by Professor Dame Clare Grey DBE FRS and CEO Dr Sai Shivareddy, is commercialising high-performance battery and charging technologies to create a world where lengthy charge times no longer exist.

The £50 million funding is led by H.C. Starck Tungsten Powders (HCS), a subsidiary of Masan High-Tech Materials, one of the world’s largest tungsten suppliers – a key component of Nyobolt’s technology. The investment is set to drive Nyobolt’s market entry by establishing its presence and launching the manufacturing of millions of units next year. H.C. Starck funding will enable Nyobolt’s first materials manufacturing plant in the UK, as well as expansion of the US cell engineering facility and the teams’ growth across the globe.

The investment and future collaboration between Nyobolt and H.C. Starck in the supply of materials, scale up of manufacture and recycling aims to provide a sustainable solution supporting the transition to net zero in multiple sectors.

The ultra-fast charging battery solution developed by world renowned experts at Nyobolt drastically decreases charge time from hours to minutes, maximising uptime and productivity. Nyobolt’s technology will lead the world towards transport decarbonisation, by erasing the greatest barrier preventing drivers from going electric – charge anxiety. The technology is applicable for devices ranging from home appliances to electric vehicles and industrial robotics, improving performance and revolutionising energy storage markets.

As well as ensuring security of supply of key materials, this strategic partnership will enable Nyobolt to benefit from the established recycling capabilities of H.C. Starck, allowing the efficient use of resources to minimise the environmental impact of Nyobolt’s ultra-fast charging batteries. The collaboration will lead to a sustainable supply chain for Nyobolt’s technology, making the technically demanding process of battery recycling easier and more efficient.

Nyobolt’s technology builds on a decade of battery research led by University of Cambridge battery scientist Professor Clare Grey, who has been recently appointed as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Honours list for her services to science, marking her extensive contributions to the battery industry and its pivotal role for a more sustainable world.

Professor Dame Clare Grey, Chief Scientist and Co-founder of Nyobolt said: “We are excited to move our technologies from development to deployment in the market. We founded Nyobolt following the discovery of new anode technologies containing tungsten with remarkable fast charging capability to bring these properties to the market in applications touching all aspects of daily life. The funding from H.C. Starck will help Nyobolt to scale up our operations in the UK and United States and bring a more sustainable solution into the energy storage industry. Nyobolt technology will not only enable net zero both in the electrification of transport, but also the storing of clean and renewable energy on and off the grid. With the investment from H.C. Starck, Nyobolt’s ultra-fast charging, high power batteries will help lead the way towards achieving the clean energy goals set by governments around the world.”

Dr Sai Shivareddy, CEO and Co-founder of Nyobolt said: “Fast charging remains a critical unmet need as the world electrifies with more sustainable forms of energy – a need our technology addresses. We are excited about the partnership with H.C. Starck and see it as a stepping stone to increase scale and speed to market revealing the true potential of Nyobolt technologies. The Series B funding will put Nyobolt in the driving seat of a fast-moving battery industry and allow us to showcase the uniqueness of our battery technology, developed by our team of experts, which is set to transform the energy storage industry. With H.C. Starck investment and technologies, Nyobolt will expand its manufacturing capabilities while minimising its carbon footprint with an effective recycle and reuse program.”

Dr Hady Seyeda, CEO of H.C. Starck Tungsten said: “This investment marks a milestone in our strategy to move further downstream, and get closer to consumers by developing new, innovative applications including our recently trademarked “starck2charge” battery materials product range. Nyobolt’s technology is a real breakthrough that we can help commercialise based on our vast experience in transferring innovative solutions into large-scale manufacturing. This partnership is also going to accelerate the development towards a circular economy for batteries via enhanced recycling and new models of use.”

Mr Craig Bradshaw, CEO of Masan High-Tech Materials commented: “I am really proud that just over two years after acquiring and integrating the H.C. Starck Tungsten Powders business into MHT we have been able to expand our breadth of business capabilities through the acquisition of a significant equity stake in Nyobolt. We look forward to working together with the Nyobolt team to advance their product offering and opportunities to partner in the manufacturing and commercialisation of their products as well as offering a full life cycle for the advanced strategic materials required in the Nyobolt batteries.”

Adapted from an announcement by Cambridge Enterprise


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School-Based Mindfulness Training Programme Fails To Improve Young People’s Mental Health

Rear view of sports teacher practicing Yoga with her students at school gym
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A standardised schools-based mindfulness training programme did not help young people’s mental health and well-being overall, but did improve school culture and reduce teachers’ burn out, a new study has found.

 

Our work adds to the evidence that translating mental health treatments into classroom curricula is difficult and that teachers may not be best placed to deliver them without considerable training and support

Tamsin Ford

The MY Resilience In ADolescence (MYRIAD) study programme span spans eight years of research and explore whether schools-based mindfulness training could improve the mental health of young people. It involved more than 28,000 children aged 11-14, 100 schools and 650 teachers. The main studies from this programme are published in a series of papers in a special issue of Evidence-based Mental Health.

Professor Willem Kuyken from the University of Oxford, one of the lead authors, said: “MYRIAD is the largest of its kind to explore, in detail, whether mindfulness training in schools can improve young people’s mental health. With early adolescence being an important window of opportunity in terms of preventing mental health problems and promoting well-being, and young people spending much of their waking lives at school, a schools-based programme could be a good way to support young people’s mental health.”

Reports suggest that one in five teenagers experience mental health problems, and three quarters of all mental illnesses that anyone will ever develop before the age of 24. For example, the peak age of onset of depression is between 13 and 15 years of age. The MYRIAD studies showed that certain groups of young people were more likely to report mental health problems: girls, older teenagers, those living in urban areas, and those living in areas of greatest poverty and deprivation.

The young people participating in the studies reported mixed views of the mindfulness-training curriculum (some rating it highly and others negatively), while 80% did not do the required mindfulness practice homework.

Professor Mark Williams from the University of Oxford, added: “The findings from MYRIAD confirm the huge burden of mental health challenges that young people face, and the urgent need to find a way to help. They also show that the idea of mindfulness doesn’t help – it’s the practice that matters. If today’s young people are to be enthused enough to practice mindfulness, then updating training to suit different needs and giving them a say in the approach they prefer are the vital next steps.”

In addition, to teach mindfulness well, committed staff, resources and teacher training and support are needed, and the co-design of programmes and resources with young people would likely be more effective, say the researchers. A multitude of factors affect young people’s health, for example, their environment at school and at home, their school’s culture, and their individual differences.

Co-investigator Professor Tamsin Ford from the University of Cambridge said: “Our work adds to the evidence that translating mental health treatments into classroom curricula is difficult and that teachers may not be best placed to deliver them without considerable training and support – another approach would be for mindfulness practitioners to work with students at risk of poor mental health or who express a particular interest in attending mindfulness training.”

Other findings included:

  • Mindfulness training improved overall school climate (atmosphere and culture), especially views of the school leadership, connectedness, and respect – although most effects washed out after one year.
  • Teachers who did the mindfulness training reported lower levels of burnout, particularly feelings of reduced exhaustion and depersonalization – although most effects washed out after one year.

Professor Mark Greenberg, one of the study co-investigators at Pennsylvania State University, said: “The MYRIAD project carefully tested the effects of a brief mindfulness intervention for early teens and found it to have no impact on preventing mental health problems or promoting well-being. In order to improve wellbeing for young people, it is likely we need to make broader systemic changes in schools that both teach them new coping skills and support staff to create environments where youth feel valued and respected.”

Miranda Wolpert, Director of Mental Health at Wellcome, which funded the research, said: “In science, it is just as important to find out what doesn’t work as what does. It can take real bravery to share such findings.  This rigorous, large-scale study found that when mindfulness training was delivered at scale in schools it did not have an impact on preventing risk of depression or promoting well-being in students aged 11 to 14 years.”

Adapted from a press release by the University of Oxford


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Cambridge Research Centre Puts People At The Heart of AI

 

The University of Cambridge today launches a new research centre dedicated to exploring the possibilities of a world shared by both humans and machines with artificial intelligence (AI).

 

The Centre for Human-Inspired Artificial Intelligence (CHIA) brings together researchers from engineering and mathematics, philosophy and social sciences; a broad range of disciplines to investigate how human and machine intelligence can be combined in technologies that best contribute to social and global progress.

Anna Korhonen, Director of CHIA and Professor of Natural Language Processing, said: “We know from history that new technologies can drive changes with both positive and negative consequences, and this will likely be the case for AI. The goal of our new Centre is to put humans at the centre of every stage of AI development – basic research, application, commercialisation and policymaking – to help ensure AI benefits everyone.”

Artificial intelligence is a rapidly developing technology predicted to transform much of our society. While AI has the potential to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems in healthcare, education, climate science and economic sustainability it will need to embrace its human origins to become responsible, transparent and inclusive.

Per-Ola Kristensson, Co-director of CHIA and Professor of Interactive Systems Engineering, said: “For true progress and real-life impact it’s critical to nurture a close engagement with industry, policy makers, non-governmental organisations and civil society. Few universities in the world can rival the breadth and depth of Cambridge making us ideally positioned to make these connections and engage with the communities who face the greatest impact from AI.”

Designed to deliver both academic and real-world impact, CHIA seeks partners in academic, industrial, third-sector and other organizations that share an interest in promoting human-inspired AI.

John Suckling, Co-director of CHIA and Director of Research in Psychiatric Neuroimaging, said: “Our students will be educated in an interdisciplinary environment with access to experts in the technical, ethical, human and industrial aspects of AI. Early-career researchers will be part of all our activities. We are committed to inclusivity and diversity as a way of delivering robust and practical outcomes.”

CHIA will educate the next generation of AI creators and leaders, with dedicated graduate training in human-inspired AI.

Professor Mark Girolami from the Department of Engineering, said: “As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly pervasive, it’s critical to align its development with societal interests. This new University-wide Centre will explore a human-centric approach to the development of AI to ensure beneficial outcomes for society. Cambridge’s depth of expertise in AI and a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration make it an ideal home for CHIA.”

Apart from research and education, the CHIA will also host seminars, public events and international conferences to raise awareness of human-inspired AI. Forums will be convened around topics of ethical or societal concern with representation from all stakeholders.

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, said: “If we’re to ensure that AI works for everyone and does not widen inequalities, then we need to place people at its heart and consider the societal and ethical implications alongside its development. Cambridge, with its ability to draw on researchers across multiple disciplines, is uniquely positioned to be able to lead in this area.”

Neil Lawrence, DeepMind Professor of Machine Learning, added: “Artificial intelligence is provoking new questions in our societies. It’s vital that we deliver the answers in a people-centric manner. The Centre in Human-Inspired AI will provide a new interdisciplinary hub that delivers the solutions for these challenges.”


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AstraZeneca To Fund a Further 55 PhD Studentships With University of Cambridge

Researcher looking at flask in lab
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

The University of Cambridge has formed a new agreement with AstraZeneca for the global biopharmaceuticals company to fund 55 additional PhD studentships over the next five years, starting in October 2022. Over the last 20 years, AstraZeneca has funded more than 100 PhD students from the University as part of a longstanding partnership between the two institutions.

 

Training the next generation of brilliant scientists who are able to collaborate with colleagues in different disciplines and with industry partners will be critical to getting new treatments to patients.

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

This new agreement aims to equip research students with the capabilities to work across disciplines and sectors. In addition, students will hone important translational skills that are needed to turn their research into new medicines and better outcomes for patients.

“Cambridge University and AstraZeneca see the future of medicine happening at the intersection of different disciplines, where biological understanding of disease processes and the chemistry of how drugs work, meets engineering and artificial intelligence,” said Kathryn Chapman, Deputy Director of the Milner Therapeutics Institute and the University’s Relationship Manager for AstraZeneca.

Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations, University of Cambridge underscores an important piece of working across subject areas: collaboration. He said: “Training the next generation of brilliant scientists who are able to collaborate with colleagues in different disciplines and with industry partners will be critical to getting new treatments to patients.”

“This new agreement demonstrates AstraZeneca’s commitment to developing early career scientists and offers a fantastic opportunity for AstraZeneca and Cambridge University to collaborate by sharing knowledge and expertise across academia and industry,” said Jacqui Hall, Head of Early Careers and R&D Learning, AstraZeneca.

Learning how to collaborate and translate advances in research into breakthroughs that improve patient outcomes will be central to the programme. To facilitate this, each student will have both an academic and industry supervisor. They will also benefit from access to AstraZeneca’s state-of-the-art labs at its Discovery Centre, home to over 2,200 scientists based on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

By participating in the programme, students will gain insights into all stages of the drug discovery pipeline and receive guidance as to how they can collaborate with industry and help turn their research into new life-changing medicines for patients.


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Cambridge Innovation Summit 2022

We had a great time at the summit! Cambridge Innovation Summit returned in physical format on July 5th.

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Many thanks to our generous sponsorship from Silicon Valley Bank and HCR Hewitsons!

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We assembled a highly interactive programme for inbound corporates and special guests to learn from and with each other about the innovation landscape and how to harness its power. There will be: Panel Discussions, Case Studies, Start-up Pitches and Lunch as well as all the networking you can handle – all in a beautiful riverside venue.

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Connected Cambridge group on Linked in reaches 12000 members – we have more people in the Cambridge region than any other local group and are delighted  to use this group to target out GDPR compliant weekly e-letter to bring interesting news, jobs and events.

Plans are already in the works for The Cambridge Innovation Summit 2023.

We hope to see you next year!